In the nineteenth century the rediscovery of the legacy of the early Irish Church promoted a sense of pride among a people who were often driven to leave their homeland out of economic necessity. A poignant illustration can be found in the article below, taken from the Boston Pilot newspaper of May 22, 1847. This journal was founded in 1829, the year of Catholic Emancipation on this side of the Atlantic, and in the words of Boston Public Library was 'the premier communication channel for Boston Irish for much of the nineteenth and 20th centuries.' The article, which deals with the contribution made by Irish missions to continental Europe, was syndicated from Duffy's Irish Catholic Magazine 'A monthly review, devoted to national literature, arts, antiquities, ecclesiastical history, biography of illustrious Irishmen, and military memoirs', published in Dublin during the 1840s. It is based on the work of a seventeenth-century Bishop of Killala, Doctor John Lynch, who from exile wrote patriotic works extolling the ancient Irish church and its saints. The Pilot has marketed the article as 'A Text for Lecturers' as evening lectures at church halls, where the immigrant could hear talks on the history and culture of his homeland, were popular at this time. The appeal of this particular text is encapsulated in the quotation it cites from Saint Bernard, ‘From Ireland, as from an overflowing stream, crowds of holy men descended on foreign nations.’ The crowds of desperate Irish immigrants who were descending on Boston in 'black 47', the worst year of the Great Famine, were invited to both restore their sense of pride by recalling the contribution made by the 'holy emigration' of their ancestors to western civilization and to find strength in the face of nativist attacks on their religion and nationality:
A Text For Lecturers
ANCIENT IRISH MISSIONS ON THE CONTINENT.
From Duffy's Irish Catholic Magazine.
Many a lecture has been read to the Irish, both by friends and enemies, on excessive national pride. It generally happens that the foreigners who administer the correction, are themselves the slaves of the vice, and therefore have no right to expect much fruit from their charity; but the admonitions of a friend are always useful, if, admitting that there are some respectable facts in Irish history, he restricts his censure to national vices, thus, lopping away the rank luxuriance of a fruitful stock. Prudent men will not rashly tamper with a principle, which in Ireland as in all other countries has, like everything human, produced good and evil, alternately the support and the disgrace, the life and the bane of a nation. Cervantes enriched the Spanish language, and made the world laugh at Spanish chivalry; but it has been questioned whether Spain has not paid too dearly for his wit, whether her grandees did not lose their high principle with their punctilious pride, and were not ever after the most worthless of her sons. Surely some indulgence ought to be given to national pride, until we find one example of national humility; one nation that has formed a true estimate of its virtues and its vices. We may not admire the Irish harper, Rory Dall, who maintained, before James VI., that O’Neill, the uncrowned chieftain of the north, was a higher name than the future monarch of the British isles; but Rory’s error was not the worst extreme.
The ancient Irish missions are not produced as subjects of national pride, for though they are the brightest page in Irish Annals, and unique in the history of medieval Europe, selfish insular pride is the last feeling they engender in a Christian mind. Their principle was not of the earth: they brought home, in triumph, no captives, tributes, nor tattered banners. The missionary gave, gratuitously, what he had received gratuitously, and stands before us not so much an Irishman as the Christian priest, the soldier of that kingdom of Christ which has seen, and to the end of the world shall see, the rise and fall of European crowns. It is in the annals of that kingdom that the missioners’ glory is written. The missions, it is true, have a double aspect—a supernatural and an earthly—the Irish foreigner, appearing in Guizot’s pages, not only as the priest and preacher, but as enlarging the realms of philosophy, and acting as pioneer to civilization in literature, the arts, agriculture, and even commerce. But these latter fruits, which are the ordinary food of national pride, are, to the missions, what the Jesuit discoveries in geography, botany, and other branches of natural philosophy, were to the spiritual results of preaching of the Jesuit missionaries. The priest, inspired by God to convert souls, abandoning Ireland and friends, casting down the idols in the dark forests of Germany, or on the mountains of Switzerland, is the object that rivets the attention. However, national pride in those Irish missions is not, perhaps, a national sin; as for the one that boasts vainly, one hundred may either not have known or undervalued them. The following sketch is given, as nearly as translation allows, in the words of Dr. John Lynch, Bishop of Killala, one of those great men who, in the worst days of the seventeenth century, saved the wreck of our history. For the truth of his statement it is sufficient to state, that, with the exception of a few anachronisms, and two or three doubtful names, they have passed the rigid censorship of Dr. Lanigan, who has been to Irish history what the Devil’s attorney-general is to the canonization of saints. Should Ireland, after the example of the mother church, ever erect a national pantheon to all her saints, where all the Christian virtues would be enthroned in the persons of saintly men—where the eloquent voluptuary or the fiery zealot, by contemplating the models of Christian virtue, might be changed into a St. Augustine or a St. Paul, few countries in Europe could claim a greater number of saintly sons, whose memories are still honored on the scene of their labors, binding Ireland to Europe and to Rome by an eternal bond—the interchange of spiritual blessings:
“All the world knows that the Irish went over, not one by one, but in crowds, to Britain, Gaul, Belgium, and Germany, to convert the inhabitants of those regions to the Christian religion, and bring them under the obedience of the Roman pontiff. A signal testimony to this fact is found in the letter of Eric of Auxerre to Charles the Bald. ‘Need I mention Ireland, who, despising the dangers of the deep, emigrates to shores, with almost the entire host of her philosophers; the most eminent amongst them become voluntary exiles, to minister to the wishes of our most wise Solomon.’ Such, also, is the testimony of St. Bernard, ‘From Ireland, as from an overflowing stream, crowds of holy men descended on foreign nations.’ Walefridus Strabo says that 'the habit of emigrating had become a second nature to the Scoti,’ namely the Irish, as I have already proved; hence the just observation of Osborne, that the habit of emigrating ‘had taken the strongest hold of the Irish. For what the piety of other nations has made a habit, they have changed from habit into nature.’ Those holy emigrations of the Irish were distinguished by a peculiarity, never, or but very seldom found among other nations. As soon as it became known that any eminent monk had resolved to undertake one of these sacred expeditions, twelve men of the same order placed themselves under his command, and were selected to accompany him; a custom probably introduced by St. Patrick, who had been ably supported by twelve chosen associates in converting the Irish from the darkness of paganism to the light of the true faith. St. Rioch, nephew to St. Patrick, and walking in his footsteps was attended in his sacred missions to foreign tribes and regions by twelve colleagues of his own order; and when St. Rupert, who had been baptised by a nephew of St. Patrick, apostle of Ireland, departed to draw down the fertilising dews of true religion on pagan Bavaria, twelve faithful companions shared the perils and labors of his journey and mission. St. Finnian, bishop of Clonard, selected twelve from the thronged college of his disciples, to devote them, in a spatial manner, to establish and animate the principles of the Christian religion among the Irish, and hence they were styled by posterity the twelve apostles of Ireland. St. Columba was accompanied in his apostolical mission to Albany by twelve monks. Twelve followed St. Finbar in his pilgrimage, beyond the seas, and twelve St. Maidoc, bishop of Ferns, in one of his foreign missions. St. Colman Fin was never seen without his college of twelve disciples. When the ceaseless eruptions of foreign enemies, or the negligence of the bishops, had well nigh extinguished the virtue of religion in Gaul, and left nothing but the Christian faith—when the medicine of penance and the love of mortification were found nowhere, or but with a few, 'then,’ says Jonas, ‘St. Columbanus descended on Gaul, supported by twelve associates, to arouse her from her torpor, and enlighten her sons with the beams of the most exalted piety. Twelve disciples followed St. Eloquius from Ireland to illumine the Belgians with the rays of faith; twelve accompanied St. Willibrod from Ireland to Germany; the pilgrimage and labors of St. Farannan, in Belgium, were shared by twelve faithful brothers of the cowl; and the same number were fellow-exiles with St. Macallan. Perhaps the reason why the Irish clung with such invincible attachment to this custom, was the number of the apostles chosen by our Saviour, and the same number of disciples appointed by the Apostolic See to accompany Palladius to Ireland.
“But it was not in companies of twelve, alone, that great men went forth from Ireland, to plant or revive sound doctrine and discipline in foreign lands. Bodies, far more numerous are also mentioned. St. Albert was accompanied by nineteen disciples. Sixty accompanied St. Brendan in his voyage in search of the land of promise. St. Guigner, son of the king of Ireland, passed over to Britain, with a noble band of 770 associates; and St. Blaithmac, son of the king of Ireland, was followed thither by a good number of monks. St. Donnanus led away from his country fifty-two associates. Twenty-four disciples of St. Ailbe were sent by him to propagate the faith in Ireland. St. Emilias brought to the aid of St. Fursa at Lagny, a large body of their countrymen, and gave him wonderful aid in instilling the grace of God into the souls of man. St. Seizin was accompanied by seventy disciples to Armoric Britain, and Alsace welcomed St Florentius, with Arbogastus and Hildulph.
“Irish saints are also found toiling in strange lands, in smaller numbers, and fortifying them abundantly with the dew of their faith and virtues. In Italy there were Donatus of Fiesule, Andrew, and their sister. St. Brigid of Opaca; in Picardy, SS. Caidoc and Fricoriut, otherwise Adrian; at Rhemes, SS. Gibrian, Tressan, Hoelan, Abram, German, Veran, Petroan, Promptia, Possenna, and Inula; at Paris, Claude, Clement, and John; among the Morini (of Boulogne), SS. Vulgan, Kilian and Obod; in the territory of Beauvais, SS. Maura and Brigid, virgins and martyrs, and their brother Hyspad; at Fusciria, SS. Marildis, virgin, and her brother Alexander. In Kleggon, a district in Germany, St. Northberga, with Sista, and nine others of her children. At Ratisbon, SS. Marian, John, Candidas, Clement, Mucherdach, Magnoald, and Isaac. In Austrasia, SS. Kilian, Colonatus, and Totnan; and St. Cadroe and his associates at Walcedore. These devoted their lives to the instruction of the people, and were celebrated for the miraculous favors obtained by their intercession.
“Though it would be too tedious to mention, in detail, the great number of our countrymen who were distinguished on the continent for their marvellous works, and the sanctity of their lives, it would be unpardonable to omit them altogether. Not taking into account those who were canonised in Britain, nor those who went over to the continent in large bodies, we have in Italy, St. Cathaldus, patron of Tarentum, St. Donatus, patron of Fiesole, St. Emilian, patron of Faventum, and St. Frigidian of Lucca. Pavia honors John Albinus as the founder of her university, and St. Cuneau is, above all other Irish saints, the favorite, patron of Bobio.
“In Gaul, St. Mansuetus is patron of Tulle, St. Finlag, abbot of St. Simphonan, patron of Metz; and St. Praecordius of Corbie, situated between Amiens and Peronne. Amiens honors St. Forcensius, and Poitiers, St. Fridolinus, abbot of the monastery of St. Hilary. St. Elias is patron of Angouleme, St. Anatolius of Besancon, St. Fiacre of Meaux, St. Fursa of Peronne, and St. Laurence of Eu. Liege honors St. Momo, and Strasburg SS. Florentius and Arbogastus. In Bretagne, SS. Origin, Toava, Tenan, Gildas, Brioc, and many others are revered as patrons. In Rhemes and the surrounding district SS. Gibrian, Heran, German, Veran, Abran, Petran, and three sisters, are held in the, highest veneration. ‘In Burgundy, the vinyard of the Lord yielded an abundant harvest to the zeal of St. Columbanus, who founded there a great number of monasteries and colleges of monks, restored the true service of God, and left there after him Deieolus, Columbinus, and Anatolus.”—Flodoard Hist. Rhemes.
“In Burgundy, also, St Maimbode is honored as a martyr.
“In Belgium, you have in Brabant, SS. Rumold, Fredegand, Himelin, Pympia, and Gerebernus. In Flanders, SS. Levin, Guthagon, Columbanus; in Artois, SS. Liugluio, Liuglianus, Kilian, Vulgan, Fursa, and Obodius; in Hainault, SS. Ette, Adalgisus, Abel, Wasnulph, and Mombolus; in Namur, SS. Farennan and Eloquius; in Liege, SS. Ultan, Foillan, and Bertuin; in Gueldress SS. Wiro, Plechelm, and Othger; in Holland, St. Hiero; in Friesland, SS. Suitbert and Acca.
“But Germany, especially, was the most nourishing vineyard of our saints. St. Albuin or Witta, is honored as apostle in Thuringia; St. Disibode at Treves; St. Erhard, in Alsace and Bavaria; St. Fridolin, in the Grisons of Switzerland; St. Gall, among the Suabians, Swiss, and Rhodians; St. John, in Mecklenberg; St. Virgil, at Saltztburg; St. Kilian, in Franconia; St. Rupert, in part of Bavaria. From these saints these different places received the grace of faith, and the sacred discipline of Christian virtue, and afterwards honored;, the memory of their benefactors, as the apostles of their nation. But these are not the only saints to whom the Germans send up their filial prayers; equal honors are paid by them to some others of our countrymen. St. Albert is honored at Ratisbon, SS. Deicola and Fintan at Constance, and St. Eusebius in Coire. The town and canton of St. Gall, took their name from our countryman, St. Gall. ‘This monastery,’ says Munster, ‘was the school of the noble and the peasant, and the nursery of a great. number of learned men; at one period it contained no less than one hundred and fifty students and brothers.’ Ireland was, therefore, both the athenaeum of learning, and the temple of holiness—supplying the world with literati, and heaven with saints. Truly doth she appear the academy of the earth, and the colony of heaven. Was ever panegyric more appropriate than the words of Eric of Auxerre? “Need I mention Ireland, who, despising the dangers of the deep, emigrates to our shores, with almost the whole host of her philosophers: the most eminent among them become voluntary exiles to minister to the tastes of our wisest Solomon?”
The period of these Continental missions extends from the year 500 to the twelfth century; from St. Seizin of Armorica and St. Gibrian of Rheims, to St. Colman patron of Austria. It is an error of Dr. Lanigan and Mr. Moore to assign the troubled state of Ireland, especially during the Danish invasion, as one of the great causes of the missions. If the stream had stopped when Ireland was in peace there might be some grounds for the opinion; but as it flowed with greater or less force during six centuries, a man might as well attribute the tide that breaks on the western shores of Europe, to a western wind, as assign Irish missions to Irish political tempests. Christian Ireland was fulfilling her destiny. Placed like an army of reserve on the flank of the pagan barbarians, she co-operated with the Holy See in subduing Europe; and so far from being influenced by a wish for more peaceful climes, her sons selected the most uncivilized and dangerous fields—those which are most remote from the other centres of Catholic civilization. It was the instinct of apostolical charity, for where the body is, thither flock the eagles. Thus it has struck those who are familiar with Irish history—not a little singular—that no Irish missioner is found in Spain, notwithstanding the communication between the turn kingdoms. Spain needed no help; her councils of Toledo, during the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, had given her the start of all European nations, and nerved her for the long fight against the Saracens. No Irish missioner is found in the southern provinces of France, some of which were under Spanish jurisdiction, and all had been more thoroughly Romanized than the proper kingdom of the Franks. The few Irishmen who settled in southern Italy, were detained there, after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; but the great field of their zeal commences with the Lombards, then over the Alps, in Switzerland, along the banks of the Rhine and Danube, Bavaria, Belgium, the northern provinces of France, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, Iceland, Scotland, and England, except Wales, which gave as much as it received, perhaps more.
The services of the Irish were gratefully remembered in Europe. The rank which England held in the general council of Constance, after being denied to her on her new claims, was granted to her as the representative of Ireland. Stephen White, a Jesuit, a contemporary and correspondent of Usher’s writes, “that preceding 1000 years, there was not one cathedral church from the Orisons to the German Ocean, in which the festival of St. Bridget of Kildare, patroness of Leinster, was not kept on the 1st of February. Her church stood beside the church of St. Martin, in Cologne. All the reformed German calendars, down to White’s time, preserved her name, though they expunged many others. When the hand of the persecutor was heavy on Ireland, well might Benedict XIV. remind her of her ancient glory.” If we wished to enumerate all those most holy men, Columbanus, Kilian, Virgil, Rumold, Gallus, and many others who introduced the Catholic faith from Ireland into other provinces, or honored it by the bloody crown of martyrdom, our epistle would exceed all proper limits. Let it suffice to have referred to them briefly, that you may the more easily recall to mind, what was the religion and piety of your ancestors, what and how great was the solicitude of the episcopal order, which made them glorious and happy.— August 15, 1741.
When we review our centenary feuds and criminal discord, grand opportunities lost for ever, and other great national crimes, we must be pharisees indeed if we do not confess that it was the arm of God alone which has preserved us—selecting the weak things of the world to confound the strong, while England, Scotland, and Germany, to whose conversion we contributed, have fallen off from the fold. Conceive the feelings of an Englishman 250 years hence, if the United States of 1779, after being scourged by the million scorpions of democratic anarchy, voluntarily returned to the English crown; then you may guess what the Irish Catholic feels, when, with the sad, but glorious page of his history before him, he reads of twelve scions of royal or princely families, and forty-two of the greatest men in literature, science, and art in Germany, and nearly as many in Presbyterian Switzerland, returning, humbled penitents, to the onefold of Christ, during the present century.
[Note. —Willibrod, Switbert, and a few others, though Saxons, are classed among the Irish missionaries, because it was in Ireland they prepared for the missions. The Latin form of many of the names was common, even for those who never left Ireland; thus “Mochoemoc,’’ is, in Latin, Pulcherius, and “Blathmac,” Florentius. The celebrated voyage of St. Brendan, was commemorated in the old Irish Calendars as “Egressio familiae Sti Brendani.”]
Boston Pilot, Volume 10, Number 21, 22 May 1847.
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