Sunday 29 May 2022

Saint Buryan, May 29

May 29 is the feast of the County Offally female Saint Brunsecha of Killyon, whose story is interwoven with that of Saint Ciarán of Saighir and his mother, Saint Liadhain. Today we are going to reprise Saint Brunsecha's story but this time in connection with a Cornish saint, Buryan (Burian, Buriana, Buriena) who seems to have assimilated aspects of our Irish holy woman's identity, including her feast day. As we shall see though, May 29 is only one of a number of different feast days ascribed to the Cornish saint in the sources. In general I am sceptical about the Irish origins claimed for saints such as Buryan, since Ireland in the Middle Ages was regarded as the insula sanctorum there was a certain cachet associated with claiming an Irish saint as a monastic or church founder. That is not to deny of course that there are Irish saints whose well-documented careers in Britain are beyond question, but the vague claims surrounding 'Irish princesses' such as Buryan cannot readily be substantiated. But let us start by looking at what these claims were. Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints has an entry for Saint Buriena on this day, but our guide below is the prolific Anglican writer Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), who relies on the hagiography of Saint Ciarán to explain why both he and Brunsecha leave Ireland for Cornwall where he becomes Saint Piran and she Saint Buriena:

S. BURIENA, Virgin Abbess.

S. Buriena was one of the Irish Colony that came over about 520. Leland in his Itinerary (iii, 18,) says, "S. Buriana, an Holy Woman of Ireland, sumtyme dwellid in this place and there made an oratory. King Ethelstane going hence, as it is said, unto Sylley and returning, made ex voto a College where the oratorio was." She has been identified by Mr. Adams with 'Bruinech the Slender' of the Martyrology of Donegal, "who" says the scholiast on the martyrology, "is venerated in a town bearing her name, in England, on the 29th May." But this is inaccurate, the feast of S. Buryan being the nearest Sunday to May 12.

Leland calls her Bruinet, and says she was a king's daughter, who came into Cornwall with S. Piran. The forms Bruinet and Bruinech are mere variations in spelling, that occur repeatedly as Gobnat and Gobnach, Rignat and Eignach, Dervet and Dervech. The ech, or at, or et, is a diminutive for female names, like the oc for male names. So Brig becomes Bridget.
Bruinech was of illustrious birth. She was the daughter of Crimthan a chieftain in Munster, grandson of that Oengus MacNadfraich who had been baptized by S. Patrick. She was a kinswoman of S. Kieran.

The story of Buriena is found in the life of S. Kieran (Piran), of Saighir. It has been paraphrased by Mr. Adams, from Colgan (Journal R. Inst, of Cornwall, vol. iv. p. 141). But it will be preferable to give it from the original text in the Salamanca Codex: — She was, as already stated, daughter of a chieftain in Munster, and she embraced the religious life under Liadhain the mother of S. Kieran, one of the first abbesses in Ireland. Liadhain had a religious house at Killyon in King's County. The damsel was slim in form, and so went by the name of Bruinech or Brunsech Caol, the "Slender;" she was also very beautiful.

Dimma, of the Hy Fiachai District in West Meath, fell in love with her and carried her off against her will, with the assistance of his clansmen.
The wrath of S. Kieran was kindled, and he sped after the ravisher, to demand her back again. Dimma refused to restore her to liberty, "Never!" — said he — " till I hear the cuckoo call at day-dawn and arouse me from sleep."

It was winter time, and a deep snow lay on the ground and crested the castle walls. As the gates were shut, Kieran and his companions had to spend the night in the snow outside. They passed it in prayer. Lo! next morning a cuckoo * was perched on every turret of the chieftain's castle, uttering its plaintive call. Surprised and alarmed at this marvel, Dimma released the maiden. [* Mr. Adams says "a Swan," the word is "Duculus," but according to another version the bird was a heron.]

Putting aside what is fabulous in this story, we see the venerable saint's enthusiasm for the protection of innocence, and there is something very pathetic in the thought of his spending the winter night in the snow, outside the gate, rather than abandon his efforts to save the poor girl.

What actually took place was that Piran or Kieran "fasted against" Dimma. This was a practice among the Irish. If a man wanted something very particular, and was refused it, he went to the door of the man of whom he made petition and remained there exposed to the inclemency of the weather, and refused all food, till he died. This was literally laying his death at the door of the other, and it entailed on the man who let him die all the consequences of a blood-feud. The practice is not unknown now in India.

When, in the 12th century, the life of S. Kieran was re-written, the editor could not understand the practice, which had long ago been abandoned, so he invented the story of the cuckoo to give point to the incident, and account for the surrender of Dimma.

As soon as Bruinech had been released, Kieran took her back to his mother at Killyon.
After a few days the chieftain repented of having released her, his passion for the girl was not overcome, and he returned to the convent to again carry her off. In her fright, Bruinech fainted away, and Dimma was shewn her, lying unconscious. He stormed at Kieran, who he thought had killed her rather than give her back to him, and he threatened to drive him out of the country.
Kieran replied, "Thou hast no power over me. Thy strength is but a vain shadow."

According to the legend, at this juncture news arrived that Dimma's dun was on fire; that is to say, the wooden and wickerwork structures within the fort were blazing. At the tidings, the chief hastily left the convent, in hopes of rescuing some of his valuables from the flames.

Dimma is by no means a fabulous personage, he was chief of the Cinel Fiachai; he was fourth or fifth in descent from Niall of the Nine Hostages, King of Ireland, who died 405, and was even uncle of a Saint, Aid Mac Bric, who died in 588.
It was clearly undesirable for Kieran to remain in the place, and it is possible that it was at this time he removed to Cornwall, taking the damsel Bruinech with him. She is said to have lived many years afterwards.

Kieran or Piran became Bishop about 538, and he is thought to have died about 550, but this is mere conjecture, as the Irish Annals do not give the date of his decease, and as this occurred out of Ireland we may put his migration to Cornwall at about 520. Buriena is identified with Bruinech by several martyrologists.
Nothing is recorded of the acts of S. Buriena in Cornwall, but the general tradition is that she spent the rest of her days in good works. It is rather remarkable that her settlement should have been near the foundation of S. Senan, rather than near any of those of S. Kieran. Her settlement must have been of considerable importance, for it had a Sanctuary, which implies this. The Sanctuary, with its oratory, remains about a mile south-east of the parish church that bears her name, beside a rivulet, on the farm of Bosliven. There are traces of extensive foundations near the oratory. Probably popular veneration attached to this place, long after the transfer of the church, for it excited the rage of Shrubsall, one of Cromwell's Officers, and he almost totally destroyed it.
The day of S. Bruinech, in the Irish Calendars is on May 29, and this indeed is the day marked as that of S. Buriena in some English Calendars. But at Burian the feast is now held on the Sunday nearest to May 12, and in the Exeter Calendar her day is given as May 1. The Feast at Burian is on Old-Style May-Day, i.e. eleven days after May 1.

In the second edition of the "Martyrologium Anglicanum" of Wilson, 1640, she is inserted on June 19, but in his first edition, on May 29.

Her death probably occurred about 550.

In art she would be represented as an Irish Nun, in white, with a cuckoo.
Rev. S. Baring-Gould, 'A Catalogue of Saints connected with Cornwall, and List of Churches and Chapels Dedicated to them', Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Volume XIII, (1895-98), 485-488.
Modern scholar, Nicholas Orme, has a number of observations to make on Saint Buryan in his authoritative 2000 study The Saints of Cornwall. He traces the first mention of her in the historical record to a tenth-century list of saints, where she appears as 'Berion' and 'in a charter attributed to King Athelstan (925-39) granting property to the clergy of the church of Sancta Beriana, meaning St Buryan (Cornwall)'. As for her supposed Irish origins, Orme concludes:
The context of Cornish history, however makes Buryan more likely to have been a Brittonic saint from Brittany or Cornwall.

Nicholas Orme, The Saints of Cornwall (Oxford University Press, 2000), p.78

Yet, although I don't accept Saint Burian as an Irish saint, it is nevertheless fascinating to see the process by which the cult of a saint from this country is transferred to another. Interestingly, on June 4 the Irish calendars mark the feast of the Cornish saint Petroc, so the traffic is not all one-way!

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Saturday 21 May 2022

Saint Colmán Lobhar of Moynoe, May 21

On May 21 we find the feast of Saint Colmán, one of a number of Irish saints to be described as lobhar, a 'leper'. The name Colmán is derived from Colum and along with a bewildering number of other variants is one of the most commonly found names on the Irish calendars of the saints. Our foremost modern hagiologist, Pádraig Ó Riain, has argued that many of these saints represent local manifestations of the cult of the most famous Colum of them all - Saint Colum Cille (Columba). Saint Colmán Lobhar of Moynoe, County Clare, might fit this theory. Canon O'Hanlon in Volume V of his Lives of the Irish Saints lists the evidence from the calendars and offers some observations on the nature of the 'leprosy' associated with our saint:

Article VII. St. Colman, Lobhar, or the Leper, of Magh-n-ec- or Moyne, County of Clare
In the"Feilire"of St.Aengus, the festival of "zealous Colman, a leper," is mentioned at this date;' and, therefore we may infer, that he flourished, at an early period, in the Irish church. His office is not known. The Martyrology of Tallagh registers this name, at the 21st of May. His place is called Maighe Eo. The Bollandists have a festival for Colmanus leprosus de Magh-eo, on the same authority; but, as they allege, little more can they find regarding him, except that Colgan refers Colmanus Lobhar and his feast to this date. Muighe-Eo—which was in Dal-Cais—must be distinguished from Mayo, in Connaught. Its fuller denomination was Maigh-neo-Norbhraighe, now known as Moynoe, or Mayno, an old church, which gives name to a parish, on the margin of Lough Derg, in the barony of Upper Tulla, and county of Clare. A church at this place had been burned by the Conmaicni, in 1084. This church is mentioned, also, in the Caithreim Toirdheal-bhaigh, or "Wars of Thomond," at the year 1318, as the hereditary termon of the Ui-Bloid. This day veneration was paid to Colman, Lobhar, or the Leper, of Magh-n-eo, in Dal-glais, as we find entered,in the Martyrology of Donegal. It  seems not improbable, that some of our saints, called Lepers, had not been afflicted with the same form of disease, known as leprosy, in certain countries at the present time; and, it is likely enough, that their malady was some form of erysipelas, or of a skin distemper, corresponding with the bodily infirmity to which allusion has been made.


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Tuesday 17 May 2022

The Monk of Devenish

May 17 is the feast of Saint Siollan of Devenish, County Fermanagh, an account of whose life can be read at the blog here. Below is a short story called The Monk of Devenish published just over one hundred years ago in the Dominican periodical, The Irish Rosary, which is set in his island home. The popular religious press of this time regularly featured short stories or novels published in instalments which were intended to provide a more edifying alternative to the 'penny dreadfuls' of the secular world.  This short story features a female narrator who describes a visit to the ruins of Devenish where, despite her insistence that she is of a practical disposition and not given to 'imaginative experiences', finds herself gripped by gripped by a vision of the monastic community which once flourished there. The Monk of Devenish incorporates many of the familiar images of the preceding Victorian era's understanding of the 'Celtic Church' where the winds whistling through the lonely ruins of once vibrant monasteries act as a metaphor for a lost golden age.  The wistful, melancholy reaction of the boatman to the lady's experiences provides an appropriate response. This story, however, by its reference to  'Crummle' (Cromwell) also recalls the destruction of the monasteries at a later period of Irish history:

The Monk of Devenish.


IT was a lovely sunny day in September when I went down the long, narrow lane, with its whitewashed walls on either side, from Enniskillen's pretty town towards the stony shore of Lough Erne, where my boatman was awaiting me. Anything less eerie or suggestive of spirit influences I could hardly imagine than this brilliant and buoyant forenoon so reminiscent of the jubilant hours of young Spring. Nor was my quiet boatman in the least to be described as ghost-like in his conversation, and certainly not as regards his appearance, which was decidedly everyday, plain, and a little melancholy. My own disposition is generally regarded by my friends as belonging to the obviously practical and matter-of-fact category, and imaginative experiences have never been considered either by myself or by anyone else to be my forte. Thus equipped, I set out upon my reasonable entertainment of sailing a little among the islands of wide and lovely Lough Erne and of seeing a few of the greater, notably famed Devenish.
The sun sparkled upon the bluish silver waters of the lake with its thousand currents, both of air and of water, the soft green hills and the many green islets seemed to bask placidly in an atmosphere of peace, brightness and utter contentment. And my boatman, after gentle conversation regarding the town and any objects of interest about us, including a mild description of the blasting operations which hollowed out a deeper stone basin for this mighty lake and prevented its annual overflooding into the lower rooms of the houses of Enniskillen's island town, commenced at my request a legend or story concerning a castle's ruins, suggested by an ancient stronghold we had passed.

The boat glided onwards, never did my boatman's eye stray from his delicate task of piloting our little skiff among the many cross currents, while his soft voice poured out the history of the lords of the castle and some tale of heroism and terror of "Crummle's" days. And whether it were the magic of the brilliant sunlight which was too strong here among the thousand islands, where, in spite of the breezes crossing and re-crossing, one seemed to be shut in, whether it were the soft monotone of his voice, certainly my thoughts seemed to become as it were freed from the bounds of time and space and, by some enchantment, to roam in another world of deeper, more inward silences than even those of the sunlight, the waters and the green islets.
What, it seemed, was the use of speaking of the old monks who were gone they were not gone at all, their presence was like an atmosphere in this place of outward and inward silence. It was true one could not see them, the wattled huts, the stone churches and cells no longer peopled, the empty green isles, the very flowers hardly grew there any longer. But the monks were only round some bend, only hidden by a curve, they were there.

I came to suddenly; my thoughts had drowned me in a deep place of their own. The boatman was still speaking, the story was going on, but he looked at me curiously once or twice. 

"Now we have arrived, Madam," he said, navigating his boat with greater care than I had seen him use yet, "at the island of Devenish. As ye see, there are ruins there, and if you will just wait a few moments I will make the boat safe and then ye can go ashore and look at the ould church up there."

So it was done, and amid the tall rushes our boat was pulled up until she lay safely, and we went up the bank. There was little to see, as my guide did not fail to point out, upon the Holy Isle, but we looked at the ruined church, walked silently down its grassgrown length and looked into the peaceful enclosed space without, lying within its low grey walls of stones piled together by holy hands in the long ago. It had been, it seemed, the burying ground of Saints.

The winding stone stairway in the square tower attracted me, and I was told that I should find the upper chamber there closed by an iron railing and filled with pieces of masonry, stone head and remains. I said I would go up, and my boatman slipped out of the ancient building, informing me as he did so that he would wait on the green shores, but that he was within hailing distance. I assured him that I should be back again in a moment or two, and, obviously thinking me rather unwise, he left me.

He went, and I stood for a moment looking adown the nave of the small, ruined, but still holy fane. My boatman's feet made no sound on the green sward. I was alone, quite alone on this heaven-enchanted isle. After a moment I commenced the small ascent slowly, looking at the tower all the way as I went up. A strange cool wind blew through the ruined windows at the summit, and, having arrived there on the small square landing I stood looking at the great, grotesque, calm stone faces lying collected and enclosed up there before me. They were mighty pieces of simple, old-world masonry, said my everyday sense as I looked.

They were faces from a thousand years ago looking at me, said this strange new self which had wakened here amid the hills and silences. I looked at them until I began to fancy I should presently imagine a human face of flesh and blood, or the semblance at least of one, to be looking steadily at me from out that medley of cut and carved stones and grey, uncouth blocks. Turning, I looked out of the broken window at my back. Down there, quite by the lake where our boat waited, I saw the boatman stand, his back towards me, foolishly perched in my tower among rather ghastly stone heads, as I knew was his unspoken thought. Well, I must be going, or else the wind and those calm, terribly calm, stone faces, so huge and mesmeric, at my back, would cause me to fancy I hardly knew what. A large dark cloud, too, with one of those changes which make the climate in some parts of Ireland so moody and which yet have a witchery all their own, was looming every moment greater in the sky. Perhaps a squall was imminent. Was it all the effect of the change of light? As I turned to descend I cast another glance, half of interest, half of a strange feeling that was neither fear nor repulsion yet had elements of both at the railed chamber opposite. It seemed a room now cold, uncivilised as regards creature comforts, rough stone blocks served as bench and prie-dieu before an equally rough and rather large stone rood and roughly hewed figure of the Great Mother. There must have been a roof, after all, or perhaps it was all the darkness caused by the great cloud. At the same moment an eerie rustle of wind swept through the tower and chamber, and it seemed to my fancy like the movement of a habited figure. Was it shadow, was it fancy? a greyish pale figure seemed to stir in that windy chamber.

I did not stay to look, a kind of panic held my reasoning powers and I fled down the stone stairs. Yet the presence that I felt following, following was altogether kind, friendly, very far from hostile. After all I was a Catholic, and my interest had not been that of the antiquarian alone. But the presence was too remote, too holy, too austere for a soul of smaller stature. I remembered, all at once, a strange dream once told me by a cousin since dead.

He knew this Holy Isle, and he dreamed that he had come hither by night, taking the boat at the command of a tall man dressed in some long dark flowing garb who had come to his door at midnight, carrying a shaded lantern whose light was like a star. They went down to the dark, lapping water in silence, and the boat went gliding, rowed with powerful, smooth strokes by the monastic-looking figure and finding its way swiftly under the stars, among the black shapeless masses of the islands, to the wind-swept Holy Isle. His stern, silent guide took his hand in a cold grasp and drew him ashore. Above them on the island the ecclesiastical mass of the ancient church rose massive and powerful, outlined against the stars, and as he looked the light of tapers seemed to shine through the windows,  whether still ruined or perfect, he hardly knew, and the sound of a dirge, chanted in low voices, rose and fell, like sighing, upon the gusty night-wind. 

He listened as together they went towards the dimly lit, shadowy church, and he could distinguish the Latin words it was a lament over the ruined house of God, for Jerusalem wherein not a stone has been left upon a stone. And as he stood, his hand still held in that cold, powerful grasp, a voice, like a presence, seemed to come yearningly towards him from out that assembly of mourning, black-clad figures, and he understood the strange Call of the Holy Isle to him that he should give up all, be, as it were, a victim, for the glory of the House of God laid low and for the kindling of a great light of faith and of continual prayer there on that spot again in the future. A cold terror seized him as he hearkened what did all these sad ghosts want to do with him? And wrenching his hand free, from the chill hold in which it lay he fled, swift as an arrow, to the waiting boat and sailed fast for home. Three times the dream had recurred to him, at long intervals, and each time his resistance had seemed to grow less. And the idea had grown in him of possibly doing something, in some way, to get some tiny, contemplative community to take up residence as near as might be to Devenish some day. And then one evening, years later, and my cousin one of a party yachting on the Lough, the stars shining wonderfully and all who were aboard the yacht with him admiring the beauty of the scene in the clear darkness of the hour, a strange wind had blown from off the Holy Isle and the yacht had dipped before it, and another tragedy had been added to the Lake's list of conquests over man. My cousin had been drowned the rest were rescued.

The weird little story recurred to me as I ran swiftly down the steps. Yet to prove to myself that my nerves were completely under control I paused at the foot of the steps and looked upward and then into the ruined church. Everything was very dark, and the first splashing drops of a late summer thunderstorm were falling with a strange effectiveness of sound, and so possibly my eyes deceived me, for the church, for a brief instant, seemed a real, though small monastic church, with two rows of grey-clad figures standing in it. At that moment the wind entered the building with a wild swirl, a great bell from one of the churches over at Enniskillen pealed the hour, and a mighty roll of thunder following instantaneously upon a vivid blue flash of lightning (which showed me an altar with lights and cross and lamp and hanging dove of gold in the church) filled my ears as with a world of sound coming simultaneously. At that instant also the boatman ran towards me seeking the shelter of the tower. It was as if to my startled senses a burst of organ music and men's singing had suddenly broken forth. 

"O," I said, when I had regained my breath, "I will never come here again !"

"Ah ! sure," he said, but very gravely, and I could see that only for the dangers without he would not have remained another moment in the ancient church, "they were all holy men that lived here long ago. And the storm won't last long."

It lasted for a wild ten minutes, but the whistling of the wind, the crashing of the thunder, and the sharp beating of the rain were all we heard. Then with a sudden, long-drawn, sobbing sigh, as it seemed, the disturbance subsided as suddenly as it had arisen, and the sun began to peep fitfully from among the flying clouds.

We lost no time in picking our way through the soaking grass down to the muddy shore, and there we embarked again. As we put out into mid-stream I looked back again at the lonely tower rising from the green banks of the Holy Isle where the presence of the saintly men of old is as distinct as the shining of the sun, or the blowing of the wind among the hardly-trodden grass. Was it again my fancy? a face seemed to glimmer from the upper window of the tower, and then was gone.

"Sure, the shadows and the sun do make wonderful play there, Madam, on the ould church," said the boatman. But his voice and his eyes were grave and almost sad.

Irish Rosary, Volume 25 (1921), 694-698.

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Sunday 15 May 2022

Saint Dymphna: 'Lode-star of the Lost Ones'

Saint Dympna - or Davnet of Ireland may belong to legend or mythology; Saint Dympna of Gheel to a holy tradition: Saint-Dympna-of-Today belongs to us all. She is part, as it were, of our national innocence...

...While the secret of Creation remains hidden from the wise and the prudent, it does seem to be revealed from time to time through this little saint whose century and nationality is quite obscure.
Rejected from the acta of saints, she is paradoxically become the lode-star of the lost ones and has quietly but firmly established herself as their advocate.
"Saint Dympna!" They cried long ago - AND THEY STILL DO - 
"Saint Dympna - pray for us". 

Angela Verne, Fugitive Saint (Farnworth, 1961), 201-202.

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Saturday 14 May 2022

The Miracles and Monastic Life of Saint Carthage

The Story of St Carthage (1937)

May 14 is the feast of Saint Carthage (Mochuda) of Lismore, subject of a previous post here. Canon O'Hanlon's account of this saint includes many of the miracles attributed to Saint Carthage by his hagiographers, which also give a glimpse into the saint's life as a monastic. In the selection below the text is O'Hanlon's, the headings are mine. We begin with a prophecy of the saint's future greatness delivered by other important Irish holy men, a common trope in Lives of the saints:

Saints Comgall and Brendan Prophesy the Future Greatness of Saint Carthage and of Lismore:

The approaching birth of our saint was announced to St. Comgall, by an Angel, in the following words : "O holy old man, a child shall be born in the western part of Ireland. He must receive the name of Carthage, at the baptismal font, because he shall be loved by God and man, both in Heaven and upon earth. After a while, he shall come to you, on his way to Rome, and it is the Lord's mandate, that you forsake him not, but that he remain with you an entire year." St. Brendan of Clonfert had an angelic warning, also, regarding the birth of our saint. Brendan heard these words: "A wonder-working brother must shortly come to thee, who shall aid thy people here and hereafter. Men shall thus divide the region of Kiarraigh. His name shall be Carthage amongst you, and many shall rejoice in his commemoration; for, he will collect a great congregation of many people to the Lord, on the day of judgment. His first city shall be called Rathen, situated in Meath territory, in the midst of Ireland, among the people called Feara-Keel and this city shall be renowned. But, the second city shall be greater and more illustrious; for, Carthage shall possess a great principality called Lismore."

The Prophecy of Saint Comgall Fulfilled:

He then undertook a pilgrimage alone, towards the northern part of Ireland. In the meantime, an Angel had appeared to his cotemporary, St. Comgall of Bangor, and told him, that a young and holy Priest should come to him, wishing to cross the sea, for Christ's sake; that this was the person, regarding whom Comgall had formerly prophesied, before his birth; and that, according to God's mandate, he should detain the pilgrim with him, for the remainder of the year. St. Comgall wished to know, how Carthage might be identified. Then the Angel said: "He shall be that person, who retires to the hospice, from the church, and with his face towards it." Now, it was a custom of Moccuda, as it appears, never to turn his back towards any church, if he could possibly avoid it. That vision, and the token whereby our saint might be recognised, were communicated by the Abbot Comgall to his disciples. Afterwards, St. Carthage came to Bangor, and the Abbot discovered him, by practising the usual habit, while honouring the church as the house of God. Comgall was greatly rejoiced at our saint's arrival, and communicated to him the Angel's words, as also the Lord's mandate. In obedience thereto, Carthage remained in Bangor, to the end of that year. On its expiration, by advice of St. Comgall, Carthage returned to his native province. There, he erected many buildings, to the honour of God. There, likewise, he wrought many miracles, and many disciples flocked to him, from all parts. A large extent of country was subject to his spiritual jurisdiction.

Saint Hyaran Prophecies the Future Path of Saint Carthage

Leaving his religious establishments, in Kerry, to the care of faithful guardians and religious men, St. Carthage afterwards went with a few companions, to the southern part of Munster. He visited the son of Fintan, St. Hyaran, a Bishop, who had founded a monastery at Roffigillain. From this saint, the pilgrim enquired, where his largest church should be built, in these parts; as the Angel of the Lord had declared to St. Comgall, that it must be founded in the southern part of Ireland. Accordingly, St. Hyaran, who was gifted with the spirit of prophecy, answered: "My dear fellow-servant in Christ, you shall first go to Niall's posterity, and there shall you build a renowned house to our Lord. There shalt thou remain for forty years, and afterwards thou shalt be expelled therefrom, and return to Munster. Then only shalt thou build thy larger church." St. Carthage said to him: "Holy father, I shall always regard thee as my patron." But Hyaran said: " My brother, it must not be so, but I offer myself and my monks to you for ever." He declared, likewise, that Furudran, his disciple, should succeed him in his episcopal seat. Accordingly, such was the case, Furudran occupying the See for twenty years.

Saint Columba Leaves the Building of Raithin to Saint Carthage

While Carthage was on his journey, two monks met him on the way, and asked him whither he was going. He replied, to St. Colman-Elo. These brethren besought him to receive them as disciples, for they declared, that God's grace appeared to shine in his countenance. He complied with their request, and, on coming to St.Colman, then declared his desire of remaining with him. However, Colman said: "It must not be so; but, you shall go to a certain place, near to me, and called Rathen, which has been promised you by the Lord. There shalt thou remain, and many monks shall serve the Lord under thee; while the place itself, from thee, shall assume for its name, Carthach Raithin. It is said, St. Columkille had formerly proposed the building of a cell, in this place. But, finding that the Almighty had destined such work for our saint, he left three bundles of twigs for Carthage, who constructed his home with these materials.

Saint Carthage has to temper the strictness of his Rule:

For a long time, St. Mochuda would not receive cows, oxen, or horses, to cultivate his land. This work was performed, by his monks with hoes, and they carried all burdens on their shoulders. But, St. Fintan, a relative of St. Carthage, on his return from Rome, visited him, and that guest said : "Why, O Carthage, dost thou impose upon rational beings the work of irrational animals? Your men are made like to beasts of burden, and I shall not eat in this place, unless you liberate your monks, who are the servants of Christ, from such degrading occupation." Afterwards, through regard to St. Fintan, Carthage allowed oxen and horses to his monks, engaged in prosecuting their labours. St. Lanchean, or Lachean, Abbot, taking compassion on St. Carthage and his monks, set out towards Rathin, bringing thirty cows and a bull, with two herdsmen, and some vessels. When near the place, Lanchean concealed what he had brought; and, going into the monastery, he asked for milk, pretending to be sick. This request the servant conveyed to Mochuda. The saint ordered a vessel to be filled with water. Then, bestowing a blessing, it appeared to be changed into new milk. In this state, it was brought to St. Lanchean. Knowing what had occurred, he changed the contents of the vessel into water once more, saying : " I asked for milk, and not for water." St. Lanchean then said before all : "Our father Carthage is a good monk, but, his successors shall not create milk out of water." He then addressed the guest-master, " Tell St. Mochuda, that I shall not eat in this place, unless he receive gifts I have brought, to his brethren." Carthage promised to accept them, and he said : "I was unwilling to receive herds from any person, in this place, but, through respect and reverence for thee, I have accepted them." Lanchean then said: "Henceforth, abundance of temporal things shall be with you, and a multitude of religious men must inhabit thy city, in which thou shalt depart to Christ; since from this place, shalt thou be driven." A mutual friendship, between these saints, was thenceforward established.

The Obedient Colmans

Another day, while our saint's monks were abroad and near a river, one of them who was in authority told a monk, named Colman, to enter the water, on some emergency. At once, twelve monks bearing a similar name rushed clothed into the water, not stopping to enquire about the particular one, who had been designated. This gave much edification to the other brethren, because at the sound of a superior's voice, they showed perfect examples of obedience.

Saint Carthage Reconciles The Monk with The Miller

Another day, about the ninth hour, Carthage said to his brethren : "We shall not eat today, until each one of you makes his confession to me; for one among you bears hatred towards another." Having confessed Colman, son of Iona, one of these monks said : "Father, I love not our miller, nay, I have hated him. For, when I go to the mill, he will not remove loads with me, from the horses, nor fill measures of meal. Yea, even, he will not load the horses; he does injury to me, in every way, and he is always disagreeable and insulting. The Lord knoweth, but I do not, why he acts in this way; and even now have I thought, when I came to him again, and that he should do in like manner, I would strike him to the earth." St. Mochuda answered: "Brother, hear what the prophet saith, ' Turn away from evil and do good; ' therefore, according to my advice, be kind towards him; and he shall be moved by thy goodness. Then, you shall be friends, as long as you desire it." The monk followed his superior's advice, and for three days, he endeavoured to please the miller. But, the latter remained, in his former surly mood, and the brother's hatred still continued. On the third day, St. Mochuda heard the confession of the monk, who said: "This is my confession, I do not love the miller." Our saint then said, that on the same night, his heart should be changed, and that he should not take refreshment, until he would go to his adversary and eat with him. Our saint also declared, that during the refection, a friendship should arise between them, and this too must prove perpetual. That monk was filled with the spirit of God; and, as all things had happened, according to the prediction of Carthage, his brethren admired a Divine inspiration, which influenced their holy senior.

The Heavenly Harvesters

During the time of harvest, his steward said to Carthage: "Father, we cannot procure reapers enough, although the corn is over ripe." Mochuda replied: "Go, my dear, in peace, the Lord will give you good reapers." Accordingly, the Angels of God appeared, and reaped the greater part of the corn, collecting it into one heap. The monks, on seeing the progress of this work, gave thanks to God, and admired the sanctity of their venerable superior.

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Tuesday 10 May 2022

Saint Connachtach of Iona, May 10

May 10 is the feast of Saint Connachtach, an 8th/9th century abbot of Iona. This successor to Saint Colum Cille enjoyed a particular reputation as a scriba selectissimus, a scribe most choice, but the evidence from the Annals suggests that his tenure as abbot was of short duration and set against a backdrop of Viking attacks. Cowley Father, the Rev. Edward Craig Trenholme, gave a summary of the careers of the abbots of Iona in his 1909 guide to the historic monastery. He begins his listing of those in the ninth century with our saint:  


18. Connachtach (801-802), "a scribe most choice and abbot of Ia", had a short and troubled term of office. It must have been in quieter times and a lower station that he attained to fame as a "scriba selectissimus." Some marvellous manuscripts of the Irish monastic scribes survive to show what Connachtach's title implies. But alas! for such peaceful arts and Iona's stores of precious writings in the calamitous ninth century. The Danish attack on the monastery in 795 proved the preliminary of a long period of terror, blood, and fire, in which Iona won the glory of "red martyrdom," but lost well-nigh all else. In Connachtach's first year the monastery was burned by the "Gentiles," and the Abbot died next year. The ravagers returned again and again, as we shall see, but after each successive attack the love and veneration of the monks of Iona for their home forced them to re-establish themselves there at all perils.

Rev. E. C. Trenholme, The Story of Iona, (Edinburgh, 1909), 67.

Canon O'Hanlon in his account of Abbot Connachtach gives him the alternative name of Cormac and suggests that he may have met his death at the hands of the Viking raiders:

Article III. Cormac or Connachtach, Abbot of Iona.
[Eighth and Ninth Centuries.]  
On the authority of the Martyrology of Tallagh, which enters Cormac at the 10th of May, Colgan assigns to this day, the festival of the present holy man. This authority is followed, likewise, by the Bollandists, who remark on the number of Irish Saints so called, as enumerated by Colgan, when treating about several bearing that name. Connachtach—a name substituted for Cormac—is said to have been a select scribe, and he became Abbot of Iona, most probably, after the demise of Bersal Mac Seghine, which is given, at the year 801, having been incumbent for thirty-one years. Connachtach followed his predecessor to the tomb, after a very short term of rule. He died according to some accounts, in 797—but recte 802—assuming the corrected chronology found, in Dr. O'Donovan's Annals of the Four Masters. The cause assigned for Connachtach's death, is not recorded; but as Hy-Columcille was burned by the Gentiles, A.D. 802, it is probable enough, that our Abbot met with a violent death, at their hands, having perished during the calamity inflicted on his religious community.

 Some modern writers have suggested that Abbot Connachtach's reputation as an eminent scribe makes him a possible candidate for involvement in the creation of the Book of Kells, traditionally believed to have been produced at Iona. In a lecture of 2011 Arne Kruse argued:

The organisation of what was tremendous artistic activity on Iona sometime in the second half of the eighth century would have been an economic and logistical challenge. The effort must have been conducted by an inspired leader with extraordinary managerial and artistic skills. The one in charge would have been the scribnidh or scribe of the community, an office which carried equal importance to that of the abbot. The scribe behind the tribute in copper, stone and vellum is anonymous. However, if it is correct that the intense artistic activity may have taken place toward the end of the eighth century, there is a chance that the mastermind could have been Connachtach, ‘an eminent scribe and abbot of Ia’, who, according to the Annals of Ulster, died in 802, possibly during the Viking raid that very year. It is rare to hear of scribes in the annals, and the mention of Connachtach could be because he was murdered, although the murder itself is not mentioned. On the other hand, it can also be that Connachtach was such an extraordinarily brilliant scholar, artist and coordinator that his death merited a note. 

Arne Kruse, 'Columba and Jonah - a motif in the dispersed art of Iona', Northern Studies, vol. 45, (2013), 18.

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Monday 9 May 2022

Saint Banbán the Wise, May 9

May 9 is the feast of Saint Banbán, whom the calendars dub 'the Wise' (Latin, sapiens). He is one of a number of saints who share this ancient name, as the online version of the nineteenth-century Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature edited by John McClintock and James Strong helpfully lists:

In Irish hagiology there are several Banbans given. 
(1.) Two of these are probably the same person, Banban the Wise, attached to separate days, May 1 and 9. Colgan (Tr. Thaum. p. 176) is of the opinion that the Banbanum to whom St. Patrick committed the Domnach Mor, or large basilica in Magh-Sleacht, was Banban the Wise. He also supposes him to have been a son of Richella, sister of St. Patrick. In Tr. Thaum he is called presbyter, but at May 1 the Mart. Tallaght calls him bishop.  

(2.) Bishop of Leithglinn, commemorated Nov. 26; the abbot of Claenadh (Clane, County Kildare), who died A.D. 777.
(3.) Another bishop, put by Mart. Doneg., etc., on Dec. 3. 
Canon O'Hanlon rather adds to the confusion in the entry for Saint Banbán in the May volume of his Lives of the Irish Saints. For he seeks to equate him with a scribe of Kildare and insists that he is also known as Colmán:
Article III. St. Colman, Banban, the Wise, Supposed to have been Scribe of Kildare. 
[Seventh and Eighth Centuries.] 
By Colgan, the holy Colman is identified with a Banban, or a Banan, venerated at the 1st of this month. There, his pedigree has been given, and as has been stated, he belonged to the Nan-Decies race. However, this does not seem to be very certain. Referring to the Martyrology of Tallagh, and to other Irish Martyrologies, the Bollandists commemorate Banbhanus or Banuanus Sapiens, at this day. He is thought, by Colgan, to have been a relation of St. Patrick, and to have been that faithful prophet alluded to in the Acts of the great Irish Apostle. In the Martyrologies of Tallagh and of Donegal, his name is simply entered as Banban, "the sage," or "the wise." It is probable, this was the name by which he was best distinguished; but, he appears to have been known as Colman, likewise, and as there were many saints so denominated in our calendars, his skill as a scribe may have determined the additional appellative. He died, on the 9th of May, A.D. 720 if, as seems probable, he was the St. Colman Banban, scribe of Cill-dara. The Annals of Ulster and Archdall place his death at 724.
 So, as we can see, there are differing traditions surrounding the figure of Saint Banbán, the Wise. Pádraig Ó Riain in his authoritative 2011 Dictionary of Irish Saints feels that it is telling that today's May 9 feast is the octave day of May 1 and that both days commemorate the same individual. He also feels that the Saint Banbán, Bishop of Leighlin, commemorated on November 26, is a further feast of the same holy man.  

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