Monday 31 December 2012

Every Saint- A Prayer for the End of the Year

This beautiful prayer to all the saints asking for their intercession and protection, forms the epilogue to the Martyrology of Gorman and provides a fitting close to the year: 


I. Let every saint who hath been, who shall be, in the greentopped mournful world, let all the dear and gracious host forgive me.

5. The noble, beloved army—little of their sea is this number—to protect me from battle, from bane, (and) from demons.

9. In their hosts, in their hundreds, let them ask for me pardon, repentance before death, and protection of me from every hardship.

13. May they guard me from the Devil, for he is always doing evil—the noble sages with knowledge, every saint who hath been, who shall be!

Every saint.

The End.

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Sunday 30 December 2012

O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints

Starting in January I will begin posting on the lives of individual Irish saints and as a chief source will be using the nine-volume collection, The Lives of the Irish Saints, by the Reverend John O'Hanlon (1821-1905). Since I first began researching the lives of our native holy men and women some years ago, I have become very fond of Canon O'Hanlon and my admiration for what he achieved continues to grow. Below is an obituary to this wonderful Irish priest published as a foreword to one of his historical works not concerned with the Irish saints. In it we can see how Canon O'Hanlon's life encompassed the great cultural and religious revival of nineteenth-century Ireland, indeed his work is described here as having taken on 'the character of a national monument'. In truth though, I would have to dissent from the description of his style as 'lucid and simple'. On the contrary, his Victorian, wordy style can often be impenetrable for a modern reader and the work as a whole suffers from a lack of editing. That said, however, given the size of the task he undertook and the circumstances under which he was working, I can only marvel at the scale of the achievement. After a while, one gets used to his style and I personally enjoy the period charm of his pious homiletics and the travelogues which often accompany the accounts of the saints, particularly those saints about whom not a great deal is known. Scholarship has naturally moved on since the Canon was writing, but as a scholar he is scrupulous about citing his sources and often uses specialized sources which would otherwise be difficult for the general reader to track down. It is sad that only nine complete volumes of The Lives of the Irish Saints were published, a partial volume for October was issued, the rest remain in unpublished manuscript form. A good modern introduction to the way Canon O'Hanlon worked can be found here, but below, we see what one of his contemporaries, Father Thomas J. Shahan of the Catholic University of America, had to say of the man and his work:

John O'Hanlon was born April 30, 1821, at Stradbally, in Queens County, Ireland. He received his early training in local and neighboring schools, and was sent at the age of seventeen to Carlow College. Four years later his studies were interrupted by the resolution to accompany some relatives to the New World. He landed at Quebec in 1842, but after a sojourn of some months went on to St. Louis. He soon entered (1843) the Ecclesiastical Seminary of that diocese, and was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Kendrick in 1847. For five or six years he devoted himself to the duties of his calling, arduous enough at that period of rapid national growth and economic expansion. But failing health turned his thoughts again to the land of his fathers, and in 1853 he returned to Dublin, where he was made curate at the Church of Saints Michael and John, a post that he occupied until 1880, when he was promoted to the parish of Sandymount. In 1885 he was made a Canon of the Dublin Cathedral by Archbishop Walsh. In 1897 he celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his priesthood. His death occurred on May 15, 1905, at the advanced age of eighty-four. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Canon O'Hanlon is remembered by his faithful flock as a devoted priest, to whom the beauty and glory of the house of God, the parish schools and property, the industrial schools of the neighborhood, were especially dear. Amid his learned occupations he never neglected the work of his sacred ministry, nor the care of the poor, sick and lowly. As an Irishman, he was one of the foremost patriotic figures of the nineteenth century. He had heard O'Connell, as a boy of fifteen, in 1836, on the Great Heath at Maryborough, and was present at the banquet then given at Stradbally to the Liberator. He loved to recall the political ballads of that decade apropos of Sir Henry Parnell and his "History of the Penal Laws," and the melodious folk-tunes of the pre-famine period, many of which to his great regret, he lived to see perish from the popular memory. His love of Moore's Melodies was well-known to all his friends. He was also a great admirer of the "Young Ireland" poetry, and at his death was engaged on an edition of the fugitive writings of the patriot-poet, John Keegan. He was an active member of the committee on the centenary celebration in honor of O'Connell, and as secretary of the O'Connell Memorial Committee drew up the valuable report of its proceedings from 1862 to 1882. To him is owing in no small measure the splendid Dublin monument to O'Connell, the masterpiece of Foley's art, and one of the finest monumental sculptures in Europe. He was also active in the creation of memorials to the poets Thomas Moore and Denis Florence McCarthy. His earnestness in the work of the Gaelic League is well known, likewise his intelligent devotion to the historical monuments of Ireland, the manuscripts, records, books, and curious remains that still enshrine no little of the glorious past of the beloved island. He was for forty years an active and painstaking member of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, to which he had been elected on the proposition of such an Irish antiquarian as Bishop Graves. Within the limits of his sacred calling he seems to have omitted no endeavor to serve his native country as a scholar, a poet, and a man of action.

The catalogue of Canon O'Hanlon's literary labors is a long one, and covers a period of more than fifty years of incessant study, research, and publication. He was a man of adamantine endurance, and though by his departure the Church of the United States surely lost a pen of great power, the larger world of ecclesiastical learning was proportionately the gainer. It may be stated at once that he never ceased to love the great Republic, whose institutions and spirit he thoroughly understood and admired, as the work here offered to the reader will make clear. Among his published writings is a volume of reminiscences entitled, "Life and Scenery in Missouri” (Dublin, 1890). In 1897 he crossed the ocean to take part in the Golden Episcopal Jubilee of Archbishop Kendrick, who fifty years earlier had raised him to the dignity of priesthood. It would seem that Canon O'Hanlon became an historian out of the fulness of his conviction that the Christian history of Ireland is one of the noblest chapters of all theology. His first work was an "Abridgment of Irish History from the Final Subjection of Ireland to the Present Time" (Boston, 1849), written with the view, no doubt, of fixing on the mind of the young Irish emigrant the great religious lesson of his forefathers' patient endurance and fidelity. It was followed by "The Irish Emigrant's Guide to the United States" (Boston, 1851), long a very popular work among the unfortunate Irish wanderers in a new land. During the years of his American ministry he contributed frequently to literary magazines and newspapers, and was known, before he left us, as an ecclesiastical scholar and an antiquarian of promise. It will be admitted that, given the duties of the parochial service in the United States and the scarcity of good libraries of Irish lore, these first zealous efforts deserve special commendation. He was soon, however, to find himself in a centre where opportunity, talent and energy might combine to make of him, if not an historical genius, at least one of the most useful writers who have yet appeared on the soil of Ireland. Shortly after his return he began his career as the hagiologist of Ireland, and at the same time complimented his adopted city with a little volume entitled, "A Short Life of St. Lawrence O’Toole"(Dublin, 1857). A good judge says of it that "it dispelled the cloud of ignorance respecting the life of St. Lawrence, which had been created by the wanton misrepresentation of hostile, careless and faithless chroniclers, successfully refuted the false views which had been propagated by political or religious malevolence and set the character of the illustrious subject of his work in a true light before the public.” In a sense this judgment is applicable to all the good Canon's later writings. Two years later he brought out a "Life of St. Malachy O'Morgair" (Dublin, 1859), that had originally been undertaken in the Boston Pilot (1853). Then followed at various intervals other lives of famous ancient saints of Ireland: St. Dympna (Dublin, 1863); St. Aengus, the Culdee (ibid., 1868); St. David (ibid., 1869); St. Grellan (ibid., 1881). One of his most useful books is his "Catechism of Irish History from the earliest times to the death of O'Connell" (Dublin, 1864).

This gifted priest was not only an excellent historian, but also a graceful poet, who knew how to clothe in pleasing metre the thousand and one traditions that everywhere cling to the soil of Ireland. In 1870 he published, under the nom de plume of Lageniensis (the man of Leix), a volume of poetry entitled, "Legend Lays of Ireland," in which old and familiar fairy legends of his people were treated with much success. In the same year he published a prose volume of popular traditions, "Irish Folk-Lore," which embraces "a vast amount of antiquarian and historical information connected with various periods of the national annals." The grave of the famous O'Carolan, the last of the Irish harpers, was visited by him in 1881, and suggested to him a new volume of verse, "The Buried Lady: A Legend of Kilronan." In 1893 he made a collection of all his metrical writings, under the title, "Poetical Works of Lageniensis," and dedicated the same to the Countess of Aberdeen, as a tribute to her genuine love for the Irish people. Another volume on "Irish Local Legends" appeared in 1895, and placed him among the most successful collectors of the rare and curious antique lore that has been so long drifting down the ages in Ireland, but that is now on the wane, and will perhaps not survive many more generations. In the meantime he brought the nation more deeply in his debt by new editions of two important works, Monck-Mason's "Essay on the Antiquity and Constitution of Parliaments in Ireland" (Dublin, 1891), and William Molyneaux's "The Case of Ireland's Being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England Stated" (Dublin, 1893). The latter work, originally published in 1698, had been burned by the common hangman, and only one edition had since then seen the light. The tireless pen of this scholarly antiquarian seemed, indeed, never to rest. He compiled a "Catechism of Greek Grammar" and "Devotions for Confession and Holy Communion," almost as a rest from his many heavier labors. During his last illness he was still busied with a history of the antiquities of his native Leix (Queens County), on which, in his intervals of leisure, he had spent considerable research. He reminds us, indeed, of Saint Columba and Saint Bede, both of whom died almost in the act of dictating to their brother scribes. It seems incredible that amid so many enterprises he found time to compose the work that is here presented to our readers. It will always possess an added interest from the fact that the original text perished in the fire that had consumed his publishers' premises in 1898. Nothing daunted, he sat down to the task a second time, rewrote the entire work, and published it as a large quarto (Dublin, 1903).

We have yet, however, to mention the great work on which his fame will forever rest, "The Lives of the Irish Saints." As early as 1857 he announced his resolution to compose a series of lives of the Saints of Ireland in twelve volumes, following the order of the calendar. It was to be for Irish history what Alban Butler's "Lives of the Saints" had long been for general ecclesiastical history, a vast and final work of reference and edification. The Jesuit Henry Fitzsimon, the priest Thomas Messingham, above all the Franciscans Patrick Fleming, Luke Wadding, Hugh Ward and John Colgan, had all toiled variously and with great success, in the first half of the seventeenth century, at a great compilation that was eventually to be known as the "Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae" or the "Lives of the Saints of Ireland." In the sad and dreary period that followed the "thorough" work of Oliver Cromwell the Irish clergy found no longer heart or occasion to take up a task so congenial to their temper and the character of their nation. It was reserved for the modest and laborious curate of Saints Michael and John to bend his shoulders to a work that might well challenge the organized efforts of a community of writers. In 1872 he issued the prospectus of his enterprise, as a subscription work, and promised to bring it out monthly in parts of sixty-four pages each, profusely illustrated. He kept his promise, and finished the herculean undertaking shortly before his death. It includes the lives of about 3,500 saints of Ireland, some of them dealt with briefly, but many at very great length. The nine volumes before us number over six thousand large octavo pages, and the remaining parts, when they issue from the press as volumes, will probably raise this figure to eight thousand pages or more. It is a very unique performance in the department of hagiology, whether we consider the unbroken ardor of fifty years' toil, the faithful execution of a perilous promise, the uniform excellence of the work, or the admitted need and value of a history of Irish sanctity that shall correspond to our modern methods and attainments in the province of history. That he succeeded in endowing his native land with a monument that any Catholic people would forever cherish is allowed by all who are familiar with the field of labor, among others by the Bollandists, to whose scholarly company he must henceforth be accredited as an associate, at least in learning, faith, spirit, and good work. These volumes include the result of infinite research in all the departments of Irish history, for the Saints of Ireland, since St. Patrick, are its true heroes, its representatives, and the flower of its thought and action. In so old a land the identification of place and personal names is no slight task. A chief source of information is the collection of ancient maps and manuscripts belonging to the Irish Ordnance Survey Department in Dublin. Canon O'Hanlon had an intimate acquaintance with all this material; he was likewise master of the contents of the rich public libraries of his native city and of other cites, as well as of valuable private collections of books on the topography and antiquities of Ireland. In the course of his labors he was encouraged and often helped by such scholars as Dr. John O'Donovan, Professor Eugene O'Curry, Dr. Todd, and other Irish antiquarians of the first rank. The beautiful font of Irish type occasionally used in his "Lives of the Irish Saints” was originally designed by Dr. Petrie for the Catholic University of Ireland.

The work of Canon O'Hanlon took on the character of a national monument. And as it progressed the learned world in general applauded the rare erudition, good judgment and moderation, skilful order and sense of proportion, grasp of environment and unflagging regularity of industry which he brought to the execution of this imperishable Hall of Fame, in which each of the model national worthies has his appropriate niche or pedestal. It has been truly said that the future ecclesiastical historian of Ireland — whoever he may be — must forever feel indebted to the good priest, whose labors for half a century have resulted in placing at his disposal an inexhaustible fund of well-digested and reliable information, not only concerning the personal history of the Irish Saints, but also about the social, political, literary and aesthetic life of Ireland during the period of her native independence and brilliancy. Archbishop Walsh, in commending the proposal to erect a suitable memorial to the deceased scholar, took occasion to state that in the erudite volumes of the "Lives of the Irish Saints," compiled with zeal and diligence in the spare moments of a busy missionary life. Canon O'Hanlon had "preserved for the instruction and edification of future generations all that has been handed down to us of the lives and labors of the recorded saints of our Irish Church."

As a writer Canon O'Hanlon was habitually painstaking and accurate. His information, when possible, was gathered at first hand, and the habit of composition enabled him to set it forth with good order and proportion. His style is lucid and simple, a good specimen of the historical narrative, and his diction always select and dignified. He seizes with ease on the salient and distinctive traits of a personality or a situation, and thereby relieves the reader of that vagueness and complexity that sometimes diminishes the satisfaction afforded by otherwise good histories. His spirit was ever aflame with the love of his native religion and his native land. Yet nothing gladdened him more through a long life than the consciousness that he was working, not alone for those who dwelt within the “four seas of Ireland," but also for that greater Ireland-over-sea, to whose children and whose children's children he would forever speak as a trustworthy herald of long-forgotten ages of glorious endeavor that might otherwise, perhaps, perish only too easily from the minds and the hearts of Irishmen in the United States of America, Canada, Southern Africa, United States of Australia, India and other parts of the world. May he rest in peace! 

Saturday 29 December 2012

The Three Kinds of Martyrdom from The Cambrai Homily

There are three different types of martyrdom catagorized in the text of the seventh- or eighth-century Cambrai Homily:

Now there are three kinds of martyrdom that are counted as a cross to us, namely, white, blue and red martyrdom.

The white martyrdom for someone is when they part for the sake of God from everything that they love, although they may suffer fasting and hard work thereby.

The blue martyrdom is when through fasting and hard work they control their desires or struggle in penance and repentance.

The red martyrdom is when they endure a cross or destruction for Christ’s sake, as happened to the Apostles when they persecuted the wicked and taught the law of God.

These three kinds of martyrdom take place in those people who repent well, who control their desires, and who shed their blood in fasting and labour for Christ’s sake.

Celtic Spirituality, ed. by O. Davis, T. O’Loughlin, Paulist Press, Classics of Western Spirituality series, 1999, p. 370.

These translators have chosen to follow scholar Clare Stancliffe in translating the second type of martyrdom as 'blue' rather than 'green' as is more common. Footnote 175 on page 474 is also helpful:
This motif occurs also in a sermon from the Catechesis Celtica. In her article "Red, White and Blue Martyrdom" in Ireland in Early Medieval Europe, pp 21-46, Clare Stancliffe shows that this theme originates in early monastic texts, such as the Life of St Anthony and Life of St Martin and perhaps passes to Ireland with a more developed association with colours in the work of the fifth-century Spanish author, Bachiarius. Stancliffe concludes: "Red martyrdom denotes death for Christ's sake; white, the daily martyrdom of ascetic life; and blue the tears, hardships and fasting of the penitent" (p.44). 

I suppose it would be fair to say that the early Irish church was distinguished more for white and blue martyrdom than for red. The majority of early Irish martyrs met with their red martyrdom in territories outside Ireland, saints like Blathmac of Iona who gave his life in the defence of the relics of Saint Columba or saints martyred on the European continent by hostile pagans, such as Killian of Würzburg or Coloman of Austria. Saint Odhran, the charioteer of Saint Patrick, is thus a very rare species indeed - the native martyr who met his death on Irish soil.

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Friday 28 December 2012

The Massacre of the Innocents in Irish Sources

The Martyrology of Oengus devotes its entire entry for December 28 to the commemoration of The Massacre of the Innocents by King Herod:
28. Famous is their eternal acclamation,
beyond every loveable band,
which the little children from Bethlehem
sing above to their Father.
to which the scholiast has added a commentary:
28. Famous the lasting acclamation, i.e. famous and lasting is the shout of the children who were killed in Bethlehem by Herod pro Christo.
a loveable band, i.e. they are a dear band propter innocentiam.
who sing above to their Father, i.e. canunt laudes, etc.
A hundred and forty - bright fulfilment - and two thousands of children
were slain in Bethlehem with victory by the ruler, by Herod.
Thirty plains famous, pleasant, all about Bethlehem ;
in every plain were slain a hundred of the pleasant children of the
nobles ;
a hundred and forty - sad the doom ! - in Bethlehem alone.
The Massacre of the Innocents is also commemorated in other Irish sources, appearing, for example, in the poems of the eighth-century monastic writer Blathmac. He records in the first of his poems, in the translation of James Carney:
20. In seeking Christ (pitiful this!) the infants of Bethlehem were slain. It was by Herod (bloodier than any prince!) that they were put to the blue sword.

21. Happy the good gentle infants! They have happiness in an eternal kingdom: Herod, miserable creature, has eternal sorrow and eternal Hell.
James Carney, ed. and trans., The poems of Blathmac, son of Cú Brettan: Together with the Irish Gospel of Thomas and a poem on the Virgin Mary (Dublin, 1964), 9.

Below is the text of another poem, found in the Leabhar Breac, which reflects the raw pain of the bereaved mothers and the sheer horror of the deed:

The Mothers’ Lament at the Slaughter of the Innocents

Then, as she plucked her son from her
breast for the executioner, one of the
women said:
‘Why do you tear from me my darling son,
The fruit of my womb?
It was I who bore him, he drank my breast.
My womb carried him about, he sucked my vitals.
He filled my heart:
He was my life, ’tis death to have him taken from me.
My strength has ebbed,
My voice is stopped,
My eyes are blinded.’
Then another woman said:
‘It is my son you take from me.
I did not do the evil,
But kill me — me: don’t kill my son!
My breasts are sapless, my eyes are wet,
My hands shake,
My poor body totters.
My husband has no son,
And I no strength;
My life is worth — death.
Oh, my one son, my God!
His foster-father has lost his hire.
My birthless sicknesses with no requital until Doom.
My breasts are silent,
My heart is wrung.’
Then said another woman:
‘Ye are seeking to kill one; ye are killing many.
Infants ye slay, fathers ye wound; you kill the mothers.
Hell with your deed is full, heaven shut.
Ye have spilt the blood of guiltless innocents.’
And yet another woman said:
‘O Christ, come to me!
With my son take my soul quickly:
O Great Mary, Mother of the Son of God,
What shall I do without my son?
For Thy Son, my spirit and my sense are killed.
I am become a crazy woman for my son.
After the piteous slaughter
My heart’s a clot of blood
From this day
Till Doom comes.’

A powerful lament, indeed.

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Thursday 27 December 2012

Saint John the Apostle and the Early Irish Church

The Martyrology of Oengus devotes its entire entry for December 27 to two of the apostles - Saint John and Saint James. It reads:
D. vi. cal. Ianuarii.
27. The sound sleep of John in Ephesus
splendid the bordgal (?)
-with the ordination of James his brother, who is highest.
The scholiast adds:
27. a splendid bordgal, i.e. John's valour (gal) was in Ephesus a splendid valour, i.e. a valour that went out over the border (bord) quasi dixisset Ephesus was full de operibus eius. his brother is highest, i.e. the greater is sollemnitas etc.
I haven't read any specialist commentary on this entry but wonder if the word bordgal was an archaism which the later scholiast did not understand himself and sought to explain.

There is a body of material concerning the beloved disciple preserved in the Irish sources. In an earlier post on the Irish tradition of the Antichrist, I had mentioned an Apocalypse of Saint John as one of its sources. In the article by Father Martin McNamara that I looked at then, he mentions that the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum preserves a composite Irish text containing episodes from the Beatha Eoin Bruinne, the Life of John the Beloved Disciple (literally John of the Breast), plus fragments of what seems to be an Apocalypse of John. Saint John received this epithet because he reclined on the the breast of Christ at the Last Supper (Jn. 13:25). This composite text was translated from Latin into Irish by an Augustinian friar, Uighisdin Mac Raighin, who died in 1405. It has been translated into English in a volume of texts edited by Father McNamara and Dr. Maire Herbert and so below are some extracts from the Apocalypse and Death of John to mark the feast of the Beloved Disciple, still commemorated on December 27 in the West, although the East celebrates this feast on September 26:
10. Thereafter John said to his disciples: "go and make a burial-place for me in front of the altar. Cast out the earth far away from it, and make it very deep". This was done, and he himself went into it and lay readily down on the ground, and stretched up his two hands towards the Creator, saying:

11. "I thank you, O Creator,
Christ, the mighty Lord,
great Heavenly Father,
gentle soft-spokem brother,
excellent noble teacher,
who gently and lovingly
calls me to your banquet,
who well understands
that I desire to go
to be with you in your kingdom.
You perceive, O divine kinsman,
how my heart has loved
your truth and your word,
loved to contemplate
and look on you totally,
I give you thanks."

15. Now I entrust and hand over your people believing in Christ, who have obtained wisdom, true knowledge and sagacity, and have been blessed and baptized. Take me to you, as you promised me in the company of my brethren, Paul, Peter, Matthew, and Thomas, and the other apostles, so that I may partake of the great feast which you have created from the beginning, and which has no end. Open the divine gates and beautifully-draped windows, and the path which is undarkened by the devil, without opposition, without hostile onset. Send your splendid angelic messenger to cherish and protect [me], for you are the almighty Christ, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who lives and flourishes for all eternity". And all the people answered: "Amen".

16. Then a great brightness came upon the people for the space of one hour of the day. Such was the extent of the illumination that it could not be looked on. Everyone threw themselves on the ground. Then there came to them a beautiful fragrance, and perfume of angelic incense.

17. Thereafter they raised their heads, and looked at the burial-place. They found nothing there in place of the valiant priest, the eloquent judge, the devout helper, the wise preacher, the splendid confessor, the merciful dispenser of forgiveness, red-cheeked and blue-eyed, namely, John, the beloved apostle.. And thus John parted from the final things of this world.

18. The suffering and afflicted of the nearby district gathered to that place, and they were cured of all their ills.

19. As for the body of John, it is in a beautiful golden tomb, and at the end of each year, the best youth, who is without defilement or sin, is chosen, and he goes to cut John's hair and pare his nails, and when he has completed that task, he partakes of the body and sacrifice of Christ, and he himself ascends to heaven on that day.

Thus John's body remains without putrefaction or corruption. Indeed, it is as if he were in a deep sleep, and it will be thus until Doomsday.

M. Herbert and M. McNamara, eds. and trans., Irish Biblical Apocrypha: Selected Texts in Translation (Edinburgh, 1989), 96-98.

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Wednesday 26 December 2012

'Thou art the Mother of the Great King' - an Irish night prayer in honour of Our Lady

Below is the text of a beautiful night prayer to Our Lady, which I first posted some years ago. It is such a wonderful text that it deserves a second outing.

A devotional poem, dated c.900 runs:

O Mary, my blessing on thee in every part that thou mayest commend me tonight to thy Son.
O Queen of all the virgins in the wide world, pray for me to thy great good Son that I may be saved.
That thou mayest bring triumph from the world with numerous hosts, bring me to heaven swiftly by thy grace.
By thy birth, by thy glory, come to me; to the house of thy great good Son lead me by the hand.
By the choice that was made of thee over every part, by the Father, faultless worth, by the Son,
By the Holy Spirit who has bestowed every grace on thee, to bring me to heaven, fair the place, be it thy share.
By every angel, by every virgin, by every saint, bring me in the company of the (heavenly) hosts with noble peace.
With my soul, with my body, with my understanding and with my sense, I am under thy protection as long as I may be here.
Mayest thou save me, whether early or late I leave the world, from every danger with numerous hosts, from every attack.
I throw myself on thy breast, on thy knee and on thy cheek, on thy soul, on thy blood, on thy flesh at all times.
Under thy protection may I be here and yonder against every strait, mayest thou be my guard always (until I come) to the King of the stars.
O Mary, hear my cry to holy heaven so that thou mayest be my shelter against the host of base devils.
Except for Christ thou art the one most abounding in grace who has visited the world, thou hast defeated the devil in battle in thy course.
Thou art the vessel in which was the manna, O fair generous one; thou art the shrine in which was for a while the Son of the King of the stars.
Thou art the golden cup in which was the wine which intoxicates and gladdens the host for all eternity.
Thou art the paradise in which was the sweet tree of life; thy Son has taken the hostage of the (human) race, O pleasant Sun.
Thou art the mother of the great King, Son of swift God; thy countenance shines gloriously like the sun.
Mayest thou save me from sin, from the plague of cold hell; let not the demon near me, O radiant sun.
May it be a protection to me to praise thee – blessed is that; whoever practises it rightly, may he have heaven.
The prayer of each strong noble saint to thee: thy prayer along with each to pure Christ:
That I may have the gift of diligent piety always; that I may shine like a star yonder in heaven;
That no demon may come to me when I shall die; that I may not get torment nor plague from the King of the clouds.
May I not part from Christ here nor yonder; the house where is the Son of the King of the stars, may I be there.
The blessing of rich and poor on thy Son; O Mary, my blessing on thee in every part.

Source: B. O Cuiv, 'Some early devotional verse in Irish', Eriu, XIX, 13-17 in P.O'Dwyer O.Carm, Mary – a history of devotion in Ireland (Dublin, 1988), 64-65.

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Tuesday 25 December 2012

Nobler than kings, the King who was born in Bethlehem

Nobler than kings,
the King who was born in Bethlehem was a royal birth;
every prophet had foretold for a long time
that he would be born in the reign of Octavian.

Saltair na Rann, 10th century.

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Monday 24 December 2012

Christmas Eve in Ireland

Frontispiece to The Irish Christmas (Dublin, 1917).

Today is Christmas Eve and as a child I remember hearing that on this night we should leave a light shining in the front window of the house. This was to act as a signal that even if there was 'no room at the inn' elsewhere, Saint Joseph and Our Blessed Lady would find shelter with us. Katharine Tynan in her poem 'Christmas Eve in Ireland' alludes to this tradition and also to the fact that people not only displayed lights but kept their doors unlocked. Obviously it was an earlier and more innocent age! I've also published a poem called Saint Brigid's Lullabies at my other site Trias Thaumaturga today, you can read it here.


NOT a cabin in the Glen shuts its door to-night,
Lest the travellers abroad knock in vain and pass,
Just a humble gentleman and a lady bright
And she to be riding on an ass.

Grief is on her goodman, that the inns deny
Shelter to his dearest Dear in her hour of need;
That her Babe of royal birth, starriest, most high,
Has not where to lay His head.

Must they turn in sadness to the cattle byre
And the kind beasts once again shake the bed for
Not a cabin in the Glen but heaps wood on the fire
And keeps its lamps a-trim.

Now the woman makes the bed, smooths the linen
Spreads the blanket, soft and white, that her
own hands spun.
Whisht! is that the ass that comes, on his four
little feet,
Carrying the Holy One ?

Nay, 'twas but the wind and rain, the sand on the
A bitter night, yea, cruel, for folk to be abroad.
And she, not fit for hardship, outside a fast-closed
And her Son the Son of God!

Is it the moon that's turning the dark world to
bright ?
Is it some wonderful dawning in the night and
cold ?
Whisht! did you see a shining One and Him to
be clad in light
And the wings and head of Him gold ?

Who are then those people, hurrying, hasting,
And they all looking up in the sky this night of
wondrous things ?
Oh, those I think be shepherdmen, and they that
follow close
I think by their look be kings.

Not a cabin in the Glen shuts the door till day,
Lest the heavenly travellers come, knock again
in vain.
All the night the dulcimers, flutes, and hautboys
And the angels walk with men.

The Flower of Peace - A Collection of the Devotional Poetry of Katharine Tynan, 11-12.

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Sunday 23 December 2012

Medieval Wisdom: Five Hateful Things

I picked up a copy of a book of medieval Anglo-Irish poetry recently in a charity shop. The Kildare Poems, as the collection is known, show a strong Franciscan influence. Their author is unknown, although there is mention of a Friar Michael of Kildare as the author of one of them. The collection is preserved in the British Library Manuscript, Harley 913, and was written in Ireland in the early fourteenth century. The CELT project have made the original texts available online, although not the translations or the author's introduction. I rather liked this pithy example of medieval wisdom:

Five Hateful Things

A bishop without doctrine,
a king without judgment,
an imprudent young man,
a foolish old man,
a woman without shame -
I swear by the King of heaven,
those are five hateful things.

Here is the original:

[MS fol 6v]

Bissop lorles,
Kyng redeles,
Yung man rechles,
Old man witles,
Womman ssamles—
I swer bi heuen Kyng,
Thos beth fiue lither thing.

A.M. Lucas, ed. Anglo-Irish poems of the Middle Ages, (Dublin, 1995), 56-57.

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Saturday 22 December 2012

An Irishman and Scholar

Below is an article which was first published in 2009 at my previous site and which I originally sourced here. In it Father Pat Conlon, OFM, pays tribute to another Irish Franciscan, the great seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan. The article provides a very useful introduction to the work of Father Colgan and the other Irish priests whose work preserved so many of the lives and traditions of the Irish saints:

FR PAT CONLAN, OFM, honours Fr John Colgan the Franciscan who died 350 years ago this year.

It was just after Easter 1652. Fr John Colgan took a deep breath before opening the letter. He recognised the seal on the back as that of Fr Pedro Manero, Franciscan Minister General. The Irish friar took a moment to scan the Latin text. Then he smiled as he realised that it was one more load lifted from his back. It had started two years back when the Irish Provincial and his Definitory had appointed Fr John as Commissary of the Irish Franciscan colleges in Leuven, Prague and Wielun. He was 58 years old and in poor health. Also his Guardian in Leuven, Fr Bonaventure Meehan, was opposed to the appointment. Fr John had written saying that there was no way that he could travel from Flanders to Poland and the far end of the Empire. At last the Minister General had acknowledged reality and withdrew the appointment. Fr John returned to his desk, covered with neatly written sheets of paper. He was resolved to continue his research on the Saints of Ireland. Nearly twenty years before, on 8th November 1635, Fr Hugh Ward had died in the college. Fr John had just returned from his years as a lecturer in several Franciscan colleges of the German Province of Cologne.

Another Fr Hugh, Hugh MacCaughwell, had received John into the Franciscans at Leuven on 26th April 1620. It has taken him twenty-two years to find his way into following Saint Francis. Born at Pierstown near Carndonagh in the heart of Inishowen, he had grown up during a time of war. The area had not been disturbed when O’Donnell and O’Neill rose against the English. He could recall the anxiety among the locals when the English garrisoned Derry in 1600. That same garrison had played their part in the devastation of Inishowen in 1608 when Sir Caher O’Doherty had rebelled against English rule. John was then in his teens. The events had turned his mind towards study on the continent. He had studied for the priesthood, been ordained in 1618 and qualified as a lecturer before finally deciding to become a Franciscan. He had lectured at Saint Anthony’s College, Leuven, before continuing his career in the colleges in the Rhineland.

Fr Hugh MacCaughwell had introduced Fr John to the great Franciscan theologian, John Duns Scotus, and persuaded him to base his lectures on the teachings of Scotus. Fr Hugh had been called to Rome in 1623 and died there only three months after his consecration as Archbishop of Armagh in 1626. Fr John had kept in contact with Leuven and knew that Fr Hugh Ward had taken over. He and John were from Donegal, born only a year apart and found their way to Saint Anthony’s College after ordination elsewhere. Both shared the vision, developing in the College, of showing the intellectuals that Ireland deserved its place among the cultures and traditions of Europe. One way of doing this was by putting together a proper history of Ireland, both civil and ecclesiastical. A group of Jesuits were working in Antwerp on the lives of saints. Led by Jean Bolland, they had a system of editing older lives and publishing them in Latin according to the chronology found in the liturgical calendar of the Church.

Scholarship in a Time of War

Fr Hugh Ward gathered a team in Leuven and encouraged friars to check libraries for texts during their travels. He sent Br Mícheál Ó Cléirigh back to Ireland in search of manuscripts. Slowly the material accumulated at Saint Anthony’s. Ward was busy as Guardian of the college in 1626-29 and as a lecturer. He suffered from ill health from 1630 and made a special effort to give a eulogy on the great friend of the friars, Isabella, Princess of the Belgians, on 1st December 1633. Fr John’s return from Germany filled the slot made vacant by the sick lecturer. The Dutch took the opportunity of the death of Isabella to strike for complete independence from Spain. Both Dutch and French armies invaded Flanders, captured Tienen and laid siege to Leuven on 24th June 1635. The Irish Regiment of Preston was one of the four defending the town and were mainly responsible for the successful defence of the town. The friars were chaplains to the regiment and shared in the honours given to their countrymen. The main Spanish army raised the siege on 3rd July. The stress of the siege did nothing for the health of Fr Hugh Ward and he died on 8th November 1635. The Guardian, Fr Louis Dillon, invited Fr John to take charge of the project to publish the lives of the Irish saints.

Fr John was in regular contact with Jean Bolland in Antwerp and adopted the same plan — publish Latin editions of lives of the saints as found in old manuscripts in the order of the liturgical calendar. He got a worthy assistant, Fr Brendan O’Connor, who went in 1638 to research libraries in France, Italy, England and Ireland. Br Mícheál Ó Cléirigh had returned from Ireland in 1637 with more manuscripts and the text of his proposed history of Ireland or the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland. Fr John continued his work on the Irish saints. At the same time he sought funding for fresh publications by the team at Saint Anthony’s. Br Mícheál died in 1643 and was buried in the cloister of the college. Fr John mediated on his achievements and in 1645 came up with the title of the Annals of the Four Masters for Br Mícheál’s major work.

Books Published

The manuscripts were piling up in Leuven but funds for publication were drying up. War in Europe, civil war in England and the insurrection in Ireland made benefactors think twice about spending. Fr John put his name to a solemn appeal by the Guardian, Vicar and lecturers for funds to print the lives of the Irish saints “to the great good and glory of our Church and Catholic countrymen." Hugh O’Reilly, Archbishop of Armagh, wrote from Kilkenny in December 1642 authorising the friars to use part of the funds belonging to Armagh and lodged in Saint Anthony’s in Leuven to publish some of the books prepared by Fr John. Work pushed ahead and the first volume containing the lives of the Irish saints for January, February and March (Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae) was published in Leuven in 1645. The Bollandists had published the first volume of their Acta Sanctorum covering the month of January in 1643. The Franciscan Archbishop of Dublin, Thomas Fleming, provided the means to publish the next volume, Triadis thaumaturgae (the three miracle workers, Patrick, Brigid and Columba), in Leuven 1647. The third volume containing the lives of the Irish saints for April, May and June was ready for the printer in 1649. The war situation was now critical and the work remained unpublished. Even the Bollandists were having financial problems. The second volume of their Acta Sanctorum with the lives for February did not appear until 1658.

The arrival of Cromwell in Ireland and the resulting persecution brought a flood of friars seeking refuge in Leuven. Even the grants to keep the college going were insufficient for the larger community. Despite his health and the lack of funds Fr John struggled on. He returned to his original interest in Scotus. A stupid English Franciscan, Angelus Mason, had claimed that Scotus was English. Our Irish friar published a small volume on the fatherland, life, theology and value of Scotus (Tractatus de Joannis Scoti Doctoris Subtilis …) in Antwerp in 1655. It made it clear that the Subtle Doctor, to give him his medieval title, was Irish. We now know that he was born in Scotland.

Unfinished Work

Fr John died in Saint Anthony’s College on 15th January 1658, just three hundred and fifty years ago. Fr Thomas Sheerin took responsibility for publications in the college. The late Fr John’s cabinets were loaded with material ready for the printer. In addition to his work on the Irish saints and that of the Four Masters on Irish history, Fr John had begun to write on the Irish in other parts of Europe. One volume covered the general mission of the Irish outside of Ireland with a list of saints (852 pages of manuscript). The next dealt with England, Brittany, the rest of France and Belgium (1088 pages). Another covered Lotharingia, Burgundy, Germany on both banks of the Rhine and Italy (920 pages). But time had moved on. Despite the best efforts of Fr Thomas, the tremendous work of Fr John Colgan remained unpublished until the Irish resurgence of the twentieth century.

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Friday 21 December 2012

The Sermo Synodalis from the Leabhar Breac

One of the sources mentioned in yesterday's list of Early and Medieval Latin Literature of the Irish Church was a text known as the Sermo Synodalis. A translation was published as part of a critique on the views of a Protestant Bishop on the nature of the 'Celtic Church' which appeared in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record of 1868 . Although the Leabhar Breac, the 'Speckled Book',  dates to the early 15th-century, it contains material sourced from earlier centuries. I do not, however, know when this particular piece dates from. The sermon is an exhortation to priests to uphold the very highest standards in the exercise of their ministry. It presents a number of challenges to contemporary thinking, for example, the sermon makes it clear that women are not to approach the altar or handle the chalice. Indeed, the notion of laypeople in general acting as 'extraordinary eucharistic ministers' to the sick is also dismissed. I would be interested to know more about this text, particularly its date, its historical context and to what extent the various vices and malpractices spoken against reflect the contemporary reality. If priests are being warned against drinking in taverns and hunting, does this imply that enough of the clery of the time were into these worldly pursuits for it to be a problem? And if they are being told to arise for Nocturns and vest appropriately for the Liturgy, does this suggest that these practices were not being observed as a rule? It would be good to know more of the background to this sermon to answer these and other questions. Finally, I have extracted only the English translation, the original volume has the Latin text printed alongside in parallel columns.

"In the Leabhar Breac there is a very ancient fragment entitled Sermo Synodalis, i.e. a discourse which a bishop should address to his clergy, when assembled in synod. It is given in that venerable repositary of the remains of our early Church at fol.124. p.2. and as it has never been published, we are happy to insert it in full in our pages :

Brothers, Presbyters, and Priests of the Lord, you are the assistants of our order. We indeed, though unworthy, hold the place of Aaron; you, that of Eleazar and Ithamar. We discharge the office of the XII Apostles; you walk in the steps of the Lxx disciples. We are your pastors; you are the pastors of the souls entrusted to your charge. We have to render an account for you to the Chief Pastor, our Lord Jesus Christ; you (shall render an account) for the people subject to you. Therefore, most beloved, see what your spirit is. We admonish and beseech you to hold in mind, and diligently to carry into effect, the exhortation which we are about to address to you.

In the first place we exhort you to be irreprehensible in your life and demeanour: that is, let your residence be near the church, and let no woman be in your house. Each night arise for nocturns: chaunt the liturgy at stated hours: devoutly perform the celebration of Mass: receive with fear and awe the Body and Blood of our Lord: purify and cleanse the sacred vessels with your own hands.

Let no one chaunt the Mass, unless he be fasting: let no one chaunt it without communicating: let no one chaunt it without amict, stole, alb, maniple, and chasuble. Let the vestments moreover be clean and not used for other purposes: let no one presume to chaunt Mass in an alb which he employs as his daily dress: let no one attempt to chaunt mass with a wooden or glass chalice. Let no woman approach the altar of the Lord, nor touch the chalice of the Lord. Let the altar be covered with clean linens: on the altar let nothing be placed except the capsea and relics, or perhaps the Four Gospels, or the pixis with the Body of the Lord for the communion of the sick: all other things should be set aside in a clean place. Let each one have a plenary Missal, a Lectionary, and an Antiphonary: let a place be arranged near the sanctuary or adjoining the altar, where the water may be poured which is used in washing the sacred vessels, and where a clean vase with water may be suspended, and there let the priest wash his hands after the communion. Let the church be roofed and vaulted, and let the porch be protected with a fence.

Let no one chaunt Mass outside the church, in private houses, in occult places. Let no one chaunt Mass alone. Let each priest have a cleric or scholar, to read the epistle and lesson, to answer at Mass, and with whom he may sing the psalms. Visit the sick and absolve them, and in accordance with the apostle's words anoint them with holy oil, and give them the communion with your own hand, and let no one presume to give the communion to a layman or to a woman to bear it to the sick. Let no one require a reward or gift for baptism of infants, or absolution of the sick, or burial of the dead. Be attentive lest through your negligence any infant should depart this life without baptism. Let no one be guilty of ebriety or litigiousness, for it is not becoming in a servant of God to be litigious: let no one bear in his dress gems for ornament, for yours should be the spiritual gems: let no one devote himself to sports of dogs or birds: do not drink in taverns: let each one of you according to his ability instruct his flock from the Gospel or Epistle on Sundays and festival days.

Although those who have been ordained to minister at the most holy altar should guard themselves against every sin, yet should they be particularly watchful to preserve their chastity, and to banish with all solicitude whatever could lead them to uncleanness. For he brings down the anger of God upon himself, whosoever presumes with an unclean conscience and impure body to approach that altar. Oh! How dreadful it is to touch the Lord with sinful hands".

'The Bishop of Argyll on the Celtic Church' in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 4, July 1868, 468-483 at 477-480.

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Thursday 20 December 2012

Early and Medieval Latin Literature of the Irish Church

As part of an article entitled 'Hibernia Christiana' published in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record of 1895, Father Bartholomew MacCarthy gave this useful summary of the sources for the medieval Latin literature of the Irish Church:


1. CONCILIAR: (a) Synodal Decrees of St. Patrick; (b) Collectio Canonum Hibernensis; (c) Sermo Synodalis in Speckled Book.

2. LITURGICAL: (a) Stowe Missal ; (6) Corpus Missal ; (c) Stowe Sacramentary; (d) Fragments in Books of Dimma and Mulling; (e) Antiphonary of Bangor; (f) Cursus Scottorum.

3. PASCHAL: (a] Easter Tables of Roman-Irish Cycle of 84, of Victorian and Dionysian (Alexandrine) Cycles; (b) Spurious Paschal writings: (1) Book of Anatolius; (2) Acts of Council of Caesarea: (3) Prologue and (4) Letter of St. Cyril; (5) Tractate of St. Athanasius; (c) Paschal Epistle of Cummian.

4. SCRIPTURAL: (a) Tract of St. Caimin, of Inisceltra, on Ps. cxviii.; (b) Commentary of St. Columbanus on the Psalms; (c) Mystical Interpretations of St. Aileran; (d) Commentary on Wurzburg St. Matthew; (e) Sedulius on Pauline Epistles, on Breviates and Chapters of, and Hieronymian Prefaces to, the Evangelists; Paschal Prose of same; (f) Claudius on the Pauline Epistles; (g) De mirabilibus Sacrae Scripturae; (h) first and second books of Chronicle of Marianus Scotus.

5. HYMNAL: (a) Hymns in Book of Hymns; (b) in Mone's Hymni Latini Medii Aevi, (c) Poems of St. Columbanus; (d) Carmen Paschale of Sedulius.

6. MORAL: (a) Penitentials; (b) Instructions of St. Columbanus.

7. HAGIOGRAPHIC: (a) Tripartite Catalogue of Saints; (b) Martyrology of Tallaght; (c) Patrician Documents: (1) Tripartite Life (from the Irish); (2) Collections in Book of Armagh; (d) Adamnan: (1) Life of St. Columba; (2) De Locis Sanctis; (e) Lives of Saints in Codex Kilkenniensis and other MSS.

B MacCarthy, 'Hibernia Christiana' in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol XVI, (1895), 442-3.

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