Monday 30 November 2015

Saint Regulus and the Relics of Saint Andrew

November 30 is the feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle and last week I attended a lecture by Scottish historian Michael Turnbull on Saint Andrew and the Emperor Constantine. It was a fascinating account of the links between Constantine's vision of a cross in the sky and the adoption of the saltire as the symbol of Scotland due to the celestial visions of a ninth-century King of the Picts. There is also an Irish connection in the legends surrounding the coming of the relics of Saint Andrew to Scotland, which involve the Irish saint Riaghail of Mucinis (feast day October 16). He was caught up in the later medieval legend of a Saint Regulus or Rule, said to have brought the the relics of Saint Andrew the Apostle to Scotland.  Nineteenth-century Bishop of Brechin, Alexander Forbes, recorded the legend in his 1872 work on the Scottish Kalendars:
The Regulus legend, as believed in Scotland, first occurs in the Colbertine MS. in the Bibliotheque Imperiale. There is also a legend, apparently of the early part of the fourteenth century, in the Harleian Collection in the British Museum, and the last form is that given in the Breviary of Aberdeen. With reference to these various forms of the legend, Mr. W. F. Skene has the following remarks :

"In comparing these three editions, it will be convenient to divide the narrative into three distinct statements.

"The first is the removal of the relics of S. Andrew from Patras to Constantinople. The Colbertine account states that St. Andrew, after preaching to the northern nations, the Scythians and Pictones, received in charge the district of Achaia, with the city of Patras, and was there crucified; that his bones remained there till the time of Constantine the Great, and his sons Constantius and Constans, for 270 years, when they were removed to Constantinople, where they remained till the reign of the Emperor Theodosius.

"The account in the MS. of the Priory of S. Andrews states, that in the year 345, Constantius collected a great army to invade Patras, in order to avenge the martyrdom of S. Andrew, and remove his relics; that an angel appeared to the custodiers of the relics, and ordered Regulus, the bishop, with his clergy, to proceed to the sarcophagus which contained his bones, and to take a part of them, consisting of three fingers of the right hand, a part of one of the arms, the part of one of the knees, and one of his teeth, and conceal them, and that the following day Constantius entered the city, and carried off to Rome the shrine containing the rest of his bones; that he then laid waste the Insula Tyberis and Colossia, and took thence the bones of S. Luke and S. Timothy, and carried them along with the relics of S. Andrew to Constantinople.

"The Aberdeen Breviary says that, in the year 360, Regulus flourished at Patras in Achaia, and was custodier of the bones and relics of S. Andrew; that Constantius invaded Patras in order to avenge the martyrdom of S. Andrew; that an angel appeared to him, and desired him to conceal a part of the relics, and that after Constantius had removed the rest of the relics to Constantinople, this angel again appeared to him, and desired him to take the part of the relics he had concealed, and to transport them to the western region of the world, where he should lay the foundation of a church in honour of the apostle. Here the growth of the legend is very apparent. In the oldest edition, we are told of the removal of the relics to Constantinople, without a word of Regulus. In the second, we have the addition of Regulus concealing a part of the relics in obedience to a vision; and in the third, we have a second vision directing him to found a church in the west. This part of the legend, as we find it in the oldest edition, belongs, in fact, to the legend of S. Andrew, where it is stated that, after preaching to the Scythians, he went to Argos, where he also preached, and finally suffered martyrdom at Patras; and that, in the year 337, his body was transferred from Patras to Constantinople with those of S. Luke and S. Timothy, and deposited in the church of the apostles, which had been built some time before by Constantine the Great.

"When I visited Greece in the year 1844, I was desirous of ascertaining whether any traces of this legend still remained at Patras. In the town of Patras I could find no church dedicated to S. Andrew, but I observed a small and very old-looking Greek monastery, about a mile to the west of it, on the shore of the Gulf of Patras, and proceeding there, I found one of the caloyeres or Greek monks, who spoke Italian, and who informed me that the monastery was attached to the adjacent church of S. Andrew built over the place where he had suffered martyrdom. He took me into the church, which was one of the small Byzantine buildings so common in Greece, and showed me the sarcophagus from which, he said, the relics had been removed, and also, at the door of the church, the spot where his cross had been raised, and a well called S. Andrew's Well. I could find, however, no trace of S. Regulus.

"The second part of the legend in the oldest edition represents a Pictish king termed Ungus, son of Urguist, waging war in the Merse, and being surrounded by his enemies. As the king was walking with his seven comites, a bright light shines upon them ; they fall to the earth, and a voice from heaven says, 'Ungus, Ungus, hear me, an apostle of Christ called Andrew, who am sent to defend and guard thee.' He directs him to attack his enemies, and desires him to offer the tenth part of his inheritance in honour of S. Andrew. Ungus obeys, and is victorious.

"In the S. Andrews edition, Ungus's enemy is said to have been Athelstane, king of the Saxons, and his camp at the mouth of the river Tyne. S. Andrew appears to Ungus in a dream, and promises him victory, and tells him that the relics will be brought to his kingdom, and the place to which they are brought is to become honoured and celebrated. The people of the Picts swear to venerate S. Andrew ever after, if they prove victorious. Athelstane is defeated, his head taken off, and carried to a place called Ardchinnichan, or Portus Reginae.

" The Breviary of Aberdeen does not contain this part of the legend.

" The third part of the legend in the oldest narrative represents one of the custodiers of the body of S. Andrew at Constantinople, directed by an angel in a vision to leave his house, and to go to a place whither the angel will direct him. He proceeds prosperously to 'verticem montis regis id est rigmond.' Then the king of the Picts comes with his army, and Regulus, a monk, a stranger from the city of Constantinople, meets him with the relics of S. Andrew at a harbour which is called 'Matha,id est mordurus,' and King Ungus dedicates that place and city to God and S. Andrew 'ut sit caput et mater omnium ecclesiaram quae sunt in regno Pictorum.' It must be remembered here that this is the first appearance of the name of Regulus in the old legend, and that it is evidently the same King Ungus who is referred to in both parts of the story. The S. Andrews edition of the legend relates this part of the story much more circumstantially. According to it, Regulus was warned by the angel to sail with the relics towards the north, and wherever his vessel was wrecked, there to erect a church in honour of S. Andrew. He voyages among the islands of the Greek sea for a year and a half, and wherever he lands he erects an oratory in honour of S. Andrew. At length he lands in 'terra Pictorum ad locum qui Muckros fuerat nuncupatus, nunc autem Kilrymont dictus; and his vessel having been wrecked he erects a cross he had brought from Patras. After remaining there seventeen days or nights, Regulus goes with the relics to Forteviot, and finds there the three sons of King Hungus, viz. Owen, Nectan, and Finguine, who, being anxious as to the life of their father, then on an expedition ' in partibus Argatheliae,' give the tenth part of Forteviot to God and S. Andrew. They then go to a place called 'Moneclatu, qui nunc dicitur Monichi,' and there Finchem, the queen of King Hungus, is delivered of a daughter called Mowren, who was afterwards buried at Kilrymont; and the queen gives the place to God and S. Andrew. They then cross the mountain called Moneth, and reach a place called 'Doldancha, nunc autem dictus Chondrochedalvan,' where they meet King Hungus returning from his expedition, who prostrates himself before the relics, and this place is also given to God and S. Andrew. They return across the Moneth to Monichi, where a church was built in honour of God and the apostle, and thence to Forteviot, where a church is also built. King Hungus then goes with the clergy to Kilrymont, when a great part of that place is given to build churches and oratories, and a large territory is given as parochia. The boundaries of this parochia can still be traced, and consisted of that part of Fife lying to the east of a line drawn from Largs to Nauchton. Within this line was the district called the Boar's Chase, containing the modern parishes of S. Andrews, Cameron, Dairsie, Kemback, Ceres, Denino, and Kingsmuir; and besides this district, the following parishes were included in the parochia,—viz. Crail, Kiagsbams, Anstruther, Abercromby, S. Monance, Kelly, Elie, Newburgh, Largo, Leuchars, Forgan, and Logie-Murdoch.

" It is impossible to doubt that there is a historic basis of some kind for this part of the legend. The circumstantial character of the narrative is of a kind not likely to be invented. The place beyond the Moneth or Grampians, called Chondrochedalvan, is plainly the church of Kindrochet in Braemar, which was dedicated to St. Andrew. Monichi is probably not Monikie in Forfarshire, as that church was in the diocese of Brechin, but a church called Eglis Monichti, now in the parish of Monifieth, which was in the diocese of S. Andrews, and Forteviot was also in the diocese of S. Andrews.

"According to the account in the Breviary, Regulus, after the relics had been removed to Constantinople, takes the portion he had concealed, and sails with them for two years till he arrives 'ad terram Scottorum,' where he lands and enters the 'nemus porcorum,' and there builds a church, and preaches to the neighbouring people far and wide. Hungus, king of the Picts, sees a company of angels hover over the relics of the apostle, and comes with his army to Regulus, who baptizes him with all his servants, and receives a grant of the land, which is set apart to be the chief seat and mother church of Scotland."—(Skene's Notice of the Early Ecclesiastical Settlements at S. Andrews, in Proceedings Soc. Antiq. Scot. vol. iv. pp. 301-307.)

Alexander Penrose Forbes, D.C.L. Bishop of Brechin, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, (1872), 437-440.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Naomh Columbán san Eoraip

We conclude the octave of posts in honour of the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus with a review of his life and legacy from the late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, whose collection Columbanus in his Own Words introduced me to the saint. For those who don't read Irish it provides an overview of the saint's missionary endeavours, compares him with other great historic travellers, hails his contribution to Irish and European history and concludes with the view of Robert Schumann, also mentioned in yesterday's post, that he may be regarded as the patron saint of those trying to build a united Europe. In these times when the Christian foundations of European civilisation are under such pressure, this is indeed the moment to rediscover him as an intercessor for this continent, 1400 years after his passing from it:

...Leanbh de chuid Laighean, dalta de chuid mhanachas na hÉireann ina óige, d'fhág sé a thír dhúchais mar aon le dosaen deisceabal timpeall 590 agus thug aghaidh na loinge soir ó dheas. Chaith sé tamall beag sa Bhreatain Mhór ar an bhealach agus tháinig i dtír ar chósta thuaidh na Fraince. Bhunaigh sé trí mhainistir sa Bhurgainn go gasta i ndiaidh a chéile–Annegray, Luxeuil agus Fontaine.

Níorbh fhada go raibh na sluaite ag teacht chuige go Luxeuil, daoine a tháinig faoi dhraíocht a phearsantachta láidre féin nó a d'éirigh geallmhar ar an riail bheatha a leag sé amach dóibh. Ansin d'fhill cuid acu ar a gceantair dhúchais agus thug siad in éineacht leo blúirín éigin de spiorad agus de riail bheatha Luxeuil. Ní raibh glúin amháin imithe go raibh tionchar Luxeuil le mothú i ngach cearn den Fhrainc agus i bhFlondras féin. Bhí mainistreacha nua a mbunú ag manaigh Fhrancacha a oileadh i Luxeuil, agus bhí cuid de na seanmhainistreacha ag cur athchóiriú orthu féin, ag iarraidh féiníobairt agus pionós na rialach nua a shnaidhmeadh leis an chóras eile a tháinig anuas chucu ó aimsir Mháirtín Tours.

Ní raibh Columbán féin beo leis an fhómhar iontach seo a fheiceáil. Ruaigeadh as an Bhurgainn é i 610, agus rinneadh seachránaí ar son Chríost de feasta. Trí Besançon, Avallon, Auxerre, Nevers, Orleans, Tours, Nantes, thrasnaigh sé féin agus a chomplacht bheag Éireannach an Fhrainc go hiomlán, agus iad ar a mbealach chuig an chósta chun go gcuirfí ar bórd loinge iad a thabharfadh ar ais go hÉirinn iad. Ach tháinig an doineann i gcabhair orthu agus d'éalaigh siad. Ansin thug Columbán aghaidh ar an cheantar níos faide ó thuaidh, an Ile-de-France inniú. Chuala Páras a ghlór agus ceantar an Brie, agus má breacadh an limistéar seo le mainistreacha sa chéad ghlúin eile–Faremoutiers (627), Jouarre (630), Rebais (c. 636)–is ó Cholumbán a fuair lucht a mbunaithe an dreasú.

Faoi dheireadh shroich sé an Réin i gcomharsanacht Mainz. Lean sé bealach na n-abhann agus na loch feasta–suas an Réin, isteach san Aar agus sa Limmat, thart timpeall ar Loch Zurich agus Loch Constance agus ar aghaidh go Bregenz sa chúinne thoir den loch. Chaith sé tamall sa cheantar sin, atá ar theorainn na hEilvéise agus na hOstaire agus na Gearmáine inniú; ansin thug a aghaidh ó dheas ag tarraingt ar an Iodáil. Ní raibh fonn ar Ghall, duine den dáréag a d'fhág Éire in éineacht leis, dul ar thuras eile agus d'iarr sé cead ar a mháistir fanacht san áit a raibh sé agus leanúint ar aghaidh ag craobhscaoileadh an tsoiscéil ar bhruach Loch Constance. Rud nach bhfuair sé, mar bhí eagla ar Cholumbán gurbh í an leisce roimh an turas a thug ar Ghall an cead a iarraidh. Ach d'fhan Gall, agus d'imigh Columbán agus a chomplacht ina éagmais. Trasna na nAlp agus síos trí mhachairí na Lombáirde leis, gur bhunaigh sé a eaglais dheireanach i mBobbio. Is ann a d'éag sé ar an 23 Samhain 615.

Bhí turas déanta aige ab fhiú a chur ar aon chéim le haistir mhóra na staire, le anabasis Xenophon, le taisteal Marco Polo chun na Síne, le marcaíocht Tschiffely thar na hAndes, le turasanna Stanley agus Livingstone san Afraic. Ach bhí rud níos mó ná sin déanta aige. Bhí ré nua oscailte aige i stair na hÉireann agus i stair na Mór-Roinne. I stair na hÉireann, mar ba cheannródaí é i measc na nGaelnaomh a d'imigh thar sáile. I stair na Mór-Roinne, mar ba as a shaothar a shíolraigh cuid de na tréithe ba láidre i manachas na Fraince, agus ba as an mhanachas céanna a gineadh cultúr Críostaí na hEorpa.

Go dtí sin ba bheag den obair thréadach a dhéanadh manaigh na Fraince i measc na dtuataí, agus is sna bailte móra amháin a bhí na mainistreacha le fáil. Columbán agus a chuid deisceabal a cheangail an mhisinéireacht leis an mhanachas, agus a chuir tús le bunú na mainistreacha faoin tuath, ar thalamh a bhronn an uasalaicme orthu, sa dóigh go bhféadfadh siad leas a bhaint as an talmhaíocht mar shlí bheatha. 'Dá mhéad solas a ligtear isteach ar dhorchadas na meanaoise', a scríobh an Pápa Pius XI i 1923, 'is ea is soiléire a éiríonn sé go bhfuil athbhreith na heagnaíochta agus na sibhialtachta Críostaí i gcodanna éagsúla den Fhrainc, den Ghearmáin agus den Iodáil le cur i leith shaothar agus dúthracht Cholumbán'. Nasc idir náisiúin éagsúla a bhí sa naomh de bharr a shaothair agus a thaistil; is dócha gur ar an ábhar sin a dúirt Robert Schumann faoi, dornán blianta ó shin: 'Is é Columbán naomhphatrún na ndaoine go léir atá ag iarraidh an Eoraip aontaithe a thógáil'.

An Cairdinéal Tomás Ó Fiaich, Gaelscrínte san Eoraip, (Baile Átha Cliath, 1986.)

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Saint Columbanus: a divisive figure?

Although there is no doubt of the historic importance of Saint Columbanus, it must also be acknowledged that he was in some ways a controversial figure. To my yellowing copy of Columbanus in his Own Words mentioned in the first of this series of posts, I have now added a nice crisp copy of a new title on the same lines, Alexander O'Hara's Saint Columbanus - Selected Writings, which you can preview on the publisher's website here. Dr O'Hara will also be bringing out a complete English translation of the Life of Columbanus by Jonas of Bobbio, inevitably alas, a rather more expensive tome of which details can be found here. Below is a short extract from the introduction to the Selected Writings in which the author looks at some of the differing reactions which the strong personality of Saint Columbanus has provoked:

The Irish saint and monastic founder, Columba the Younger, or Columbanus ('the Little Dove') as he was more affectionately known (c.550-615), can appear a stern and unsympathetic character. He was a man of extremes who provoked mixed reactions both from his and from our own, more recent, contemporaries. The Oxford medieval historian, J.M. Wallace-Hadrill dismissed him as a 'savage old saint' while Robert Schumann, one of the architects of the European Union, lauded him as a pioneer of European civilization and unity. More recently, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of him as being 'one of the Fathers of Europe'. In his day many regarded Columbanus as a saint, but others vilified him as a troublesome upstart who dared to speak out on Church affairs. Although a divisive figure, he is nonetheless one of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures from the early medieval 'Age of Saints'.

Alexander O'Hara, ed., Saint Columbanus - Selected Writings, (Dublin, 2015), 16.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Friday 27 November 2015

Saint Columbanus at Annegray

We continue the octave of posts in honour of the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus with a portrait of the way of life he pursued at Annegray. It reveals a tension familiar to the saints, torn as they are by the needs of others and a desire for solitude:

During the sojourn of Columbanus at Anegrai which lasted for two or three years, he lived in the continual practice of prayer and contemplation. Oftentimes, his course of life was interrupted by the wits of those, who came from afar, being attracted by the reputation of his virtues and many miracles wrought through the efficacy of his prayers. Numbers of sick and infirm persons were brought to him, and through his intervention they were miraculously restored to health and strength. Numbers of pious persons sought the direction and advice of this experienced instructor. These unavoidable interruptions did not however prevent our Saint occasionally retiring from public observation, to avoid the distractions caused by his visitors. Although he could not always shun intercourse with men, on account of the laborious duties of the ministry he was called to exercise; yet, he was accustomed, before all great festivals, to withdraw himself for a few days to the most retired parts of the desert, where, by a sort of retreat, he devoted himself entirely to fasting, prayer and holy contemplation.

Rev. John O'Hanlon, ' Life of Saint Columbanus, Abbot of Luxeu' in The Irish Harp: a monthly magazine of national and general literature: Volume 1, 1-4 (1863), 154.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Saint Columbanus and the Miracle of Water from the Rock

Canon O'Hanlon brings us another vignette from the Life of Saint Columbanus, this time heavily-laden with Old Testament allusions, as he describes how our saint is able through his prayers to make water flow from a rock:

On the occasion of his many retreats to the solitudes of the forest, the Saint suffered the extremities of hunger for whole days. He lived upon wild herbs and berries, which the woods furnished, and he often remained altogether apart from his companions. His drink was water. A certain youth, named Domoaldis, was commissioned by Columban and his monks to bear messages between them, and this boy was alone witness to many of the austerities of our Saint. Columban remained for several days on the brow of a precipitous rock, very difficult of access, and Domoaldis, who chanced to be with him, complained in an undertone of voice, that they should be obliged to procure water at a distance, and that it must be conveyed with great toil up the side of the steep. Upon this, Columban desired the boy to scoop out a hollow in the rock, and he obeyed. The holy man knelt down, and besought the Lord, that he would look upon them with a favourable eye. Thereupon, a rill of water issued from the rock, and the spring continued perpetually running from that time. Hence we may admire the wonderful condescension of Almighty God, to the requests of his chosen servants, who with faith and hope prefer their petitions to him. For he himself has given the assurance, "All things whatsoever you ask, believe that you shall obtain and they shall be rendered unto you." This consolatory promise to the holy man was often realized, even in the presence of multiplied difficulties.*

* Jonas, Vita S. Columbani. n. 16.

Rev. John O'Hanlon, ' Life of Saint Columbanus, Abbot of Luxeu' in The Irish Harp: a monthly magazine of national and general literature: Volume 1, 1-4 (1863), 112.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Saint Columbanus and the Dangers of the Forest

We continue the octave of posts in honour of the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus with a glimpse into how the saint dealt with the dangers of life in the forests. I am particularly pleased that the author here is none other than dear old Canon O'Hanlon, as he did not live to publish a November volume of his Lives of the Irish Saints. He did, however, begin the serialisation of what I am sure would have formed his chapter on Saint Columbanus in a short-lived Irish literary magazine, alas it doesn't seem like he got the chance to conclude it. Here he brings us a vignette from the biography of Saint Columbanus by the monk Jonas of Bobbio:
It was a custom of the Saint to make solitary excursions through the forest, and on a certain occasion, when taking with him the Sacred Scriptures, he fell into a reverie of thought, whether it would be preferable for him to suffer violence from men or wild beasts. He concluded at length, that it would be more desirable to sustain the rage of beasts rather than that of men, since the latter sort of violence could not take place, without the loss of immortal souls. Thereupon, he prayed and armed himself with the sign of the cross. No sooner had he performed these actions, than a troop of twelve wolves rushed towards him and surrounded him on every side. The Saint cried out, "O Lord incline to my aid, O Lord hasten to my assistance." He remained immoveable and intrepid, although the wolves caught hold of his garments. They at length left him, and fled into the recesses of the forest. Scarcely had Columban escaped this danger, when he overheard the voices of certain Swiss robbers, who were lurking in the woods. He passed the forest unobserved by them, and thus escaped a second danger. Taking a longer ramble than usual from his cell, he one day penetrated a hitherto unexplored recess of the forest, where he discovered a large cave, in the side of a precipitous rock. Upon entering, he found a bear, which had here taken up its place of concealment. Columban drove the animal away, without its attempting the least injury against him, and what was still more remarkable, it dared not return afterwards to the den it formerly occupied. This occurred at a place about seven miles distant from Anegrai.*

* Jonas, Vita S. Columbani. n. 15.
Rev. John O'Hanlon, ' Life of Saint Columbanus, Abbot of Luxeu' in The Irish Harp: a monthly magazine of national and general literature: Volume 1, 1-4 (1863), 112.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

The Tomb and Relics of Saint Columbanus

Below is a short paper by Margaret Stokes on the tomb and relics of Saint Columbanus written in the late 1880s. As we are dealing with scholarship well over a century old I would treat the theories of the origins of the artistic styles offered here with caution, but the description of the relics is most interesting:

Miss MARGARET STOKES, through the Director, communicated a paper on the tombs at Bobio of St. Columbanus and his followers, Attalus, Congal, Cummian, and others, whose names are given by Padre Rossetti in his Catalogue of the followers of Columbanus, but in their Latin forms, the Irish equivalents to which are omitted.

The tomb of Columbanus is a white marble sarcophagus, formerly surmounted by a marble recumbent statue of the saint, the front and sides of which were adorned with bas-reliefs illustrating events in the life of the saint. Among the interesting features in these bas-reliefs should be noted the booksatchell carried by St. Columbanus in the first, and the watervessel presented by Gregory the Great to the saint at the consecration of his monastery in the central compartment. This sarcophagus stands as an altar in the crypt of the old Lombardic church dedicated to the saint at Bobio, while the tombs of those disciples who followed him from Ireland to Italy are ranged in the walls around that of their master.

The sculptures on five of these sarcophagi offer fine examples of the interlaced work described by Canon Browne at the meeting of the Society on February 19th, as found in Italy at this period and before it, even in the time of imperial Rome. Such patterns were spoken of by Miss Margaret Stokes in her paper read upon the same occasion as gradually introduced with Christianity into Ireland, and there engrafted on a still more archaic form of Celtic art. Thus an Irish variety of such pattern sprang into life. The fact that there is no trace of such Irish individuality in the decorations on the tombs of the Irish saints at Bobio, that there is nothing to differentiate these designs from those that prevailed throughout Lombardy in the seventh century, goes far to prove that this style did not come from Ireland into Italy. Whether, on the other hand, it reached the Irish shore borne directly from Lombardy by the passengers to and fro from Bobio to its parent monastery in Bangor, Co. Down, is yet matter for future research.

The next monument described was the marble slab inscribed to the memory of Cummian, bishop in Ireland at the beginning of the eighth century. We learn from the epitaph itself that Liutprand, king of Lombardy from A.D. 720 to 761, had the monument executed of which this slab was the covering, the artists's name, Joannes Magister, being given at the foot. The inscription consists of nineteen lines, twelve of which are laudatory verses in hexameters, the remaining portion being a request for the saint's intercession.

The knife of St. Columbanus, described by Mabillon in 1682, as well as by Fleming, is still preserved in the sacristy of the church. It is of iron, and has a rude horn handle. The wooden cup out of which the saint drank is also preserved, and in the year 1354 it was encircled by a band of silver, with an inscription stating that it had belonged to St. Columbanus. The bell of the saint is another relic, and it is known that on the occasion of the translation of the saint's relics to Pavia this bell was carried through the streets of that city at the head of the procession.

The vessel brought by pope Gregory the Great from Constantinople, and given by him to St. Columbanus at the consecration of his monastery, agrees in form with that which is represented in the bas-relief on the saint's tomb, and is said to have been one of the water vessels used at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. A silver bust representing the head of St. Columbanus completes the list of relics connected with this saint, which are still preserved in the sacristy of his church at Bobio.

In the discussion that followed, Professor Browne said he was convinced, after careful examination of Miss Stokes's careful drawings and diagrams, that the Hibernian theory of the Irish origin of interlacing ornament in Italy was now quite dead.

With regard to the date of a remarkable vase preserved at Bobio, and said to have been given to St. Columbanus by St. Gregory, the President thought the vase was quite as early as if not earlier than St. Gregory's time, and probably of Greek origin.

Thanks were ordered to be returned for these Exhibitions and Communications.

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London, 2nd ser. Vol XIII, (1889), 270-271.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Monday 23 November 2015

The Death of Saint Columbanus, November 23

Below is the text of a most interesting paper which seeks to explain why Saint Columbanus is commemorated on 21 November on the Irish calendars, when the day of his repose or natalis is held to be on 23 November. It is usual for a saint to be commemorated on the date of his death, the ending of his earthly life then seen as the day of his heavenly birth. The dating system in the Martyrologies follows the old Roman practice, and I am very grateful that the translators of the various Irish Martyrologies worked out all those Ides, Nones, Kalends and Dominical Letters! The author of this paper, Father Bartholomew Mac Carthy (1843-1904), a pioneering Irish scholar in the field of annalistic and chronological studies, quotes many foreign martyrologies and other not so readily-accessible sources in presenting his case:


IN pursuance of the promise given in the April number of the RECORD, we submit to students of Irish Hagiology a solution of the question respecting the date on which St. Columbanus died. That his death took place in November, 615, is placed beyond dispute. The controversy has arisen in reference to the day of the month: opinions varying between the twenty-first and the twenty-third; or, according to the Roman notation employed in the MSS., between the eleventh and the ninth of the Kalends of December.

Could a question like this be decided in favour of the conclusion adopted by the majority, irrespective of the nature and force of their proofs, it were labour in vain to re-open the present discussion. Baronius, Mabillon, the elder Pagi, Soller, O'Conor, and Lanigan not to mention those who copy them are all agreed in accepting the twenty-first. This, it must be admitted, is a formidable array of authorities to contend against. Nevertheless, having examined the subject for ourselves, and having derived new evidence from a source unknown to these eminent writers, we have been led to the conclusion that our Saint was called to his reward on the morning of Sunday, November 23, 615.

Three original authorities are at present available for our guidance. These are a Biography; the Martyrologies; and a passage in the Life of St. Gall.

I. Some twenty-five years after the death of Saint Columbanus, his life was written by Jonas, one of his disciples. Strangely enough, it contains no details of the final scene beyond recording that, having passed one year in Bobio, the saint rendered up his soul to heaven, on the ninth, or, according to another lection, the eleventh, of the Kalends of December. The two readings, it is hardly necessary to observe, arose from the fact that the number was expressed not verbally, but in alphabetical numeration. Of the confusion caused by ignorant or careless transcription of this Roman notation, numerous illustrations will at once recur to all who are familiar with MSS., but the present instance has been, as far as we know, the most widely extended and the most long-lived.

We shall first set down the published readings of the disputed lection in chronological order. The numbers within brackets - No. 3 was not reprinted- are the dates of the first Editions:

1. Inter Bedae opera (1563), IX. Kal. Dec., Nov. 23.
2. Surius (1570), - Kal. Dec., Nov. 23.
3. Fleming (1667), - Kal. Dec., Nov. 23.
4. Mabillon (1688) XI. Kal. Dec., Nov. 21.

"As to the day," Lanigan writes, "some MSS. have, instead of XI Kal. Dec., IX. Kal., etc. But Mabillon and Pagi show that the former is the true reading." We begin, therefore, with Mabillon. As the tabulated statement shows, he was the first to alter the received Text: hence, it is important to learn in his own words the reasons which led him to introduce the change.

At the reference given by Lanigan, he states: "Columbanus died on the 11th of the Kalends of November [December], as Jonas writes. Hence the Edition of Surius and some old Martyrologies are to be corrected, in which his obit is assigned to the ninth of the same Kalends, as in the genuine Usuard and Ado, to whom Wandalbert, who agrees writh Jonas, is to be preferred." And in another work, not quoted by Lanigan, he has the following note : "In Usuard, Ado and Surius the reading is Nov. 23, but the memory of St. Columbanus is assigned to Nov. 21 in the Martyrologies of Wandalbert and of the Benedictines, which are supported by the MS. copies of the Life examined by us."

O'Conor transcribes and adopts these statements, and remarks that the error arose from inaccurate transposition of XI. and IX. This, of course, is true; but in the opposite sense to that intended by the author.

The principal argument employed by Mabillon is based upon the assertion that Jonas reads XI. - which, it is evident, assumes the question in dispute. The same objection holds good in respect to Wandalbert; since the only sources of information open to him were the old Martyrologies and Jonas. Now, as will be shown by-and-by, all the former, even Mabillon admits some, read IX. Unless, therefore, he evolved the date from his own consciousness, Wandalbert must be admitted to have taken it from a copy of the Vita which contained XI. The statement that Ado and Usuard read IX. is opposed to all the evidence we have collected, including that of the Bollandist Soller.

But what is specially noticeable is the matter-of-course fashion in which "some old Martyrologies," that lay awkwardly in his way, are quietly set aside by Mabillon in favour of the Benedictine Monk and the Benedictine Kalendar. Equally noteworthy is it how, in marked contrast with his desire for accurate information on another occasion, he contents himself in this place with a vague reference to MSS., without adding a word respecting their localityantiquity, or authority. And yet, Fleming's Collectanea was, of course, well known to him. Can it be, one is constrained to ask, that he did not care to enter upon an enquiry which might result in showing the inaccuracy, and so far lowering the prestige, of Benedictine authorities?

Be that as it may, it is pleasant to turn from such loose statements to the precision with which our martyed countryman handled the subject. Of Fleming it can be truly said that his life was chiefly devoted to collecting every scrap relating to St. Columbanus. But his enthusiasm did not blind his judgment. On the contrary, he declares with equal severity and justice, that since Surius, as usual, tampered with the Text, and Bede's Editors printed it incorrectly, both Recensions were equally worthless for historical students. Accordingly, he sought personally, and through such scholars as Miraeus, Rosweyde and Stephen White, for the best MSS., in order to present, the most accurate version of Jonas. Nor were his efforts, it is gratifying to learn, unavailing. "Whilst," he writes, "turning over a considerable number of MSS. for this purpose, the most ancient I met with was from the Monastery of St. Maximin at Treves, which was supplied by Father Heribert Rosweyde. From that I transcribed the whole narrative, as you have it here; I also divided it into chapters, and prefixed the titles, which were wanting in the Codex, from the Edition of Surius." This, therefore, is the highest authority which is ever likely to be forthcoming. The passage under consideration is given as follows: Porro beatus Columbanus, expleto anni circulo in antedicto coenobio Bobiensi, beata vita functus, nono Calendas Decembris animam membris solutam coelo reddidit.

The absence of a note upon nono Calendas, it is to be observed in conclusion, shows that Fleming was unaware of any different reading in all the MSS. consulted by himself and on his behalf.

II. We come next to the Martyrologies. Before discussing their relative value, it will be convenient to arrange them chronologically.

1. Martyrology (so-called) of St. Jerome (seventh century): Nov. 23. In Italy, in Bobio Monastery, deposition of St. Columbanus, Abbot.

2. Do. (prose) of Bede (eighth century): Nov. 23. In Italy, in Bobio Monastery, deposition of St. Columbanus, Abbot, who was the founder of numerous monasteries, and father of numberless monks, and rested in a good old age renowned for many virtues.

3. Do. of Rhabanus (ninth century): Nov. 23. In Bobio Monastery, deposition of St. Columbanus, Abbot.

4. Metrical Mart. of Wandalbert (ninth century):
Undenam Abba Columbanus sibi servat, ab ipso
Oceano: multis vitae qui dogmata sanctae
Religione pia sparsit sermone manuque.

5. Ado (ninth century) took the date from Wandalbert; and the entry from Bede. In one and the other he was copied by

6. Usuard (ninth century); who was transcribed, in turn, with the omission of the word depositio, into the

7. Modern Roman Martyrology. Though Usuard, like Ado and Wandalbert, was a Benedictine, and though his work was first read in that Order, yet in the present

8. Benedictine Kalendar, the feast is fixed at the 24th, and the panegyric states that the natal day is the 21st. The latter statement occurs also in the sixth lesson of their Breviary. This arrangement was adopted into the Irish Church ; but at what time we are unable to say.

9. The Martyrology of Donegal has Nov. 21 ; but in the case of Irish saints who lived abroad, its authority is not original.

In respect to Antiquity, the foregoing Table is decisive in favour of the reading IX. Kal. Dec. With reference to Authority, it will suffice to quote the words of Benedict XIV. in his Letter to the Chapter of Bologna: “As regards Martyrologies, it were an open insult to your erudition, if we doubted you were perfectly aware how highly that of St. Jerome is, and has been always, esteemed; to which holy men in process of time added the names of saints who lived after St. Jerome." Before showing how the old reading is confirmed by the Locality of the copies in which it is contained, we have to consider the proofs brought forward by those who adopted the new lection.

Baronius merely says that Usuard, Ado and others more recent, treat of Columbanus at Nov. 21. Mabillon's arguments have been dealt with already. Those of Soller are easily disposed of. He first ironically commends the authenticity and genuineness of a MS. Ado in which Saint Clement's eulogy is partially expunged at Nov. 23, to make room for the insertion of that of St. Columbanus. But what stronger proof could we have that whoever made the erasure considered the better reading to be that given in the Hieronymian Codices (IX.), which Soller rightly conjectures he had examined? Next, he says Ado and Usuard, there is no doubt, read XI. a matter in which we are not much concerned; and that Jonas agrees with them which is true of the copies that have XI., but not of those that read IX. Lastly, he states that the entry in 5 and 6 was composed by Ado, though, as we have shown, it was taken word for word from Bede.

The only critic who attempts to reconcile the conflicting readings is Antonius Pagi: " The lection followed by Mabillon," he decides, "is to be retained; for I have no doubt but that Columbanus died on Nov. 21, and was buried on the 23rd; and that some took occasion to corrupt the notation of the Life from having seen his festival entered on the 23rd in the Martyrologies of Luxeuil, Besancon, and Epternac. But they ought rather have inferred therefrom that Jonas marked the day of his death and those Martyrologists the day of his burial."

This takes for granted that depositio here means burial: an assumption which does not remove the difficulty in 5 and 6, where the deposition is entered at Nov. 21. Now, Pagi, we think, would find it hard to prove that the dead were consigned to earth on the day they died. But, to go to the root of the matter, depositio, we maintain, does not signify burial, but death, in Ancient Martyrologies. In the phrase depositio Columbani, the genitive, to use a grammatical expression, is subjective, not objective. In support of this, we append the following authorities :-

1. "What is Deposition?" asks St. Ambrose, "Not that, surely," he goes on to reply, "which is carried out by the hands of clerics in burying bodily remains; but that whereby a man lays down the earthly body in order that, freed from carnal bonds, he may go unimpeded to heaven. Deposition, in truth, is that by which we cast away evil desires, cease from offences, give over sin, and put aside, as if throwing off a heavy burden, whatever is prejudicial to salvation. Accordingly, this day is appointed for the chief celebration ; because, in reality, the greatest festivity is to be dead to vice, and to live for justice alone. Hence, the day of deposition is called the day of nativity ; since, when freed from the prison of our sins, we are born to the liberty of the Saviour."

2. This equation of depositio and natale is so closely resembled by that given in the Council of Clovesho (A.D. 747) as to tead one to believe the Fathers had the Sermon of St. Ambrose before them when drawing up the seventeenth Canon: Ut dies natalitius beati Papae Gregorii, et dies quoque depositionis, qui est vii. Kal. Junii, S. Augustini, Archiepiscopi . . . venerentur. St. Augustine of Canterbury, it is well known, died on the 26th of May.

3. Mabillon quotes from an Ancient Kalendar : May 26. Deposition of Augustine, Confessor ; of Bede, Presbyter. "From this," he concludes, "it appears that both died (obiisse) on the same day; but that the feast of St. Bede was put back to next day, to give a separate day to each." Venerable Bede, it is unnecessary to say, died on the 26th of May.

4. The Martyrologium Gellonense gives the deposition of St. Patrick on the 17th of March. But the Tripartite Life, the Memoir in the Leabhar Breac, and the Patrician Documents in the Book of Armagh all inform us that our National Apostle was not buried for twelve days after his decease.

5. Finally, Notker Balbulus equates the three expressions employed in the old Martyrologies : XVII. Kal. Nov. Depositio, sive transitus, vel ad aeternam vitam natalis dies, beatissimi Galli, Confessoris, festive celebratur.

Having thus dealt with the objections brought against the older reading, a few remarks will show how strikingly it is confirmed by local and personal circumstances connected with the Hieronymian Codices in which it is found.

Against the lection, we find three Benedictines. These were all contemporaries ; and two of them lived in one diocese (Treves). Furthermore, he who wrote first took the date, 235 years after the event, from a faulty copy of Jonas: from him it passed on to the second; and from the second to the third.

In favour of the reading, we have, to mention but some of the authorities, first, the MS. of Auxerre. It is unnecessary to dwell upon the intimate connection of this Monastery with the early Irish Church. Its Martyrology, Martene and Durandus declared, nobody would deny surpassed all others. Next, we have the community of Reichenau, which was in close amity with the neighbouring abbey of St. Gall. Their copy, according to Soller, was ancient, and of the best authority. Lastly we can quote the MS. of the monks of St. Gall themselves. How they obtained their information, we now proceed to show.

III. The oldest extant memorials of St. Gall are found in a brief Biography written about a century after his death, and known under the title of the Vita primaeva. The anonymous Author states that his facts came through the deacons Maginald and Theodore, who had attended the Saint to the end; and from others who either could testify from personal knowledge, or had been informed by eye-witnesses. The work, as was to be expected from a writer not thoroughly conversant with Latin, was characterized by solecisms and barbarous modes of expression. When, therefore, the school of St. Gall had become a famous seat of learning, the monks determined to have the Life re-cast in a more literary form. Accordingly, they prevailed upon their neighbour, the celebrated Walafrid Strabo, Abbot of Reichenau, to undertake the work. By him the diction was improved, the narrative expanded, and the text divided into chapters. The result was, the original Life became so completely forgotten that a copy in the Archives of St. Gall is the only one preserved. From this the Vita was edited by Father Ildephonsus Von Arx in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica.

Few who have compared them both will feel disposed to disagree with the Editor's judgment that the new Biography did not cast the least additional light upon the old. The evidence afforded by the passage bearing upon the present question would warrant a more severe condemnation. His heading of the chapter - How St. Gall learned the death of Columbanus both by revelation and by messengers - shows that Strabo missed its purport: whilst by the omission of a single word he extinguished, as far as in him lay, the historical evidence unconsciously afforded in the Vita primaeva.

We print side by side the original and the enlarged texts

Vita primaeva
Nam quodam dominico die . . . prima luce diei, vocavit vir Dei Maginaldum diaconum, dicens: Surge velociter, et prepara mihi ad missam celebrandam. Qui respondit: quid est hoc, domine? numquid tu missam celebrabis? Cui ille: Post nocturnam hujus noctis, inquit, revelatum est mihi migrasse praeceptorem meum Columbanum, pro cujus requie offeram Sacrificium.

Walafridus Strabo
Quadam itaque die . . . . . primo diluculo, vocavit Magnoaldum diaconum suum, dicens illi: Instrue sacrae oblationis ministerium, ut possim divina sine dilatione celebrare mysteria. Et ille: Num, inquit, tu pater missam celebrabis? Dixit ergo ad ilium: Post hujus vigilias noctis cognovi per visionem dominum et patrem meum Columbanum de hujus vitae angustiis hodie ad paradisi gaudia commigrasse. Pro ejus itaque requie Sacrificium salutis debet immolari.

To understand the Nam, it has to be borne in mind that the original writer's object was, not to record the day of their great Teacher's demise, but to illustrate in the case of St. Gall how faithfully obedience was observed in their little community. The preceding sentence is: Quibus aliquid extra regulae tramitem deviare omnimodo indignum erat. Nam - and then he proceeds to give a striking example.

Now, Maginald, who supplied the information at first hand, knew personally that St. Columbanus had said to St. Gall : "You shall not celebrate Mass until I die." He knew equally well the query in the Rule Obedientia autem, usque ad quem modum definitur ; and the answer that followed Usque ad mortem certe precepta est. When, therefore, he found himself suddenly called up, and ordered to prepare for the Abbot's Mass, what more natural than his astonishment and his query " You, master! You are not going to say Mass, are you?" But the Rule was not to be broken: God, he was told, had made known that the time of prohibition had come to an end.

All this happened on a certain day, writes Strabo, to whom the particular day mattered nothing. But not so to Maginald. He was not likely to forget the day and the hour - at day-break, on a Sunday morning. Had he not additional reason to bear them stamped upon his memory? Did he not have to start after the Mass, and foot it south all the way to Bobio, there to be told that the death had taken place at the day and the hour revealed to St. Gall?

Quodam dominico die, is the original reading. Plain words to express a simple matter of fact! But time has given them a value which the old Irish Deacon could have little foreseen they would ever possess. Their decisive importance in the present discussion is beyond question. Through them we can establish the accuracy of the reading nono Kalendas Decembris by the unerring test of Chronology. Sunday, it is to be assumed, began at the midnight of Saturday. The Dominical Letter of 615 is E ; New Year's Day, in other words, fell on Wednesday. The Regular November Letter is d. Accordingly, the first of that month fell on Saturday, and the 2nd on Sunday. Consequently, the 23rd fell on Sunday also. St. Columbanus, therefore, died on the morning of Sunday, November 23, A.D. 615.

Thus, after a lapse of more than eleven hundred years, a new witness arises to add another to the many and undesigned coincidences which so strikingly attest the veracity of our Ancient National Records.


The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 5 (1884), 771-780.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Sunday 22 November 2015

St Columbanus: 'A Man of Firsts'

St Columbanus is a man of firsts in Irish history. The first Irish writer to leave a literary corpus, he is the first Irishman in the surviving literature to describe himself as Irish and to give an account of Irish identity...Considering his achievements and the example of sanctity that is his legacy, it is not surprising that Jonas of Bobbio's Life of St Columbanus should have appeared less than a generation after the saint's death. This is another first: Columbanus is the first Irishman to be the subject of a biography.

Damian Bracken, Introduction, in Tómas Ó Fiach, ed, and trans., Columbanus in his Own Words, (2nd edition, Dublin, 2012), 5-6.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Saint Columbanus of Bobbio, November 21

The Martyrology of Donegal at November 21 contains the entry 'COLUMBAN, Abbot, who was in Italy'. Behind this stark sentence lies a rich and multi-layered story of a complex and important Irishman and as this year marks the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus this will be the first of an octave of posts in his honour. Saint Columbanus has a special meaning for me as he was instrumental in awakening my interest in the Irish saints when I was still at school. I have to admit that my teenage self was initially less than enthused at having to study a module on the Irish Church and its missionary outreach between the 5th-7th centuries.  Yet it proved to be the beginning of a lifelong interest in our native saints and their contribution to European religious and cultural life. I found Saint Columbanus particularly intriguing as, like Saint Patrick, his own writings survive and it is possible to get a glimpse of the man behind them. I still have my yellowing copy of Columbanus in His Own Words, an anthology edited by the late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, which I used at school and which I am pleased to say remains in print. Quite a number of events have been organised to mark the anniversary, the blog Celebrating Columbanus: 1400 years of Mission in Europe brings together details of these plus further resources for studying the life of this great saint.  Below is an article from an early twentieth-century writer, part of a series on Celtic missionary saints, in which the author is keen to defend the role of Saint Columbanus in the Paschal Dating Controversy and to present the wealth of his almost larger-than-life achievements:

St. Columbanus

WE owe our knowledge of the life of St. Columbanus chiefly to two sources. We possess, in the first place, a life of the saint written by one of his own monks, named Jonas, who lived with him during the latter part of his life, at his monastery of Bobbio, in the Apennines. Jonas must have received from the saint's own lips, and those of his companions, the account which he has given us of the life of St. Columbanus and his missionary labours previous to his coming to Bobbio. Jonas himself came from Susa, in Piedmont, and his Life of St. Columbanus is one of the chief sources of the general history of his time. We can draw information also concerning the character and manner of living of St. Columbanus, as well as concerning his relations with the Holy See, and with various highly placed persons of his time, from the saint's own writings, which include his monastic rule, in ten chapters; a work on the daily penances of the monks; seventeen short sermons; and an instruction on the principal vices; a large number of Latin verses; and five letters, two written to Pope Boniface IV., one to Pope St. Gregory the Great, one to a Synod of the Bishops of Gaul on the Easter controversy, and one to the monks of his monastery at Luxeuil, narrating various particulars of his life. Add to these sources the general history of the times in which St. Columbanus lived and played such a prominent part, and we get as full and accurate a notion of his place in the history of the latter half of the sixth, and the early part of the seventh, century, as could be expected.

St. Columbanus was born in Leinster in the year 543, the same year in which St. Benedict died at Monte Cassino and twenty-two years after the birth of St. Columba of Iona, in Donegal. As a youth he was noted for his good looks and handsome appearance. We are told that he applied himself with ardour to the study of the liberal arts, as they were then understood in Ireland, which included grammar, arithmetic, geometry, logic, astronomy, rhetoric, and music. Fearing, however, the dangers and temptations of worldly intercourse, and mistrusting his own strength against social allurements, he had recourse to a certain anchoress, famed for sanctity of life and holy wisdom. She counselled him to fly from all dangerous occasions of sin, urged upon him the warning examples of David, Solomon, and Samson, and told him there was no security for his salvation except in flight from the world. Columbanus listened to her advice, and, although his mother, in tears, threw herself across the threshold of her home to prevent his departure, he persisted in his holy resolution, and stepping over her prostrate form, he went forth from his family abode, and betook himself to the solitude of beautiful Lough Erne, most of whose hundred islands served at that time as the sacred retreat for one or more anchorites.

After abiding for some time in solitude on an island in Lough Erne, under the direction of a venerable anchorite, St. Columbanus betook himself to the monastery of Bangor, on Belfast Lough, lately founded by St. Comgall. Here, by the shore of that narrow sea which separates Ireland from Scotland, looking out on the bold chffs of Black Head, and commanding a distant view seawards of the mountains of the Mull of Cantire, Columbanus spent many years imbibing that combined monastic and missionary spirit which was to have its outcome in his apostolic labours. He remained at Bangor till 574. In that year it was that Columbanus, now thirty-two years old, seems to have become conscious of the sphere of missionary and apostolic work allotted to him by God. So, accompanied by twelve companions, he set out from Bangor, crossed over into Britain, and, traversing that country, sailed from thence to Gaul. The year in which St. Columbanus set out from Bangor on his missionary career was the same year in which St. Columba crowned King Aidan in Scotland; and twenty-two years before the sending of St. Augustine to the Anglo-Saxons by Pope St. Gregory the Great.

The state of Gaul, when Columbanus landed on its shores, was lamentable. The Roman civilization, which for five centuries had distinguished it, had been well-nigh effaced by the long series of barbarian invasions to which it had been subjected, and which had filled the land with ruins. Christianity, which had made such progress in Gaul, during the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, where it had produced such great and shining hghts as St. Martin of Tours, St. Hilary of Poiters, St. Remigius of Rheims, and many others whose names live in the calendar of the Church, had in the early years of the sixth century, suffered an almost complete eclipse. It survived rather as a memory and a tradition than as a living force acting beneficially upon the life and character of the nation.

Jonas, the biographer of St. Columbanus, writes of 'Gaul, where, then, either by reason of the number of foreign invaders, or on account of the negligence of the governors, religion and virtue were almost held to be abolished.' The part of Gaul to which St. Columbanus made his way is represented in modem France by the department of Haute Saone, but was known to the Romans as Sequania, and was comprised in the vast plains at the foot of the Vosges, on the borderlands of Austrasia and Burgundy. So far back as the days of Julius Caesar this tract of country was noted for its fertility, and Caesar tells us that he chose it as the winter quarters for his army in the year 58 B.C. The chief town of this district was Luxovium, the modern Luxeuil, celebrated under the Roman dominion for its hot springs and baths.

When Columbanus came to Luxeuil he found it a heap of ruins. The Huns, under Attila, had destroyed its buildings, and massacred its inhabitants. The ground was strewn with broken masonry, pillars of temples, and mutilated statues, some of the highest artistic excellence, as may be seen by a few specimens that have been discovered, and which are now found in the museum of the Town Hall at Luxeuil. These ruins were the abode of wild beasts, and bears, buffaloes and wolves were found there by Columbanus in large numbers. At a distance of eight miles or more from Luxeuil, situated on the side of a mountain rising out of the plain, was an ancient Roman fort, known as Castrum Anagrates. Here, amidst the ruined remains, still encircled by the thick walls built by the Roman military engineers, Columbanus began the foundation of his first monastic settlement; and Annegrai as it is named in the French language, became the first monastery of St. Columbanus. At that period, Gontran, a grandson of King Clovis, ruled in Burgundy. He has been described as the least bad of the degenerate and worthless dynasty of the Merovingian kings. He received Columbanus gladly, offered him his protection, and helped him by grants of land to make his first monastic foundation. Thus favoured and protected by the king, the better disposed amongst the nobles began to visit Columbanus, and many amongst them were so completely won over by the saint to a virtuous life that they resolved to leave the world, and besought him to clothe them with the monastic habit, and receive them into his monastery. In a short time the number of monks at Annegrai was so large, that Columbanus was enabled to establish there that 'Laus Perennis' which had existed in the monasteries of Egypt, and which became afterwards such a distinguishing feature of Irish monastic foundations.

The 'Laus Perennis' was kept up by the monks being divided into seven choirs, which sustained an unceasing psalmody of Divine worship day and night. Such earnest and public worship of God could not go on for any length of time without producing much fruit, and thus it came to pass that the numbers of monks increased so fast that Columbanus was forced to begin the foundation of another monastery amidst the remains of the city of Luxovium the Plain. This soon became the chief foundation of St. Columbanus in France. It was either there, or at Annegrai, that he wrote his famous monastic rule, wherein his fervid devotion and zeal can be seen in the extreme austerity and severity of his legislation. Luxovium, or Luxeuil, was destined to become a centre from which was to radiate a new and vigorous spirit of religion and piety throughout the whole of France. From Luxeuil came forth no less than sixty-two saints, whose festivals are kept in the calendars of the French dioceses, and who founded churches and monasteries throughout the length and breadth of France.

It would be quite impossible within the limits at our disposal to trace, even in outline, the history of the monasteries, churches, and even cities that owe their existence to the monastic foundations of St. Columbanus at Luxeuil. Allow me, however, to recall one only of the many names associated with that of St. Columbanus at Luxeuil, the sweet aroma of which still lingers in the place-names of France. The monk whom St. Columbanus chose as the gardener of his monastery at Luxeuil was called Valery. Columbanus dearly loved Valery, and was wont to say that no flowers smelt so sweet, and no vegetables were so fresh, as those which were reared by Valery. Once when Valery entered the room where Columbanus was giving a conference to his monks on Holy Scripture, he brought with him such a sweet perfume of flowers into the lecture hall that Columbanus said to him: 'It is thou, beloved, who art the lord and abbot of this monastery.' It was this Valery, the gardener of Luxeuil, who afterwards carried the rule of St. Columbanus into Picardy, founding there several centres of religion and piety. The chief foundation of Valery still bears his name, and St. Valery-sur-Somme is a place-name familiar to every student of English history as the French port from which William the Conqueror set sail with his fleet for the invasion of England. No one who has read Freeman's History of the Norman Conquest can ever forget the graphic description of Duke William's waiting with his army at St. Valery for the south wind to carry them over to England, and how it was immediately after the body of St. Valery had been carried in procession round the town, and public prayers had been said for the wind to change, that the south wind came, and the fleet set sail. Other names associated with that of St. Valery as disciples of St. Columbanus who founded churches and monasteries in Picardy, are those of St. Omer, and St. Bertin, the founders, respectively, of the monastery and diocese of St. Omer, and of the celebrated Abbey of St. Bertin. Many other foundations were made from Luxeuil in different parts of France by disciples of St. Columbanus, such as those of Rouen, Jumieges, and Fontenelle, by St. Ouen, whose magnificent abbatial church at Rouen, one of the purest specimens of French Gothic architecture, still perpetuates his name. Several foundations from Luxeuil were made also in Burgundy, Brie, and Champagne.

The large number of those who joined themselves to St. Columbanus at Luxeuil began very soon to attract the attention of the Bishops of Gaul, who were not long in discovering the divergence of practice at Luxeuil from their own as to the time for the observance of Easter. St. Columbanus had brought with him from Ireland the discipline of the Celtic Church concerning the date of the Paschal festival, which St. Patrick had brought into Ireland from Rome. A more correct astronomical computation had, later on, caused Rome to alter the date for the observance of Easter, which the Celtic Church, out of veneration for the original tradition it had received from its great apostle and founder, refused to accept. Hence arose the famous Paschal controversy between the Celtic missionaries who adhered to the primitive Roman reckoning for the festival of the Resurrection, and the Bishops of the rest of Christendom, who had accepted the later method for the computation of Easter which had been adopted by the Holy See. The Frankish Bishops found fault with Columbanus for not conforming to the existing practice of the Church in Gaul concerning the date of Easter, and Columbanus, instead of yielding the point to them, boldly defended his own practice, as that of the Celtic Church originally derived from Rome. We possess a letter of St. Columbanus addressed to a synod of the Bishops of Gaul, wherein, whilst claiming the right to adhere to the practice of his country regarding the time for the celebration of Easter, he puts in a plea for peace and mutual toleration: —

Let us live here in Gaul [he writes] in like peace with you as we hope to live in eternally in Heaven; but if it be God’s will that ye drive me from this wilderness whither I have come so far for the sake of Jesus Christ, I shall say with the prophet: 'If for my sake this great tempest is upon you, take me up and cast me forth into the sea.' I am not the author of this difference; I have come into these parts, a poor stranger for the cause of the Christ Saviour, our common God and Lord. I ask of you Holiness but a single grace: that you will permit me to live in silence in the depth of these forests, near the bones of seventeen brethren whom I have already seen die. . . . Ah, let us live with you in this Gaul, where we now are, since we are destined to live with each other in Heaven, if we are found worthy to enter there. ... It is yours. Holy Fathers, to determine what must be done with some poor veterans, some old pilgrims, and if it would not be better to console than to disturb them. I dare not go to you for fear of entering into some contention with you, but I confess to you the secrets of my conscience and how I believe, above all, in the tradition of my country, which is, besides, that of St. Jerome.

The bold and straightford outspokenness of Columbanus served only to excite against him the hostility of the Bishops of Gaul who were besides being prejudiced against him by the unscrupulous intrigues of a very remarkable personage, who had come at that time into the position of the supreme ruler of both Gaul and Burgundy. Queen Brunhilde was a woman whose extraordinary diplomatic ability was only equalled by her overweening ambition and the unprincipled conduct of her wicked life. Two of her grandsons, Theodebert and Theodoric, had succeeded, whilst still but youths, to the thrones of Austrasia and Burgundy, thus leaving Brunhilde to rule over both countries as Queen Regent. She seems to have used her power much in the same way as the late Empress Dowager of China used hers, to which extraordinary woman she seems to have borne a strong resemblance in character. There is hardly a crime of which she had not been guilty in order to gratify her ambition and love of power. Circumstances had now arisen which brought her into collision with St. Columbanus, whom she had at first tried to win over to her own ends.

Both Theodebert and Theodoric had, as they grew up, under the beneficial influence of Columbanus, begun to give themselves to a right way of living, and the saint had found for Theodoric a good Christian maiden to be his wife and queen-consort. This did not suit the policy of Brunhilde, and she sought an occasion to upset the influence of Columbanus. When the saint paid a visit to the court of Bucherese, between Chalons and Autun, Brunhilde came there and presented to him four illegitimate children of Theodoric, born before his marriage, and prior to his coming under the influence of Columbanus, and desired the saint to give them his blessing. 'These,' said she, 'are the king's sons, and I present them now that they may gain thy blessing.' Columbanus sternly refused, saying: 'Know that these children shall never reign, for they are the fruit of dishonest passion.'

From that moment the fury of Brunhilde against St. Columbanus knew no bounds, and she never ceased to plot for his banishment, although at first she continued to make an outward show of respect for him, in order to conceal the venom of her hatred. Knowing well that no woman was admitted within the precincts of his monastery, she nevertheless presented herself there, and demanded entrance. The saint refused, as she knew he would, to allow her to enter, whereupon she complained to the king that Columbanus had insulted her, and ordered all communications to be cut off with his monastery, and that nothing should be given by anyone to the monks. Theodoric, afraid of Brunhilde, tried to persuade the saint to throw open the doors of his monastery to her, but Columbanus threatened to excommunicate Brunhilde and the king if they did not respect the monastic enclosure. Whereupon the king grew angry, and tried to force an entrance into the monastery with his soldiers. He had penetrated as far as the refectory when he was confronted by Columbanus, who said to him: 'If you force an entrance into this place, the privacy of which has hitherto been respected, I will accept neither your gifts nor your favours. And if you come here to destroy our monasteries and to violate our rules, know that your kingdom will fall and your race be annihilated-' A prophecy which was destined to have a speedy fulfilment.

The words and bearing of Columbanus caused the king to desist from his attempt to enter the monastery, but the rebuke of the saint, who followed the king as he departed from the enclosure, made him turn, and tell Columbanus that if he thought he was going to gain the crown of martyrdom at his hands, he was mistaken, for he intended to expel him from his dominions, and force him to return to his native country. He then directed one of his courtiers to conduct the saint to Besangon, where he seems for a while to have been placed in charge of the bishop of that city, and where we are told that he laboured amongst the many prisoners who then filled its prisons and of the many conversions he made amongst them. The bishop with whom he was placed was a holy and apostolic man, named Nicetas, who soon became enamoured of Columbanus, whose sanctity he recognized. However, the saint was unwilling to remain at Besangon, and made an attempt to return again to his monastery at Luxeuil; whereupon he was seized by order of the king, and embarked upon a ship at the mouth of the Loire which was ordered to sail at once for Ireland. No sooner had the ship set sail than a storm arose, and she was driven ashore on the French coast. The captain, being superstitious, thought that the saint and the few monks who accompanied him were responsible for the disaster, and refused to take them again on board his ship, and so it came about that Columbanus found himself driven back again to the kingdom from whence he had been expelled.

He therefore set out once more on his apostolic journeyings, and directed his steps first to the court of Clotaire, the King of Soissons and Neustria, where he obtained an escort to conduct him to Theodebert, King of Metz, or Austrasia. Passing through Paris, Meaux, and Champagne, he arrived at length at Metz. Here he was joined by some more of his monks, who had escaped from Luxeuil to the protection of King Theodebert. After a short sojourn at Metz, and encouraged by the promised protection of Theodebert, he resolved to set out with his companions to preach the faith amongst the still pagan inhabitants of the countries bordering on the Rhine.

Embarking, therefore, on the Rhine, by slow stages, he ascended the river, preaching and converting the natives of the various settlements upon its banks, where he halted on his missionary voyage. He reached at length the lake of Zurich, and here he remained some time at a spot called Tuggen, where the Simmat enters the waters of the lake of Zurich. The most distinguished amongst his companions, whose name has lived in history, geography, and in the lives of the saints, was one of his own countrymen, named Gall. He was destined to remain in Switzerland, and become its chief apostle, the founder of one of its principal cities, and the name-saint of one of its cantons.

To this day the town and canton of St. Gall preserve for us the memory and the name of that strenuous apostolic Irish missionary saint, the friend, companion, and disciple of St. Columbanus. In the Municipal Library of St. Gall are still preserved a larger number of Irish manuscripts than are to be found in any other continental city.

When Columbanus and his companions arrived, they found the inhabitants of all that country between the Aar, the Alps, and the Lech, to be idolators, who chiefly worshipped the god Woden, and who were, in their manners and customs, wild and violent. The vigorous preaching of Columbanus and of Gall, who had the advantage of a knowledge of the German language, speedily excited their ire, and after a short sojourn at Zugg, they were driven out with violence by the inhabitants.

Departing, therefore, from the shore of the lake of Zurich, Columbanus made his way to Bregentz, upon the lake of Constance, and here he remained three years. Here, again, the daring and impetuosity of the Irish missionaries caused them to encounter the rage and fury of the pagans. For we are told that Columbanus and Gall at times overthrew the pagan temples, and broke the boilers in which they made beer to be offered in sacrifice to Woden. This caused the pagans to refuse to allow the monks to have food, and they were forced to subsist on the wild birds they could kill, on herbs and fruit, but chiefly on the fish they could catch in the lake.

Columbanus, we are told, made the nets, and Gall at night time cast them into the waters of the lake, and took plentiful catches of fish. A striking and most dramatic incident is recorded of this night fishing of St. Gall. Once, as he sat in his boat, plying his nets, amidst the darkness and silence of the night, he was startled by a loud and harsh voice crying aloud from the heights of the mountains above him, and then he heard a voice, as if coming from the waters of the lake replying. It was the Demon of the Mountain calling to and being answered by the Demon of the Waters. 'Arise,' cried the Demon of the Mountain, 'and help me to chase away these strangers, who have expelled me from my temple; it will take us both to drive them away.' 'What use would it be?' answered the Demon of the Waters. 'Here is one of them upon the water, whose nets I have tried to break, but I have never succeeded. He prays always, and never sleeps. It will be labour in vain, we shall make nothing of it.'

Then Gall made the sign of the cross, and said to them: 'In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave these regions without daring to injure anyone.' He then hastened to land, and awoke Columbanus, who at once ordered the bell to ring for the night Office. Hardly had the first psalm been intoned, than the yells of the demons were heard echoing among the mountains, at first loud and furious, and then gradually dying away in the distance, like the noise of an army in swift retreat. A truly fine and weird scene, worthy of the pen of Goethe or Schiller, and one that, coming to us as it does from a record of the dim and distant past, even if it be not of a real event, brings with it the conviction of the existence in the minds of those early Irish missionaries of that lively realization of the nearness of the world of spirits to our earthly abode which always predominates so strongly in the Celtic character.

After a sojourn of three years at Bregentz, where many of the pagans were converted to Christianity, Columbanus, after some hesitation as to the further course of his missionary travels, felt drawn to press forward further south to preach the faith to the Lombards, who had embraced Arianism. So he set his face towards Italy, and taking with him only one companion, a monk named Attains, he pushed forwards towards the St. Gothard Pass.

If we have been interested and enthralled, as so many have been, when reading the account of the passage of Hannibal across the Alps, we can hardly fail to be aware of a far greater and more thrilling interest in the passage over the Alps of this intrepid Irish missionary saint in the early years of the seventh century. St. Columbanus had long had a desire to travel into Italy, which was destined to be the final goal of his missionary career. What the St. Gothard Pass was like at that time, and what a journey across it implied, it would be hard to say, hard even to imagine. It was bad enough in the later Middle Ages, and even in more recent times; but what it must have been when St. Columbanus crossed it, who can say?

What kind of a bridge spanned the deep and wild ravine at that well-known spot where, centuries after, was built that famous bridge, familiar to everyone as the 'Devil's Bridge‘? Had the saint to clamber down the steep precipice into the ravine, and scale the rocks on the other side? We do not know. What we do know for certain is that he made the ascent of the Pass, and reached Andermatt, perched high up above the spot where the mountain is now pierced by the great tunnel of St. Gothard. There he must have remained some considerable time, for we know that he there preached the faith to the Grisons, and converted them to Christianity. To this day in the small and very ancient church, which still exists, is shown in the middle of the nave, and in front of the altar, the rock which St. Columbanus used as his pulpit, and from which he preached to the people who flocked to hear him. It is still the only pulpit of the little church; and on the feast days of the saint thousands of Swiss peasants from the neighbouring mountain districts flock to Andermatt to celebrate the memory of their great apostle and patron, and to invoke his intercession. After quitting Andermatt, Columbanus proceeded on his laborious journey. We next hear of him at Milan, at the court of Agilulf, King of the Lombards, and husband of the famous Queen Theodolinda, the friend of Pope St. Gregory the Great, to whom that saintly Pope sent so many precious relics.

At Milan, Columbanus occupied himself preaching and writing against the Arians, who were then very numerous in Lombardy. He was well received by King Agilulf and Queen Theodolinda, who held him in great esteem and veneration. Columbanus, however, now nearly seventy years of age, longed for solitude, and the quiet of monastic life, and prevailed upon the king to make him a grant of land on which to build a monastery. Between Milan and Genoa, some distance to the south of Piacenza, there is a gorge in the Apennines formed by the rushing waters of the Trebbia. It was the spot where Hannibal, after he had crossed the Alps with his army, had first encountered the rigours of winter amidst the snow-clad mountains of Italy, during his famous campaign, immortalized in the pages of Livy. There, among the pine-clad Apennines, Columbanus found the last resting-place of his pilgrimage on earth. Here he speedily gathered round him some of his monks, and began to clear the ground, and lay the foundations of his new monastery.

The remains of an ancient church under the invocation of St. Peter, ruined during the barbarian invasion, still stood there. This was repaired, and made to serve as the Abbey church. Columbanus is described as working with his own hands at the building of his abbey. He felled trees of the forest, and helped to bear on his shoulders the great beams that formed the rafters of the edifice. In his old age, he still showed all the signs of his vigorous and impetuous character, and soon there arose on that wild and beautiful site, the Abbey of Bobbio, destined to become such a renowned centre of religious life, and home of learning, the fame of which is written in the record of the culture and civilization of medieval Christendom.

The school and library of Bobbio ranked amongst the most celebrated of the Middle Ages.Muratori has given us a catalogue of 700 manuscripts possessed by the Abbey of Bobbio in the tenth century. From the library of Bobbio came the famous palimpsest, in which Cardinal Angelo Mai discovered the lost Republic of Cicero. The Abbey existed until 1803, when it was suppressed by the French. The ancient church of the Abbey now serves as a parish church. It was during this last stage of the life of St. Columbanus that he wrote miost of his Latin poems, which show such an astonishing familiarity with the classical elegancies of the Latin tongue, most unusual at that period of history. When he was in his sixty-eighth year he sent to a friend, who was applying his mind too exclusively to serious thought to the detriment of his health, a letter, written in Adonic verse, asking him not to despise such frivolous trifles as those verses, with which even Sappho could recreate her spirit: —

Inclyta vates,
Nomine Sappho,
Versibus istis
Dulce solebat
Edere Carmen.
Carmina linquens,
Frivola nostra
Suscipe laetus.

It was during these latter years of his life that he wrote that letter to Pope Boniface IV. on behalf of the famous 'Three Chapters,' which has been so often quoted by Protestant writers to show that St. Columbanus did not acknowledge the primacy and supremacy of the Holy See. There can be no doubt that Columbanus was wrongly informed about the matter in dispute, and misunderstood it at the tune he wrote; and that there are expressions in this letter to the Pope which are exceedingly strong, as he himself acknowledges. Some of these strong expressions have been selected by anti-Catholic writers, separated from their context, and quoted against the saint's Catholic orthodoxy. But equally outspoken and strong expressions of blame and rebuke could be quoted from St. Bernard's famous treatise On Consideration, addressed to Pope Eugenius III., and St. Bernard, nevertheless, has been made by the Holy See a doctor of the universal Church. One passage from this celebrated letter of St. Columbanus to Pope Boniface IV. which, by the way, is a passage carefully overlooked and never quoted by Protestant controversial writers, will be quite sufficient revelation of the mental attitude of Columbanus towards the See of Rome:—

We Irish, who inhabit the extremities of the world, are the disciples of St. Peter and St. Paul, and of the other Apostles who have written under dictation of the Holy Spirit. We have received nothing more than the Apostolic and evangelical doctrine. There has never been either a Jew or a schismatic among us. The people I see here, who bear the burden of many heretics, are jealous; they disturb themselves like a frightened flock.Pardon me then, if, swimming among these rocks, I have said some words offensive to pious ears. The native liberty of my race has given me that boldness. With us it is not the person, it is the right which prevails. The love of evangelical peace makes me say everything. We are bound to the Chair of Peter; for, however great and glorious Rome may be, it is this Chair which makes her great and glorious among us. Although the name of the ancient city, the glory of Ausonia, has been spread throughout the world as something supremely august, by the too great admiration of the nations, for us you are only august and great since the Incarnation of God, since the Spirit of God, has breathed upon us, and since the Son of God, His car, drawn by those two ardent coursers of God, Peter and Paul, has crossed the oceans of nations to come to us. Still more because of the two great Apostles of Christ, you are almost celestial, and Rome is the head of the churches of the whole world, excepting only the prerogative of the place of the Divine Resurrection.

It would be hard to find another passage in the whole of Catholic literature which surpasses this fine passage from St. Columbanus in the eloquent expression of whole-hearted loyalty to the Chair of St. Peter.

St. Columbanus died at Bobbio on the 22nd November, in the year of our Lord 615, in the seventy-third year of his age. His body was buried at Bobbio, in the crypt of the Abbey church underneath the high altar, where his sacred relics still rest, enclosed in a stone coffin. Kneeling in spirit before that shrine which encloses the mortal remains of this glorious Celtic missionary saint, amidst the vastnesses of the pine-clad Apennines, and looking backwards from the present into that dim and distant past, through the long vista of the ages that intervene, there arise before my mind the words of Montalembert*, in his Monks of the West, with which this notice of St. Columbanus can fittingly be closed: —

From the moment that green Erin, situated at the extremity of the known world, had seen the Sun of Faith rise upon her she had vowed herself to it with an ardent and tender devotion, which became her very life. The course of ages has not interrupted this; the most bloody and implacable of persecutions has not shaken it; and she maintains still, amid the splendours and miseries of modern civilization and Anglo-Saxon supremacy, an inextinguishable centre of faith, where survives, along with the completest orthodoxy, that admirable purity of manners which no conqueror and no adversary has ever been able to dispute, to equal, or to diminish.


* Monks of the West, Vol. ii. p. 242.

W.H.Kirwan, 'Some Celtic Missionary Saints: St Columbanus', in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. XXXII (1912), 60-75.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Saint Fintan of Rheinau, November 15

November 15 is the feast of a ninth-century Irish saint who laboured in continental Europe, Fintan of Rheinau. In the article below the Irish Ecclesiastical Record's German specialist, Father J.F. Hogan, is able to draw upon the saint's hagiography to present a stirring account of his adventurous life. I was particularly interested to see that Saint Fintan maintained a devotion to the patron saints of Ireland and that he was one of the Irish pilgrims to the tomb of Saint Martin of Tours, as well as to Rome:


AMONGST the numerous continental monasteries which owed their origin to the zeal of Irish missionaries, that of Rheinau in Switzerland holds an important place. It was founded, with the assistance of St. Fintan, by a German nobleman named Wolffhart of Kyburg, about the year 800, and can trace the long list of its abbots in an unbroken line from the ninth century to the middle of the nineteenth. It was, like all the Benedictine monasteries of the same period, a great seat of learning, and a centre of refinement and civilization; but circumstances also gave it considerable influence in the political affairs of its neighbourhood during the middle ages. This influence was, in a great measure, due to its wealth and extensive possessions. In feudal times it counted many vassals amongst its tributaries, and in the eighteenth century its abbot was made, by rank and title, a prince of the Austrian empire. It survived a good many political storms, and although it suffered considerable hardship and spoliation from time to time, it was only in the year 1862, that it fell an absolute victim to the revolution. By an agreement between the governments of Germany and Switzerland its property was confiscated on both sides of the Rhine. Its monks were expelled, and its buildings appropriated for secular purposes. Its fine library, containing manuscripts, some of which date back to the ninth century its cabinet of archaeology and natural history its pictures, engravings, and articles of antique furniture, were transferred to the public library and museum of Zurich. The church alone, with its interesting frescoes and fine choir, remains in Catholic use — a memorial of the past, and a centre of hope for the future.

The history of the abbots of Rheinau, from 846 to 1777, was written by a learned Benedictine monk of the last century, Moritz Hochenbaum Van der Meer. In the introduction to this work, the author relates how Wolffhart, a prince of the Guelf family, in the eighth century, resolved to establish and endow a Benedictine monastery on the island of Rheinau, near Schaffhausen, and how his purpose was upset by the wars which were then carried on between Gaul and Allemania. The project was subsequently taken up by his son, Ettich, but similar circumstances interfered with its execution, and it was not till Wolffhart's grandson, and namesake had procured from Bobbio some of the relics of St. Columbanus, and had secured the co-operation of Gosbert, a learned monk of St. Gall, and of Fintan, an Irishman of the most saintly and perfect life, that the desire of three generations of Christian princes could be satisfied. The first abbot of the new monastery was Gosbert; but the monk who shed upon its young life the greatest lustre of virtue and of sanctity, and who afterwards became its patron saint, was Fintan.

The life of St. Fintan was written by an Irish monk, who seems to have been a contemporary and an intimate acquaintance of the saint. It is published in the works of Goldast and Mabillon, and is, we venture to say, one of the most interesting biographies that could well be met with. It not only reveals to us the acts and virtues of St. Fintan as a monk, but enters very minutely into the events, full of adventure, tragedy, and romance, which led to his renouncement of the world. Fintan, it tells us, was a native of Leinster in Ireland. His father occupied an important position in the army of a prince of that region, and was constantly engaged in warfare with the Danes, who then began to make incursions into Ireland. In one of the raids of these invaders, whilst the father and son were occupied elsewhere, Fintan's sister was taken captive by the Northmen, and carried away from Ireland. The father was overwhelmed with grief at the loss of an only daughter, but could not desert his post of command in order to go in search of her. He, therefore, commissioned Fintan to take with him a large sum of money, and endeavour by every possible means to rescue the captive. On this brotherly pursuit Fintan at once set out, taking with him an interpreter and a few companions. He had not gone far on his journey, when he fell into the hands of the Northmen, by whom he was bound in chains and kept in close confinement. His captors, however, were not altogether inhuman or inconsiderate; for when they reflected on the object of his journey they came to the conclusion that it was not a noble thing to imprison even an enemy engaged on such an errand, and they set him free. After many adventures and narrow escapes, Fintan was compelled to abandon his project and return to Leinster.

Meanwhile, as only too often happened in these times in Ireland, a bitter feud had arisen between the King of Leinster and one of his neighbours, and in the course of the quarrel a man on the opposite side was killed by Fintan's father. This brought upon him the wrath of the whole clan to which his victim belonged. To a man they vowed vengeance against him and all his race. They at once invaded his territory; his lands were devastated with fire and sword; his house was surrounded and set on fire in the night, and when he himself rushed forth to escape the flames, he was caught and put to death. Fintan, who occupied another house, was likewise besieged. He defended himself bravely, but when the hostile party despaired of taking the stronghold by arms, they again had recourse to fire. Fintan held his ground until the last moment, and then rushed through the flames, fought his way through the enemy, and effected his escape. A younger brother who occupied the house with Fintan was less fortunate; he was captured and slain.

We cannot be surprised when the biographer tells us that "fierce enmities and inexorable discord " arose between the parties after these terrible events. Fintan, however, was naturally a young man of peaceful disposition, and was not in favour of carrying vengeance to extremes. The opposite party also felt that they had gone beyond all natural limits, and fearing the retaliation of Fintan's clansmen, they endeavoured to make some compensation to him for the loss he had sustained. Nevertheless they distrusted Fintan's quiet demeanour. They thought he was only biding his time to strike a fatal blow. They resolved, therefore, to avert the vengeance which they dreaded, and had recourse for the purpose to one of the most infamous plots on record. Under pretence of ending the quarrel on friendly terms, they invited Fintan to a sumptuous hanquet, and when he, unsuspectingly, accepted their invitation, and was enjoying what he believed to be their hospitality, they, at a moment previously agreed upon, betrayed him to the Danes, who bound him hands and feet, and carried him away from the banquet-hall. These freebooters had many a grudge against his father and his king, and were glad to get possession of him. The chief into whose hands he fell sold him to another Scandinavian lord, he again to a third, and he to a fourth. The last purchaser of the young Irishman was just setting sail for the northern seas. "When all was ready he had Fintan securely bound, and put on board his own ship as a captive.

On the voyage northwards the ships of Fintan's party were met by another small fleet, making its way to Ireland, from Denmark. The commander of this expedition sent them a messenger to inquire about the soil of Ireland and the chances of conquest. One of the sailors on the homebound ship recognised the envoy as the murderer of his brother, and as soon as he came on board he killed him on the spot. This led to a fierce encounter between the two fleets, and in the thick of the fight poor Fintan, disarmed and bound, earnestly begged to be allowed to have a share in the combat in defence of his captain and crew. The intervention of a third squadron, however, put a stop to the struggle, and Fintan's ship was allowed to continue its course. The captain was greatly touched by the prisoner's desire to help him in the hour of danger. He had him at once released from his chains, and treated with moderation, and even kindness.

The odyssey, however, was not yet ended; stress of weather compelled the vessel to put into one of the un-inhabited Orcades, or Orkney Islands, off the north of Scotland, and whilst waiting there for a favourable wind the seafarers went about to explore the island. Fintan also, in consideration for his devotion, was allowed to wander whither he would. As he was not bound by any promise or obligation to his captors, he now began to think of effecting his escape.

In a remote corner of the island there was a huge rock hanging over the sea, and beneath it a deep cave which was barely accessible from the cliff above. Fintan crept into this recess, and awaited events in the confidence of his heart. As night came on the poor fugitive was pressed on every side. Around him all was damp, cold, and slimy. Before him the tide came on with mighty waves, and threatened to fill up the cave in which he shivered. Above him he could hear the wrathful voices of the northmen calling on him by name with hoarse curses and pagan oaths. Preferring, however, to be swept away by the sea rather than fall again into the hands of his enemies, Fintan resolved to stay motionless where he was. The whole night and part of the following day he remained in that frigid cave, without any food, the waves roaring at the cavern's mouth, and the winds howling as they only do at sea. When the tide allowed him to come forth from his hiding-place, he made his way, on his hands and knees, into a thicket of brambles, whence he could observe the land and sea. Not far off he spied a country which showed signs of life and cultivation; but the ocean intervened, and the wanderer was so exhausted with fatigue, cold, and hunger, that he could not think of swimming such a distance. For three days he went around the island, living on herbs and wild berries, which he could now search for in security, as the northmen, glad to take advantage of the tide and weather, had sailed away.

On the third day he sat down by the shore, and saw dolphins and sharks playing in the water; and as he thought of the Providence that rules the world, and provides even for dumb creatures a life suitable to their end, whilst he, a wanderer and a cast-away, was thus afflicted and abandoned, for the first time he gave way to tears. He soon, however, overcame his grief, and, taking refuge in that strong faith which in the midst of all their contentions was so remarkable a characteristic of the Irish in these days, he raised up his hands to heaven, and uttered the solemn vow which was to rescue him from danger, and to shape the course of his future life.

"O God!" he said, "who hast created these brute animals as well as me, and who hast suited them to the sea, and hast preserved them in life as Thou hast guarded me in my wanderings, with Thy usual pity, help me now in my great tribulation. To Thee, O Lord, from this hour I vow my body and soul, and declare that I shall never return to the allurements of this world. For Thy sake I shall visit the tombs of Thy holy Apostles, and travel away as a pilgrim, never to return to my native land. Thee alone shall I serve with all my strength, and never shall my eyes be turned from Thee again."

Having thus committed himself absolutely to God, Fintan, dressed as he was, plunged into the sea, breasted the waves, and summoning his wasted strength to a supreme effort, made for the opposite shore. By the divine aid he reached land in safety, and ascending an eminence close to the beach he could see houses and smoking chimneys in the distance. But the way to them was long and untrodden, and for two days more ho wandered about, living on water, grass and roots. It was only on the morning of the third day that he came within reach of assistance. When he saw some men walking in his direction he greatly rejoiced, and hastened to address them. They, finding that he was an intelligent man, and apparently well educated, brought him to the bishop of a neighbouring town, who had made his studies in one of the schools of Ireland, and could speak the Irish language. This prelate received him with the greatest kindness, and kept him in his house for two years. Fintan, in the interval, was not unmindful of his vow, and as soon as the bishop consented to his departure, he took with him a few companions and set out for Gaul. He first desired to venerate the relics of St., Martin, a kindred spirit, who like himself had wielded the sword, and for that purpose he went straight to Tours. In the monastery of that city he made a short sojourn, and then continued his pilgrimage. Always on foot, he passed on through France, Germany, and Switzerland. Then, crossing the Alps, he went down through Lombardy, and finally arrived in the city of Rome, in fulfilment of his promise, whilst Pope Leo III occupied the chair of Peter. When the pilgrim had satisfied his devotion in the Eternal City he retraced his steps northwards, and again penetrated into Switzerland. Here he remained for four years under the protection of a nobleman, who was greatly interested in the conversion and instruction of his people, and who was no other than the Wolffhart already mentioned, soon to be the founder of the monastery of Rheinau.

Impressed with the great virtues of the Irish cleric, Wolffhart thought that a most favourable time had come for the execution of his project, and with the counsel and encouragement of Fintan, the foundations of the famous monastery were laid. Fintan entered it as a simple monk, and was clothed in the habit of St. Benedict at the age of fifty-one.

For five years, the biographer says, the Irish monk edified his brethren by every virtue, and reached from stage to stage of perfection, till at last he determined to seek even more absolute seclusion from the world, and in memory of his promise, to live alone with God the life of a recluse. He did not take this step, however, with rashness or precipitation. He frequently prayed that God might manifest His will to him on the subject; and it was only when an angel's voice distinctly conveyed to him the approval of heaven, that he yielded to his inclination.

It is remarkable that the author of this biography, who was an Irish monk, of the monastery of Pfeffers in the diocese of Chur, and who after St. Fintan's death, also became a recluse, probably in the very cell which Fintan himself occupied when recording the angel's words, gives them in the Irish language, although the rest of the work is written in Latin. On four different occasions of a similar kind he repeats the same proceeding; not, we believe, through excess of patriotism, or because he thought Irish was the only language which an angel would make use of, but in order to record the exact words which were, under pressure, communicated to him by St. Fintan.

It was usually on the feast days of St. Patrick, St. Bridget, St.Aidan, and St. Columbkille, that the most important manifestations of the will of Heaven were made to him. Once on the feast day of St. Bridget he multiplied, by a miracle, his small allowance of bread, and supplied with it a large number of people who suffered from the famine which then decimated the country. Again on the feast of St. Columbkille, the scruples which he felt at taking food produced by the labour of others were set at rest by the angel's voice. The author says, that in a future work he intends to relate in full the history of all these miracles; but if the promise was ever kept, the result has not come down to us. Nevertheless, in what he says, he gives us an insight into the sort of life which the hermit led; and there is not much to be read of in the lives of the fathers of Egypt or Asia Minor more austere and unearthly than what he records of Fintan. Like them, the Irish saint was made a special object of attack by the enemies of mankind. Legions of demons surrounded his cell. He could see them on the ground and in the trees. The very air was filled with their horrid cries. In Fintan, however, the words of Cardinal Newman were literally realised:—

"But when some child of grace, angel or saint.
Pure and upright in his integrity
Of nature, meets the demons on their raid,
They scud away, as cowards from the fight.
Nay, oft hath holy hermit in his cell,
Not yet disburdened of mortality,
Mocked at their threats and warlike overtures:
Or dying, when they swarmed like flies around,
Defied them, and departed to his Judge."

For twenty-two years the hermit lived in his secluded cell, apart from the world, holding outward converse only with the poor, who sometimes came to ask him for alms, and with the confessor who visited him from the neighbouring monastery. Then, as the Latin so forcibly expresses it, "after having subdued his body by unheard-of abstinence” his stormy life came to a peaceful end.

The miracles due to his intercession did not, however, cease with his life. They were continued over his grave, and became so remarkable that the fame of the dead recluse spread far and wide, and that the people of the district unanimously venerated him as a saint. His claim to this honour was, moreover, not only admitted, but confirmed by the Holy See. Father Van der Meer, the historian of the monastery, tells us that when Notker, the eleventh Abbot of Rheinau, visited Rome, about the year 1000, he brought the cause of St. Fintan before the tribunal of the Holy See; and that, as a result, the saint was duly canonized. Thenceforward he was venerated as the patron of the monastery.

In the choir of the Church of Rheinau the grave of St. Fintan is still pointed out. On one side of it lies Wolffhart, the founder of the monastery; and on the other, a son of the Emperor Rudolf, who was drowned in the Rhine. A chapel was also built over the cell of the saint, and was handsomely decorated by the forty-fifth abbot of the monastery, Bonaventure I, Prince of Wellenberg.

Although the people of the little town of Rheinau and of the neighbourhood around it have remained strong in the Catholic faith, the scene of so many religious events is now comparatively desolate. The mountains look down as of old on the island in the water, and the river flows by it with the same rapid and sometimes angry current. But the chant of the monks of St. Benedict, that resounded here for eleven centuries, is no longer heard.

The church is silent and unfrequented. The memory only of its history calls up a solemn thought to the peasant or the visitor. But even though it should never revert to its rightful owners or to its original purpose, the name of St. Fintan is indelibly impressed on the region around it; and when all else has vanished of the old religious establishment of the island, the name and influence of St. Fintan will remain. From the day that the Church enrolled him on her calendar, his immortality was assured.

And as for the establishment which he protected so long, it can only be said that when the spirit of faith is impeded or checked in one part of the Catholic world, it easily finds an outlet in another. It is thus that the Swiss monks, whose ministry was thwarted at home, transferred the scene of their activity beyond the seas. Like the early fathers of their order, they directed their energies to the reclamation of the savage races who know not yet the Christian law. They pitched their tents in the primeval forests of Indiana, Dakotah, and Arkansas, where one of them now rules as bishop of a vast region on which civilization is rapidly gaining; and another, Fintan Mundweiler, Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Menrad, in Spencer County, Indiana, directs the missions of his brethren to the Indians and distant settlers of the Far West.


Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.