Thursday 9 May 2013

Saint Sanctan of Cill-da-leis, May 9

May 9 is the commemoration of an early Irish bishop, who despite being described as 'famous bishop Sanctain' in the Martyrology of Aengus, remains a somewhat obscure figure. The name of Bishop Sanctain has been preserved in connection with a hymn attributed to his authorship in the Irish Liber Hymnorum. He is of interest too because he is said to have been a native British saint, Canon O'Hanlon quotes the sources concerning Sanctain's genealogy which make him the son of a British king and an Irish mother. Trying to identify exactly where in Ireland the saint flourished is more problematic, but I think O'Hanlon is rightly sceptical of the suggestion that he enjoyed a career in Cornwall. He also notes the corruption of the name of Saint Sanctain into that of Saint Anne, the loss of the memory of the ancient bishop obviously made Canon O'Hanlon feel that the publication of his Lives of the Irish Saints had come not a moment too soon. His comments bear witness to the place which the study of the saints and the early Irish church occupied in the 19th-century Irish national revival. I hope to post the text of Saint Sanctain's hymn on the blog in the future.



...Regarding the biographical particulars of this early saint, there is a considerable amount of obscurity. By some writers, he is supposed to be the same as St. Sannan, the reputed brother of our great Apostle, St. Patrick. This identification, however, seems inadmissible; especially, if we acknowledge his father Samuel to have been a king of Britain, and his mother to have been Drechura, daughter to Muredach Munderg, King of Ultonia. It is certain, that Bishop Sanctain flourished, at an early period, since his feast is set down, and with a special reference to his celebrity, in the Feilire of St. Aengus, at this day. The commentator on this Feilire states, that he was of Kill-da-leis; and, he quotes the authority of Aengus for such assertion. This place appears to be unknown, or it has not yet been properly identified. To Sanctain also belonged Druimhaighille, in Tradraighe, as we are informed. Drumlaighille is identified with Drumlille, in the deanery of Tradery, and barony of Bunratty, in Clare County. According to an opinion, [Fr J. F. Shearman] Cill-da-Has may represent Cildalaish, i.e., the Church of Dalaise, or Molaise, now Killalish, in the parish of Kilranelagh, and barony of Upper Talbotstovvn, in the county of Wicklow. There is another place called Killaliss, in the parish of Knockbride, and barony of Clankee, in the county of Cavan. According to another conjecture, Drumlaighille is perhaps identical with Tigh Laigille, in the south-east of Ossory; for, Tradraighe may have been written, by an oversight, for Osraighe; however, the latter seems to us as a mistake, not likely to have occurred. In addition to the notice of this saint, at the 9th of May, in the Feilire of St. Aengus, the simple entry Sanctan of Cill-da-les, is found in the published Martyrology of Tallagh, at that same date. In the Franciscan copy, it seems to read somewhat differently. It is a difficult matter to determine the site of Cill-da-leis; but, a conjecture has been offered, that as Colgan fixes its site in Leinster, it may be no other than the Church of Kildellig, in the barony of Upper Ossory, or Clarmallagh, Queen's County. The Bollandists notice him, likewise, at this day, and quoting the Martyrology of Tallagh, as Sanctanus de Kill-da-leas.

It has been very generally allowed, that St. Sanctan was a native of Britain. It is stated, moreover, that he was a son of Samuel Chendisel, or "the low-headed," who was a king of Britain, while his mother was Dectir, or Dechter, a daughter of Muiredach Muinderg, (red-necked). King of Ulster. A gloss on the Feilire of Aengus, contained in the "Leabhar Breac," gives such a statement, and it is quoted from a prophecy, in the following lines:

"Bishop Sanctain is my beloved.
The Sim of Samuel Chendisel,
Dectir was his mother with stain.
The daughter of Muiredach Muinderg."

His uterine brother was St. Madoc, or Matoc, the pilgrim, who has a festival, at the 25th of April. The latter, however, is related to have been son to Canton, a King of Wales or West Britain, which gives reason to suspect, that these brothers were sons to different fathers, and that their mother had been twice married. According to a statement made, the father of these saints, is thought to have been Selyf, Regulus of Cornuaill, in Armorica, who first married Gwen, and secondly, Dechter, the mother of the saints already mentioned, and thirdly, he married Haurilla. Selyf is said to have been the son of Geraint, son to Erybyn, son of Cystennen Llydaw or Vendegaid, son to Salomon or Salann, Urbain or Yrb, son to Cynan, or Conan Meriadawg, who was grandson to Caradawg ap Bran Vendigaid ap Llyr Llediath. During the time of St. Sanctan, Britain had to suffer from the ravages of war, and from her new invaders the Angli and Saxons. Everywhere, except in Wales and Cornwall, Saxon paganism had trampled down the British Church. Idol temples had sprung up, with their unhallowed rites and sacrifices. Even, in the strongholds of British power, the tide of invasion, without severe struggles, could not be stemmed back, or the ministrations of religion be kept alive. To such circumstances, perhaps, may largely be attributed the influx of many Britons, who landed and settled, on the eastern coasts of our own country. The Saxons fell upon the British provinces, wasting them in a terrible manner; towns and fortifications were demolished; churches and houses were burned; horrible cruelties were exercised in all places; while, great numbers of the Christians, clergy, and people, were put to the sword. Both the holy brothers already named left Britain, and emigrated to Ireland. According to tradition, Matoc preceded his brother Sanctan, in the date for arrival. Sanctan remained some time, at the school of Cluain Iraird, now Clonard, in Meath, where, we may expect, he made great progress in learning. Afterwards, he set out to join the community of his brother, Matoc, then settled in Inis-Matoc. This place has been identified with Inis-Maedhoc, or Inis-Mogue, an Island in Templeport Lake, county of Leitrim. Other accounts have it, that Inis Matoc may be identified with Inis-Fail. St. Sanctain is said to have spent most of his time in Ireland, but we know not how long he remained with his brother Matoc. It is thought by some, that the present St. Santan, or Sanctain, selected a place for his retreat, situated in the wild and picturesque valley of Glenasmole, under the Dublin Mountains. From him, it went by the name of Cill Easpuig Sanctan. Whether Cill-da-les is identical with that denomination, or otherwise, has not been very clearly demonstrated. In mediaeval times, that place among the Dublin Mountains acquired the name of Temple-Sanctan; and, it also bore the designation of Kill Sanctan, Kilmesantan or Kilmasanctan. In our own day, it still retains the correct rendering Kilnasantan. It lies within the ancient territory of Hy Dunchada. Here, a religious community appears to have flourished, at least to the middle of the tenth century... The scenery around is truly magnificent, while the church itself nestled under the higher slopes of the Dublin Mountains. Near it is the locality of Bohernabreena, which is Anglicized, " the road of the Britons". Here, St. Sanctan probably founded a community; and, perhaps, many of the religious brethren were Britons, living under his rule. Moreover, St. Sanctan composed a celebrated hymn, in the Irish language. Copies of this are yet preserved, in the "Liber Hymnorum," belonging to the Fransciscan Convent, Dublin, and in another Codex, bearing the same title, among the Manuscripts of Trinity College, Dublin. An introduction to this hymn, as found in the Franciscan copy, states, that it had been composed, on his way from Cluain-Irard, to Inis-Matoc. It is also remarked, that before this time, Sanctan was completely ignorant of the Scottish language; but, that he miraculously obtained the gift of Irish metrical composition. Yet, the time when he composed that hymn is uncertain. The cause assigned for composition of this poem was, that he might be preserved from his enemies, and that his brother might admit him among his religious in the island. The Irish of this hymn, with an original translation into English, has been published, in the First Series of the "Irish Ecclesiastical Record." It breathes a fine devotional spirit throughout, and it contains a pious invocation, to the three persons of the Most Adorable Trinity.

In the St. Isidore Manuscript, "Liber Hymnorum," after this hymn follows a short poem, in the Irish language, in honour of Bishop Sanctain, and it is couched in three stanzas. These are also preserved, in the Liber Hymnorum, which belongs to Trinity College, Dublin; and, this contains some verbal different readings from the former. Wliile the hymn of St. Sanctan has been published in the "Goidilica;" the hymn in praise of Bishop Sanctain has been omitted, although preserved in the "Liber Hymnorum," belonging to Trinity College. It has been stated, that an Irish Abbot, named St. Sennen, accompanied St. Burianna into Cornwall, where in the fifth and sixth centuries many holy Irishmen and women were engaged, in propagating the faith, while leading religious lives. There is in Cornwall a small port town and parish, named from St. Sennan; and, tradition says, that this saint went thither from Ireland. Having died there in his hermitage, a church was believed to have been erected over his remains. In his Life of St. Wenefreda, John Capgrave states, that this hoiy virgin was interred there and near St. Sennan. According to one opinion, it is not improbable, that the present saint was identical with the Cornwall St. Sennan. To us, however, it would seem more likely, that Sanctain passed his latter days in Ireland. He flourished, during the sixth century ; but, no record appears to have been preserved, to determine the date for his death. St. Sanctain's well is still extant, at Glenasmole ; but, by a very curious misconception of a name, derived from the original founder, Killnasantan has been converted into Kill-St.-Anne. Thus, the memory of the ancient Cambrian Saint has been displaced, within the present century; although, it seems to have remained for ages previous, in popular veneration. The ancient patron has been now forgotten, since, by a facile adaptation of sound, Sanctain has been converted into St. Anne. During late years, a beautiful Catholic Gothic Church has been erected in the neighbourhood ; and, under the prevailing error, it has been dedicated to St. Anne although, as being near the ancient site, it is obvious, that it should have been dedicated to the patron St. Sanctain. A well-informed writer has observed, that there is unfortunately, now-a-days, an unhappy tendency, to pass over the old historic landmarks, regarding the veneration of our old Irish saints. To cultivate an acquaintance with their lives, and with the history of the times in which they flourished, should be the best means to keep alive a wholesome spirit of nationality and of faith, the preservation of which, under the most adverse circumstances, is the chief glory of our native land. Another church, connected with St. Sanctan, was Cill-Sanctan, near Coleraine, in Antrim, and now called Mount Sanctan. The old church site is extant, in the townland of Fishloughan.

At the 9th of May, Marianus O'Gorman has recorded the festival of St. Sanctan. We read in the Martyrology of Donegal that on this day was venerated, Sanctan, son of Samuel Ceinnisel, Bishop of Cill-da-les. We are told, likewise, that Dechter, daughter to Muireadhach Muinderg, King of Uladh, was his mother, and that she was also mother of Matoc, the pilgrim. Under the respective headings of Cill-da-les, and of Druim Laighille, Duald Mac Firbis enters Sanctan, Bishop, at the 9th of May...

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