Thursday 27 November 2014

Saint Sechnall of Dunshaughlin, November 27

November 27 is the feastday of a fifth-century saint – Sechnall, a bishop associated with Saint Patrick and credited with the authorship of two important hymns found in both the Irish Liber Hymnorum and the Bangor Antiphonary. I have posted a translation of his hymn to Saint Patrick here. Sechnall is perhaps better known under his Latin name Secundinus, and is one of the trio of bishops (along with Auxilius and Iserninus) said to have worked alongside our national apostle. In his commemorative volume of studies on Saint Patrick, scholar David Dumville looks at the name Secundinus and what it might tell us about the man behind it:
Secundinus is a well known Late Latin name, a derivative of Secundus ... Several known fifth-century bishops bore the name and in Gaul it continued to be used into the seventh century when we find bishops of Lyon and Sisteron called Secundinus.

In Irish sources the vernacular name-form Sechnall is found for Secundinus. The equation has been accepted by scholars but the detailed philological history of the loan has never been worked out...

St Sechnall is known as the patron of Dunshaughlin in Co. Meath, a short distance from Tara. His cult seems to have been attested from as early as appropriate sources are available: his feast day is 27 November. ...compound personal names embodying the saint's name were created in the central middle ages.

On this basis, while it would be possible to allow that Bishop Secundinus could have been a literary invention of the seventh century, the existence of the vernacular name (and everything which pertains to it ) effectively disallows such speculation. It is simplest to suppose that Secundinus was a fifth-century cleric (though not necessarily a bishop) who worked in Ireland; it is at least possible that he was a Continental and could thus be assigned to a date as early as the mid-fifth century if we associate him with the Palladian Church. The possibility is not to be excluded, however, that he was a Christian and perhaps a cleric of the earlier time...
D.N. Dumville (ed.), Saint Patrick A.D. 493-1993 (Boydell Press, 1993), 99-100.

Saint Sechnall is honoured in the Martyrology of Saint Aengus with this entry, which mentions his authorship of the hymn in praise of Saint Patrick:
B. v. cal. Decembris.

27. A stream of wisdom with
splendour, Sechnall diadem of
our lords, has chanted a melody
noble profit ! a praise of
Patrick of Armagh.
The later scholiast adds another note on the same theme but attributes the saint's origin to Lombardy and makes him not merely the hymnographer of Saint Patrick, but also his nephew:
27. Sechnall, i.e. from Domnach Sechnall in the south of Bregia.

He spread (?) a road, great his choice,
Sechnall, diadem of our sages,
throughout Erin's host, beautiful, blessed,
the praise of Patrick of Armagh.

i.e. a son of Patrick's sister, i.e. from Domnach Sechnaill in Fir Breg, and of the Lombards of Italy was he. He was sprung from Lombardy, and there his name was Secundinus.
The later Martyrology of Donegal repeats that Saint Secundinus is a blood relative of Saint Patrick, but adds that in the list of parallel saints he is equated with Saint Hilary, another revered episcopal hymnographer:

SEACHNALL, i.e., Secundinus, Primate of Ard-Macha. He was the son of Liamhain, sister of Patrick ; and at Domnach Sechnaill, in Bregia, his church is. The Life of Patrick states, book 2, chap. 25, 3 that Patrick erected a church at the place where Secundinus used to pray alone under a leafy tree, and that the sign of the cross is in that place, i.e., at Topar Mucna, in Connacht, as is understood from the Acts of Patrick.

A very ancient old-vellum-book, spoken of at Brighit, 1st of February, and at Patrick, 17th of March, states, that Bishop Sechnall had a similarity in morals and life to Hilarius, bishop and sage.
We conclude with an account of Saint Seachnall from Father Cogan's 1862 diocesan history of Meath:

The first notice of Dunshaughlin which occurs in our annals a very remarkable one indeed is its connection with St. Seachnall. In fact it owes its origin to this saint, and derives its name from him "Domhnach (Dominica) and Seachnall or Seachlann" - St. Seachnall's Church. St. Seachnall or Secundius was a native of Gall, and son of Restitutus, a Lombard, by, it is said, Liemania, otherwise named Darerca, who is usually said to have been sister to St. Patrick. According to Tirechan's list, Secundinus and Auxilius, his brother, were disciples of St. Patrick, and seem to have accompanied him from the commencement of his mission to Ireland. After a few years they were sent to Britain or Gaul to be consecrated, as, according to the established usage of the Church, three bishops are required for the consecration of another. The Annals of Ulster and Innisfallen remark, at A.D. 439, that the Bishops Secundinus, Auxilius, and Isserninus, were sent this year to aid St. Patrick. St. Seachnall fixed his see at Dunshaughlin, and was reputed a very wise, prudent, and holy man. In the Four Masters he is called "St. Patrick's bishop without fault". So high was the opinion St. Patrick had of him that when he went to preach the Gospel in Leinster and Munster, he appointed St. Seachnall to preside over the converts of Meath and the North. Hence he is called St. Patrick's vicar or suffragan. It is recorded that on one occasion he expressed disapprobation at St. Patrick's extreme disinterestedness in refusing presents from the wealthy, by means of which he could support the religious converts who might be in distress. On St. Patrick explaining his reasons St. Seachnall asked forgiveness, and composed a hymn in his honour which, most probably, was the first Christian Latin hymn composed in Ireland. It has been published by Father Colgan, and republished by Ware, who calls it an alphabetical hymn, because the strophes, consisting each of four lines, begin with the letters of the alphabet, following in order. It appears too in the ancient Antiphonarium Benchorense, a work certainly beyond one thousand years old, which has been republished by Muratori. There are different readings in the various editions, but substantially the same. St. Seachnall's hymn is frequently referred to in our ancient writers, and many favours are promised to those who reverently recite it. After a holy and edifying life, his suffraganship having lasted for six years, St. Seachnall died on the 27th of November, 448, in the seventy-fifth year of his age, and was interred in his own church of Dunshaughlin. He was the first bishop who died in Ireland, and has been held in special reverence throughout the diocese of Meath. As an instance of this, the name Maol-Seachlan (servant of St. Seachnall) was common amongst the ancient Irish (but particularly in the royal race of Meath. The O'Maolseachlains, or O'Melaghlins, who belonged to the great branch of the Southern Hy-Nialls or Clan Colman, took their name from their ancestor Maolseachlain (Latinised Malachias and Anglicised Maiachy), who again took his name from the first Bishop of Dunshaughlin. This name O'Maelseachlain has been Anglicised MacLoughlin since the reign of Queen Anne.

Rev. A. Cogan, The Diocese of Meath Ancient and Modern. Vol. I. (Dublin and London, 1862), 55-57.

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