Monday 10 August 2015

The Arrival of Saint Maelruain with the Relics of the Saints at Tallaght, August 10

Canon O'Hanlon has a notice of a wonderful feast of the translation of the relics of the saints by Saint Maelruain of Tallaght at August 10:
The Arrival of St. Maolruain, with the Relics of Virgins and of other Saints, at Tallagh, County of Dublin.

In the Martyrology of Tallagh, we find a festival for this day, as characterized at the head of this paragraph. We learn from the Life of St. Aengus, the Culdee, that he often travelled about, engaged on inquiries, which enabled him to illustrate the Saint-History of Ireland. Doubtless, he failed not to collect some relics of those holy persons, whenever he travelled abroad; and, it is likely, that his distinguished superior and local contemporary, St. Maelruan, who had kindred tastes, made special journeys for similar purposes. One of these returns must have been solemnly commemorated at Tallagh, in the eighth century, and before the death of St. Maelruan, on the 7th July, 792. That commemoration was probably continued annually, on this day, and at that particular place, in recognition of those treasures deposited by the holy founder in the house of his religious community.
This would have been a purely local commemoration specific to this County Dublin monastery, and scholar Westley Follett suggests that it may in fact commemorate the anniversary of its founding:
According to the Annals of the Four Masters Tallaght was founded in 774. The Martyrology of Tallaght appears to commemorate the occasion on 10 August with the notice 'Mael Ruain came to Tallaght with his relics of the saints, martyrs and virgins'. [1]
This feast thus gives us a glimpse into the development of the cult of the saints in eighth-century Ireland as well as the part played by this particular monastery. Tallaght is perhaps most famously associated with the Céile-Dé movement, but also left a lasting hagiological legacy. For this monastery was associated with the production of the earliest surviving Irish calendars of the saints, The Martyrology of Tallaght and the Martyrology of Aengus. The former is essentially a copy of the Hieronymian Martyrology which reached Ireland in the eighth century (possibly via Iona) to which the commemorations of native Irish saints was added. Follett comments:
It should not be overlooked that non-Irish saints were venerated at Tallaght. The Martyrology of Tallaght (edd. Best and Lawlor, 62) commemorates August 10 with the comment, 'Mael Ruain cum suis reliquiis sanctorum martirum et uirginum ad Tamlachtain uenit'. Given the paucity of native martyrs in Ireland, we may presume these were the relics of non-Irish martyrs. [2]
Various sources connected to the monastery of Tallaght give a further glimpse of devotion to the saints. The Preface to the Martyrology of Aengus, which scholars seem to agree used The Martyrology of Tallaght as a source and was written within a generation of the time of Maelruain, records a particular devotion to Saint Michael the Archangel on the part of Maelruain and claims that relics of the archangel were kept at Tallaght:
Now it is that Maelruain who decided that he would not take land in Tamlachtu until Michael (the Archangel), with whom he had a friendship, should take it; and because of that agreement there are in Tamlachtu relics consecrated to Michael. [3]
Follett also quotes two further Tallaght documents which show how devotion to the saints was practiced as part of the monastic day. The first is from The Teaching of Maelruain:
It was their practice that one man should read aloud the Gospel and the Rules and miracles of the saints while their brethern were at their rations or eating their supper, so that their attention should not be occupied with their dinner. [4]
and is confirmed in The Rule of the Céile-Dé:
It is the practice of the Céile-Dé that while they are at dinner one of them reads aloud the Gospel and the Rule and the miracles of the saints, to the end that their minds may be set on God, not on the meal. [5]
Finally, there is a post in the archive on an even earlier Irish saint with an interest in collecting the relics of Ireland's holy men and women, Saint Onchu of Clonmore. The scholiast notes on his feast day record the story of his over-enthusiasm when he insisted on collecting a finger from the still-living Saint Maedoc! As a result, Maedoc prophesied that the relic collector and his collection would never leave Clonmore. And thus the Connaght man Onchu, likened in the list of parallel saints to Saint Ambrose, came to be buried at the County Carlow monastery of Saint Maedoc.


[1] Céli Dé in Ireland: monastic writing and identity in the early Middle Ages (Boydell, 2006), 173.

[2] Ibid, 210, footnote 246.

[3] W. Stokes, ed. and trans., The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee (London, 1905), 12-13.

[4] Follett, op.cit., 180.

[5] Ibid.

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