Thursday 7 February 2013

Saint Tressan of Mareuil, February 7

February 7 is the commemoration of an early Irish missionary saint who laboured in France in the sixth century. Canon O'Hanlon bases his entry in the Lives of the Irish Saints on the Acts of the Saint used by the 17th-century hagiologist Father John  Colgan, which testify to Saint Tressan's humility, sanctity and miracles. They include some motifs which occur in the lives of other saints, for example, water is made to flow from a dry place through the staff of the saint and his ultimate resting place has to be decided by heavenly intervention. Canon O'Hanlon takes up the story:

The Acts of Tressan are compiled from a MS., which belonged to the monastery of St. Remigius, at Rheims. Colgan thinks it was at least a document old as the tenth century. Flodoard, a writer, who lived in that century, treats of this holy man and of his brothers, in the history of Rheims. He seems also, to have read these Acts. St. Tressan's old Life is included in Colgan's work, and this is followed by an appendix, comprising three chapters.

St. Tressan had six holy brothers, viz. : Saints Gibrian, Helan, German, Veran, Aleran, Petran, and three sisters, Fracla, Promptia, and Posemna. All of these were very devout persons, who despised the things of earth, that they might aspire only to those of Heaven. Elsewhere, the names of those brothers and sisters are spelled in a different manner. They are mentioned, also, by Flodoard. They were natives of Hibernia, where Tressan heard the voice of God proclaiming to him these words, formerly addressed to Abraham "Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father's house, and come into the land, which I shall show thee." Afterwards, Tressan sought a secret place for his dwelling, where he might more freely serve God in solitude; but, whether this was in Ireland, or in France, his Acts do not render sufficiently plain.

Suspicions are entertained by Colgan, that the present saint, his brothers and sisters were the children of a certain Goill or Gallus. It is mentioned, in the Life of St. Ailbhe, that when returning from Rome to Hibernia, he left some of his disciples, the sons of Guill, in a monastery he had erected in Gaul. Now, the time is thought well to accord; for, St. Ailbhe was a contemporary with St. Patrick, and he is calculated to have lived, from A.D. 450 to 520. He was also contemporaneous with St. Tressan, his brothers and sisters. These holy persons, too, settled in Gaul. Another circumstance is somewhat remarkable; for, one of these brothers was named German, and we actually have a German, son of Gaill or Goill, noticed in our Calendars. Yet, although those brothers and sisters were distinguished for their sanctity, all are not noticed separately, in our Irish Martyrologies.

Wishing to lead the life of a pilgim, Tressan went to France, taking along with him six brothers and three sisters, whose names have been already given. But, being simple-minded and ignorant to a degree, this pious man was regarded as an idiot; and, when resolved to earn his livelihood, by some kind of menial service, he retired to a village, supposed to be Murigny, in the Duchy of Rheims, on the banks of the River Marne.

Here, a native of the place, finding him to be an Irishman born, and quite ignorant of the Frankish language, set him to the humble occupation of tending swine. According to Sigebert's chronicle, Tressan was in France A.D. 509. Faithful to his charge, and mindful of the Apostolic mandate, "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear," the lowly swineherd carefully governed all the movements of his soul. This happened, it is stated, while St. Remigius lived in that part of the country.

According to his Acts, Tressan was an illiterate man; yet, he was a very religious and a very good Christian. A church, dedicated to St. Martin, happened to be in the village of Murigny; and here, a priest had been engaged reciting matins, and in celebrating the solemnities of Mass. Not loosing sight of his herd, Tressan would steal towards the doors of the church, while he endeavoured to learn all he could regarding the sacred rites. And the Lord was pleased miraculously to reward this holy thirst for science, by filling his mind with a knowledge of letters. It would appear, Tressan had unwittingly excited the prejudice of certain rustics, in that place, known as Ay; for, when St. Remigius visited a village near it, and which was called Villare in Silva, or Villiers en Selue, these peasants accused the poor Scottish swineherd, for having caused their vineyards to be injured, their fields and meadows to be grazed and trodden down, through his neglect. But, St. Remigius was not the bishop, to hear a one-sided accusation, without sifting its truth : he sent a messenger for Tressan to appear, and when he did so, the holy prelate, fully convinced of his innocence, consoled him with gentle words, while he drove the malignant accusers away from his presence. The old author of our saint's Acts relates, that unjustly accused man afterwards stood on an elevated spot, known thenceforward as St. Tressan's Mount, where he had collected the herd of swine together, with a view of bringing them to the homes of their owners. Looking towards Ay, in the spirit of prophecy, he exclaimed: "You, who have falsely accused me to the high priest of our Lord, shall pass out of this life, when you have lived to the age of thirty years, nor will your worldly substance increase; thus, it shall be better, that you receive punishment here, rather than suffering without end, in the other world." The Almighty was pleased to make good these words of his faithful servant; and, to the time when his ancient Acts were written, the people remarked, how the descendants of St. Tressan's accusers never lived beyond the thirtieth year, that they were obliged to subsist by manual labour, to be in want, and even to beg for the necessaries of life. Returning the swine to their rightful master, Tressan, thenceforth, devoted himself entirely to God's service.

After some years, having acquired sufficient learning, he went to the town of Laon, in the province of Picardy. Genebald or Genebaud had been ordained its first bishop by St. Remigius. On the recommendation of St. Genebaldus, Bishop of Laon, who admired the humility, good dispositions, and progress he had made in learning, Tressan was ordained priest by St. Remigius, when the requirements of the canons had been fulfilled. Thus was he chosen, by one of God's elect, and blest, by a saint. St. Remigius, before taking leave of Tressan, exhorted him regarding the manner in which he should serve at the altar; he also comforted and encouraged this disciple. In our saint, he found a truly good subject; for, Tressan fasted and prayed almost continuously, while he crucified the flesh, with its vices and concupiscences. He avoided all snares of the enemy; he despised the things of this world; he gave alms to the poor, and spent much time in vigil. So closely did Tressan adhere to God's law and to the works ordered by Christ, that he might be regarded as being with him, both in soul and body.

After his ordination, Tressan chose for a place of residence Marogillus, or Marville, where a church had been dedicated to St. Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers. Tressan stopped in the territory of Rheims, near the Marne, during the time of Bishop Retnigius. He preached with great zeal, while in France. Serving the Lord most faithfully, at the church of St. Hilary; he had a church near it, which had been consecrated in honour of St. Martin, the holy Bishop of Tours. He was wholly intent on the worship of God, and his manner of life was extremely simple. While there, an inhabitant of the place came to make a confession to him, and then devoutly asked the saint to offer prayers for his salvation. Knowing, likewise, that the Lord would return, hereafter, and in a hundred-fold measure, whatsoever should be given to his holy minister, the devout penitent besought his confessor to receive a small gift. Knowing his earnestness and sincerity, Tressan assented to a request he made, for bestowing a meadow that was near, to serve as pasture for an ass. This meadow lay within the bounds of Ay village, and afterwards it went by the name of our saint.

One day, having celebrated the Matins, Office and Mass, in the church of St. Martin at Murigny, and while returning to Mareville, he felt wearied, and he sat down on the side of a dry hill, from which water had never flowed. Fixing his staff in the ground, the wearied saint fell asleep; but, on awaking, he found the staff had grown into a tree, which was covered with a bark and green leaves. At the same time, a fountain of most delicious water ran from the root of this tree, to the very foot of the mount. When the holy priest, Tressan, witnessed this, he drank from the well, and he asked of the Almighty, that no injustice or turpitude should there occur. It was regarded as a "holy well," while several persons, troubled with tertian and quartan agues, came thither, drank of its waters, and were cured. After the Lord had manifested these and other wonders of His glory, through this humble servant, Tressan was seized with a fever. He then called various priests and clerics around him, confessing that he was a sinner and an unworthy priest, having offended God, and having injured his fellow-men. Lying on the bed, in his last agony, he was consoled by his visitors, while with great humility and contrition, he received the sacraments of reconciliation. Then he cried out : "Dearly beloved brethren, be ye comforted in the Lord, and. in the power of his virtue, according to that word of our Redeemer, "Walk whilst you have the light," and according to that saying of the Prophet David, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Then he added : "Meditation on death is the beginning of wisdom." He afterwards asked for Holy Viaticum. Rising from the bed, and lying prostrate on the ground, he exclaimed with heartfelt devotion :

"Hail, our most happy Hope! hail, our holy Redemption! Hail, most holy Body of Christ, more precious and dear to me than gold or topaz, and sweeter than the honey or the honeycomb. Hail! most adorable Blood of Christ, mercifully shed for our sins, and given as the price of our redemption. Hail! Jesus Christ, son of God, may thy power defend me from the snares of my old enemy, and may the prince of darkness meet me not. As thy servant, I pray you make me appear the last in order among your saints."

Saying these words, he received the Body and Blood of Christ. Then, when lifted into bed, with eyes and heart directed towards Heaven, where all his hopes were centred, his happy soul flew to bliss. There for ever his spirit shall enjoy the beatific vision of God.

Tressan seems to have spent a great part of his life, in the diocese of Rheims, near the River Marne. And, at the very moment, when his spirit was exhaled to Heaven, a most fragrant odour spread around, so that those who were present declared, nothing they had a sense of before could be compared to it.

Having thus distinguished himself by his great piety and various miracles, on the Ides or 7th day of February, the priest of Christ, Tressan, finished his temporal agony, to receive a good and an eternal reward, from the Supreme Remunerator. The priests and others, who were present at his death, began to arrange for his interment. It was proposed to deposit his remains in the Church of St.Hilary, at Mareville, as he had so long served the Lord in that place. Yet, when the attempt was made to lift his corpse, all efforts proved vain. Again, it was thought well to have the coffin brought to the monastery of Altovillarense or Haultvilliers -yet, the trial proved unavailing. Then, it was resolved, to yoke a pair of bullocks to a waggon, and to leave the disposal of Tressan's holy remains to the direction of Providence.

We read in the Old Testament, that the satraps of the Philistines placed the Ark of the Lord on a new waggon, and then yoked kine to it that had sucking calves. The Ark was brought thus in a direct line to Bethsames. Now, as the Ark represents the Church of Christ, and the kine its doctors, so was a holy son, and servant of the Church, brought with tears and requiem psalms, by doctors of the Church, to the very spot the Lord Himself had designated. When the yoked oxen brought that waggon to a certain spot, they were not able to proceed further, and there it was determined to inter the remains of St. Tressan. He died curate of Mareuil, and he was buried at Avenay, in Champagne. This the attendants regarded as decreed by supernatural agency. The Bollandists justly observe, certain writers are wrong in saying, that the bodies of St. Tressan and of his holy brothers and sisters rest in Rheims. The Acts of our saint place his relics at Avenay; and, there is no authentic account of their having been removed. The relics of this holy man are said to be in Pont-aux-Dames, in Brie. In art, he is represented with a budding staff, to indicate the miracle contained in his Acts.

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