Tuesday 6 July 2021

A Hymn in Honour of Saint Moninne

July 6 is the Feast of Saint Moninne of Killeevy, one of three women saints along with Brigid and Bronagh important to the people of the historic kingdom of Oriel in south-east Ulster. She is also one of the handful of Irish female saints with an extant written Life. There are many fascinating aspects to Saint Moninne. One was her reputation for asceticism, the Life of Monenna preserved in the Codex Salamanticensis calling her 'the daughter of John the Baptist and the prophet Elias'. Whilst asceticism was certainly a feature of the Early Irish Church, it is unusual to see a female saint being described in this way. The other was her 'manly spirit' for her female body is no barrier to Moninne's wholehearted pursuit of the eremetical way of life. There is thus a distinct flavour of the desert spirituality of Saint Anthony the Great to the life of this County Armagh abbess. In addition to the Salamanca Life there is also a Vita Sanctae Monennae compiled by a tenth or eleventh-century Irish monk called Conchubranus. He takes Moninne out of her Irish hermitage and portrays her as a pilgrim to Rome and founder of  churches in England and Scotland. The twelfth-century Abbot Geoffrey of Burton was convinced that Conchubranus was writing about his own abbey's founder and expanded the Irish monk's text into The Life and Miracles of Saint Modwenna. There has been a great deal of research into Saint Moninne and fresh translations of her various Lives in recent years. Mario Esposito (1887-1975) first published the text of the Life by Conchubranus in 1910 and included two abcderarian hymns in honour of the saint as an appendix. As a tribute to Saint Moninne on this her feast day I reproduce the opening verse from the first hymn and the closing verse of the second:
Deum deorum dominum, 
Autorem vite omnium, 
Regem et sponsum uirginum 
Sempiternum infinitum, 
Invocemus perualidum 
Sancte Monenne meritum, 
Ut nos ducat post obitum 
In regni refrigerium.

Let us invoke God, Lord of gods,
Creator of the life of all,
King and spouse of virgins,
everlasting, infinite,
and the very strong
merit of holy Monenna
that she may guide us after death
to the refreshing of the kingdom.
Sancta Monenna,
lux huius mundi ascendit, 
in candilabro nitidum sponsum 
sicut sol in meridie. 
Qui regnas in secula seculorum. Amen. 
The holy Monenna,
light of this world,
ascended to her shining spouse
in a candelabrum like the midday sun.
Who reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Mario Esposito,  Ymnus Sancte Monenne Virginis in Appendix to "Conchubrani Vita Sanctae Monennae." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature 28 (1910), 202-51.


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