Wednesday 29 March 2023

Féilire Adamnáin: The Saints of the Four Seasons

Below is a 1904 translation of the Féilire Adamnáin, an Irish prayer to the saints who preside over the different seasons, traditionally attributed to Saint Adamnán of Iona and Raphoe. Copies of the text survive in four different manuscript sources, including one in Brussels transcribed around 1630 by the exiled Donegal hagiologist, Friar Michael O'Clery. J. F. Kenney, in his classic study The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: Ecclesiastical, feels that this prayer, like others attributed to the saint, is 'of a date some centuries later than Adamnán'. Verse six references the Martyrology of Oengus, declaring 'though more numerous in verses, it is not more numerous in saints':
Here begins the Saints Calendar of Adamnan to his mother.

1 The saints of the four seasons,
I long to pray to them,
May they save me from torments,
the saints of the whole year!

2 The saints of the glorious spring-time,
may they be with me by the will of God's fosterling,
Together with Brigid, a maiden pure,
with Gregory and Patrick.

3 The saints of the dry summer,
about them is my poetic frenzy,
That I may come from this land to Jesus,
Son of Mary.

4 The saints of the beauteous autumn, —
I call upon a company not inharmonious,
That they may come near me,
together with Mary and Michael.

5 The saints of the winter I pray to,
may they be with me against the throngs of demons.
Around Jesus of the mansions,
the holy, heavenly spirit.

6 This saints' calendar [i.e. the calendar of Oengus],
which noble sages will have,
Though more numerous in verses,
it is not more numerous in saints.

7 I beseech the saints of the earth, I beseech all the angels,
I beseech God Himself, both rising and lying down.
Whatever I do or whatever I say,
that I may inhabit the heavenly land.
Ériu, Vol I, part 2, (1904), 225-228


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Tuesday 21 March 2023

A Visit to the Aran-More of Saint Enda

Technological advances in the nineteenth century, particularly the invention of the railways, made mass travel and tourism a feature of the Victorian age. Coupled with the national revival and the rediscovery of interest in the early Irish saints, we see more and more people able to visit the actual sites associated with Ireland's holy men and women. One such traveller was George Conroy, who was born in 1832 at Dundalk, County Louth and ordained a priest in 1857. He must have been a young man of some promise as he was immediately appointed to the staff of All Hallows' College, Dublin and from there he went on to teach theology at Holy Cross College in Clonliff and to act as editor-in-chief of the Irish Ecclesiastical Review. Appointed as private secretary to Cardinal Cullen, in 1871 he was ordained by him as Bishop of the combined sees of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. In 1877 Pope Pius IX appointed Bishop Conroy the first apostolic delegate to Canada, where alas he died suddenly a year later. Ten years after his death a commemorative volume of Bishop Conroy's writings was issued, which included A Visit to the Aran-More of Saint Enda, reproduced below. It is one of those articles, typical of the period, packed with historical and hagiographical details which make for a satisfying and informative read. Saint Enda is not the only Irish saint we encounter, for the Bishop introduces many of Aran's monastic students including Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, Saint Brendan, Saint Finnian of Moville and Saint Colum Cille. He begins with his account of setting sail for the island and a summary of its history, before drawing on the Life of Saint Enda to introduce Aran's most famous holy man. We can see also the impact of the imagery of 'wild and lonely places' on the Victorian traveller, but what distinguishes Bishop Conroy's account is his moving description of celebrating the Mass in the ruins of Saint Enda's church with which the visit concludes:

Note Bishop Conroy's account of diocesan patron Ciarán of Clonmacnoise is also at the blog and can be read here.


ON a summer's day, some fourteen hundred years ago, St. Enda of Aran, as his ancient life tells us, knelt by the shore of the harbour where Lough Corrib joins the sea, to ask a blessing on the fishermen who then plied their craft in Galway Bay. On a summer's day in the present year, from the very spot where our saint had prayed, we set sail to visit, in love and reverence, the remote Aran, which his virtues had changed from a Pagan isle into Aran of the Saints. And as the faint breeze bore us slowly over the waters that lay almost motionless in the summer calm, we gazed with admiration upon a scene which, at least in its larger outlines, was but little changed since St. Enda and his pilgrim band had first looked upon it. Before us there lay stretched out the same expanse of sea, fringed on one side by the dark plains of Iar-Connaught, along which the eye travelled from the white cliffs of Barna to where the Connemara mountains, in soft blue masses, stood out in fantastic clusters against the sky. On the other side ran the Clare coastline, now retreating before the deep-sea inlets, and now breasting the Atlantic with bold promontories like that of gloomy Black-Head, or with gigantic cliffs like those of Mohir. And as the day closed, and we watched the evening breeze steal out from land, crisping the water into wavelets that presently rippled against the vessel's side; and as we saw the golden glory of the sunset flush with indescribable loveliness, earth, and sea, and sky, we thought how often in bygone days, the view of Aran rising, as we then saw it, out of the sunlit waves, had brought joy to the pilgrim who was journeying to find rest upon its rocky shore:

"And as I view the line of light that plays 
Along the smooth waves, towards the burning west, 
I long to tread that golden path of rays, 
And think twill lead to some bright isle of rest."

It was some such thoughts as these that stirred St. Enda's heart when he cried out that Aran was to be the place of his resurrection, where, in his flesh, he was to look upon the face of his God; it was through some such feeling that St. Columba, after lavishing upon the Aran of his soul every term of endearment, crowned at length his praise by calling it the "Rome of the pilgrim."

The Aran Isles are three in number, named respectively, Inishmore (the large island), Inishmain (the middle island), and Inisheen (the eastern island). The eastern island is the smallest of the three, and is about two and a-half miles long; the middle island is three miles long; the largest is about nine miles in length, and twenty-four in circumference. The entire group contains about 11,288 acres, of which only 742 are productive. Geologically considered, the islands belong to the upper division of carboniferous limestone. Mention is made of Aran at a very early period of Irish history. The most authoritative of our ancient Irish MSS. relate that after the great battle of Moytura, on the shores of Loughs Corrib and Mask, in which the Fir- bolgs or Belgae, after four days fighting, were defeated by the Tuatha de Dannan, a portion of the Belgae crossed over to Aran, where as in an impregnable stronghold, they established themselves about the beginning of the Christian era. One of their leaders was Engus Mac Uathmore, after whom the great fort or dun on Inishmore was named. About the year of our Lord 480, the island was inhabited by infidels from Corcomroe, the adjacent part of Clare. About that date, St. Enda received the island by the donation of Engus, King of Munster, whose wife, Darenia, was St. Enda's own sister. The pagans were converted to Christianity, or quitted the island, which, under St. Enda, soon became one of the great Christian sanctuaries of the west of Europe. The Annals of the Four Masters tell of a great conflagration at Aran in the year 1020, and of the devastation wrought there by the Normans or Danes in the year 1081.

At a later period it was held by the O'Briens, the head of whom, commonly called Mac Teige O'Brien, kept his residence at Aircin or Arkin, on the great island. The O'Briens were expelled in their turn by the O Flahertys, who, again, were dispossessed by Queen Elizabeth, under whom the castle of Airkin was erected in 1587, on the site of the residence of the O'Briens. Elizabeth gave the island to John Ransom, from whose hands it passed into the possession of Sir Robert Lynch, of Galway. In Cromwell's time this castle was pulled down, and a strong fort erected in its place, of which fort we shall have occasion to speak further on. In December, 1650, 700 of the Irish landed here in boats, flying from defeat on the main land, and were speedily followed by 1,300 of the English foot, with a battery. The Irish surrendered, and Sir R. Lynch having been declared a traitor, Erasmus Smith became owner of Aran. This crafty undertaker disposed of his interest to the Butlers, one of whom, in 1662, was created Earl of Aran; from the Butlers the islands passed through the Fitzpatricks to the Digbys, who are the present owners...

St. Enda, whose name is written in Irish, Einne and Ende, and in Latin, Endeus and Enna, was born in Louth about the middle of the fifth century, and was the only son of Conall, King of Oriel, whose territories included the modern counties of Louth, Monaghan, Armagh, and Fermanagh. Three of his sisters, Fanchea, Lochinia, and Carecha, were nuns, and Darenia, the fourth sister, was wife of Engus, King of Cashel, whose death is placed by the Four Masters in the year 489. On the death of his father, the youthful Enda was chosen to succeed him as head of the men of Oriel. The warlike spirit of the times took strong hold of the young prince's heart, and we find him at an early period of his life captivated by the love of glory, and eager to show by his military prowess that he was worthy of the royal race from which he had sprung, and of the throne which he filled. His holy sister Fanchea was incessant in her exertions to win for God her brother's heart, which, with all its defects, she knew to be chivalrous and pure. For a time her words of warning and entreaty remained without result; but the season of grace came soon. Enda had asked from his sister in marriage one of the royal maidens who were receiving their education in the convent which she ruled. Fanchea communicated his request to the maiden: "Make thou thy choice, whether wilt thou love Him whom I love, or this earthly bride groom?" "Whom thou lovest," was the girl's sweet reply, "Him also will I love." She died soon after, and gave her soul to God, the spouse whom she had chosen.

"The holy virgin," says the ancient Life, "covered the face of the dead girl with a veil, and going again to Enda said to him: Young man, come and see the maiden whom thou lovest. Then Enda with the virgin entered the chamber where was the dead girl, and the holy virgin, uncovering the face of the lifeless maiden, said to him: 'Now look upon the face of her whom thou didst love'. And Enda cried out: 'Alas! she is fair no longer, but ghastly white'.  So also shalt thy face be, replied the holy virgin. And then St. Fanchea discoursed to him of the pains of hell and of the joys of heaven, until the young man's tears began to flow. Oh! the wondrous mercy of God in the conversion of this man to the true faith! for even as he changed the haughty Saul into the humble Paul, so out of this worldly prince did he make a spiritual and a holy teacher and pastor of his people. For having heard the words of the holy virgin, despising the vanities of the world, he took the monk's habit and tonsure, and what the tonsure signified he fulfilled by his actions."

After having founded a monastery in his native place, St. Enda is said to have proceeded to Rosnat or Abba, in Britain, where he remained for some time under the spiritual direction of St. Mansenus or Manchan. Thence, according to the above-mentioned life, he went to Rome, where "attentively studying the examples of the saints, and preparing himself in everything for the order of priesthood, having at length been ordained priest, he was pleasing to the most high God." He built a monastery called Laetinum, or the Place of Joy : and rightly so called, adds the Life, " because therein the command of loving God and our neighbour was most faithfully carried out."

Returning to Ireland, he landed at Drogheda, and built several churches on either side of the river Boyne. He then proceeded southwards to visit his brother-in law, Engus, King of Munster, from whom he asked the island of Aran, that he might dwell thereon. The king was first unwilling to comply with his request: not because he was ungenerous, but because he had learned from St. Patrick "not to offer to the Lord his God any lands save such as were good and fertile, and easy of access." But St. Enda declared that Aran was to be the place of his resurrection ; and at length the king made an offering of the island "to God and St Enda," asking in return the blessing of the saint.

Having thus obtained possession of what he rightly deemed a place of singular retirement, and well suited for the rigours of a penitential life, St. Enda returned to his brethren and con ducted them in safety to the island, which was then inhabited by Pagans from the adjacent coast of Clare. He divided the island into ten parts, and built thereon ten monasteries, each under the rule of its proper superior. He chose a place for his own residence on the eastern coast, and there erected a monastery, the name and site of which is preserved to this day in the little village of Kileany (Kill-Enda), about a mile from Kilronan. One-half of the island was assigned to this monastery.

Then began the blessed days, when the sweet odour of penance ascended to heaven from the angelic band of monks who, under the severe rule of St. Enda, made Aran a burning light of sanctity for centuries in western Europe. "The virginal Saint from Aran Island," as Marianus O'Gorman styles St. Enda, was to them a model of all the virtues of the religious life, but above all he excelled in the exercise of penitential mortifications. St. Cuimin of Connor tells us that

"Enda loved glorious mortification 
In Aran triumphant virtue! 
A narrow dungeon of flinty stone, 
To bring the people to heaven." 

"Aran," says Froude, "is no better than a wild rock. It is strewed over with the ruins which may still be seen of the old hermitages; and at their best they could have been but such places as sheep would huddle under in a storm, and shiver in the cold and wet which would pierce through the chinks of the walls. . . . Yes; there on that wet soil, with that dripping roof above them, was the chosen home of these poor men. Through winter frost, through rain and storm, through summer sunshine, generation after generation of them, there they lived and prayed, and at last lay down and died."

These miracles of penance were the first and immediate results of St. Enda's work in Aran.

It was in his life that these holy men had daily before them the personal realisation of all they were striving after: he taught them to cherish the flinty dungeon and the dripping cave for love of the hard manger, and the harder cross; he bade them dwell amid the discomforts and dreariness of their island home, because in the tabernacles of sinners the blessed majesty of God was daily outraged by the crimes of men. Through him they came to know the gift of God, and who He was who spoke with them in their solitude; whose converse made eloquent for them the silence of the night, and whose angels peopled their lonely island with visions of heavenly beauty. "Trust to one who has had experience," his life said to them, as St. Bernard said to the monks of Citeaux: "you will find something far greater in the woods than you will find in books. Stones and trees will teach you that which you will never learn from masters. Think you not you can suck honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock? Do not the mountains drop sweetness, the hills run with milk and honey, and the valleys stand thick with corn?" We cannot, indeed, describe the details of his daily life, for they have been hidden from human view, as it is becoming that such secrets of the Heavenly King should be hidden. But there yet survives the voice of one of those who lived with him in Aran, and in the ideal of an abbot which St. Carthage sets before us we undoubtedly find reproduced the traits which distinguished the Abbot of Aranmore, from whom St. Carthage first learned to serve God in the religious life. St. Enda was his first model of the "patience, humility, prayer, fast, and cheerful abstinence; of the steadiness, modesty, calmness that are due from a leader of religious men, whose office it is to teach in all truth, unity, forgiveness, purity, rectitude in all that is moral; whose chief works are the constant preaching of the Gospel for the instruction of all persons, and the sacrifice of the Body of the great Lord upon the holy altar." It was on Aranmore, and in St. Enda, that he first beheld at the altar of God that pattern priest after whose example he thus warns all priests: 

"When you come in to the Mass 
It is a noble office 
Let there be penitence of heart, shedding of tears, 
And throwing up of hands. 
There shall be no permanent love in thy heart 
But the love of God alone: 
For pure is the body thou receivest,
Purely must thou go to receive it."

This angelic life did St. Enda live upon Aran in the midst of his children until he reached a venerable old age.

The fame of St. Enda's austere holiness, and of the angelical life which so many were leading in Aran under his guidance, soon spread far and wide throughout the land. The sweet odour of Christ, diffused from the lonely island in the Atlantic, penetrated to every part of Ireland, and wherever it reached its gracious message stirred with joy the hearts of the noblest and best among the servants of God. It told them of a spot where men led a life of higher sanctity and of more thorough severance from fleshy ties than was known elsewhere; and to souls hungering and thirsting after perfection, to hear of the spiritual treasures stored up in Aran was to long for the wings of the dove to fly thither, to be made happy sharers in its graces. Hence, soon the Galway fishermen, whom St. Enda had blessed, found day after day their corachs crowded with strangers religious men, of meek eye and gentle face seeking to cross over to the island; and so frequently was the journey made that the words of the prophet seemed verified, and even in that trackless sea "a path and a way was there, and it was called the holy way."The pilgrims were men of every period of life, some, in the spring of their youth, flying from the pleasures that wooed their senses, and the earthly loves that laid snares for their hearts; others in the vigour of healthful manhood; and others aged and infirm, who came to close in religious peace the remnant of their days, which at their best they had accounted as few and evil. And thus Aran gradually came to be as the writer of the life of St. Kieran of Clonmacnoise describes it, the home of a multitude of holy men, and the sanctuary where repose the relics of countless saints, whose names are known only to the Almighty God. "Great indeed is that island," exclaims another ancient writer, "and it is the land of the saints, for no one, save God alone, knows how many holy men lie buried therein."

But, although it is not possible to learn the names of all the saints who were formed to holiness by St. Enda in Aran, our ancient records have preserved the names of a few at least out of that blessed multitude. Among them we find almost every name of note that appears in the second part of the well-known list of the saints of Ireland, drawn up by some author who flourished not later than the middle of the eighth century, and, in addition to these, many others of great celebrity who are not included in that catalogue. This second order of saints lasted from about the middle of the sixth to the beginning of the seventh century.

The history of these men is the history of St. Enda's work on Aran. 

First among St. Enda's disciples must be ranked St. Kieran, the founder of Clonmacnoise, who has been styled by Alcuin the glory of the Irish race. St. Kieran came to Aran in his youth, and for seven years lived faithfully in the service of God, under the direction of St. Enda. His youth and strength fitted him in an especial manner for the active duties, which were by no means inconsiderable in so large a community, and in a place where the toil spent on an ungrateful soil was so scantily repaid. " During these seven years," says the ancient life of our saint, "Kieran so diligently discharged the duties of grinding the corn that grain in quantity sufficient to make a heap never was found in the granary of the island." Upon these humble labours the light of the future greatness of the founder of Clonmacnoise was allowed to shine in visions. St. Kieran had a vision, which he faithfully narrated to his master, St. Enda. He dreamed that on the bank of a great river, which is called the Shannon, he saw a mighty tree laden with leaves and fruits, which covered with its shade the entire island of Erin. This dream he narrated to St. Enda, who said, "The tree laden with fruit thou art thyself, for thou shalt be great before God and man, and shalt bring forth sweetest fruits of good works, and shalt be honoured throughout all Ireland. Proceed, therefore, at once, and in obedience to the will of God, build thou there a monastery." Upon this St. Kieran prepared himself for the building of the monastery of Clonmacnoise. His first step was to receive the priesthood. But he could not bring himself to sever the happy ties that bound him to his abbot. He still longed to be under his guidance, and when recommending himself to the prayers of his brethren he said to St. Enda, in the presence of all, "O father, take me and my charge under thy protection, that all my disciples may be thine likewise." "Not so," answered Enda, "for it is not the will of God that you should all live under my care in this scanty island; but to thee, for thine admirable humility and perfect charity will Christ the Lord grant the half of Ireland as the portion of thine inheritance." And when they had thus spoken a cross was set up in the place in sign of the brotherhood they had contracted between themselves and those who were to come after them; and they said: "Whoso ever in after times shall break the loving bond of this our brotherhood shall not have share in our love on earth, nor in our company in heaven".

The love which St. Enda bore towards his holy pupil for his many and wonderful virtues made their parting singularly painful to them both. For a time the holy abbot felt as if the angels of God were leaving Aran with Kieran, and he could find no relief for his anguish but in prayer. The sternness of religious discipline had not crushed but chastened the tenderness of an affectionate disposition in St. Enda any more than in St. Bernard, whose writings are the truest expression of the best feelings of the religious heart. And as St. Bernard deplored the loss of his brother Gerard, in whom the active and contemplative virtues were admirably united, so might St. Enda have spoken of Kieran. "Whom now shall I consult in doubtful matters? Who will bear my burdens ? His wise and gentle speech saved me from secular conversation, and gave me to the silence which I loved. diligent man ! faithful friend ! He plunged himself in cares that I might be spared them, but in this he sought not for his own advantage, for he expected (such was his humility) more profit from my leisure than from his own. Who more strict than he in the preservation of discipline ? Who more stern in the chastening of his body ? Who more rapt or more sublime in contemplation?"

The last hours spent by St. Kieran on Aran, as described in the ancient life of St. Enda, are full of touching incidents, which reveal the tender and simple affectionateness of those mortified religious.

The entire community of the island shared the sorrow that had come on their venerable abbot. When the moment of departure was at hand, and the boat that was to bear him from Aran was spreading its sails to the breeze, Kieran came slowly down to the shore, walking between St. Enda and St. Finnian, and followed by the entire brotherhood. His tears flowed fast as he moved along, and those who accompanied him mingled their tears with his. Peter de Blois, when leaving the Abbey of Croyland to return to his own country, stayed his steps seven times to look back and contemplate once again the place where he had been so happy; so, too, did Kieran's gaze linger with tenderness upon the dark hills of Aran and on the oratories where he had learned to love God, and to feel how good and joyous a thing it is to dwell with brethren whose hearts are at one with each other in God. And when the shore was reached, again he knelt to ask his father s blessing; and, entering the boat, was carried away from the Aran that he was never to see again. The monastic group stayed for a while on the rocks to follow with longing eyes the barque that was bearing from them him they loved; and when at length, bending their steps home wards, they had gone some distance from the shore, St. Enda's tears once more began to flow. "my brethren," cried he, "good reason have I to weep, for this day has our island lost the flower and strength of religious observance." What was loss to Aran, however, was gain to Clonmacnoise, and through Clonmacnoise to the entire Irish Church, to which the venerable monastery on the Shannon was the source of so many blessings and of so much glory. Those who admire it even now in its ruins should not forget that its splendours are reflected back upon the rocky Aran, where St. Enda formed the spirit of its founder, and fostered with his blessing the work he had undertaken to accomplish.

St. Kieran died at Clonmacnoise in the year 549, in the prime of life, having governed his monastery for the short space of a single year.

Next among the saints of Aran comes St. Brendan. The life of this illustrious saint narrates " how the man of God went westward with fourteen brethren to a certain island called Aran, where dwelt St. Enda with his brethren. With these the servant of God, Brendan, remained for three days and three nights, after which, having received the blessing of St. Enda and of his holy monks, he set out with his companions for Kerry...."

St. Finnian of Moville is also mentioned in the Ancient Life of our saint as one of St. Enda's disciples at Aran. This remarkable man was first placed under the care of St. Colman of Dromore, who flourished about the year 510. It is expressly mentioned in the life just quoted that it was from Aran he set out on his pilgrimage to Rome. This was probably his first visit to the Apostolic See. Being of an active temperament, he there devoted himself with great ardour for several years to the study of the ecclesiastical and apostolical traditions. He then returned to Ireland, after having received the pontifical benediction, and carrying with him a rich store of relics of the saints given him by the Pope, and the penitential canons, which in his biographer s time were still called the canons of St. Finnian. He also brought to Ireland the earliest copy of the Hieronymian translation of the Gospel: a treasure of such value in the estimation of his ecclesiastical contemporaries that the records of the period very frequently refer to St. Finnian's Gospels.

In 540 he founded the great monastery of Moville, where St. Columba spent portion of his youth. After labouring with energy for many years in Ireland, St. Finnian returned to Italy, where, according to the best authorities, he was made Bishop of Lucca, in Tuscany, in which church he is venerated under the name of St. Frigidian, or Fridian. The Italian annals give 588 as the year of his death; the annals of Ulster and Tigernach, 589. 

The Irish life of St. Columbkille makes mention of the sojourn of that great saint on Aran. The traditions still current on the island confirm this statement. The deep love of St. Columba for Aran, the sorrow with which he quitted its shores for Iona, the spiritual excellences which he had therein dis covered, are expressed with singular warmth of religious feeling in a poem written by him on his departure... 

"The Son of the King 
Oh! the Son of the living God, 
 It is he who sent me to Iona; 
It is he who gave to Enna great the prosperity, 
Arran, the Rome of the pilgrims. 
Aran, thou sun 
Oh! Aran, thou sun! 
My affection lies with thee westward; 
Alike to be under her pure earth interred, 
As under the earth of Peter and Paul."  

The ancient life of St. Enda also reckons among the inhabitants of Aran St. Finnian the elder, the founder of the great school of Clonard, who died in the second half of the sixth century; St. Jarlath, the founder of the See of Tuam; St. Mac Creiche, of the race of the men of Corcomroe, who were in possession of Aran when St. Enda first went thither. The Martyrology of Donegal makes mention of St. Guigneus; the Martyrology of Aengus adds St Papeus, St. Kevin of Glendalough, St. Carthage of Lismore, St. Lonan Kerr, St. Nechatus or Nechanus, and St. Libeus, brother of St. Enda. In the midst of this holy brotherhood St. Enda died in 540 or 542.

Among the saints to whom, as we shall soon see, churches were dedicated on the island, we find St. Benignus of Armagh, who also most probably resided in Aran, and St. Caradoc, or Carantoc, whose name recalls his British origin. These two men may fairly be taken as representatives of the native and foreign elements which at that period went to make up the Irish Church. It is remarkable to find that on Aran, which seems to have been a common centre for the saints of the second order, these two elements are found in harmony, and most closely connected with each other. These facts contrast strangely with what we read in a late writer, that "the second order of saints do not appear to have had any connection with Armagh or the institutions of St. Patrick," and that "they were connected with the British Church, and not with the Church of St. Patrick." The history of Aran and of its monuments forbids these attempts to disparage the unity of the ancient Irish Church.

The sight of Aran peopled by this host of saints forcibly recalls to mind that other island, where, in an age of wild and fierce passions, the arts of peace, religious learning, and the highest Christian virtues found a sanctuary. At the beginning of the sixth century Aran may with truth be styled the Lerins of the northern seas. True, its bare flags and cold gray land scape contrast sadly with " the gushing streams, the green meadows, the luxuriant wealth of vines, the fair valleys, and the fragrant scents which," according to St. Eucherius," made Lerins the paradise of those who dwelled thereon."However, its very wilderness did but make it richer in those attractions so well described by St. Ambrose, which made the outlying islands so dear to the religious men of that time.  They loved those islands, " which, as a necklace of pearls, God has set upon the bosom of the sea, and in which those who would fly from the irregular pleasures of the world may find a refuge wherein to practise austerity and save themselves from the snares of this life. The sea that enfolds them becomes, as it were, a veil to hide from mortal eye their deeds of penance; it aids them to acquire perfect continence; it feeds grave and sober thought ; it has the secret of peace, and repels all the fierce passions of earth. In it these faithful and pious men find incentives to devotion. The mysterious sound of the billows calls for the answering sound of sacred psalmody; and the peaceful voices of holy men, mingled with the gentle murmur of the waves breaking softly on the shore, rise in unison to the heavens." It must have been one of these men, whose island home had shut out all the sights of earth save that of the altar, of the sea, and of the wild birds disporting along the sunny shore, who, in an ancient Irish treatise on the Mass vestments, warns the priest that his "heart should be chaste and shining, and his mind like the foam of the wave, or the chalk on the gable of an oratory, or like the colour of the swan in sunshine that is, without any particle of sin, great or small, resting in his heart."

At Aran, too, as at Lerins, while men sought after eternal happiness, they found that earthly happiness, pure and without alloy, was poured into their hearts. In their religious brother hood they met with the hundredfold return which God has promised to those who make sacrifices for Him. Oh ! how joyous was the life of that blessed company of the saints of Aran, where the nobly-born Enda and Kevin proved their kingly descent by the regal fulness of their virtues as well as by the grace and dignity of their manners; where Columba could gratify his scholarly passion for fair manuscripts, and Kieran find fresh treasures of ecclesiastical lore to acquire; where Brendan could learn all that man knew of the ocean and its mysteries, and Mochuda evermore delight in the sacred harmonies that first had won his young heart to the religion of Christ; where the highest form of Oriental asceticism was happily united with the fire of the active energy of the West. No wonder that Kieran wept to leave the beloved shore! No wonder that through the farewell wail of the exiled Columba there runs such an intensity of almost passionate sorrow that a thousand years have not been able to efface it!

Thus far we have endeavoured to give a faint outline of the result of the spiritual labours of St. Enda. With the permission of the excellent and hospitable priest who has charge of the island we resolved, on the last morning of our stay on Aran, to celebrate Mass in the ruined church of Teglach-Enda, where in the year 540 or 542 St. Enda was interred, and where likewise repose the relics of a countless army of white-robed saints. The morning was bright and clear, and as we traversed the road skirting the shore from Kilronan to Killeany the dark and rigid outlines of the rocks were softened by the touch of the early sunshine. The inhabitants of Killeany, exulting in the tidings that the Holy Sacrifice was once again to be offered to God near the shrine of their sainted patron, accompanied or followed us to the venerable ruins. The men, young and old, were clothed in decent black, or in white garments of home-made stuff, with sandals of undressed leather, like those of the peasants of the Abruzzi, laced round their feet; the women were attired in gay scarlet gowns and blue bodices, and all wore a look of remarkable neatness and comfort. The small roofless church was soon filled to overflowing with a decorous and devout congregation; and as the sands had accumulated to a considerable height on the exterior of the building, those who found no place within were enabled to overtop the high walls on either side, and thus assist at the Sacrifice. It was plain to us, from what we saw before us, that these churches had not been originally intended to receive even ordinary assemblages of the faithful.

"We can never forget the scene of that morning: the pure, bright sand, covering the graves of unknown and unnumbered saints as with a robe of silver tissue, that glistened in the sunshine; the delicate green foliage of the wild plants that rose here and there, as if wrought in embroidery upon the white expanse; on one side the swelling hill crowned with the church of Benignus, and on the other the blue sea, that almost bathed the foundations of the venerable sanctuary itself; the soft, balmy air that hardly stirred the ferns on the old walls; and the fresh, happy, solemn calm that reigned over all.

The temporary altar was set up under the east window, on the site where of old the altar stood ; and there, in the midst of the loving and simple faithful, within the walls which had been consecrated some twelve hundred years be fore, over the very spot of earth where so many of the saints of Ireland lay awaiting their resurrection to glory, the solemn rite of the Christian Sacrifice was performed, and once more, as in the days of which St. Columba wrote, the angels of God came down to worship the Divine Victim in the churches of Aran. And surely not unworthy of the angelic company were the devotion and faith of the humble worshippers around. Throughout the Mass a hush and a silence came upon them, and the only sounds that fell upon the ear was the solemn voice of the priest, or the murmur of the waves breaking on the beach outside; but at the moment of the elevation, when they beheld the pure and holy and unspotted Host raised up for them to heaven, a cry of adoring faith and love went forth from their lips, and every head was bowed to the dust before the Lord. 

Rt. Rev. George Conroy, Late Bishop of Ardagh, Occasional Sermons, Adresses and Essays (Dublin, 1888), 455-467.

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Thursday 9 March 2023

All the Saints of Ireland on Radio Maria, March 10

I will be taking part in another All the Saints of Ireland show on Radio Maria Ireland at 7pm on Friday, March 10. Saints featured will include Saint David of Wales and his links with Ireland plus Saint Ciarán of Saighir and his mother Saint Liadhain. We will also meet Saint Brunsecha, Saint Modomnoc, Saint Maedoc of Ferns and Saint Colman the Thirsty along the way! I will look at the Irish tradition of the Three Lents too. So join host Thomas Murphy and myself for an exploration of the rich heritage of our Irish saints. For details of how to listen to the programme see:

Bigí linn!

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Wednesday 8 March 2023

Fasting - a Weapon in the Spiritual Armoury?

Another insight appropriate to this Lenten season from the late Daphne Pochin Mould's 1956 work The Celtic Saints: Our Heritage.  Here she is examining the way in which fasting was regarded by the Irish saints as an essential part of the Christian's armoury in the battle against sin and the devil:

The ideas linked in the mind of the Celtic Church with that of penance were those of the Christian soldier and of martyrdom; of action positive and adventurous, of struggle with our own sins and with the devil. It is the attitude of mind reflected in the prayer in the Roman Missal after the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, which refers to the fast begun that day as the defences of the Christian army - we who are going to fight against spiritual wickedness are to be strengthened by self-denial. Or to quote an Irish source, there is the Second Vision of Adamnan, which seems to date from the 11th century, and was written to command the people of Ireland to fast to avert a pestilence which it was feared might come upon the country. It says that: - 

"It is through fasting and prayer that the kindreds of men have been brought from the devil's power, after Christ had been forty days and nights, drinkless, foodless, fighting with the devil on behalf of Adam's children. And it is out of compassion that Christ did that, so that fasting and prayer should be every human being's chief harbour against every distress that may come to them from heaven or earth."

Fasting, says the Vision, is always an indestructible rampart against destruction, a straight path to heaven, a renewal of friendship with God and an increase of penitence and charity in the heart. Small wonder that Columbanus said that we ought to fast each day just as we pray daily; the soldier is not going to lay aside one of his most effective weapons in the heat of the battle. 

Daphne D.C. Pochin Mould, The Celtic Saints: Our Heritage (Dublin, 1956) 118-119.

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Tuesday 7 March 2023

'The Medicine for the Salvation of Souls': the Penitential of Cummean

The Penitential of Cummean (Paenitentiale Cummeani) is a seventh-century text attributed to Saint Cummean of Clonfert, who died in the year 662, according to the Annals of Ulster. One of my favourite writers on the Irish saints, Daphne Pochin-Mould, gave a summary of Saint Cummean's list of the ways by which sins can be remitted in her 1956 book The Celtic Saints: Our Heritage:

There is an Irish homily on the subject of repentance in the Leabhar Breac. It says that it is necessary to do penance both for sins actually committed and for the good that we might have done but did not. There are three ways, says the homily, in which sins can be forgiven, baptism, martyrdom, penance. There is a much more detailed list in the Penitential of Cummean (c.650) which gives twelve different ways by which sins can be remitted....Cummean's list begins with baptism and ends with martyrdom. The items in between are, however, on a different footing: they are things that we can do, or have done for us, to make reparation for our sins. The confession mentioned in the middle of the list is not apparently ordinary sacramental confession, the Christian's normal method for getting his post-baptismal sins remitted,  but a general admission of one's sins: - the scriptural reference is to Psalm 31, v. 5, 6 "I have acknowledged my sin unto thee (god) ... and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin."

Cummean's list is: - baptism; charity (this refers to Luke 7:47 in which Christ told the woman weeping at His feet which she anointed that her sins were forgiven, pointing out that she had also greatly loved); alms-giving; the shedding of tears; confession; affliction of heart and body; renunciation of vices; intercession of saints; the merit of mercy and faith; the conversion and salvation of others; our own pardon and remission of other people's injuries to ourselves - "forgive and ye shall be forgiven"; and martyrdom.

Daphne D.C. Pochin Mould, The Celtic Saints: Our Heritage (Dublin, 1956) 114-115.

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Sunday 5 March 2023

The Virtuous Customs of Saint Ciarán of Saighir

(67) And these were the virtuous customs of Ciaran all his life; he never wore woollen clothing, but skins of wolves and other brute beasts; and he avoided all dainty (lit. worldly or secular) meats, and all intoxicating drinks; and he took but little sleep. And there was a continual attendance of angels about him. And the bishops and priests that he ordained were innumerable.

(68) Moreover, if any injury were done to him, he would always do some good thing in return, for he always forgave injuries. He would labour with his hands for the love of God, to get what they wanted for the poor. And so he passed his life in this world as to receive the crown of eternal life in the world to come. Who is there who could maintain in this world in the human body a life like Ciaran’s, in fastings and abstinences, in cold and watching, in chastity and hospitality (lit. house of guests)?

(69) And so he spent his life from infancy till death, in daily prayer, study, and preaching, and in bearing judgement, whether silently or in speech. He was compassionate, prudent, steadfast, merciful, virtuous, humble to God and to his neighbour, teaching his monks in accordance with the words of the apostle Paul. For these are the words of Paul: ‘Imitate me,’ says Paul, ‘as I have imitated Christ, to receive honour from God and [? not] from men; and seek not anything for the sake of worldly glory, but for God.’ 

(70) And he neglected none of the commandments of God, but (gave) bread to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, and visited the sick, (giving) alms to the poor and clothes to the naked. And the motive for which he did so was this, that he might obtain his portion in the life everlasting, and for fear of the reproof of God in the presence of the judgement. And Ciaran bade his monks to maintain these commandments, that is to have love one to another.

C. Plummer, ed. and trans., Life of Saint Ciarán of Saighir II, in Bethada Náem nÉrenn: Lives of Irish Saints, Volume II (Oxford, 1922). 

Note: For a fuller account of the life of Saint Ciarán, also drawn from his hagiography, see the account by Father Albert Barry at the blog here.

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