Thursday 6 November 2014

Saint Cronan of Bangor, November 6

November 6 is the feastday of Saint Cronan, a seventh-century abbot of Bangor, County Down. The entry in the Martyrology of Donegal reads:

CRONAN, Abbot, of Bennchor.

to which the translator has added a note:


There is subjoined, in the later hand, Floruit anno 639, nominatus tum in epistola Joannis 4 Papae, etcetera, referring to the superscription of the epistle preserved in Bede, Hist. Eccl. ii. 19. (R.)

 This is not the only reference to our saintly abbot which has survived. Saint Cronan is the last of the fifteen successors to Saint Comgall to be mentioned in the hymn "Commemoration of our Abbots", preserved in the Bangor Antiphonary. Bishop William Reeves, who translated the text of this hymn, summarizes the early history of the monastery of Bangor and its abbots:

Beannchair.—The abbey of Bangor was founded in the year 559, by Comgall, a native of Magheramorne, in the county of Antrim. He was a contemporary of St. Columbkill, and their respective monasteries bore a great resemblance to each other, both in their discipline, being seminaries of learning as well as receptacles of piety; and in their economy, being governed by a presbyter abbot, and attended by a resident bishop. The titles borne by the superior of this house were Abb Bennchair, 'Abbot of Bangor ', and Comharba Comhghaill, ' Successor of Comgall '. The succession of the abbots is very accurately registered in the Annals, and the names of fifteen are recorded previously to the year 691. At the close of the ancient service-book of this abbey, called the Antiphionarium Benchorense, is a hymn entitled "Memoria Abbatum nostrorum", in which the names of these fifteen abbots are recited in the same order as in the Annals; and this undesigned coincidence is the more interesting, because the testimonies are perfectly independent, the one being afforded by Irish records which never left the kingdom, and the other by a Latin composition, which has been a thousand years absent from the country where it was written. [1]

The Bishop's translation is reproduced by Father O'Laverty in his diocesan history of Down and Connor. It begins:

The holy valiant deeds
Of sacred fathers.
Based on the matchless
Church of Bangor;
The noble deeds of abbots,
Their number, times, and names,
Of never-ending lustre—
Hear, brothers, great their desert,
Whom the Lord hath gathered
To the mansions of His heavenly kingdom.

and ends with:

That Cronan
The fifteenth may lay hold on life,
The Lord preserve him.
Whom the Lord will gather
To the mansions of His heavenly kingdom. [2]

Father O'Laverty notes that the death of Saint Cronan is also recorded in the Irish Annals:

A.D. 688. " Cronan Macu Caulne, Abbot of Beannchair, died on the 6th of November." Cronan was living when the hymn was written, from which it follows that its date is some year between 678 and 688. [3]

[1] Rt Rev. William Reeves, Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore (Dublin, 1857), 153.
[2] Rev. J. O'Laverty, An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, Vol. II (Dublin, 1880), 45-6.
[3] Ibid., 50.

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