Friday 31 January 2014

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Maidoc Dispenses Poetic Justice

Another day, his cook came to St. Maidoc and said: "To-day we have nothing left in the store-room but a small vessel of milk and a little butter; shall this be given to our guests ?" Our saint replied: "Give in abundance to all, as if you had drawn from a mountain." His command was obeyed, and on that night all were helped abundantly. Some imposters and deceitful persons, having hidden their garments in the woods, afterwards presented themselves to the bishop, asking means for clothing themselves. Our saint then said: "Wait awhile, until you receive what you ask for." The holy bishop then sent his servant to where their clothes had been hidden, without those impostors having been made aware of his intention. On returning with the garments, which the schemers recognised as their own, they immediately departed in disappointment and confusion.

Note: January 31 is the feast of Saint Maidoc (Aidan) of Ferns. A post on his life can be found here. The saint seems to have left as many accounts of his miracles as there are variants of his name and above is one of these miraculous episodes, taken from Father Colgan's Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae and brought to us by Canon O'Hanlon on page 563 of Volume One of his Lives of the Irish Saints.

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Thursday 30 January 2014

Saint Anmchad of Fulda, January 30

January 30 is the feastday of a tenth/eleventh century Irish saint who lived as a recluse at the monastery of Fulda in Germany, Anmchad. He is associated with another Irish saint, Marianus Scotus, the Chronicler. This is not Marianus Scotus (Mac Robertaigh) of Ratisbon, whose feast is coming up on 9 February, but a slightly earlier saint of the same name who also flourished in Germany.


While this saint is usually called Amnichad, Amnicadus, and Annuchadus, the more correct forms for his name would seem to be Anmchad, Amnuchadus, or Anmichadus. The Irish were accustomed to call persons by this name Anmchad, as well during as long before Colgan's time. By Cratepolius, our saint is incorrectly named Annuchardus or Annuchadus, and by Ferrarius, Annichadus. A particular noble family was called Siol Anmchadha, having derived its origin and name from a certain Dynast, called Anmchad. It possessed a district of country in southern Connaught, which bordered on the River Shannon's western bank. It has been supposed that our saint was a member of this family, which was one of considerable antiquity. The Acts of St. Amnichad have been placed on record, at this day, by various hagiographical writers. Thus in four paragraphs, the Bollandists have given some notices of this saint. Colgan has also celebrated his memory, and has derived his information from different sources.That our saint was born, probably before the end of the tenth century, appears from this circumstance of his having been first a monk in Ireland; and that afterwards he lived many years as a recluse at Fulda, where he died before the middle of the eleventh century. That he was a native of Ireland is proved by Marianus O'Gorman and Florence of Worcester, in their respective Chronicles.

The Siolnamchad, interpreted "Anmchad's race," formerly occupied part of Galway county, adjoining the River Shannon, and now including Longford barony. Our saint is thought to have been a scion of this particular family. By Colgan this is supposed to be probable, for the following reason. There was another holy man descended from this family, who was celebrated for his learning and piety, and who was bishop of the church of Clonfert, situated in the same part of the country. His death is recorded in the "Annals of the Four Masters," at A.D. 1117, where he is called, "Anmcha O'hAnmchadha, Bishop of Ard-fearta Breniaun." He is also said to have been patron saint of the O'Maddens. Again, the Island of Iniskeltra, in which our saint was educated, is situated between two well-known provinces of Ireland, Connaught and Munster. This holy monk lived, not far from the Island of Iniskeltra, on the Shannon. It was probably the reason for his religious profession under the will and guidance of the Abbot Corcran, who then presided over the establishment at Iniskeltra. It is presumed, that this was the Corcran,who wrote a poem on the relics and virtues of St. Gormgal of Ard-Oilean. This monastery of Iniskeltra was insulated by its founder, St. Camin. Amid the wide-spreading waters of Lough Derg, he lived about the middle of the seventh century, and his foundation flourished in great repute for many succeeding ages.

Florence of Worcester relates, that on a certain occasion, some guests arriving at this monastery, Corcran appointed our saint to exercise the duties of host or entertainer. After partaking of food, some of those guests retired, while others remained warming themselves at the fire. These persons asked for some drink, biit this being a demand, not perhaps conformable with established discipline in the house, our saint, with much reluctance, assented to their request. Previous to his compliance, however, he sent some of this drink to obtain the blessing of his superior. Being interrogated on the following day by Corcran, to elicit his reasons for acting in this manner, our saint related the request which had been preferred to him, and his subsequent compliance with it. To punish him for such a breach of discipline, the abbot ordered his disciple to leave Ireland, and to become an exile in a foreign country. Our saint immediately obeyed this severe injunction, and sailed for a distant land. As a monk he travelled to Germany, and entered Fulda or Fulde monastery. Thus embracing the Benedictine rule and discipline, which had been established in this religious enclosure, he lived there as a recluse, and shut up in a stone cell, avoiding all intercourse with the world. He continued for a long time in a state of complete abnegation and holy self-sacrifice. While in this retreat, our saint was a perfect model for all the religious brethren, being remarked for his strict adherence to rule, his perfect obedience, his profound humility, and his rigorous penances. His soul seemed to aspire, without restraint, to the contemplation of heavenly things; he endeavoured in all his prayers and meditations to exclude distractions caused by worldly thoughts and concerns. Passing such kind of life, he attained an advanced age; and finally, he departed to the haven of his rest and his aspirations, on the 30th day of January, A.D. 1043. This is the day assigned for his natalis and festival, according to the generality of writers, but Cratepolius says, a feast occurs in his honour at the 1st of February. Ferrarius assigns to him a festival on both the days already mentioned. St. Amnichad was buried at Fulda, or, as sometimes written, Fulden.

Sixteen years after this death of our saint, his more celebrated countryman, Marianus Scotus, the Chronologist, succeeded him as a religious in the monastery of Fulda, and relates in his writings, that for ten years he daily celebrated Mass over the tomb of St. Anmichad. He says, moreover, that supernatural light and heavenly psalmody were frequently seen or heard above the place of our saint's sepulture, during this same period. He even declares, a certain religious brother of the monastery, named William, prayed in his own hearing, that our saint would bestow a blessing upon him. During this same night, in a vision, Amnichad appeared, resplendent with celestial light. Standing on his tomb, the blessed apparition gave a blessing with extended hands to the monk. This was related to Marianus by the brother himself, after its occurrence. During the whole night, when this vision took place, the Chronographer declares, a most agreeable odour was diffused through that chamber, in which he reposed. We are thus taught from the example of this holy penitent,, how even slight faults are to be atoned for, when, as Marianus O'Gorman learned from his superior, Tighernach—or as called Tigernach Borchech —an offence of such a nature caused Anmchad's exile from his native country. This Tighernach is supposed to have been a saint, according to the Martyrologies of Marianus O'Gorman and of Donegal, and not that celebrated Annalist bearing the same name, and who flourished much about the same period, yet a little later in point of time. Marianus Scottus, the first who has written regarding this saint, says at 1043, 'Animchadus Scottus monachus et inclusus obiit 3. Kal. Februarii in Monasterio Fuldensi." Florence of Worcester also writes, "Anno 1043. Animchadus Scotus Monachus et inclusus in Fulda obiit." Trithemius in " Chronicon Hirsaugiensis," places his death in the same year, and in his work, " De viris Illustribus," lib. iii,, cap. 244, remarks of this saint, " Moritur an. Domini 1043, tertio Calend. Febr." The English Martyrology says, that he died on the 30th of of January, about A.D. 1043. Wion, also, assigns the death of this saint to the 30th of January, 1043. Besides those already cited, Camerarius, Dempster, and others are of accord. See Colgan's "Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae," xxx. Januarii. Vita S. Anmichadi, cap. iii., iv., pp, 205, 206, and nn. 5, 6, ibid.

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Wednesday 29 January 2014

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: The Miracle of Loch Leamnachta

January 29 is the feast of Saint Blath, cook to Saint Brigid of Kildare. Although no details of the life of Saint Blath have survived, she is mentioned in the hagiography of her famous abbess in connection with a miracle concerning some unexpected episcopal visitors and a dearth of milk. The miracle of Loch Leamnachta provided the inspiration for writer Alice Dease, in her 1911 work Good Women of Erin, to try and give a little more substance to the person of Saint Blath. In this story aimed at the younger reader, she portrays Blath as a shepherd girl who encounters the holy Abbess of Kildare and develops a deep longing to join her. Although the story of the hungry visiting bishops is retained from the account of the miracle, in her fictional version Dease makes Blath, the humble cook, the heroine rather than Brigid, the illustrious Abbess. Indeed, Saint Brigid is depicted as having forgotten that the milk supply for the day is already exhausted. I have edited the story slightly for length, but the original can be accessed online at the Institute for Irish American Studies at Lehman College, where you can also enjoy the wonderful woodcut illustrations:

The Miracle of Loch Leamnachta

WHEN St. Brigid first went to the Plains of Leinster to found her great convent under the shelter of the oak forest, there were no dwellings for many miles round the spot where she chose to build her church and her cells. The forest glades and the grassy plains round about the oak-trees were given up to flocks of sheep and of cattle, and the only human beings that were ever seen in the neighbourhood of Kill-Dara, until the coming of St. Brigid and her nuns, were the women and the girls who herded the cattle and watched the sheep. Amongst these shepherdesses there was a maiden whom her companions called by the name of Blath, which means a flower. She had won for herself this name by her great love for the wild-flowers that grew amongst the grasses on the plain, but there was another reason which made this name doubly suitable to her.

One day when her sheep were resting quietly in the shade of the oak-trees, Blath wandered away from them, going hither and thither in search of the flowers that she loved. She had picked a great bunch of daisies, when suddenly she was startled by the sound of footsteps, and, looking up, she saw some dark figures approaching her, clad in flowing robes unlike anything she had ever seen before. For a moment she was afraid, and she would have fled, clasping her flowers to her, had it not been that a second glance at the face of the foremost of the strangers chased away all fear, and made the peasant-girl stay where she was, motionless, in wondering admiration .

“Come hither, little maiden," said the beautiful lady ... Come and tell us your name, and what you are doing in this lonely spot."

“My name is Blath," replied the shepherdess, hanging her head till her soft cheek touched the white petals of the dog-daisies she carried, "and I am minding the sheep that are resting away there,"

"Blath," repeated St. Brigid, for it was the holy Abbess who was on her way to Cill-Dara to found her convent, who had spoken to the maiden- “Blath! You are well named, little one, for there is great likeness between your innocent face and the pretty flowers that you carry in your arms,"

“Do you think they are pretty, too?" asked Blath, for the soft voice had made her forget her shyness. "The other girls laugh at me for loving them." Then, holding them out with a sudden movement, " Please, lady, take them. I-I would like to give them to you." And St. Brigid took the flowers, and bade their little namesake to try ever to keep her own soul as spotless as the petals of the flowers that she loved.

[The story continues with Blath observing the construction of the monastery at Kildare and the steady stream of women wishing to take the veil there]

The little shepherdess watched these maidens with envious eyes. Ever since St. Brigid had spoken to her in the forest and had accepted her flowers, Blath had longed to win her notice once again, to hear her speak, as she had done that day, of God and of His great love for innocent hearts, to serve her, and, through her, to serve her Master. But, as time went on, and the convent-bell reminded the little shepherdess several times in the day to join her prayers with those of the nuns, who were praying in the chapel by the oak, a purer, more perfect wish to serve God began to take root in her heart. She longed to have some great thing to give up for His sake, as the noble maidens had who entered the convent almost daily, and for a long time she did not dare to offer the only things she had -her heart and her life- for His service.

Then, one day, she again met St. Brigid, and, falling on her knees, Blath begged to be received into the convent as the last and least of all the Sisters. St. Brigid at this time was about to make a new foundation at a little distance from Cill-Dara, at a place where some land had been given to her on the borders of a small lake, and, wishing to try the little shepherdess, she told her that there was no work for her to do at Cill-Dara, but if she liked to go to the new convent and ask there for admission, St. Brigid would ask the Prioress to take her in, to work in the kitchen. Blath had pictured to herself long hours spent in prayer in the church that she loved at Cill-Dara, but when she heard the holy Abbess's decision, her first feeling was one of joy that she should have this sacrifice of her own wishes to offer to God, and her only answer was a prayer to be allowed to go without delay to the new convent.

The Sisters whom Blath was bidden to help, found her so meek, so diligent at her work, and so obedient to them and to the rules of the house, that before very long she was allowed to take the veil, and then, after the usual novitiate, she made the vows that bound her, of her own will, to the service of God for ever.

St. Brigid used often to come to the convent, for she was Abbess both of that house and of Cill-Dara, so that Blath, who, as time went on, was given the whole charge of the kitchen, had the joy of serving the Mother she loved so much.

One day, when St. Brigid was at the convent, eight holy men came to see her and ask her advice. They had travelled a long way, and were weary and exhausted, and as soon as the Abbess had greeted them, she sent word to Sister Blath in the kitchen to make ready a repast for the travellers, and to be sure that they were provided with plenty of milk to assuage their thirst, which was very great after their long and toilsome journey. But, in ordering this repast, St. Brigid had forgotten that the poor people who were always coming to the convent to beg for alms and for food had been given everything, down to the last piece of bread that was in the larder.

Once some of her nuns had complained to St. Brigid of her great charity to the poor. "Little food have we," they said, "from thy compassion to everyone, and we ourselves in want of food and raiment."
"Give earthly things to God," St. Brigid had made answer, "and He will give you heavenly things in return."
And from that time no one had dared make any complaint as to her generosity.

But poor Sister Blath, turning from the empty shelves of the larder, went to the dairy, hoping at least to be able to fulfil a part of her Superior's orders, but the last drop of milk had also been given to the poor, and there was nothing to be seen but a row of empty pails and pans.

Whilst Sister Blath was wringing her hands in the empty dairy, a messenger came to her, bidding her hasten at least to take the milk to the holy prelates, who were consumed with thirst.

The holy cook, who, even while working, kept her heart raised up in prayer to God, felt now that only God Himself could help her to obey these orders, and, going on her knees, she begged of Him to tell her what to do. Whilst thus she prayed, it suddenly came into her mind that, although the cows had only lately been milked, she might, perhaps, be able to get from them enough to allay the worst of the travellers' thirst.

No sooner had this thought come into her mind than she rose to her feet, seized the largest of the milk-pails, and went out to the pasture where the cows had just been driven. Still praying, she began to milk one of the cows, and immediately her pail was filled to overflowing with the sweetest and richest of milk. Without even waiting to put the milk into a pitcher, Sister Blath, overjoyed at the marvellous success of her prayers, went straight to the presence of the Abbess and her guests.

The holy men partook gladly of the foaming milk, and then one and all besought St. Brigid not to have anything prepared for them to eat, because their hunger as well as their thirst had been well satisfied by the milk, which was sweeter and more refreshing than anything they had ever drunk.

There was still a little milk left in the pail after the prelates had slaked their thirst, and, going back to the kitchen, Sister Blath found a crowd of beggars waiting for the alms that were never refused to them, as long as there was anything left in the convent to give. " I have nothing to-day except a cup of milk for one or two amongst you," said Sister Blath, and, on hearing this, all of them crowded round her, hoping to be one of the lucky ones who would receive the milk.

Dipping a cup into the pail, the Sister handed it to the beggar who was nearest to her, and then to one after another she gave the same dole, until, like the travellers, everyone was satisfied, and it was only then that the pail was found to be dry and empty.

As soon as she was alone, Sister Blath fell upon her knees to thank God for having allowed so wonderful a thing to happen in answer to her prayers, but she was so humble that, had it not been for the beggars, no one would ever have known what had happened. As it was, however, they told how the drop of milk in the Sister's pail had been enough to feed them everyone, and when this was told, then Sister Blath made known how she had got the milk.

The little lake on the shores of which Sister Blath had milked the cow was known from that day as Loch Leamnachta, which in Irish means the lake of the milk. And when St. Brigid heard of what had happened, she thanked God for having helped Sister Blath to keep her heart as pure and unspotted as the flowers from which she took her name, for if this had not been the case, her prayer would not have been heard in so wonderful a manner.

It is only for His Saints, for those who are holy, and humble, and pure of heart, that God deigns to work such miracles as this, and St. Brigid prayed that Sister Blath might continue to be saintly on earth, so that some day she might take her place amongst God's own Saints in Heaven.

Alice Dease, 'The Miracle of Loch Leamnachta' in Good Women of Erin: The story of their heroic lives and deeds (Benziger Bros., New York, 1911), 44-52.

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Tuesday 28 January 2014

Saint Comman Lobhar, January 28

January 28 is the commemoration of one of the many obscure Irish saints, for whom our only source is the recording of his name on the Irish calendars. In the case of Saint Comman though, he has a couple of epithets attached to his by the seventeenth-century compilers of the Martyrology of Donegal. First is the word Lobhar, 'leper' and secondly is the patronymic 'Son of Laighne'. The earliest Irish calendar, the late eighth/early ninth-century Martyrology of Tallaght, simply recorded the name of Comman. All Canon O'Hanlon can do is to bring the information from the calendars in the third of his articles of the day in Volume One of his Lives of the Irish Saints:
St. Commain or Comman Lobhar, Son of Laighne.
Commain's name, without any other description, is found in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 28th of January. From the compound name entered in a later calendar, Lobhar or "Leper," it may be assumed he had been afflicted with leprosy. On this day, Comman Lobhar, son of Laighne, is entered in the Martyrology of Donegal.

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Monday 27 January 2014

Saint Naile (Natalis), 27 January

The Martyrology of Donegal records for today:


'NAILE, of Inbher-Naile in Tir-Baghuine, in Cinel-Conaill; and afterwards Abbot of Cill-Naile and Daimhinis in Feara-Manach. He was a son of Aenghus, (son of Nadfraech, son of Core, son of Lughaidh,) who was king of Munster; and Eithne, daughter of Crimhthann Cosgrach, was his mother, according to his own Life.

It was to him God gave water from the hard stony rock, when great thirst had seized him and Maedhog of Fearna, with the monks of both; when he made a distant cast of his crozier at the hard stony rock, so that a stream of pure spring water gushed therefrom; just as this spring is now to be seen at Cill-Naile, according to Naile's own Life, chap. 10. The Life of Colum Cille, chap. 90, states that Naile came into the presence of Colum Cille for the first time, at the Inbher, and that Colum Cille and Naile blessed the place, and that it is from Naile the church has been thenceforth named.'

A translation of an Irish Life of this saint, the Betha Naile, is available through the CELT project. It begins, as is common in the lives of many of the Irish saints, with a description of the unusual events surrounding the birth of the saint:

Now to this Eithne appeared a strange and wondrous vision. (She dreamed) that she was pregnant, and her delivery imminent, and that of this pregnancy a sturdy dog-whelp was born, which was washed in milk, so that therefrom every quarter and nook in Ireland was filled with milk and lactage.

So then they passed the time of their reign right prosperously, without trouble or lack; and the queen became pregnant, and of her pregnancy was born a notable birth of a son. And when they were minded to take him to be baptised, an angel appeared on the horn of the altar in the presence of them all, and said to them in a loud clear voice: 'Let the name of Naile be given to the young child; for verily this golden candle shall be holy, and everyone will believe on the fair patron saint.'

The saint demonstrates his virtues even in childhood:

So then the young child was nurtured after this, and assuredly every word he uttered was full of grace from the royal angel. And at the end of his seven years the steadfast patron saint was assuredly a doctor in the seven liberal sciences owing to his persevering study. And then the angel ordered the weighty clerk to go to Colum Cille in order that a mother church complete might be consecrated for the young child, and a place in which he might make his abode with his clergy and with his sacred bells.

The encounter of the great Saint Colum Cille with the child prodigy is presented as a meeting of equals:

And Naile set out on this holy errand (or holy instruction) with his retinue of clerks in attendance. Now Colum Cille, son of Feidlimid, son of Fergus Cennfada (long-head), son of Conall Gulban, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, was then at fresh-featured Inber Naile, reciting his psalms, and chanting his 'Beati' and devoutly praising the Creator, with the clerks of Leth Cuinn (Conn's half, i.e. northern Ireland) about him, when they saw the slow-stepping bell-hallowed troop approaching them, and a young fresh modest tree in the centre of the clerks to instruct them fairly, and a thousand reverend angels haunting them unfailingly.

And when Colum Cille and his clerks looked on Naile with his noble troop, they fell on their knees before him. And when Naile saw this honour paid to him by the crimson-penned primate of the sweet pater-nosters, he hastily sank on his knees to the ground out of reverence to the lofty patron saint. And they eagerly kissed each other three times, to wit, Colum Cille and Naile; and the clerks also joined in welcoming him;

The young Naile then devotes himself to the monastic life:

So then Naile spent part of his life in Inber Naile modestly, piously, devotedly, in mighty works, and he fashioned there a church for labour, and an oratory for hard devotion, wherein to nobly recite his psalm-reading, and to mightily praise his Lord; so that the relation of the mighty works of the saint was a destruction to the great sin and to the misbelief of high Erin.

until another great monastic saint, Molaise of Devenish, County Fermanagh, is looking for a successor:

So then it was at this time and hour that Molaise of Devenish came as venerable high legate, with twelve saints of his household round about him in place of the apostles. Thereupon a dangerous sudden illness seized Molaise on the spot, and he was commending himself to God and the good saints without ceasing. And the clerks said: 'To whom dost thou leave thy place, O great patron saint? or who will act as a divine son to instruct us duly, to blot out our sins, and direct our theology?'

For Molaise, the choice is obvious, but should there be any question, all doubts will be resolved by a miracle:

'To whom in sooth should I leave it?' said Molaise, 'save to the steadfast ready-witted tree, and the godly devout candle, even to my disciple and good brother, to wit, Naile the nobly intelligent; and if ye believe not that the clerk has been duly chosen by me and by God, this sweet-voiced intact bell which is under my head will leap into the bosom of the man for whom the place is fitting.'

So then after this mutual discourse, his soul departed from his body, and his soul was carried without doubt to fill up the nine orders of angels. And as they were preparing his funeral rites, and the saints were in bright attendance on him, then came Naile to the place where he (Molaise) was. And while they were there, the sweet-voiced fair wonder-working bell leaped from (under) the head of Molaise in presence of the clerks, and settled on the breast of the holy clerk;

Before long, word of the sanctity of Naile reaches another saint:

Now when Maedoc heard of the many and various miracles of this saint, Naile, and that he was a proper worthy saint in the place of Molaise, he sent messengers to him to confirm the close compact, and to establish the fair faith which had been between Molaise and Maedoc. And this was the definite special place agreed on by the pure patron saints, to wit, the rich bright-gleaming Disert na Topar (Hermitage of the Springs), which is now called Cell Naile (Naile's Church) of the noble judgements , and which had assuredly a further name, Cluain Caem (the Fair Mead) till Dathernoc (Ternoc) occupied the princely place.

Ternoc, however, rather foolishly offends Saint Naile:

So then Naile came with his numerous clergy, and Maedoc with his monks to keep this tryst to the fair church with its wonder-working bell. And Naile took his seat with his numerous clergy on the summit of the high hill, with his back against a pillar-stone above the place. And a mighty thirst seized him on the spot; and he called Flannan, son of Fiachna, son of Fergus, to him, and bade him to go without long delay to ask speedily for a drink. And Flannan went on this errand, and asked a drink of Ternoc for his lord. And Ternoc refused and denied the request, and spoke to this effect: 'As I have produced water by my miracles and mighty works, so the head of the faith and devotion of Leth Cuinn shall do the like.'

and receives the reward for his hubris:

And Flannan departed in great perturbation at this answer, and made his report to his master. And Naile was furiously angry at this response, and this is how he was, with his ever-wonder-working staff erect in his right hand; and he hurled the finely carved staff across three full ploughlands (?), so that it went speedily under the fixed stones of the land. And Naile said furiously: 'Follow my staff, O Flannan, and take with thee my stone-red cup of polished form, and wherever the staff shall enter the ground seek there for water for our patron saints.'

And Flannan set out on this commission, and unhesitatingly took the cup; and this is how he found the staff, stuck in a huge infrangible rock, and a pure-cold stream of blue water burst forth instantly and spontaneously after it. And he dipped the cup into the fair water, and lifted the staff out of the solid earth, and proceeded untiringly to Naile, and related the miracles to the clerks and gave a drink of the good water to Naile.

Ternoc decides that now might be a good time to show a little contrition:

So then when Ternoc saw these weighty miracles, and Naile furiously punishing him, the patron saint proceeded on his knees from the sunny fountain where he was, to the hill where Naile was with his clerks, and thus addressed him: 'O divine loving tree of fair behaviour, O steadfast pious blazing candle, O royal gracious saint, do not deprive me of heaven through thy great miracles.' Naile answered without bitterness in these words and said: 'I do not deprive thee of heaven, O holy clerk; but I will deprive thee of this place, where thou didst obstinately refuse to us patron-saints (a drink of) cold water. And I leave to thee that to whatever district thou shalt move, and in whatever place thou shalt occupy a church, where its priest shall be preaching, and its good clerks continually praying to God, wolves will be burrowing in thy cemetery, and foxes routing in it with their snouts.'

and the pair enter into an extraordinary contest of curses:

And Ternoc answered these heavy sayings, and spake thus: 'I leave (to thee) to have no sheep in thy fair church.' Naile replied and said: 'I leave thee jealousy of the keepers of the sheep for their fair fleeces.' 'I leave,' said Ternoc, 'fleas to plague you afresh, and mice to ravage you speedily.' Naile answered and said: 'I relegate the fleas to the dense fens, and the mice to the wide woods.' And Ternoc spake and said: 'I leave the bloom of (only) one night on your rushes.' And Naile said: 'I leave rushes up to the door-posts in the high place; and I leave excellences in the smoothe church, to wit, to be one of the three hearths of most hospitable service in the land of mild miracles, Breifne; to wit, the hearth of my holy church, the great wonder-working hearth of Maedoc, and the ever grace-endowed hearth of Bricin.'

There can, of course, be only one winner:

So then after the confirming of their covenant by Maedoc of the sweet speech and Naile of the fresh form, and after the hasty departure of Ternoc, Naile remained behind ordering the fair church, and levelling its cemetery, and strengthening its oratories, and ennobling its altars, and making ready its monuments, and consolidating its crosses, and cleansing the side of its fountains, so that thereafter it was a church angelic, golden-belled, heavenly, noble, of sacred beauty, divine, charitable, intelligent, hallowed.

In the remaining part of the Beatha Naile, Saint Columcille makes a reappearance, battling a sea monster and causing 'Senach the ancient smith' to make a wondrous bell for Naile. Saint Naile, however, remains a dangerous man to cross, as the unfortunate organizers of a feast discover. They leave our saint off the guest list and he is not at all pleased:

And the dispenser of the glittering feast was black-browed Murchad of whom are the family of Murchad...And it chanced that Naile and his company of clerks were not remembered. And it occurred to Luan and to Murchad that Naile and his clerks had been carelessly forgotten. And when Naile heard that he had been forgotten in the matter of this good feast, the steadfast, cautious, wise, true-judging tree, and the pious, loving, humane spirit was angry and furious; for he did not think that even a small portion of his tax or tribute would be maintained to his bells or his clerks after him, if it were violated so early as this.

A third party, Tigernach, offers himself as an honest broker between the outraged Naile and the now fearful Luan and Murchad. He begins by assuring Naile that the true culprit is Murchad, but Naile's wrath is not easily appeased:

And Naile said without delay: 'I curse that Murchad with his descendants; defect of carving on his carving, and on himself, and on his families after him.' And Luan said right promptly: 'The decision of Tigernach shall be accepted right promptly by myself, and by my family after me.' And Naile said that he would accept the judgement of Tigernach in the matter. And this was the judgement which Tigernach pronounced to Naile in this cause: a tithe of the banquet and a tithe of all hospitality outside his chief place from himself (i.e. Luan), and from his family after him, to Naile, and to his chief relics after him. And as part of the same agreements, protection for the red hand (i.e. murderer) to his asylum and to his bellhalidoms.

The manuscript ends at this point.

This account of a saint cursing his enemies and displaying a concern for the reputation and holdings of his monastery is perhaps rather shocking to the modern reader. Modern scholarship has established a context into which such episodes can be placed and is something which I intend to address in a future post. If nothing else though this aspect of hagiography acts as something of a corrective to the cuddly image of our native saints so often presented in popular works on 'Celtic spirituality'.  Saint Naile continues to be commemorated in both the northern counties of Donegal and Fermanagh, and perhaps that is just as well!

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Sunday 26 January 2014

Saint Ernen the Bishop, January 26

One of the main difficulties in researching the Irish saints is the fact that so many of them bear the same name. It is thus not always possible to be definitive about the identities of the individuals. This is true of the Saint Ernen (Ernin, Earnán, Earnín) commemorated on January 26, one of twenty-five saints who bear this name identified by Canon O'Hanlon from the Irish calendars. His list, taken from one of the footnotes in the Lives of the Irish Saints, reads as follows:

1.St. Ernan, son of Eoghan, at the 1st of January.
2. St. Ernain, of Cluain Deochra, at the 11th of January.
3.St. Ernain, son of Caomhan, same day.
4.St. Ernain of Tegh Ernan, at the 17th of January.
5. St. Ernain, bishop, 26th of January.
6. St. Ernin Cass, of Lethghlinn, at the 23rd of February.
7. St. Ernin, at 28th of February.
8. St. Ernin, bishop, at 12th of April.
9. St. Ernin, at 12th of May.
10. St. Ernain, son of Aedh, at 16th of May.
11. St. Ernin, of Creamhchoill, at the 31st of May.
12. St. Ernin, of Cluain, at the 4th of June.
13. St. Ernin, of Cluain-finn, at the 28th of June.
14. St. Ernin, at the 1st of July.
15. St. Ernin, of Inis-caoin, at the 13th of July.
16. St. Ernin, of Cluain-Railgheach, at the 5th of August.
17. St. Ernain, at the 17th of August.
18. St. Ernin, i.e., Memog, of Rath-noi, at the 18th of August.
19. St. Ernin Ua Briuin, at the 27th September.
20. St. Ernan, of Miodhluachra, at the 26th of October.
21. St. Ernan, at 27th of October.
22. St. Ernin, Abbot of Lethghlinn, at the 12th of November.
23. St. Ernin, son of Dubh, at the 13th of November.-
24. St. Ernin, son of Senach, at the 14th of December.
25. St. Ernin, at the 23rd of December.

Our saint is number 5 on this list and the lack of further details does not deter the good Canon from starting off his account for the day with some confidence:

St. Ernen or Ernin, Bishop. 

We have no means left for discovering the time when or the place where this holy prelate lived. But we may rest assured he was a man who had been elevated, not as the result of any selfish ambition, but by the sheer force of an innocent and a holy life, of a great and mighty mind, and of immeasurable devotedness to the cause of our glorious Church. In the Franciscan copy of the Martyrology of Tallagh, the name of Ernen, bishop, is to be found in the entries for this particular date. In the Martyrology of Donegal, on this day, occurs the name of Ernin, bishop. No further light is thrown on his acts.

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Saturday 25 January 2014

Saint Aedh of Lisgoole, January 25

The commemoration of Saint Aedh (anglicized Hugh) of Lisgoole, on Lough Erne, County Fermanagh features on a number of Irish calendars, but he is one of those saints for whom no other details seem to have survived. Canon O'Hanlon summarizes the sources:

On this day, we find entered in the Martyrology of Donegal, Aedh, bishop, of the now deserted Lisgabhail, on Loch Eirne. This place is Anglicized Lisgool, " the fort of the fork." It is situated on the west bank of Lough Erne, a short distance to the south of Enniskillen. Only S. Aedha, Epis., without any further distinction, occurs in the Martyrology of Tallagh, on the 25th of January. A monastery is said to have been erected here in the early ages of Christianity, and a St. Aid or Hugh was here invoked. A religious establishment existed here until within a comparatively recent period. Also under the head of Gabhuil, Duald Mac Firbis, enters Hugh, Bishop of Lis-gabhuil, on Loch Erne, at the 25th of January. This townland of Lisgoole, is in the parish of Rossory, barony of Clanawley, and county of Fermanagh.

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Friday 24 January 2014

Saint Manchan: His Church and Shrine

Below is a paper from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record on Saint Manchan and his Shrine, it does not present the saint's life in so readily-accessible a form as last year's entry  from Canon O'Hanlon, but there are some interesting points nonetheless. I was particularly intrigued by the reference to the claim that the Apostle James had come to Ireland and written his canonical epistle here. I have explored this theme a bit further in this post. I was also interested to see the author suggest that Saint Manchan may be the author of the "Wonders of the Scripture," a text once attributed to Saint Augustine but now acknowledged to be of Irish authorship. I hope to post something about this text and its author the 'Irish Augustine' in the future too. 


ABOUT three miles north-east of Ferbane, King's County, skirting the main road to Clara, may be seen the site of the once celebrated monastic establishment founded about the middle of the seventh century, by St. Manchan, of Liath. Standing on a low swell, an armlet of well-reclaimed bog, it gently rises above the extensive moors with which it is almost surrounded. Here, in the midst of scenery of a character altogether desolate and lonely, but poetic and sublime, are to be found what remains of the Church and house of Manchan. Both repose beneath the shadow of one of the "Seven Fair Castles" of MacCoghlan of Delvin Eathra, and within sight of St. Columb's famous Durrow, and the now celebrated Intermediate College conducted by the Jesuits at Tullabeg. Lemanaghan was originally subject to the jurisdiction of Clonmacnoise, having come out from that great centre of religion, science and art, as a monastic foundation.

Like so many others of our once famous abbeys, it had its origin in royal munificence, as the following passage taken from the Annals of the Four Masters will clearly show:

"A.D. 645, the battle of Carn Conaill (probably Ballyconnell, in the vicinity of Gort, Co. Galway), was gained by Dermot, King of Ireland, over Guiare, King of Connaught, in which the two Cuans were killed - viz., Cuan, the son of Enda, King of Munster; and Cuan, the son of Connell, Chief of Hy-Figente; and also Talmnack, Chief of Hy-Liathin. Guaire was routed from the field. On marching to the battle King Dermot passed through Clonmacnoise, and the congregation of St. Kieran prayed to God for his success, and through their prayers he returned safe.

" After the King's return he granted Tuaim-n-Eirc, i.e., Liath Manchan, with its divisions of land, i.e. (all the lands included under that name), as an Altar Sod or Altar land, to God and St. Kieran, and he pronounced three maledictions on any future King of Meath if any of his people should take (with violence), even so much as a drink of water there."

MacGeoghegan, in his translations of the Annals of Clonmacnoise, gives much the same account: "The battle of Carne-Connell, in the Feast of Penticost, was given by Dermot MacHugh Slane, and going to meet his enemies went to Clonvicknoise to make his devotion to St. Queran, was met by the abbots, prelates, and clergy of Clonvicknoise in procession, where they prayed God and St. Queran to give him victory over his enemies, which God granted at their requests, for they had victory, and slew Cuan, King of Minister, and Cuan, King of Feiginty, and so giving the foyle to his enemies, returned to Clonvicknoise again to congratulate the clergy by whose intercession he gained the victory, and bestowed on them for ever Foyminercke, with the appurtenances, now called Lyavanchan, in honour of God and St. Queran, to be held free, without any charge in the world, in so much that the King of Meath might not thenceforth challenge a draught of water thereout by way of any charge."

It was thus Clonmacnoise obtained the ownership of that place, a spot afterwards celebrated through its connection with him who established thereon a monastery. The personal fame and greatness of its founder and patron was the occasion of acquiring for it a new name viz., Liath Manchan a name by which not alone the group of monastic ruins, but the entire parish is called and known even to this day.

The founder and patron of this old monastic establishment was Manchan. Considerable uncertainty, however, surrounds his identification, for there were several saints of that name. In the Irish calendars, records are to be found of twelve distinct festivals set apart to honour saints called Manchan. Just as there have been many saints called Ronan and Lasera, so, too, there have been several Manchans. Of these the more celebrated were Manchan, Abbot and Bishop of Tomgraney, County Clare; Manchan, of Dysart Gallen, Queen's County, who was called the wise Irishman. The remains of his church and monastery are still to be seen in a sequestered and romantic valley, surrounded by scenery of a character charmingly picturesque and lovely. But Manchan, of Liath Manchan, was the greatest of them all. Ware states that amongst the alleged works of Richard Fitzralph, Archbishop of Armagh, was a Vita Sancti Manchani.

It is even said that Ussher had it in his hand, but Dr. Todd and others searched for it in Ussher's Library and failed to find it. Some say it is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. If so I hope yet to read it. Meanwhile, I shall set down now what appears to be certain from present available sources regarding Manchan of Leinanagh.

The Annals of Clonmacnoise state "it was erroneously affirmed that Manchan was a Welshman, and came to this country with St. Patrick." It seems good then to set down his pedigree to disprove their allegations. Manchan was the son of Failve, who was the son of Augine, who was son of Bogany, who was son of Connell Galban, the ancestor of O'Donnell, as is confidently laid down among the genealogies of the saints of Ireland. It is, moreover, certain that he was a very learned man, at least in the Scriptures and Theology, for he was called the Jerome of Ireland, being "very like unto him in habits of life and learning. He wrote a book entitled the "Wonders of the Scripture," which is still extant in the third vol. of St. Augustine's works, and is falsely ascribed to him. Several writers assert that James, the Son of Zebedee, propagated the Gospel in Spain and the western countries, and came to Ireland and wrote his canonical epistle there. Manchan denied all that, and held that the epistle was written by James, Son of Alphoeus, and that neither of the Apostles of the name of James ever left their own country. "He slew James with the sword, and set the people to seize Peter also." (Acts xii.)

Besides he was a poet of a very high order, having composed that charming poem -
" Would that, O Son of the living God!
O eternal, ancient King!"&c., &c.

O'Flaherty quotes another poem of Manchan's, beginning with the words, "Since Idols were expelled."

It appears to be beyond all doubt that he was very highly venerated in his time for learning as well as sanctity, for Tigernach, the earliest of our annalists, having recorded his death as Bishop and Abbot, speaks of him as one of the most eminent persons who fell victims to that great mortality which, sparing neither sinner nor saint, prevailed in Ireland about the year 661.

It is thus recorded in the Annals of Clonmacnoise " A.D. 661, Enos of Ulster and St. Manchan of Leith, together with many other princes, bishops and abbots, died of the said pestilence." It was called the Buidhe Connail, or yellow plague. The Four Masters record his death at the year 664, but they are generally three, and sometimes five years later than the Annals of Clonmacnoise.

Archdall, after placing the death of St. Manchan, the patron of Lemanaghan, under the year 661, adds, under the year 694: "We find another St. Manchan of Leth, who lived after this year." For this he refers to Colgan, Acta, S.S.,p. 382, but the year 694 there is only a misprint for 664, which is the date of the Four Masters, from whom Colgan translated the passage. Petrie thinks Archdall’s mind was a blunt one.

In the year 1838 Mr. Petrie visited Lemanaghan, and he tells us in the record of his visit that he sketched the original church and oratory of St. Manchan, and found it to be only twenty-four feet in length, and fifteen in width. He added that "it presents to the antiquary an interesting characteristic specimen of the architecture of the seventh century." The parish church still remains, and is situate in the village of Lemanaghan, and in tolerably good preservation. It is of much larger size and of later age, as is observable from its ornamented doorway, which exhibits unmistakable features of the architecture of the eleventh or twelfth century.

Not far distant are three holy wells, to which the blind, lame, and persons afflicted with other chronic diseases come on the anniversary of the patron saint's death, the 24th January.

A togher or paved causeway leads to one of these wells, and extends further on by several yards, until it reaches the low swell on which is to be seen the cell which St. Manchan built for his mother. The antiquarian will be much interested on reaching this spot. This road, which resembles in many respects that leading from the Seven Churches to the Church of the Nuns, or Dervogail’s restored Church, is paved with large flag-stones. At the end of it you come upon an old Cyclopean building, surrounded by an ancient Mur, or wall of earth, faced with stonework.

The enclosure is rectangular and measures fifty yards by thirty-six.

About the centre of this enclosure stands a rectangular cell of extreme antiquity, measuring about eighteen by ten feet, the walls being over three feet in width or thickness. The doorway is squareheaded. The lintel passes through the entire thickness of the wall. There is no sign of any mode of hanging or fastening a door the sides are inclined, and there is no window in the sides of the building. This is the cell which tradition states Manchan built for his mother, St. Mella.

How appalling was not the rigor and severity of sanctity in those days! Ivy now mantles this curious cell, and the enclosure or Cashel is planted with trees.

But the most interesting object of all connected with this celebrated monastic foundation is the shrine of St. Manchan. Scrinium Sancti Manchani, the Annalists declare to have been called, opus pulcherrimum quod fecit opifex in Hibernia.

This venerable shrine certainly holds a conspicuous place amongst Irish ecclesiastical antiquities. Being a monument of very high antiquity, it cannot fail to awaken at all times a lively interest amongst antiquarians, affording, as it does, an illustration of a class of objects formerly numerous, but now very rare. " It was covered by Roderick O'Conor, and an embroidering of gold was carried over it by him in as good a style as a relic was ever covered in Ireland." - Four Masters.

There is, and always was, an intimate connexion between shrines, reliques, pilgrimages, and processions. The shrine containing a relique was at first a plain chest of wood. Gradually it became the subject of more or less ornament in proportion to the veneration attached to the object it contained. Shrines originally portable, thus became in course of time large and stately structures, and were set up in churches for the veneration of the faithful. The origin of shrines is traceable to a very remote period. The Israelites, for example, when they were departing from Egypt, took with them the bones of Joseph (according to his own direction) and kept them during their many years' journeyings into the promised land. When the dead man was restored to life on. touching the bones of the Prophet Elisha, when diseases departed and evil spirits went out of them, to whom handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched the body of St. Paul were applied ; the foundation was laid for that veneration which found one mode of expression in the decoration of the shrine. The veneration amongst Christians for reliques and shrines began in the Apostolic times. St. Ignatius, who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, and who is believed to have been the child that our Lord took in his arms, was martyred at Rome, A.D. 107, and his bones were afterwards collected and placed in a napkin, and carried to Antioch, and preserved as an inestimable treasure left to the Church. Likewise, after the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who is commended in the "Revelations," and who was a disciple of St. John, the Christians who were present at his death, A.D. 147, took up his bones more precious than the richest jewels and tryed above gold," and deposited them where it was fitting, and probably in some secure depository until they could be honorably enclosed in a shrine.

In Ireland, the use of shrines is contemporaneous with the introduction of Christianity. So great has been the veneration in which our ancestors held them, that in spite of the wars and revolutions of so many centuries, a few well authenticated examples are still to be seen amongst us. And there are many places in Ireland which have been called Skryne or Skreen, owing to the bones of some saint having been deposited there in a shrine. The shrine of St. Colomba, per varios casus per tot discrimina rerum - the chief object for so long a time of the roving and murderous northmen's search was brought from Iona to Ireland for safety. Walafridas Strabus thus writes of it: -

" Ad sanctum venere patrem pretiosa metalla
Reddere cogentes queis sancti sancta Colombae
Ossa jacent, quam quippe suis de sedibus, arcam
Tollentes tumulo terra posuere cavato
Cespite sub denso gnari jam pestis iniquae
Hanc praedam cupiere Dani."

In England, Durham and Canterbury possessed the most celebrated shrines, viz., those of St. Cuthbert, the Venerable Bede, and Thomas a Becket.

By the order of Henry VIII. both were despoiled, when that of Cuthbert, an Irish saint, was broken open, the Commissioners, to their amazement, observed the body of the saint entire and uncorrupt, arrayed in his pontifical vestments. Dismayed, they stopped short, until they learned the king's pleasure. When it was known, the body was buried beneath the place where the shrine had been.

Scott, following the popular traditions regarding the concealment of St. Cuthbert's reliques in some part of Durham, wrote the following: -

"Where his cathedral huge and vast
Looks down upon the Wear,
There deep in Durham's Gothic shade,
His relics are in secret laid;
But none may know the place,
Save of his holiest servants three,
Deep sworn to solemn secrecy,
Who share that wondrous grace."

In England, nearly all the shrines were broken and plundered at the time of the Reformation. Those of Edward the Confessor, and of St. Werburgh, remain, and are preserved at Westminster Abbey and Chester.

In Ireland, the destruction was not so complete, owing to the tenacity with which its ever faithful Catholics clung to their faith. Its shrines, reliques, and consecrated objects, they guarded as the apple of their eye. It is honorable to our national character to have preserved, in spite of the strongest temptations, with such becoming fidelity, those sacred deposits, and over so many generations after they had lost their other possessions. But to return to the shrine of St. Manchan. It is preserved in the Chapel of Boher, near to the Prospect Station, on the Great Southern and Western Railway to Athlone. It was formerly kept in a small thatched building used as a Chapel in the penal times. Local traditions state that the Chapel was burned, but the shrine was miraculously saved from the fire. It was afterwards cared by Mr. Mooney, of Doon, who finally placed it in the hands of its natural and best guardian and protector, the Parish Priest for the time being, where it now rests.

Like Colomba's shrine, it has travelled much, but under different circumstances and from different causes. It has been at two of the great Exhibitions in Dublin. It was at one of the great London Exhibitions, and it was at one of the great Exhibitions of Paris, held during the reign of Napoleon III., who sent a gold medal to the then Bishop of Ardagh, Dr. Kilduff, of happy memory, in consideration for the loan of so valuable a relic. The following is the inscription on the medal :

Exposition Universelle
Histoire du travail pour services rendus.

In the lapse of time it has lost some of its original ornaments, but a fair idea of what it was in its perfect state may be gathered from the fac-simile (No. 1857) by Dr. Carte, to be seen in the Gold Room of the Royal Irish Academy. In this fac-simile the deficient parts have been restored from those which remain. In form this very valuable relic (four hundred pounds sterling were offered for it, but they would not sell it for money) resembles that generally belonging to the ancient Ciborium, and usually represented by the top of the stone crosses. Some think the form of this ancient shrine was adopted in imitation of the high pitched stone roofs which covered the ancient cells of the Saints in whose memory and honor they were made. Its material is of yew, and artistically covered with brass-work, inlaying of ivory and enamelling. On each of its two sides are crosses formed in the centre, and extremities by five large cups or paterae. Underneath are to be seen figures in bass-relief, formed of brass also and separate from each other. The figures of one side have been lost altogether, but eleven still remain on the other. There are fifty-two figures missing, which filled in the other six compartments.

The vacant places in the wood of the shrine proclaim their absence. Mr. Graves, in his beautiful essay on this shrine, illustrated by striking and excellent photographs, which are so valuable in connexion with such a subject, observes that he heard on undoubted authority, the servant-maid of one of its conservators, set to work to clean it, and succeeded in scouring off most of its gilding. It reminds one of the fate of the CONG IRISH MANUSCRIPTS, IN VELLUM, SPLENDIDLY ILLUMINATED. One of the figures, however, is in the Petrie Collection of the Royal Irish Academy in the same room with the Crozier of the Clonmacnoise Abbots and the Chalice of Ardagh, objects of much interest to the antiquarian. There is also at present another of these missing figures in possession of his Lordship, Dr. Woodlock, the venerated Bishop of Ardagh.

A learned writer on this subject thus briefly describes this shrine: "The Shrine of St. Manchan is a wooden chest of cruciform figure that is of a wedge resting on its base with the edge uppermost. The two principal sides which slope upwards after the manner of a double reading desk, overlap both the base and the triangular ends or gables." But any description of this Shrine, minus photographic views, can convey only an imperfect notion of its beauty. There is one figure, that of a warrior helmeted and wearing the philibeg or kilt, which deserves a passing notice, for it, together with the other figures, illustrates not only the state of the fine arts in Ireland before the arrival of the English, but, moreover, proves that the use of the kilt was not confined to the Scottish Highlanders, but was common amongst the Irish.

Petrie tells us in his Book on the Round Towers, that before the irruptions of the Danes in the eighth and ninth centuries there were few distinguished Churches in Ireland without costly shrines containing the relics of their founders.

Cogitosus speaks of the two shrines of Kildare and their costly materials. There were, moreover, the shrines of Sts. Bridgid and Ciaran, and Ronan and Comgall, and a host of others. There were the decorations of St. Bridgid's Church, of which Cogitosus tells, and the frescoes at St. Cormac's Chapel, on the Rock of Cashel, not yet wholly destroyed; there were the illuminations of the religious books in which the painter's skill was best known.

There was that copy of the Four Gospels seen by Cambrensis, and so much praised even by him.

There were those beautiful works of art and many others well calculated to excite admiration. But the Annalists say pulcherrimum opus quod fecit opifex in Hibernia fuit Scrinium Sancti Manchani. Surely the words of the great skeptical poet Byron, apply here with double force :

“Even the faintest relics of a shrine
Of any worship wake some thoughts divine."

The following extract from Petrie will, I hope, appropriately conclude my observations regarding this shrine:

"This reliquary, sadly mutilated as it is, still preserves enough of its original characteristic features to enable us to form a correct idea of its primeval, costly and elaborate beauty, and to become intimately acquainted with what may be regarded as the linal development of that phase of Celtic art-ornamentation in Ireland, which has excited such a deep interest throughout Europe in our own time.
"And in this shattered, mutilated shrine we behold an impressive illustration of the final extinction of that graceful imaginative art, as well as that of the Monarchy, which had seen its birth and fostered its development."

Throughout this essay I have assumed that the word Moethail which occurs in the " Annals of the Four Masters," is one of the errors of transcription, or guesses to supply an obliteration, in the Annals of Clonmacnoise, from which they copied the reference to this shrine. Moreover, many writers suppose St. Manchan of Mohil, and St. Manchan of Lemanaghan, to be the same person, and thus he is styled the patron of Seven Churches, and invoked in the Tallaght Martyrology in the following words:

"Sanctum Manchan cum ejus centum et viginta fratribus invoco,
per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, &c."

From what I have written, the following conclusions may be drawn: 1st, Manchan was a practical man, in that he was the builder or promoter and patron of Seven Churches; 2nd, he was a poet; 3rd, having been the most learned man of his day in the Sacred Scriptures, he was therefore a distinguished theologian; 4th, he was a saint. This is a union of qualities rarely found in the same person.


Irish Ecclesiastical Record Volume VII, (1886), 203-213.

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Thursday 23 January 2014

Saint Mocelloc of Telach Olainn, January 23

Last year on January 23 I posted on the life of Saint Maimbod, an Irish missionary to Europe who met a martyr's death. The other saints with whom he shares his feastday are all much more obscure figures. Among them is a saint commemorated in the Martyrology of Tallagh as 'Mocelloc o Thilaig Ualann.' O'Hanlon tells us that the name of this place occurs twice in the Annals of the Four Masters but that the editor, John O'Donovan of Ordnance Survey fame, was unable to identify this place with any modern location. The saint, of whom nothing more seems to be known was also commemorated in the Martyrology of Donegal as 'Mocheallog, of Tualach Ualann'. O'Hanlon himself felt that this location was probably Tullyallen in County Louth:

St. Mocelloc, or Mocheallog, of Telach Olainn, or Tualach Ualann. 

The Martyrology of Tallagh mentions Mocelloc o Thilaig Ualann as having been venerated on the 23rd ofJanuary. Although the name of this place occurs twice in Dr. O'Donovan's " Annals of the Four Masters," yet has it eluded identification with any modern locality, even after the learned editor's research.'' Mocheallog, ofTualach Ualann, is entered in the Martyrology of Donegal,s as having a festival at this date. To the writer, it would appear, that this saint's ancient place may now be found under the modern designation of Tullyallen, a parish chiefly in the barony of Ferrard, county of Louth, but partly in that of Upper Slane in the county of Meath. The old graveyard and ruined church are situated near a rivulet, which trickles down through King William's Glen, and joins the Boyne river, near the obelisk and newly-constructed bridge. The situation is a very elevated and beautiful one, while an ancient road leads from it down to the site of the famous battle. The graveyard is a favourite place for burial, and fine ash trees surround it. The old church measures 65 feet in length interiorly, and 18 feet in width, while the walls are about 2 feet 6 inches in thickness. Two gables, richly mantled over with ivy, still stand ; the side walls only peer a little over the ground level. The doorway in the west gable had been much broken, but it is repaired with modern masonry. In the other gable, the lower part of an eastern Gothic window is broken, but in the upper part some traces of fine mullions are seen.
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Wednesday 22 January 2014

The Daughters of Comgall, January 22


The earliest Irish calendars - the Martyrology of Oengus and the Martyrology of Tallagh- both make reference to a feast on January 22 of the daughters of Comgall - Lassir, Columba and Bogha - and associate them with the church of Glenavy in County Antrim. The origin of this northern church is mentioned in the Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick, where it was first known as Lettir-phadraic but later as Lann Abhaigh. Canon O'Hanlon brings together the evidence from the sources for us before concluding with a triumphal flourish:

The Daughters of Comgall, Colma, Bogha, and Lassara, of Glenavy, County of Antrim.

The Martyrology of Tallagh mentions a festival on the 22nd of January in honour of Comghaill's daughters, Lassir, Columba, and Bogha. Some confusion in rendering their names appears to have crept into our calendars. According to the Martyrology of Donegal, on this day was venerated Colma, also called Columba, Bogha, and Laisri, three sisters. These virgins belonged to the sept, and were daughters of Comhgall, son to Fianglach. They were buried and venerated at Leitir Dal-Araidhe; they were disciples—or, according to another version, foster-children—to Comhgall of Beannchair, or Bangor. According to the poem beginning "The Hagiology of the Saints of Inis-Fail," they are of the Dal m Buain, the race of Eochaidh, son of Muireadh. The place called Lettir in Dalaradia was anciently known as Lettir-Phadruig, after the Irish Apostle St. Patrick, who there first built a church. From the disciple, called Abhac, placed over it, Lann-Abhaich, Lan-avy, and finally Glen-avy, were titles given to this spot. It is a parochial church in the diocese of Connor, and in the ancient territory of Delmunia. It is said, that the present church does not occupy the original site; but that old Glenavy churchyard lay at some distance, in an angle formed by the Glenavy and Pigeonstown roads. Yet this account seems inconsistent with an existing tradition. Glenavy parish is situated within the barony of Upper Massereene, and in the county of Antrim. At a place called Camus Comhgaill, those holy women are also said to have been venerated. This, by others, is also thought to be the spot where their bodies had been interred. The holy virgins' names are included in the calendar compiled by the Rev. William Reeves. They are likewise entered in the Kalendar of Drummond; but, apparently in a most incorrect manner, at the xi. of the February kalends, which corresponds with this date. Thus in early ages, and in the same family, we find many saints, while from the fifth to the eighth century Ireland appeared to realize the glorious vision of a church which St. John had in Patmos.
O'Hanlon also contacted the then parish priest of Glenavy who in a letter dated 2nd May, 1873, furninshed some further local detail which appears in a footnote:
There is no vestige of the old church of Glenavy. A tradition exists, that the Protestant church is on the site of the old one. It is divided by a river from what is supposed to be the old cemetery, where, according to Reeves, were buried the three sisters. These are said to be the sisters of St. Comgall, abbot and founder of Bangor. He came from Maheramorne, near Lame. Perhaps there was a religious house in Glenavy, to which the three sisters retired. There is no ruin whatever on the spot.
Reeves is Bishop William Reeves, an Anglican scholar who produced a most useful volume on the ecclesiastical history of the northern dioceses. He too quotes from the sources beginning with the Martyrology of Oengus on January 22:
" Exitus filiarum Comgalli".
"i.e. at Lettir in Dalaradia they are[buried], and from Dalaradia they are [sprung]".

Their names are given in the Calendar of the Clerys at the same day:

"Colman, Bogha, et Lassera, three sisters, and three virgins, and they were foster children to Comghall of Bangor, and they are [interred] at Lettir in Dalaradia; or [according to others] it is at Camus Comghaill they are [resting]".

Their descent also is given by Colgan : 
"SS. Boga, Colma sive Columba, et Lassara virgines, tres filiae Comgelli filii Fingalacii filii Demaui filii Nuathalii filii Mutalani filii Cantalani filii Fiengalacii filii Niedi filii Buani a quo Dal-Buain, Coluntur in Ecclesia Litterensi in Dalriedia [recte Dalaradia] 22 Januarii".—(Act. SS., p. 471.)

Rev. W. Reeves, Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore (Dublin, 1847), 237.

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