Saturday 20 February 2016

Saint Colga of Lusk, February 20

February 20 is the feastday of Saint Colga the Wise, lector at Clonmacnoise, reputed teacher of the English saint Alcuin and author of a famous prayer known as the Scuab Chrabhaidh (Broom or Besom of Devotion). I was interested to see that in his entries for this day in Volume II of his Lives of the Irish Saints Canon O'Hanlon does not begin with this famous Saint Colga but with another, lesser-known abbot of Lusk, County Dublin, who shares the same name. Indeed, it seems that Colga of Lusk is assigned this feastday by the 17th-century hagiologist Colgan, simply on the grounds that this is the day when his Clonmacnoise namesake is commemorated:



EVERY step, taken in religious progress, tends to purify and to ennoble a monk's profession. Nor can it fail to impart a generous and an honourable impulse, in the home of his choice. Colgan acknowledges his inability to discover any important biographical particulars, regarding this saint, with the exception of a few, which are entered in his collection. The Bollandists and Dr. Lanigan have only a passing allusion to him. It is supposed, that our saint was son to Moenaegh, and that he presided over the monastery of Lusk, as abbot. This establishment is thought to date back so far as before the close of the fifth century, when St. MacCuilinn or Macculind, its founder, is said to have died. The place is certainly most ancient, and it has many historic associations of very great importance. In the old graveyard may still be seen a very perfect specimen of an Irish round tower, attached to a mediaeval church, which has lately undergone restoration, in a very excellent style of Gothic architecture. No doubt, a more ancient church occupied this site. This holy man flourished about the year 690, or even later ; for, he is named, as one of those who subscribed with other prelates of Ireland, to the Acts of a synod, held by Adamnan, about the year 695 or 696. A copy of these decrees, called the Cain Adhamnain, or the "canons of Adamnan" had been in Colgan's possession. He has also placed on record some of the subscribers' names, to these statutes. Wherefore our saint was not identical with one bearing a similar name, and exercising a like office, in the same place, and whose death occurred A.D. 782, according to the Annals of the Four Masters. The Colga, who died in 782, or more correctly, 787, is expressly named in our Annals, as son to Crunnmail. The present St. Colga did not long survive the year, in which the celebrated synod of Adamnan had been held  for, we read, about the death of his successor, an abbot of Lusk, who departed this life, in the year 731. The present holy man died, probably, near the beginning of the eighth century ; nor do we know what reason, his namesake, Father John Colgan, had, for giving him a festival at this date, beyond the circumstance of another celebrated Colga or Colgu having been venerated on the 20th day of February.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Some Miracles from the Life of Saint Fintan

February 17 is the commemoration of Saint Fintan of Clonenagh. The seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, published a Life of Saint Fintan from the Codex-Kilkenniensis at this day, and the Bollandists also published his Acts in 4 chapters with 26 sections and a preceeding commentary. Canon O'Hanlon in his entry for Saint Fintan in the Lives of the Irish Saints has translated some of these sources. The saint is shown as demonstrating the gifts of prophecy and of healing and he also sets a captive free. There are some insights into the life of the monastery at Clonenagh and a rather touching example of the love with which the brethren regarded their spiritual father. As with so many saints' Lives, the Life of Fintan describes how he was marked for sanctity and greatness even before birth.

An angel appears to Saint Fintan's mother, Findath:

When about giving birth to the infant in her womb, an angel appeared to Findath, and warned her to retire into a secret place, where she should be removed from all intercourse with men, until the time of her delivery. The angel promised, also, that her son should be holy and great, both in the sight of God and of man. She complied with this admonition, and spent seven days under the shade of a certain tree, whilst in the meantime she was miraculously sustained by food from Heaven. Her child was born, at the end of this time.

Saint Fintan's Childhood and the Prophecy of Saint Columcille:

Following the account in St. Fintan's Life, it appears to have been on the eighth day succeeding his birth, that Findath's infant was brought to, and baptized by, a holy man, who dwelt at this place. The child was afterwards instructed, by the same person, until he made great progress in virtue and learning. While yet a boy, Fintan told his instructor to prepare a banquet for guests, who were about to visit them, and that St. Columkille with some of his companions should arrive, on that very day. Being reproachfully asked, by the holy senior, how this could have been known to him, the boy answered, that it was revealed, by our Lord Jesus Christ. The event corresponded with this prediction. While St. Columkille was on a journey this day, and passing near Cluain, he told his companion, they should turn a little from their course, to visit a holy senior, and a youth, who dwelt there.

Columkille also foretold the future eminence of the boy, and desired his guardian to retract those harsh expressions, used towards Fintan, for his apparent presumption, in announcing the arrival of his present visitors... for, it was destined, that both himself, and his place of habitation, should be subject to St. Fintan's rule during succeeding ages.

Saint Fintan's Ascetic Regime at Clonenagh:

Following the narrative contained in his Acts, it was at Clonenagh St. Fintan began to collect around him a community of monks, who lived under a very strict rule. After the manner of older eremites, they lived by manual labour, and tilled the ground with a spade or hoe. They abstained from all animal food, nor had they even a single cow, belonging to the monastery, for their rule did not allow the use of milk or butter. This excessive rigour of discipline and of living was considered almost insupportable to the brethren, by some holy men, who dwelt in the districts, adjoining Clonenagh ; wherefore, after some consultation, St. Canice and other servants of God came on a visit to our saint. They besought him, for the sake of Divine charity, to relax, in some measure, his strict monastic observances. The night before their visit, an angel appeared to admonish Fintan, regarding their object; while, directing him at the same time, as to how he should act, in preparing for their arrival, with a view to conform himself to the Divine will. St. Canice and those holy men accompanying him were received by Fintan, with great benignity. At their request, he relaxed the rigour of his rule, in favour of those monks, who were subject to him. Yet, he still adhered to his own usual strict manner of living. After bestowing mutual prayers and benedictions on each other, the holy visitors took leave of their host, each one seeking the immediate sphere for his own pious labours.

Saint Fintan allows his monks some meat:

One day, while his monks were engaged at their agricultural operations, St. Fintan went forth into the field, to inspect their labours. On his approach, the brethren advanced to meet him. With playful gestures, holding their beloved superior by the hand, according to a custom then prevalent among labourers towards their masters, they besought our saint, that he would allow them a more luxurious refreshment than ordinary, on that day. Well pleased with their familiarity, and sharing this hilarity of his monks, Fintan said : " The Lord is able, my dear brethren, to give what you ask from me." But, although, on this day, as at other times, the cook had nothing to prepare for their meal, but some potherbs; yet, that very hour, some men had come to their monastery, from the southern part of Leinster. These bore different kinds of meat, as a present for our saint. The chariots and waggons of those visitors being unloaded, the brethren were sumptuously entertained, on that day. Their holy superior returned thanks to the great Bestower of all gifts, for this providential supply, and for the apparently sanctioned approval of that dispensation allowed to his religious.

Saint Fintan is disturbed at his devotions:

It was customary with our abbot, to rise during night, and to devote many an hour to prayer, when passing out, for this purpose, to the adjoining cemetery. While thus engaged, one of his monks, desiring to see the saint at his orisons, sought him in vain for some time. At last, going into the graveyard, although the night was very dark, he beheld a bright light, surrounding the holy abbot, whom he regarded for some time, at a distance. On the following day, he received a reproof from St. Fintan, who warned him not to intrude, for the future, on his private devotions.

Saint Fintan frees Prince Cormac from Captivity:

Colman, King of Northern Leinster, held in captivity Cormac, son to Diermad, King of Hua-Kinsellagh, whom he intended putting to death. Hearing of this, and being desirous to liberate the young prince, Fintan took with him twelve disciples. This cruel king, hearing of our saint's approach, and suspecting his intention, gave his retainers an order to guard carefully his captive, and to exclude God's servant from his castle. But, when the saint arrived, all its gates were miraculously opened, and even the door of that very prison, in which Cormac had been confined; the chains also fell from the captive's limbs, to the great alarm of his guards. These hastened to their king, whom they aroused from sleep. They told him, at the same time, what had occurred. Colman was in turn alarmed, and, he asked the advice of his friends, as to what should be done. He was counselled, to grant whatever Fintan might desire, lest he might incur the displeasure of God, who wrought such wonders through his saint. Hereupon, hastening to Fintan, Colman fell prostrate before him, saying : "It becomes us, O saint, to honour thee, whom the Lord hath magnified: I, therefore, release him, whom you seek, and all who are in bondage with him." Giving his benediction to the king, Fintan prepared to depart with Cormac, the liberated prince. Afterwards, a multitude of soldiers were encountered on the way. Among these was a man of royal lineage, who desired Cormac's death, but he was dissuaded from this purpose, by his companions. Hereupon, St. Fintan said, "Child of Satan, thou shalt be slain in a short time and, he whom thou desirest to slay, shall long rule over his kingdom, and shall end his life in the practice of good works." Before a month had passed, that chieftain was slain. As had been predicted, the prince Cormac ruled over Hua Kinsellagh territory. Having relinquished the sceptre, in more advanced years, he became a recluse, under St. Comgall, in Bangor Monastery. There, too, he ended a holy life.

Saint Fintan and Saint Canice Bury the Remains of Dead Soldiers:

On another occasion, St. Fintan and St. Canice were together in Clonenagh Monastery. On a sudden, they heard shouts of triumph raised by some soldiers, who had obtained a victory over their enemies. St. Fintan said to his companion, "In this clamour, I hear the voice of an innocent lamb ; for, one among them, named Kieran, son to Tulchan, shall become a monk in this place, and after a life of perfection he shall die." The soldiers brought away the heads of their enemies, as a trophy of victory, and deposited them near Clonenagh Monastery, when they approached. Taking these ghastly remains, the monks buried them within the precincts of their cemetery. One of the brothers asked Saints Fintan and Canice, what this availed those corpses, whose heads were buried there. He received for reply: "We believe and trust in the Lord, that owing to the merits and virtue of all the saints in this place, who shall be buried here, and who living, shall also pray for the souls of those who may be here buried, that these men shall not be condemned on the day of judgment; for, the more dignified parts of their bodies lie deposited with us, and therefore do we hope clemency for their souls." Afterwards, Kieran, seeking admission to Clonenagh Monastery, was received; and, as St. Fintan predicted, he happily departed this life.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

Monday 15 February 2016

Some Miracles from the Life of Saint Berach

February 15 is the feast of Saint Berach, a post on whose life can be found here. Below are some of the miracles attributed to the saint by his hagiographers and a final eulogy in his honour:

How Saint Berach got his name:

(16) Now St. Berach was born in the house of his mother's brother, Fraech the Presbyter, son of Carthach, in Gort na Luachra (the Close of the Rushes), near Cluain Conmaicne. And in that place there is (now) a mother-church and a cross, and the stone on which St. Berach was born. And Presbyter Fraech subsequently offered this estate to Berach. Presbyter Fraech too it was who baptized St. Berach, and fostered him till he was old enough to study. Now Berach's baptismal name was Fintan, as the learned man said in the verse :

Fintan a man pre-eminent, acute,
Though he were proud at Cluain Coirpthe
(Yet) he suffered, &c.

Berach (pointed, acute) however was the name he acquired by reason of his acuteness and the sharpness of his mighty works and miracles.

Saint Berach arrives at Glendalough:

xi.(29) After this Berach proceeded into Leinster to Glendalough, and went into the guest-house ; and his feet were washed there. At this time Coemgen's cook had died. Coemgen was troubled thereat, for he did not know who would be fit to superintend the monks' refection. And the angel said to him that he should entrust the task of preparing it night by night to the guests, till God should grant him some one suitable for it. And thus it was done by Coemgen ; and that night the duty was entrusted to Berach. And Berach divided the refection in two, and prepared one-half that night; and the monks were much better served that night than any night in the year.(30) The next night the refection of the monks was entrusted to Berach to prepare. Then said Berach to the attendant : Here is the half of last night's refection ready for the monks ; take it with thee. And he did so. And though (the refection) was good the first night, it was better far the last night. (31) So on the morrow St. Berach was taken to Coemgen. Coemgen gave him welcome, and asked him whether he were willing to superintend the monks' refection. And Berach said that he would do anything which Coemgen enjoined him. And he undertook to superintend the monks' refection. And Coemgen gave great thanks to the Lord for the good success which he gave to the monks refection through the grace of Berach. So that it was of this that Coemgen said:

Better than any refection is moderation,
When one comes to eat ;
Better is pain than the abundance
Which obtains eternal destruction.

Saint Berach expels demons from the monastery:

xii. (32) At this time there were many legions of demons in Glendalough, fighting against Coemgen and his monks, and they caused trembling and terror to weak men, and hurt them, and caused plagues and many sicknesses in the glen; and they could not be cast out till Berach came. Then Berach went round the city (monastery), and rang his bell, and sang maledictory psalms against the demons, and cast them out of the glen. And it was of this the poet sang:

The little bell of Berach, lasting the treasure,
Does battle against a perverse hundred ;
It was heard as far as Ferns of the hundreds ;
It chased demons from its sacred path.

And hence it is that the bell of Berach is carried daily round Glendalough; and no power of demons, nor plague, nor punishment shall be there so long as Berach's bell shall be therein. And the name of God and of Berach was magnified through this mighty work.

Saint Berach prevents infanticide:

xxvi. (78) Once upon a time great scarcity came to Erin. At that time Laegachan was in his island on Loch Laegachan, and had no provisions. He went then with his kernes to seek for food, and left his wife, who was pregnant, on the island with a single woman in her company; and he told her, if she should bear a child after his departure, to kill it, as they had no means of rearing it. And the woman bore a male child afterwards, and the woman who was with her asked her what was to be done with the boy. And she said : Kill it. The other woman said : It is better to take it to the clerk of the church here to the west, to be baptized, and let his service be offered to him in return for his maintenance. (79) This plan was agreed upon by them, and the child was taken to Berach, and he baptized it, and the name given to it was Ineirge, and its service in life and death, and the service of its seed and offspring till doom was offered to Berach in return for its nurture. And Berach said : Let the child be taken to its mother, and assistance of food and means will come to them. The child was taken to its mother as the clerk said. (80) As the women were there they heard a noise in the house(?). The woman went to see, but could not perceive anything there. [The same thing happened a second time.] A third time they heard the noise, and a third time the woman went to see, and there was a great salmon there, and an otter dragging it to land. And the woman went and dragged the salmon to land, and could not carry it for its size. And she called the other woman, and the two of them with difficulty carried the salmon, and they dressed it, and ate their fill, and the breasts of the mother of the child were filled with milk forthwith, and thus the child was saved.

A Final Eulogy to Saint Berach:

(88) However, not till the sand of the sea be numbered, and the stars of the heaven, and the grass and all the herbs that grow out of the earth, and the dew which grows or lingers on the grass and on the herbs, will all the mighty deeds of St. Berach be numbered. A righteous man was this man. He was all purity of nature like a patriarch; a true pilgrim in heart and soul like Abraham; gentle and forgiving like Moses; a psalmist worthy to be praised like David; a moon (or treasury) of knowledge and wisdom like Solomon; a chosen vessel to proclaim righteousness like Paul the apostle; a man full of grace and favour of the Holy Spirit, like John the youth; a fair garden with plants of virtue, a branch of a fruitful vine; a shining fire all aglow to cherish and warm the sons of life in kindling and inflaming love. A lion for might and power; a dove for gentleness and simplicity, a serpent for prudence and ingenuity for good; gentle, humble, merciful, lowly towards sons of life; dark and pitiless towards sons of death; an industrious and obedient slave to Christ; a king for dignity and power to bind and loose, to free and to enslave, to kill and make alive. (89) So then after these great miracles, after raising the dead, after healing lepers and blind and lame, and every other plague, after ordaining bishops, and priests, and deacons, and people of every other order in the Church, after teaching and baptizing many, after founding churches and monasteries, after overcoming the arts of idols and of druidism, the day of St. Berach's death and of his going to heaven drew near. And before he went thither there appeared an angel to him, and said to him, that the Lord had great care for him, and for his monks and for his monastery; and said that whoever should ask a righteous perfect petition of him, it should be granted to him; and revealed to him the day of his going to heaven. (90) Now Berach spent his life in fastings and prayer and almsgivings in the presence of the Lord. He received communion and sacrifice from the hand of Talmach [and commended] to him his inheritance and the headship of his monastery and of his young ecclesiastics. He sent his spirit to heaven, and his body was buried in the dark house (i. e. grave) with great honour and reverence, and with miracles and mighty works in this world ; but greater far will be (his honour) in the (great) Assize, when he will shine like the sun in heaven in the presence of the apostles and disciples of Jesus, in the presence of the Divinity and Humanity of the Son of God, in the presence of the sublime Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I pray the mercy of the Son of God Almighty through the intercession of St. Berach whose festival and commemoration are (observed) in many noble churches to-day, that we may attain, that we may merit, that we may inherit the kingdom in secula seculorum. Amen. Finis.

'Life of Berach' in C. Plummer ed.and trans. Bethada Naem nErenn – Lives of Irish Saints, Vol II, (Oxford 1922), 22-43.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

On Fasting: From a Homily in the Leabhar Breac

'It is by food that Esau lost his birthright, and sold it to his brother; through fasting the noble prophet acquired a victory, and was rescued from the lions' den; through fasting Moses, the son of Amri, received the written law; through it the people of God were rescued from the Amalecites through fasting the people of Ninive were saved; through fasting Elias wrought such miracles, on earth; through it David did penance, so as to have his sins forgiven; through it the people of Juda saved Jerusalem in the time of Ezechias, King of Juda, from the Assyrians, so that over 175,000 were destroyed; through it Peter was loosed from prison; Cornelius, the Centurion, received the Holy Ghost before baptism, and Paul vouchsafed revelations through prayer and alms and the fruit of fasting; through fasting the people of God came through the Red Sea with dry feet; through it Moses merited the love of God: through it the manna was got from heaven in the desert for ten years; through it Moses received the written law face to face with God; through it Moses was fifty days and nights without food on Mount Sinai; through it Moses acquired victory over the Amalecites; through it the Jordan opened a passage for the people of God; through it Jesse, the son of Nun, conquered the seven districts of Canaan and tumbled Jericho; through it Jonas was saved in the whale's belly; through it the youths in the fiery furnace were preserved unhurt; through it Nebuchodonosor was freed from the visitation with which he had been afflicted; through it fifteen years were added to the life of Ezechias; through it the sun went back in its course for him; through it people are preserved from the power of the evil one, by having Christ remain fifty days and nights without food for the children of Adam; through it one is directed to the road to heaven, and God's grace is increased; through it, when properly observed, there is an increase of love and charity, and the wonders that are wrought in the world and all the plagues staved off from man and all are the result of fasting.'

Homily XXXVII 'On Fasting' - Original Irish text in R. Atkinson, ed., The Passions and Homilies from Leabhar Breac, 274. Translation from Rev. Sylvester Malone, Church History of Ireland from the Anglo-Norman Invasion to the Reformation, Vol. II, (London, 1880), 54-55.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

An Irish Church in Germany

February 9 is the feast of the Blessed Marianus Scotus, an 11th-century Donegal man who was a monastic and scribe in Germany. I have already reprinted the paper by Bishop William Reeves on the life of this holy man and below is another paper on the Church of Saint Peter at Ratisbon where Blessed Marianus laboured. It was published posthumously in 1876 and the author, Father James Gaffney, tells us of the history of both the saint and his monastery. Like many Irish commentators before and since, the writer is rather indignant that these Irish foundations or Schottenklöster were later given over to monks from Scotland and, although money from Ireland had endowed the great Abbey of Saint James at Ratisbon, compensation was paid to the Scottish bishops when the monastery was suppressed. This confusion arose due to the fact that in the earlier middle ages Ireland was known as Scotia and the Irish as Scotti, hence Marianus Scotus meant 'Marianus the Irishman'. Later however, Scotland acquired the exclusive use of the name Scotia and retrospectively claimed the saints and the foundations which bore this title abroad, much to the annoyance of the Irish. So we will have to forgive the rather aggrieved note on which the paper ends and enjoy this account of the Irish church at Ratisbon and its most famous son, Muiredhach MacRobartaigh, Marianus Scotus.



[The readers of the obituary in our February issue are aware that Father Gaffney drew up this paper in the form of a lecture for the Catholic Union. In transcribing, his notes for our pages he would, no doubt, have made many changes and additions. We have not attempted to follow out references or fill up blanks, but have been obliged to content ourselves with only an imperfect fragment of what Father Gaffney intended to be the first of many contributions to the Irish Monthly. R.I.P.]

THE broad and stately Danube rolls its swift waters by the ancient walls of Ratisbon. This city of northern Bavaria — known in Germany as Regensburg — is famous in modern history as a base of operations for Davoust, one of the bravest marshals of the first Napoleon, in that war in which France swept before her the armies of Austria and Prussia like chaff before the wind.

Travelling last year with two brother priests in search of relaxation from laborious duties, we stayed a few days at Ratisbon. Among other objects of interest, we visited what is put down in the best guide-books and in the best local histories as the Scottish Church of St. James. We found it to be a very fine building, a basilica of the later Romanesque style of the twelfth century, recently restored at the sole expense of the Bishop of Ratisbon. On examining the very remarkable capitals of the square pillars in the chancel, the circular columns in the nave and the gorgeous western portal, we observed that the interlacing on all these was distinctively Irish. The interlacing of small ribbon-bands, which is well known to antiquarians as “Celtic ornamentation" peculiar to Ireland, was as plainly defined as on the Irish crosses at Monasterboice or the carvings in the chapel of King Cormac on the Rock of Cashel.

Immediately after our inspection of the church we were introduced to the historian of Ratisbon. In reply to our inquiries he stated that the church was Scottish, not Irish. When we urged the Celtic character of its sculptured decorations, he opposed the fact that on its suppression as a religious foundation at the end of the last century, the Scottish bishops claimed and received compensation from the government .We nevertheless retained our opinion, which was fully confirmed and proved by the authorities we were able to consult upon our return to Ireland. One of the most important of these is the distinguished German antiquarian, Wattenbach, whose dissertation on Irish Monasteries in Germany has been translated by the Rev. Dr. Reeves of Armagh, and published in the seventh volume of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology.

At the very outset we require an explanation of the name. We must not indeed understand Scotchmen by the “Scoti ;" but the inhabitants of Ireland, who are of the same race. The latter were almost exclusively known by the name of Scots in the earlier centuries of the middle ages; but by degrees, together with the people, this name extended over Scotland likewise.

This name of "Scotus" occurs at the very beginning of the history of this church and monastery of Ratisbon. Marianus Scotus of Ratisbon is not to be confounded with Marianus Scotus, the Chronicler who was a native also of Ulster and almost a contemporary. Their real names were different, and their labours lay in different fields. Marianus Scotus of Ratisbon, whose original name was Muiredhach MacRobartaigh (now anglicised into McGroarty, McGerty, O'Rafferty, &c.) was born in Tirconnell, the modern county of Donegal. He left Ireland in 1067, that is, eleven years after his namesake the Chronicler. In his youth he had been carefully instructed by his parents in sacred and secular literature, with a view to his entering the priesthood. In process of time he assumed the monastic habit, but seemingly without entering any regular Order; and, taking two companions, called John and Candidus, he set out from home, having as his ultimate object a pilgrimage to Rome. Arriving on their way at Bamberg, they were kindly received, and, after a year's sojourn, were admitted to the Order of St. Benedict in the Monastery of St. Michaelsberg. But, being unacquainted with the language of the country, they preferred retirement; and a small cell at the foot of the hill was assigned them for their use. After a short stay, they received the permission of their Superior to proceed on their way; and arriving at Ratisbon they met a friendly reception at the convent of the Upper Monastery [Obermünster] where Marianus was employed by the Abbess, Emma, in the transcription of some books. From this he removed to the Lower Monastery [Niedermünster] where a cell was assigned to him and his companions, in which he diligently continued his occupation of writing, his companions preparing the membranes for his use. After some time he was minded to continue his original journey; but a brother Irishman called Muircertach, who was then living as a recluse at the Obermünster, urged him to let the Divine guidance determine whether he should proceed on his way, or settle for life at Ratisbon. He passed the night in Muircertach's cell, and in the hours of darkness it was intimated to him that, wherever on the next day he should first behold the rising sun, he should remain and fix his abode. Starting before day, he entered St. Peter's Church, outside the walls, to implore the Divine blessing on his journey. But scarcely had he come forth, when he beheld the sun stealing above the horizon. "Here, then," said he, " I shall rest, and here shall be my resurrection." His determination was hailed with joy by the whole population. The Abbess granted him this Church of St. Peter, commonly known as Weich-Sanct-Peter, with an adjacent plot, where in 1076, a citizen called Bethselinus built for the Irish at his own cost a little monastery, which the Emperor Henry IV. soon after took under his protection, at the solicitation of the Abbess Hazecha. The fame of Marianus, and the news of his prosperity, presently reached Ireland, and numbers of his kindred were induced to come out and enter his Society. The early connections of the monastery were chiefly with Ulster, his own native province, and the six Abbots who succeeded him were all from the north. From Weich-Sanct-Peter, another Irish monastery called St. James's of Ratisbon, took its rise in 1090. Domnus, a native of the south of Ireland, was its first Abbot.

Of Marianus himself nothing more is recorded except his great skill and industry as a scribe. "Such," says the old memoir, was the grace of writing which Divine Providence bestowed on the blessed Marianus, that he wrote many and lengthy volumes with a rapid pen, both in the Upper and Lower Monasteries. For, to speak the truth, without any colouring of language, among all the acts which Divine Providence deigned to perform through him, I deem this most worthy of praise and admiration, that the holy man wrote from beginning to end, with his own hand, the Old and New Testament, with explanatory comments on the same books, and that not once or twice, but over and over again, with a view to the eternal reward; all the while clad in sorry garb, living on slender diet, attended and aided by his brethren, both in the Upper and Lower Monasteries, who prepared the parchments for his use. Besides, he also wrote many smaller books, and manual psalters, for distressed widows, and poor clerics of the same city, towards the health of his soul, without any prospect of earthly gain. Furthermore, through the mercy of God, many congregations of the monastic order, which in faith and charity, and imitation of the blessed Marianus, are derived from the aforesaid Ireland, and inhabit Bavaria and Franconia, are sustained by the writings of the blessed Marianus. He died on the 9th of February, 1088. Aventimus, the Bavarian Annalist, styles him: ''Poeta et Theologus insignis, nullique suo seculo secundus." Before we part with our distinguished countryman, one of the greatest Irish scribes of the middle ages, let me mention that there is preserved at the present day in the Imperial Library of Vienna, a copy of the Epistles of S. Paul written by Marianus, for his "exiled brethren." I had the happiness (during the past summer) of examining this precious relic of Celtic zeal and religious patriotism. At the end of the MS. are these words : — “In honore individuae Trinitatis, Marianus Scotus [Muiredach MacRobertaig] scripsit hunc librum suis fratribus pererinis. Anima ejus requiescat in pace. Propter Deum devote dicite. Amen” The Irish letters giving us the real name of the writer prove his race and kindred.

From the church and monastery of Weich-Sanct-Peter, founded by this Marianus, came the Church of St. James of Ratisbon, built soon after, which became the focus of Irish propagandism whence light and gospel-truth radiated through central Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. From this monastery of St. James went forth colonies of Irish monks to Wurtzburg in honour of St. Kilian, an Irish bishop and martyr, profoundly venerated to the present day in that ancient city. Offshoots also sprung up at Nuremberg, at Memmingen, at Eichstadt, at Erfurt, at Constance, and at the beautiful capital of Austria, Vienna.

Not only were the skill and devotedness of Irish monks expended on these Irish foundations in Germany, but also the treasures of those who remained at home in Ireland. Stephen White, the well-known Irish Jesuit, had in his possession an old chronicle of the monastery at Ratisbon, from which he made some extracts that are painted by Lynch in his " Cambrensis Eversus." In this record it is stated Isaac and Gervase, two Irishmen of noble birth, accompanied by Conrad and William, two other Irishmen, who were sent to Ireland by Dionysius, Abbot of St. Peter's at Ratisbon, where they were kindly received by Conchobar O'Brien, and having being loaded with rich presents, were sent back to Germany. With the money obtained from Ireland a more commodious site for a monastery was purchased on the western side of Ratisbon, and a building erected which the chronicle describes in glowing terms. “Now, be it known, that neither before nor since were there a monastery equal to this in the beauty of its towers, columns and vaultings, erected and completed in so short a time, because the plenteousness of riches and of money bestowed by the king and princes of Ireland was without bound."

A Christian, Abbot of the Irish monastery of St. James at Ratisbon, who was descended from the McCarthys in Ireland, finding that the treasures sent by the king of Ireland to Ratisbon were exhausted, and being unable to obtain help elsewhere, at the request of his brethren undertook a journey to his native country, Ireland, to seek the aid of Donnchadh O'Brien, as Conchobar O'Brien, the founder of the consecrated St. Peter's was now dead. He was very successful in his mission, and having received great treasures, was preparing to return when he sickened and died, and was buried before St Patrick's altar at the Cathedral of Cashel.

What became of those "great treasures " so liberally bestowed? Did they go to beautify the most beautiful of all our Irish ecclesiastical remains — the buildings on the Rock of Cashel, and that altar of St Patrick's at the feet of which sleeps the zealous Irish abbot Christian, who had collected them? By no means. They were spent in rebuilding, enlarging, and ornamenting the Church of St. James at Ratisbon, and purchasing land for the support of the Irish monks attached thereto.

Christian was succeeded as Abbot of St. James by Gregory, who had governed the monastery during his absence in Ireland. Gregory was also an Irishman. The Ratisbon Chronicle says of him: “A man of great virtue, Irish by birth, named Gregory, of the Order of the Regular Canons of St. Augustine, was admitted by Christian into the Order of St. Benedict; upon the death of Christian he became Abbot of St. James's, and was consecrated by Pope Adrian at Rome." The new Abbot soon after travelled to Ireland, where he received the money which had been collected by Christian, with considerable sums in addition, wherewith he purchased lands, sumptuously rebuilt the church and added cloisters to it. He died in October, 1204.

Wattenbach informs us that conflagrations repeatedly consumed all that was destructible by fire; but Gregory's square tower, and the almost too richly decorated portal of the church, stood out firmly against every assault. The monastery suffered thus especially in 1278, and again in 1453; but it was rebuilt after each fire.

In the year 1515 it passed out of Irish hands into the possession of Scottish monks. The transfer made by Pope Leo IV. in the year just named was confirmed in 1653 by Innocent X. When the convent was suppressed at the beginning of this century, compensation (as we have already mentioned) was made to the Scotch bishops; and amongst other uses a new facade was built to the Scotch College at Rome out of the money given for the loss of an establishment built by Irish monks, decorated by Irish skill and zeal, out of resources obtained from Ireland and contributed chiefly by the O'Briens and MacCarthys and their generous Irish clansmen.

Irish Monthly, Vol. 4 (1876), 266-270

Monday 1 February 2016

Saint Brigid of Fiesole, February 1

M. Stokes, Six Months in the Apennines (1892)

February 1 is chiefly remembered in Ireland as the feast day of our national patroness Saint Brigid of Kildare. Curiously, it is also the date of commemoration of a ninth-century namesake, Brigid of Fiesole. This holy lady was said to be sister to the Irish saint Andrew who had travelled to Italy with another Irishman, Donatus, later Bishop of Fiesole. There are reasons to believe that rather than being a separate individual, Brigid of Fiesole represents the transference of the cult of the Irish patroness to an Italian setting. This was certainly the view of the author of the classic work Irish Saints in Italy, Fra Anselmo Tommasini. Canon O'Hanlon himself had raised doubts about the coincidence of both of these saints Brigid sharing the same feast in an entry he made on another reputed feast of the Italian Brigid which can be read here. There is also the fact that Saint Donatus was known for his devotion to the Irish patroness and built a church dedicated to her in Piacenza and also authored a Life of Saint Brigid. In the Italian hagiography, however, Brigid is said to be the sister of the deacon Andrew and is miraculously transported from Ireland to Italy to be with him in his final hours. She then stays on in Italy, living a hermit's life in a cave. It's a very beautiful story and Canon O'Hanlon narrates it below in this account from Volume II of his Lives of the Irish Saints:

Saint Brigid, Virgin, Patroness of the Church of Opacum, at Fiesole, Italy.
[Ninth Century.]

In a minor degree to the celebrated Abbess of Kildare, yet with great relative honour, another very distinguished St. Brigid, an Irish virgin, who belonged in course of time to Fesule, in Hetruria, is commemorated on this day. Her Acts are given in the Bollandist collection. There is a historic commentary, comprised in three sections, and in thirteen paragraphs. The Italic Life of this holy religious is given, likewise, in seven paragraphs. Our own Colgan has introduced notices of her, extracted from various sources, at the present date. Her life, however, is best drawn from that of her brother, St. Andrew, and which Filippo Villani compiled. We do not learn from it, notwithstanding, in what part of the Island of Hibernia, also called Scotia, either had been born. Nor has their pedigree been transmitted, by our native genealogists, to the foreign biographer. We are only told, their parents were people of great wealth and distinction.

Towards the beginning of the ninth century, in the reign of Aedh Oirdnidhe, King of Ireland, there lived in that country a noble virgin, called Brigid. This, too, was probably the period of her birth. The splendour of her virtues far outshone that of her illustrious descent. This maiden had a brother, named Andrew, for whom she entertained a most sisterly affection, and ties of blood were more than strengthened by that sympathy, which binds pious souls. She was younger than her brother, and she regarded him as a wise guide and counsellor. Both had early felt a desire to embrace a life of celibacy. Andrew placed himself, as a disciple, under the teaching and protection of a holy bishop, St. Donat, or Donatus, whom he accompanied on a pilgrimage to Rome. Having received the Pope's blessing, both settled at Fiesole, where Andrew became a deacon. Here he remained for several years. Fiesole was an ancient city, and situated on a mountain, about three miles from Florence. It was once famous for its power and extent; but, now it has nothing of a city, saving the name. Some remains of its Cyclopean walls, and ancient Christian memoirs, attest its remote antiquity, and the ardour with which its people early embraced the Christian religion.

The mountain slopes there were thickly covered with churches, monasteries, palaces and villas, while a luxuriant country around it has all the aspect of a vast garden. The Fiesole hills are the delight of Florentines, who resort thither to breathe their balmy air. The origin of Fiesole is lost in the darkness of ages. We can say with certainty, that it was among the first of towns, built in Italy, and probably it was one of the twelve Etruscan cities. By order of St. Donatus, who was elected bishop of this city, St. Andrew re-established the Church of St. Martin, near the River Mensola. There he founded a monastery at the base of the Fiesole hills. There, too, he spent the rest of a life, singularly illustrated by piety and renowned for miracles. St. Andrew had made a perfect sacrifice, by abandoning home and the society of his relations and friends. But, a greater privation than all other losses was parting companionship with his beloved sister. She devoted herself wholly to pious exercises in Ireland, living either with her parents, or, more likely, as a member of one among the many religious institutes there existing. Nor does she appear even to have known where or how her brother lived. He survived St. Donatus, however, and after a lapse of some time, age and infirmity growing upon himself, it was deemed well to bestow his earnest admonition on the monks, who stood around his bed in tears. Then, the thought of his dear sister Brigid came into his mind, and he most vehemently wished to see her, ere he should die. The Omnipotent was graciously pleased to regard this feeling, which the dying saint had concealed from the bystanders. The pious Brigid, at the time, had been seated at her frugal meal, consisting of some small fishes and a salad. She lived at a retired place in Ireland. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to her, and miraculously was she brought before St. Andrew and his brethren. All, who were engaged rendering kind offices to their dying superior, were struck with astonishment and admiration, at the unlooked-for arrival of St. Brigid. A greater number soon appeared to witness her presence. Meantime, the virgin herself trembled with fear and reverence; for, instead of a reality, she thought the sick man lying on the bed, with those men standing around in a strange costume, as also the place and objects near her, represented only a vision. St. Andrew had a clear intuition of the whole matter, and in a tender tone of voice, he thus spoke: "My dearly beloved sister Brigid, finding my end approaching, I conceived a most earnest desire to behold you before my death, and the immense fountain of charity and of mercy from on high hath yielded to my prayers, as you see, and hath indulged the wishes of a sinner. Therefore, fear not, for so it hath pleased God, that you should behold your own brother Andrew, during his last agony, and hoping through your present merits, that the Creator of all things will be propitious, although you had long since thought me removed from this earth. For, in this place, far apart from our natal soil, I, a feeble athlete and soldier, have spent my days, while you, in like manner, shall end your life, supplying the complement of my warfare, by great austerity and penance. Now, set aside all dread, leaning on Divine mercy, and set your mind at rest, being assured, that you see and feel only what is real; while for me, I entreat you to become, with the fear of God, and with fervour of soul, an intercessor before our Lord, as the hour of my dissolution now arrives." As if awaking from torpor and coming to herself, with great sensibility and devotion, Brigid wept then, tenderly clasping the hand of her brother, she kissed it, and deep sighs almost choked her power of utterance. Sorrow afflicted her for more than an hour, when on bended knees, she thus exclaimed: "O Almighty God, the sole worker of wonders, whom the powers of Heaven serve, whom the elements obey, and to whom every creature is subject, to thee be praise and benediction, honour and glory, who hath deigned this supernatural favour to thy handmaid, that she should behold her holy brother here present." Then addressing St. Andrew, she said: "Oh, most pious brother, the first faithful director and guardian of my youth, I rejoice with thee, and I am glad and shall be glad, during the short time it may be granted me to behold thee; although, I suffer pain with you, and all the more keenly, because I clearly foresee, when you depart, I shall be alone in this miserable life, and that I shall survive, afflicted, desolate and deprived of your holy conversation. Nevertheless, the deeply impressed traces of thy praiseworthy deeds and pious works, as also the memorials you shall have left, must increase my rejoicing before God, and again bring a festive day. Doubtless, intuitively knowing such matters, you shall happily sleep in Christ. Of this I feel assured, and especially in your case. So long as the usury of life be left to me, I shall not fail in this place, whither angels have brought me, to follow in thy footsteps with penitential exercises, so far as the infirmity of my feeble body will permit, and so far as Divine grace may assist me. Oh, my dearest brother, aid me by thy holy prayers, while you supply to a woman's weakness, that manly strength, which has supported you. But now, have courage, and be comforted, in Christ and in His holy cross; for, as hitherto you were accustomed to contend with great vigour of mind and indomitable fortitude, give still further proofs of resolution, during this your last agony." With such consoling words, she cheered the parting soul of her dear brother, and she soon saw his remains reverently consigned to the earth. Then Brigid sought a dense wood, near Fiesole, where she resolved to live a solitary life, and to spend it, in a rigorous course of penance.

This desert place, called Opacum or Opacus, was at the foot of certain high and steep mountains, where wild beasts alone had their lairs. Here, she subsisted on fruits and roots, which grew about, and thus almost removed from human associations and conversation, engaged in constant vigils, fasts and austerities, old age grew upon her. Yet, would rustics, when hunting, frequently come to her hermitage, which seems to have been a sort of cave. Sometimes, they offered the holy woman products of their chase, which she often refused to accept, as being too great a luxury for her manner of life. As her years wore on, many holy matrons and men visited St. Brigid, while they alleviated her infirmities. This charitable help the Almighty inspired. At length, spent with old age, after miracles and merits had crowned her life, this holy virgin was called to her heavenly nuptials, on the 1st day of February, about the year of Christ, 870. She died —it is incorrectly stated—towards the close of Charlemagne's reign. Then, after her death, all the country inhabitants, venerating her as a saint, interred her remains; and, on an elevated spot among the mountains, where she had lived, they built a church, which was dedicated to her memory. This was called, Piave St. Martin in Baco, and afterwards her natal day was celebrated there with great solemnity. The desert, which in her time, had been rugged, wild and uncultivated, subsequently assumed an almost miraculous change; for, settlers on the spot soon rendered it attractive and populous. Several writers have celebrated the praises of this holy virgin, while pious pilgrimages were made to her shrine, for ages long past after her death.