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

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