|St Tassach's Church
April 14 is the feast of Saint Tassach of Raholp, an early saint in the Lecale district of County Down. He features in the hagiography of Saint Patrick where he is credited with bringing the Viaticum to Saint Patrick on his deathbed but is also depicted as Saint Patrick's artisan. In this role as a skilled metalworker Tassach's most famous commission was perhaps the making of 'a case for the staff of Jesus', the most celebrated of Saint Patrick's relics. In 2018 I made a short series of posts on this fascinating relic at my Trias Thaumaturga site and published a summary last month here. Although he has always been firmly associated with the Lecale district of County Down, Saint Tassach later becomes confounded with Saint Assicus, the diocesan patron of Elphin, whose feast also falls this month on April 27th. I have previously posted Canon O'Hanlon's account of Saint Tassach here but below is a reminder of his career taken from Father James O'Laverty's monumental work on The Diocese of Down and Connor, the final volume of which looks at the Bishops of the diocese:
THE SEE OF RAHOLP (RATH-COLPA).
Tassach, who gave communion to St. Patrick, immediately before his death, in Saul, is styled Bishop of Rath-Colpa in the ancient documents, commemorating that event. The Hymn of St. Fiech, Bishop of Sletty, a contemporary poet, thus notices it : —
"Tassach remained after him, when he had given the communion to him. He said that would soon go: Tassach's word was not false." Dr. Whitley Stokes translates the following ancient note on this passage, written in the margin of the Franciscan copy of the Liber Hymnorum,
Tassach— Patrick's artisan. "He is the first that made a case for Jesus' staff *, and Raholp, to the east of Down, is his church."
St. Aengus, in his Calendar, treating of the 14th of April,
St. Tassach's festival, gives the following stanza: —
The royal bishop Tassach
Gave when he came
The body of Christ, the truly strong King,
By the communion to Patrick.
On this passage, the Leabhar Breacc enters the note: —
Tassach, to wit, in Raholp, in Lecale, in Ulster— that is Tassach, Patrick's artisan and bishop. And this is the festival of his decease.
From these ancient documents we see that the glorious privilege of having given the Viaticum to our national apostle forms the distinguishing trait in the notice of St. Tassach. The Martyrology of Donegal at the 14th of April, says: — "Tassach of Raholp, in Ulidia i.e. Lecale. This is the Tassach who gave the body of Christ to St. Patrick before his death in the monastery of Saul."
In a sub-denomination of the townland of Raholp, called Banaghan, or Banagh, are the ruins of the ancient church of Raholp, locally called Church-Moyley. The church was 33 feet 4 inches in length and 21 feet 4 inches in width.
Dr. Reeves writes of it — " The south wall is overturned; the east and west walls are about 12 feet high; the east window is 4 feet 6 inches high and 10 inches wide, splayed inside to the width of 3 feet 2 inches, and ends not in an arch, but in a large flag. In building the walls yellow clay has been used instead of mortar. The plot of ground which the ruins and cemetery occupy is about half a rood in extent, and seems from its elevation above surrounding field to have been a rath." Dr. Todd, in the Obits and Martyrology of Christ Church, surmises that Tassach may have become first bishop Elphin— " In part II., c. 39, Vit. Trip. Assicus, first Bishop of Elphin, is called "faber aeris S. Patricii." One can hardly help suspecting that Assicus and Thassicus were one and the same: especially as the former is not mentioned in the ancient Martyrology of Aengus."
St. Tassach seems to have been the only bishop of Raholp; at least our early annals do not record any succession, the lands of the ancient church, however, merged into the see lands of the diocese of Down, and even after the change in religion, remained in possession of the protestant bishop until the disestablishment...
* Baculus Jesu was a celebrated crozier, brought to Ireland by St. Patrick. St. Bernard mentions it in his Life of St. Malachy, as one of those insignia, which were supposed to confer on the possessor a title, to be considered the successor of St. Patrick. It was carried off from Armagh, A.D. 1180, by the English, and deposited in Christ Church, Dublin, where it remained to the year 1538, when Browne, the first Protestant Archbishop, caused it to be publicly burned by the common hangman, as an instrument of superstition.
Rev. James O'Laverty, An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, Ancient and Modern, Vol. V (Dublin, 1895), 23-24.
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