Saturday 7 December 2013

Saint Buite of Monasterboice, December 7

The monastic site at Monasterboice, County Louth is most famous today as the home of the Cross of Muiredach, one of the finest examples of a 'Celtic cross' to be found in Ireland. Less well-known perhaps is the founder of the monastery, Saint Buite, who flourished in the sixth century. His feast on December 7 is well attested in the Irish calendars. The Martyrology of Oengus records for this day:

7. With the passion of Polycarp
with his noble, streamy train,
the bright feast of victorious Buite,
from treasurous Monaster(boice).
 to which the later scholiast has added some notes attempting an etymology for the saint's name:
of Buite, from Manistir in Mag Breg. Buite, i.e. living. Or bute, i.e. fire as is said in the proverb bot fo Bregaib 'fire throughout Bregia,' whence is now said butelach, i.e. where there has been a great fire.- Or bute quasi bete, from beatus. Beatus autem dicitur quasi bene auctus, for fair was his aggrandizement, a star manifesting his conception, as happened at the manifestation of Christ. Or bute quasi beo De, for unto God (Dia) he was alive (beo), as hath been written' 'they which live shall not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again,' doing in this world, not their own will, but His who suffered for them. 
Bute son of Bronach, son of Balar, son of Cass, son of Nia, son of Airmedach, son of Fergus, son of Isinchan, son of Fiacc.

The Martyrology of Donegal follows the attempts to explain the derivation of the saint's name, but adds that in the list of parallel saints Buite is likened to the Venerable Bede:

BUITE, i.e., Boetius, Bishop of the Monastery. It was in the year of our Lord 520 that he died, i.e., the day on which Colum Cille was born, as stated in the Life of Buite himself. Buite, son of Bronach of Mainister-Buithe, was of the race of Connla, son of Tadhg, son of Cian, son of Oilioll Oluim. A very ancient old-vellum-book, mentioned at Brighit, 1st of February, states that Buite, son of Bronach, and Beda the Wise, had a resemblance to each other in habits and life. 
“The bright festival of Buite the Victorious” 
Buite that is, he is called Beo or Buite, which signifies 'fire' ut in proverbio dicitur, & etc. Bot fo breghaibh, (Fire under liars), unde dicitur hodie 'Butelach', i.e., ubi fit magnus ignis. Buite, however, is quasi Beti ab eo, quod est beatus. Beatus autem dicitur, quasi bene auctus vel aptus for it was a great increase of honour to him that a star manifested his birth, as it manifested the birth of Christ. Or Buite, quasi Beode, because God was life to him : sicut scriptum est, “Qui vivunt jam non sibi vivant sed ei qui pro ipsis mortuus est, et resurrexit; non suam seculi in hoc mundo voluntatem [facientes], sed ejus qui pro ipsis passus est.”

So there is much to discover about 'Buite the fair and vigorous' as the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman calls him. He has thus joined the long list of saints about whom I need to undertake more research. In the meantime though, here is a short introduction to his life from an early guide book to the area:


 Home of Ireland's Crosses

The story of Monasterboice dates back to the sixth century, but like so many other settlements of that period, the facts available regarding its construction and inhabitants are few. It is known, however, that the monastery was founded by an ecclesiastic named Buite, a descendant of one of the chieftains of Munster.

He lived until the year 520 A.D. so it is considered more than likely that he, at some stage of his youth, came into direct contact with St. Patrick. He travelled extensively through Italy, Germany and England before beginning work on the Monasterboice monastery on his return to Ireland.

In the course of his travels throughout Ireland Buite is said to have cured many people, sometimes in the strangest ways. Once, a blind man, carrying a cripple, pleaded with Buite to cure them of their infirmities and were told to anoint themselves in the water through which his carriage had passed. They did so and were cured.

On another occasion while hastening to save the life of a captive of the High King he found the river Boyne, which he had to cross, swollen in flood. But when he struck the water with his staff a passage was cleared for him and, like another Moses, he crossed safely.

To his dismay he found the prisoner had already been beheaded. But, Buite proceeded to replace the head and restore the man to life. Legend has it that thereafter the restored man spent the remainder of his days tending the monastic garden at Monasterboice.

Many other stories are told of his works which resulted in cures for people and animals. But, perhaps the strangest of all was the manner in which Buite is reputed to have died. Walking one day in the monastery cemetery he was filled with a desire for death and he is said to have ascended a ladder provided by angels.

The other monks watched in amazement, but Buite returned with a disc of glass in front of his face which enabled him to see without being seen. He remained with his monks for several more months and before he died foretold of the coming of St. Colmcille, who it is thought, was born on the same day.

K. MacGowan, The Boyne Valley (Dublin, n.d.), 23-4.

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