Monday 17 August 2015

Saint Iero of Egmond, August 17

On 17 August we remember a ninth-century holy man who met a martyr's death at the hands of the Northmen, Saint Iero. Canon O'Hanlon has a very full account of the saint, dealing with his life, his death and the subsequent translation of his relics. The manner of the discovery, where the saint appears to a pious layman and instructs him where to find his remains, is a commonplace of medieval hagiography. I do find myself questioning though the Irish credentials of this saint, as it seems that for continental religious houses there was a certain cachet to having an Irish founding saint. As I have pointed out many times before the term 'Scot' was applied to the Irish in the early middle ages and it was a cause of some annoyance when these 'Scottish' saints were later claimed by the country we now call Scotland. In this case Saint Iero was also claimed for England and I wonder if perhaps he might have been one of the many Saxon saints who were prepared for their missionary endeavours in the Germanic lands at Irish monasteries like Rathmelsigi? Canon O'Hanlon, however, is quite happy to give Saint Iero a place in Volume VIII of his Lives of the Irish Saints and is able to source accounts for our saint that would otherwise have been difficult to access:


The public veneration given to St. Iero, Jero, or Hieron, Priest and Martyr, in Holland, is of very ancient date, and he is to be found recorded in Martyrologies and Calendars, as also in various Manuscripts of remote writing, as in some belonging to Harlaem, to Utrecht, and to other places. An ancient Manuscript Breviary, the Florarium Sanctorum, and the additions to Usuard, have notices of him. St. Iero, like many other holy men, resolved on leaving his native country to gain souls to Christ. He was also ready to lay down his own life, in the effort to spread the Gospel among the Gentiles.

From the more ancient memoirs of this holy martyr the mediaeval and more recent notices have been drawn. In the "Natales Sanctorum Belgii," St. Ieron is mentioned, at the 17th of August, in two paragraphs. This account Molanus has taken, from a Manuscript belonging to Egmond. Likewise, Sueder, Bishop of Utrecht, mentions this holy martyr, with great commendation, and in a decree, dated November 15th, 1429. In the "Historia Martyrum Batavicorum," appended to Peter van Opmeer's celebrated work, "Opus chronographicum Orbis Universi, a Mundi Exordio usque ad Annum MDCXI., we find published, Vita S. Jeronis, and rendered in heroic Latin verse. This latter was composed, by William Hermann Goudan Erasmus. The fullest mediaeval account of St. Iero—but probably not the most reliable —is that given by John Gerbrand,who was prior of the Carmelite Convent, at Leyden, in 1495. And this was first published, in his " Chronicon Belgicum." Molanus has treated about St. Ieron or Hieron, at the 17th of August. Likewise, in “Batavia Sacra," there is a brief account relating to the Life and Passion of this holy Martyr, as also to those circumstances connected with the discovery and preservation of his relics. The Bollandists have inserted his Acts, at this date. These, given in two chapters, have been taken from John of Leyden's Belgic Chronicle, and they are preceded by an introductory commentary. Dean Cressy has an account of St. Ieron, whom he calls an English Priest. The Right Rev. Dr. Challenor has a record of this saint, both in the "Britannia Sancta," and in the "Memorial of British Piety." In the latter work, St. Jeron is called a native of Great Britain. The Petits Bollandistes notice also the feast of St. Jeron (Hiero), at this date.

From the ancient Manuscript History, found at Egmond, it would seem, that this priest was a Scotus or an Irishman by birth and that he was of noble parentage. He is related, likewise, to have been an only son of his father and mother; but, resolving to avoid the snares and illusions of this world, he joined a society of religious, and zealously endeavoured to emulate the virtues of his brethren. This happened, as we are informed, while he was very young; but, when he advanced in years, he also grew in wisdom and in sanctity. Having a vocation for the ecclesiastical state, he went through the various preparatory grades of orders. In due course, he was ordained a priest. He commenced a missionary career as a preacher in Holland, and this took place towards the middle of the ninth century.

When his mission opened, pagan rites and the worship of idols prevailed in those northern parts of Europe. Gradually, he won over converts to the true Faith, and then very sedulously he began to ground them in those principles which should guide their future course of life. He converted many souls from darkness and error, especially in Frisia. Notwithstanding the known ferocity of the people living in that region, he gained upon their affections, and rendered many of them most acceptable to God. After some time spent on these labours, St. Iero seems to have settled in a place named Noortwyck—at present the village of Noordwyk-Binnen in the province of South Holland—about six miles N.N.W. from Leyden. The place in which he lived lay on the shores of the North Sea. However, a storm of invasion was about to burst forth, and a host of Scandinavian plunderers descended on the shores of Holland, about the year 856, when many men and women were killed, while others were taken as captives. The invaders subjected the whole country to robbery and spoliation. Especially were the Christians objects of aversion to them.

While Iero laboured on that mission, these Danish and Northmen ravages served to interrupt the good he had accomplished. Moreover, he was speedily apprehended, and brought for trial before the Danish leader. Rejoicing that he was deemed worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ, Iero prayed while he was being conducted to the tribunal for examination: "O Lord, lead me in thy justice because of my enemies; conduct my ways in thy sight." It would seem, that many in the crowd who followed him cried out: “Remove this man from life, nor suffer him longer to continue the enemy of our gods." Others demanded, that he should endure the most exquisite tortures, so that the people of Holland, who loved him, might be deterred by the example made from following him as their Christian leader.

After many persecutions visited upon him by the barbarians, St. Iero was at last thrust into a dark prison. There he remained until the day following, when he was brought to trial. The pagans had resolved on urging him to renounce Christianity, and to embrace the worship of idols. However, he employed the sublime words of the Psalm: "Lord, I shall walk in the light of thy presence, and I shall rejoice in thy name all the day." When brought before the Danish leader and his council, the former asked if the wounds he received on the day before had made any impression on him. Then the man of God cheerfully answered: “Not alone have they not filled me with sorrow, but they have strengthened my resolution, for it is written, according to the number of griefs in my heart, thy consolations have rejoiced my soul." Next the President asked about his condition and his religion. St. Iero immediately answered: "Not alone am I of a respectable but of a distinguished family; I have worshipped Christ as the true God from my infancy, and never shall I bend the knee to false idols, because the Lord my God hath said in the Gospel,'Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.'" Then said the leader: "Hear me, and sacrifice to our gods, so that what remains of your life may be enjoyed to old age, and that you may possess our friendship." Whereupon St. Ieron answered: "You counsel a foolish course, and make a doubtful promise, saying, leave God the Creator, unwillingly, and our sacred rites, which have lasted for ages, and sacrifice to demons, so that my life may last to old age; whereas, He is omniscient, and having established all things, He alone knows what is to happen." Then returned the President: "I desire, that you explain to me, who that God is, whom you state to be alone worthy the praise of every creature." Thus invited, the pious servant of God was enabled to make a full profession of his Faith in the following words: "It has been written, give not holy things to dogs, nor cast pearls before swine, and therefore, never from me shall you learn the truth with polluted ears. Yet, as some are standing around, and whom I know to be predestined for eternal life, for their sakes, shall I give a summary of my religion. We believe in the Father, from whom is all paternity named in Heaven and on earth, according to the Apostle; also, in His Son and in the Holy Ghost, regarding whom the Psalmist proclaims, in the word of the Lord, the Heavens are established, and through the breath of His Spirit exist all their powers. The indivisible Trinity of those divisible Persons, a Unity of substance, we venerate; while in this Trinity, none are foremost or last, none greater or lesser, but all three persons are coeternal and co-equal; so that all shall perish, who believe or adore any God, or place hope of salvation, save in this One and Triune God." While these words of Faith were spoken, all the Christians present rejoiced: in some their Faith was strengthened; from the minds of others, a love of their false deities was driven, while fear of suffering was removed from the spirits of many, who surrounded that tribunal. Nevertheless, the President unwilling to be convinced resolved not to hear any further arguments that reflected on his idolatry, or that might prevail over the reason of any who were present. He therefore ordered the saint to be handed over to the executioners, and to be tortured, before he should be put to death. When led to punishment, St. Iero is stated to have prayed: "Take not from my soul thy mercy, nor thy truth from much counsel. Wherefore, O Lord, I entreat thee, withdraw not thy bounties from me, but may thy mercy and thy truth always support me." While reciting pious ejaculations of this sort, the holy martyr was subjected to the most extreme tortures. In fine, he was beheaded, having nobly professed his Faith, in the midst of all these sufferings.

According to the general opinion, St. Iero obtained the crown of martyrdom, at Nordovyck, or Nordwis. The few Christians who were then spectators of that scene contrived to steal away the body of the holy man, and to bury it with all becoming respect in a newly made grave. He appears to have suffered martyrdom about the year 855, and we are informed, that the day was the 16th of the September Kalends —corresponding with this date for his festival…

In the Martyrologies of Holland, Belgium and France, the feast of St. Jeron is this day commemorated. Likewise, in the Calendars of Galesinus, of Wion, of Bucelin, and in other Martyrologies, the feast of St. Iero or Hieron is set down, at the 17th of August. In Father Stephen White's work, this saint is called Vero—probably through a misprint—and his martyrdom is assigned to this day. Convaeus registers at this date St. Ieron, an illustrious martyr, at Egmond, in Holland. In the anonymous Catalogue of national saints, published by O'Sullevan Beare, we find Hieron, at the 17th of August. In like manner, on the authority of Molanus and Floratius, Father Henry Fitzsimon enters Iheron, presbyter et martyr, at this same date. In his Menologium Scotorum, Thomas Dempster has classed this holy martyr, at the 17th of August, of course claiming him to be a Scotus belonging to Scotland...


After these events [i.e. Saint Iero's martyrdom], one hundred years had elapsed, and the place of St. Iero's burial appears to have been forgotten or neglected, when in the year 955, a pious and an humble layman, named Nothbod, who lived near the spot, had a vision one night, during which a venerable man of large stature, and having a beautiful countenance, appeared to that agriculturalist. This apparition so unusual filled him with fear and astonishment. Nevertheless, the figure spoke and said: "Fear not, nor be under any apprehension, dear brother, for the labour of thy hands hath sanctified thee, and the charities thou hast bestowed have cleared thy soul from the stains of sin, so that thou art worthy to behold the face of thy fellow-servants, now reigning with the Almighty, and to hold communion with them. Wherefore, it has been granted me, one of these servants, to appear in a vision to thee, through God's grace; and, learn now, that thou art to raise my remains, so long neglected, and to manifest in a public manner my deserts in the kingdom of Heaven." Fearing this apparition and these words might be designed to ensnare him through some illusion of Satan, Nothbod first armed himself with a sign of the cross. Then comforted with the sweet tone of speech heard, he enquired who the spirit was, and he received for answer: "O good man, I congratulate you on the faith you have in that sign of the holy cross, as a shield against every diabolic effort. Not as you think am I a phantasm, I was conceived like you in sin, but, I was born, so that I should suffer the tribulations of humanity, and now justified through the grace of God, I enjoy the happiness of eternal life." He then related, how having loved and served God, he had been brought through the palm of martyrdom to the rewards of Heaven. He added moreover: “Now go to the village called Noortwyck, and there shall you find my tomb, composed of small stones, and formed in the barren sand. Bear my remains to the place called Egmond, which has been rescued from the foulness of idolatry, through the distinguished merits of St. Adalbert. Do not hesitate to deposit them, in the sanctuary of that place; for, He who enabled me to overcome earthly trials has also desired them to be preserved in such a tabernacle."

Having spoke these words, the apparition vanished. However, the pious countryman resolved to wait a further confirmation of this command, while he prayed to the Almighty most earnestly, with humility of spirit and contrition of heart, and with fasting, that the vision might be repeated a second and a third time. Again, St. Iero appeared, and Nothbod was warned, that he should not be so slow, in manifesting obedience to the will of God, and that he should not contemn the divine mandate, lest he might suffer punishment in the next life for such inexcusable neglect. Yet, was the admonition disregarded, until it happened, that thieves stole some horses from the pasture of a certain man while he was asleep. They were concealed in a recess the robbers had selected for that purpose. On missing those animals, the owner collected a band of friends and servants, to search for them. After great fatigue, towards the decline of day, that company reached a very intricate place, from which they saw no outlet, and they were wearied. There, the man told his friends to rest and to take some refreshment. Afterwards, they fell asleep. Meantime, St. Iero appeared to one of these men, who was just and holy, and he said: "Arise, and tell Nothbod, that no longer must he delay to fulfil the divine commands; for, in the eastern part of the plain, and to the right hand of it, from the place where he sleeps this night, he shall find my tomb. And, as unbelievers demand a sign, when morning dawns, go to the adjoining wood, where without doubt you shall find the horses that have been lost." On awaking, this man told his companions to arise, as the Almighty had even deigned to discover that place, where the horses should be found.

Having entered the wood a little distance from the highway, the horses were met with, and tied to stakes, as they had been left by the robbers. This fulfillment of the prediction caused the man to relate all he had learned in the vision to Nothbod, and those directions he had received. This was a source of great joy to Nothbod, because additional evidence had been procured, to corroborate what had been already manifested to him. When the others had left for home, both of these taking sacks with them began to dig in the spot shown to them. Soon they found a box, containing the precious remains of St. Iero, and to their great joy. At once, they conveyed a special message to St. Baldric the holy bishop of Utrecht, and to Theodric II., Count of Holland, that they should come to the spot, so soon as they possibly could, and that the relics might be brought to that destined place, where they were to be held in special veneration.

The Count was a man distinguished for his religious life, as had been the saintly prelate, and both were greatly rejoiced to hear about the discovery of St. Iero's relics; but, before proceeding further, a three days' fast was directed for observance in the whole diocese. Then they approached the tomb, whence proceeded a fragrant odour, and they gave praise to the Almighty, for thus manifesting his power and goodness. The remains of St. Iero were then raised, and at first placed in fine linen, while hymns and canticles of praise were sung, as a procession formed along the road which led by the sea. Great crowds of men and women assembled, at a grove, which was called Rynmeer. Then, another great miracle was witnessed. A coffin was wanting to enclose the relics, and to their great amazement, one was seen floating on the sea-waves, and it was suddenly cast on shore.

The body of this holy martyr was afterwards translated to Egmont, by Count Theodoric II., where in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Adalbert, it has been since preserved, with every mark of respect and religious veneration. There are three villages named Egmont, in the province of North Holland, and a few miles west of Alkmaer. That lying nearest to the sea is called Egmond-aan-Zee - further inland, and on the other side of a sand-hill ridge, is Egmond-opden-Hoef; and about one mile or more, south of it, stands Egmond-Binnen or Inner Egmont.

The saint's head had not been found, however, when the body had been taken from its tomb; but, many years afterwards, it pleased the Almighty to show his wonders to the people of Noortwyck, who resolved on building a church on that spot where St. Iero's relics had so long lain. When the workmen opened a foundation for the altar, to their great joy they found the skull of the holy martyr. Then, without any human agency, the bells of the village church began to ring. The people were in admiration, and said that angels were causing this joyous chime. They gave praise to Almighty God for his bounties to them. Taking the venerable head, it was deposited with becoming honour and ceremony within the sanctuary. In times subsequent, innumerable bands of pilgrims flocked to St. Iero's shrine, even from the most distant places, to pray and to ask many temporal and spiritual favours, through his intercession.

Nor were miracles wanting to confirm the fame of his sanctity. On the 15th of November, 1429, to encourage devotion towards our saint, Bishop Sueder of Utrecht issued a Decree or Pastoral, in which it was announced, that the festival of St. Iero should be observed each year, with like solemnity as that of St. Laurence, the martyr, throughout his diocese. Moreover, he granted an Indulgence of Forty Days to all, who should visit the parochial church of Noirtich (Noordwyck), on his Feast-day, or on any other occasion of a procession in it, or for the celebration of Mass there in his honour, or who should contribute means or ornaments for the decent maintenance of the church.

Throughout Holland, the festival and reverence for St. Iero have long been observed. Among the people, moreover, a belief grew up, that through his pious invocation objects lost were sure to be recovered. It seems to be in allusion to this belief, that St. Jeron has been represented in art, as a Priest, with hooded falcon on his hand and bearing a sword; also, in a Priest's cassock over a suit of armour, and a falcon on his left hand, not hooded, his right hand holding up the cassock, so as to display the armour on his right leg; likewise, in a Priest's cassock, with a falcon on his left hand. While the sword was emblematic of his martyrdom; the falcon—a bird said to have a peculiar instinct of searching for things buried—represents the other prevailing popular tradition.

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