Wednesday 5 August 2015

Irish Saints in August

Below is an article by Irish writer Magdalen Rock on some of the saints whose feasts we will be commemorating in the month of August. Once again the author includes an impressive range of saints, she begins with the two saints from the end of the month and works her way back. We meet those who laboured not only in Ireland but in Britain and Europe, all I have added is the name of the patron saint of Derry city, Eugene/Eoghan, as it seems to have been omitted.

Irish Saints in August.

THE little islet of Lindisfarne lies two miles off the coast of Northumberland, and some nine miles or more south-east of the border-town of Berwick. At low-water the island is joined to the mainland, and twice in the course of the twenty-four hours it is accessible by means of a track across the sands. The resemblance of the isle in the Northern Sea to the island from whence Saint Aidan went to re-evangelise the pagan people of old Northumbria has obtained for Lindisfarne the name of the Iona of England. Perhaps it was this resemblance, perhaps the instinctive love of the Irish monks for solitude, that induced Aidan to set up his bishop's stool at Lindisfarne in 635. The island became the centre of great missionary activity, and was the seat of sixteen successive bishops.

The erudite pen of the Venerable Bede tells much of Saint Aidan as a priest, a bishop, and an indefatigable missionary, but nothing of his lineage or place of birth, save that he was an Irish monk.

The saint whose memory is commemorated on the last day of August was of the race of Columba, and he probably entered the monastery of Iona at an early age. When Oswald of Northumbria was an exile from his native land he had received much kindness from the Irish monks, and he had imbibed the traditions of Iona. On the eve of the battle that was to decide the fate of the northern realm, Oswald, tradition says, had a vision of Columba, who informed him of his victory of the next day and of his restoration to the throne of his ancestors. Oswald set up on the battle ground a huge wooden cross to hearten his small army, and ere nightfall the forces of Cadwallon, the last of the British warriors, was defeated.

Safely established on the throne of his fathers, Oswald turned, not to Canterbury, but to Iona, for missionaries to re-Christianise his far-spreading kingdom. The first who came at his call found the task difficult, and went back to the island monastery to report his failure. "Was it their stubbornness or your severity?" Aidan asked. " Did you give them the milk first and then the meat?" In obedience to the command of his superior Aidan departed to become first bishop of Lindisfarne. Missionaries came to his help both from Iona and Ireland, and the work of instructing the people began.

Green tells how the bishop and the king worked at first side by side, Oswald translating the words of the missionary to his rude thanes. Soon the Irish monks learned the Northumbrian dialect,and Boisil led a little band of workers to the valley of the Tweed, while Aidan wandered on foot among the peasantry of Bernicia.

From the first the saint tried, and not ineffectually, to check the reckless manner of life of the Northumbrian nobles, and many of the gifts bestowed on him by his converts did Aidan pass on to the poor and afflicted. In barren Lindisfarne the saint and his monks observed the austerities practised by the founder of Iona. Slavery was as prevalent in Northumbria as in the other kingdoms of the Saxons, and not a few of the king's gifts went in procuring the freedom of some poor slaves.

Over and over again has the story been told of how the saint, much against his custom, sat one Easter day beside the king. A sumptuous repast had been prepared, but ere the viands were touched word came that a hungry multitude waited at the castle gates. Oswald at once ordered the untasted food to be carried to the crowd, and gave directions that the silver dishes should be broken up and divided among them. Aidan blessed the royal hand "May this hand never grow old" and when all else of the saintly monarch had perished the white hand of Oswald remained firm and incorrupt in the church of Bamborough.

All too soon Oswald died, praying with his last breath for his men, but Aidan exercised the same beneficent influence over his successor. Once when the pagan king of Mercia tried to burn Barnborough, Aidan raised his eyes to heaven: "Oh, God, see what ill Penda is doing” he cried, and instantly the wind shifted, and the royal residence was saved.

Aidan was overtaken by his last illness on one of his journeys, and at his own desire he was borne back to the monastery. A tent was erected for him on the west side of the church, and there he died. On the night of his decease a shepherd lad on the hills of Lammermoor saw his soul borne to Heaven by angels. This boy was Cuthbert, destined long after to be Bishop of Lindisfarne.

Saint Fiacre is honoured by the Church one day earlier than Aidan. In his own country little is known of him, but in France he is greatly venerated and esteemed, particularly by gardeners, whose patron he is. He was the son of an Irish prince, and born towards the end of the sixth century. He received his education from Saint Conan in the Isle of Man, and when ordained priest he retired to a little oratory on the banks of the River Nore, where the townland Kilfiachra still perpetuates his memory. Crowds of disciples flocked to his retreat, and at length, to find more complete solitude, he left his native land for France. He arrived at Meaux about the year 627, and was welcomed by Saint Faro, who ruled the diocese, and who recollected the graces which he and his kin had received through Saint Columbanus. The bishop gave the Irish exile a site for an oratory at Breuil out of his own patrimony, and this oratory Fiacre dedicated to the Mother of God.

In time the sanctity of the holy hermit became known, and many men sought out his place of abode. In the little garden, beside his cell the saint cultivated vegetables with which to feed his visitors, and simple blooms to decorate his church. In obedience to an order of the bishop, Fiacre erected a sort of hospice for the convenience of those visiting him, but in course of time the accommodation was not sufficient for those seeking the hermit's retreat, and the saint unwillingly asked the bishop for further ground in the forest and additional facilities for strangers. Saint Faro at once granted a further gift of land. Its extent was to be the ground round which the saint could erect an earthern rampart in the course of a single day. Fiacre went out with his staff, and as he walked he drew the staff along the ground. Instantly an earthen fortification rose. An evil-minded lady complained to the bishop that this had been done through magic, and an order was despatched to Fiacre to stop all work until the bishop could visit him. The saint obeyed, and sat down on a hard rock to wait Faro's coming, and the hard rock became soft and yielding, and was fashioned into a comfortable chair. In the new ground wondrous blossoms had miraculously appeared, and when the bishop arrived he implored Fiacre's pardon, and enabled him to erect a larger hospice.

The years passed tranquilly on till a pilgrim from Rome called at Fiacre's retreat. The pilgrim was a close relative to the saint, and through him the news spread to Ireland that Fiacre still lived. His father was dead, and his younger brother had been deposed for taking part in the Pelagian heresy. Ambassadors from Ireland sought the French king's intervention to induce Fiacre to take his place as head of the tribe. The poor anchorite prayed God that he might remain in the forests of Breuil, and his prayer was answered. When the ambassadors came they found Fiacre covered with leprosy, and he was not urged to visit his native land. Saint Fiacre died on the thirtieth of August, 670, and was interred in the forest church not far from his cell. Miracles took place at his tomb, and centuries after a beautiful basilica was erected in his honour.

To the shrine of the Irish hermit Anne of Austria came on foot to pray Heaven for a son, and that son later came with his wife on a pilgrimage. Two English royalties interfered to their own disaster with Saint Fiacre. The Black Prince when ravaging the district gave orders to have his shrine opened, and he, himself, extracted a portion of the holy relics with the intention of taking them to England. When passing through Normandy he left the relics temporarily on the altar of a church in Montloup, and not all the efforts of men could remove them. Shortly afterwards the Black Prince died.

The victor of Agincourt permitted his troops to pillage the district of Meaux. An ancient Scotch historian tells: "He invaded the lands of Sanct Fiacre, and by the vengeance of God he was stricken with sic infirmitex that na nigine of man micht cure him." Henry was attacked by a fistula called the malady of Saint Fiacre and died at the early age of thirty-four.

Among the modern saints who visited the tomb of the hermit were Saints Francis de Sales and Vincent de Paul.

Saint Andrew, whose feast occurs on the twenty-second day of the month, spent but a short, part of his life in his native country. He is supposed -to have been born about the beginning of the eighth century, but in what part of Ireland is not known. From early youth he and his sister Brigid honoured in Irish rnartyrologies on the same date as her namesake of Kildare were devoted to prayer and works of charity . A distinguished teacher of Divine philosophy came into the neighbourhood where Andrew lived. This teacher was Saint Donatus, afterwards bishop of the old-world diocese of Fiesole in Italy. Donatus had been educated in the monastery of Iniscaltra in an island of the Shannon, and it was his great desire to visit the Eternal City. When he set out on his journey Andrew accompanied him despite the opposition of his friends. After many adventures they reached Rome and, after visiting its tombs and churches, set out on the return journey. They halted at Fiesole and found the city distracted and without a bishop; Donatus was reluctantly obliged to take charge of the district, and in time appointed Andrew his archdeacon. The two friends laboured assiduously to reorganise the diocese, and with great success. Once as they walked outside the town they came upon a ruined church which had been dedicated to Saint Martin. Both lamented over the ruin, and Andrew humbly offered to make its restoration his business. The bishop accepted the offer, and Andrew founded a society for priests something like the Missionary Oblates of the Blessed Sacrament. He and his small band of helpers cleared the ground and procured new building material, and finally the church was restored. The people of the neighbourhood were generous with alms, which was used entirely for charitable purposes, the little community earning their scanty subsistence by the labour of their hands.

Even a brief enumeration of the many miracles attributed to Saint Andrew would cover many pages; the afflicted who only touched his garments were relieved. At length, after a holy and tranquil life, death came. The dying saint longed to see once more his beloved sister, Brigid. And Brigid came, some authorities say miraculously, to comfort his last hours. She never returned to Ireland. Close to the source of the River Liece she founded an oratory, and dedicated it to Saint Martin; it is yet a place of pilgrimage, and the peasants of the Appenines never forget to invoke the intercession of Saints Donatus, Andrew, and Brigid.

Saint Blane, whose memory survives in the town of Dunblane, was born of Irish parents in the Isle of Bute. His uncle was Saint Cathan, and this holy man attended to the early education of his nephew. Afterwards the youthful Blane studied at Bangor, in Ireland, under Saint Comgall. On his return to Bute, where his uncle still lived, he decided to become a priest, and soon after his ordination he was raised to episcopal dignity. He continued his former austere mode of life in this position, and many miracles are credited to him, and among them is the restoration to life of a dead youth. The pious bishop selected the site for his monastery at a place equidistant from the German and Atlantic oceans, and this monastery was later created an episcopal See.

After a laborious life Saint Blane died, but authorities differ as to the date of his death. Butler's date 446 is manifestly incorrect, and the most reliable writers say he died towards the end of the sixth century. His feast is kept on the tenth of August.

The patron of Derry city [Eugene] was born in Leinster towards the close of the fifth century, and he received part of his religious education at the monastery of Clones, from which school he was captured by British pirates. On his release he studied under Saint Ninnian. He founded the monastery of Kilnamanagh in Wicklow, and resided rhere till, following a Divine inspiration, he proceeded northward to preach the Faith. In Tyrone, at Ardstraw, he founded a monastery, and soon after was raised to a bishopric. Authorities differ as to the time of his death, but he passed to his reward at an advanced age fortified by the last rites of the Church. He is honoured on the twenty-third of the month. A beautiful cathedral in Derry bears his name.

Saint Bernard is the authority for saying that Saint Luanus founded no less than one hundred monasteries in his native land. He was educated at Bangor. The rule he gave his monks was very stringent and enjoined complete silence and recollection and hard manual labour. No women were permitted to approach the confines of the monasteries. When dying he received the Holy Viaticum from the hand of one of his monks, and his death is supposed to have occurred in the seventh century. Persons afflicted with ague were in the past accustomed to visit one or other of his holy wells in order to obtain relief.

Saints Nathy and Felimy are honoured on the ninth of August. The former was a priest to whom it is said Finian, Bishop of Clonard, gave the charge of a church at Achonry. By some writers the saint is said to have been a bishop. Saint Felimy lived in the sixth century, and was Bishop of Kilmore, where his festival is still kept with an octave and indulgence.

The patron and first bishop of Killala was Saint Muredach, a descendant of Leogaire, the high-king of Ireland at the time of Patrick's coming. Little is told regarding him; some writers assert that he was a contemporary of Saint Columba. His feast is observed on the twelfth of the month.

Saint Mac Cartan, titular saint of the diocese of Clogher, was appointed to that See by Saint Patrick, and governed it long. Tradition ascribes many miracles to him. He died in 506, and is honoured on the Feast of the Assumption.

Saint Crumin, whom Butler credits with writing a long and erudite letter to the fourth abbot of Iona urging him and his monks to conform to the Roman usage regarding Easter, is venerated on the nineteenth of August. He was consecrated bishop in some part of Ireland, but resigned his See to become a monk at Bobbio, where he died at an advanced age. The inscription on his tomb has been translated by Miss Stokes, and it begins: "Here the sacred members of Cunniam are dissolved."

Alban Butler does not mention, among the saints of the eighth of August, Saint Coleman, Bishop of Lindisfarne, who assisted at the famous Synod of Whitby. When the Assembly decided to adopt the Roman custom of the tonsure and the Roman method of observing Easter, Colman resigned his bishopric and retired to Mayo, where he founded a new monastery for the Irish and Saxon monks who had followed him across the sea. Later it became necessary to found a separate monastery for the Saxon monks.

Nor does the same ecclesiastical writer make mention of Attracta, on the eleventh day of the month. This holy virgin desired to become a nun, and though opposed by her family, she and a female attendant journeyed to Boyle where Saint Patrick was preaching. Patrick consented to receive her vows; and when he raised his hands to heaven to implore the Divine benediction for the young novice a veil of dazzling whiteness fell from the skies for Attracta. She founded her first convent near Lough Gara, and during her life often acted as peacemaker among the surrounding tribes.

Irish Rosary, Volume 25 (1921), 625-630.

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