Wednesday 1 July 2015

Irish Saints in July

Below is another of Magdalen Rock's useful articles on saints of Ireland commemorated in the various months of the year. For July she has again chosen a selection of saints ranging from the well-known - Declan of Ardmore - to the more obscure - Edana. I particularly like her inclusion of female saints and of saints who laboured in Europe. I suspected that the name Magdalen Rock was a pseudonym and saw on an online genealogical site dealing with the Beck family that it was the pen name of a County Tyrone schoolteacher, Ellen Beck (1858-1924). She took the surname from the Tyrone village of The Rock.

Irish Saints in July.


OF the many Irish saints venerated during the month of July none have attained the world-wide celebrity of Columba or Columbanus, though Saint Killian and his two companions, who won the martyrs' crown in Wurzburg on the Maine, are honoured over Franconia, of which district Killian is acknowledged the apostle.

The chief information concerning this saint is derived from the Venerable Bede and from continental sources. He was born in Ireland and embraced monastic life while still young. Trithemius says that he was a monk in Iona, and afterwards governed the famous monastery as abbot. Killian was appointed bishop without any specified diocese prior to setting out for foreign lands. Perhaps the fact that there was constant intercourse between Ireland and the country of the Franks induced the saint and his companions to travel eastwards. At any rate the zealous missionary first rested at the monastery founded by his fellow-countryman, Florentius, who later on became bishop of Strasburg. From the banks of the blue Moselle the saint proceeded to Rome for papal authority to convert the heathens, and this he received from Pope Conon, who had just succeeded to the chair of Peter. The Pontiff, we are told, "gave thanks joyfully," and bestowed on the Irish exile all necessary facilities for his holy work of preaching the faith in Wurzburg. When Killian set out for that city he was accompanied by the priest, Colman, and Totnan, a deacon; both shared the saint's labours, and with him won the palm of the martyrs, and they are honoured on his feast day.

By the time Killian reached the scene of his future labours he had become acquainted with the language of its inhabitants. His eloquence was so great and persuasive that multitudes flocked to the trio for instructions. Many converts were made, and the fame of the saintly bishop at last reached the ears of the occupant of the ducal throne. Gospert was a just and unusually enlightened man, and, when Killian came in answer to his summons, he received him respectfully, and listened attentively to the instructions of the missionary. Nor did the duke accept the new faith till he thoroughly understood it, but then he accepted it heartily and humbly. Many of the nobles followed the example of their master, and became Christians. But during the period of his instruction Duke Gospert had learned that his marriage with the beautiful and imperious Geliana, the widow of his brother, was illicit, and he at once decided to part from the lady. From the moment Geliana knew of the duke's resolve she determined to be revenged on the bishop. An opportunity soon occurred. Gospert was obliged to go to war with a neighbouring prince, and in his absence the vindictive woman engaged some ruffians to murder the bishop and his two companions. He and the priest and deacon were engaged in prayer in the middle of the night when the murderers arrived.

But the awful crime was not to be hidden. The duke returned from war, and marvelled greatly at the strange disappearance of the missionaries. "Like thieves they came, like thieves they departed," Geliana said when questioned. One of the murderers went mad, and in his madness confessed his share in the crime, and told where the dead bodies were buried in the stable. The wicked Geliana died a raving lunatic soon after.

Many miraculous cures took place at the graves of the martyrs, and Saint Burchard removed the relics from their first place of honourable burial to the Church of Our Lady, where they were temporarily interred. Later when Buchard had obtained papal sanction for the public veneration of the holy remains they were placed in the new cathedral of the Saviour. Later still they were entombed in a vault of the cathedral erected on the spot where the martyrdom of the trio took place.

Longfellow tells of the legacy left by the troubadour, Vogelweide, to the monks of Saint Killian for the purpose of providing a meat at noon for the birds that collected about the churchyard:

From these feathered songsters
I have learned the art of song;
Let me now repay the lessons
They have taught so well and long.

The New Testament of Saint Killian was preserved in Wurzbutg cathedral till 1803, when it passed to the library of the university.

The martyrs won their crowns towards the end of the seventh century, and their feast day, the eighth of July, is observed with much solemnity by the Catholics of Wurzburg.

Saint Declan, one of the few pre-Patrician saints of Ireland, is the patron saint of that part of southern Ireland known as Decies. Even at the early period of his birth Christianity had found a foothold in the maritime parts of the island whose people had frequent intercourse with Britain and Gaul. Declan was baptised by a priest named Colman, and afterwards educated by a holy man who had spent a long period abroad. When his studies ended the young man proceeded to Rome. How long he remained in the Eternal City is not known; at any rate he not only became a priest, but received episcopal dignity from the sovereign Pontiff ere he returned to his native land. Tradition says that on his homeward journey he met Saint Patrick travelling to Rome, and that the meeting between the saints was friendly and affectionate.

Legend tells how Declan and his companions found on the coast of northern Gaul a little barque without sails or crew that bore them safely to Ireland. During the saint's stay in Rome he had obtained miraculously some say a small black bell which he gave to the care of a noble Roman youth named Lunanus, whose memory is yet venerated in the Isle of Man. In the hurry of embarkation the bell was left behind on a bit of rock which detached itself from the mainland, and following the small boat passed it and led the way to the south coast of Ireland, where it stayed its course by the cliffs of Ardmore, in what is now County Waterford. "Here," said Declan, “shall I wait the resurrection.”

Some of the pagan inhabitants of the district were opposed to the saint and his comrades settling in their midst, but at a touch of Declan 's staff the waters of the strait parted, and on a narrow peninsula so formed the saint erected his poor little oratory and cells. The strip of land is yet noted for its extraordinary fertility. Many converts were made by the saint, and men came from far away to listen to the preaching of the zealous missionary.

When at length Saint Patrick arrived to undertake his great work he and Declan again met, and the latter humbly put himself under the spiritual jurisdiction of the new-comer. The monastery and school founded by Declan grew and grew till a busy city sprang up around it. Only in the thirteenth century was the diocese of Declan added to the See of Lismore.

Many miracles are ascribed to the saint. Once Patrick sent a messenger to Declan, and the poor man was drowned in crossing the river Suck. When the saint heard of the catastrophe he hastened towards the stream, and saw the dead man, whose body had been recovered from the water, lying cold and stiff. Declan commanded him in the name of the Holy Trinity to rise, and the dead man sat up and was conveyed to the monastery, where he finally recovered. Soon after the saint passed to his reward, and was interred in his own oratory. His feast occurs on the twenty-fourth of July. The lands of Ardmore and its monastery passed at the time of the Reformation to the famous and unlucky Sir Walter Raleigh.

On the fourth of the month two Irish saints are honoured. One is Saint Bolcan, a disciple of Saint Patrick, whose remains rest in the monastery he founded at Kilmore; the other bears the common name of Finhar, and is not to be confounded with the more famous saint of that name who was first bishop of Cork.

The Church honours on the fifth day of July Saint Peter, Cardinal-Bishop of Luxemburg, and two Irish virgins. Saint Modwena led a religious life in her own country before she went to England, at the invitation of King Ethelwold in 844. The monarch confided to her care his daughter Editha and founded for Modwena a convent in Warwickshire. Saint Modwena is greatly honoured in Scotland, where she established religious houses at Edinburgh and Stirling. In her old age she retired from the government of the Warwickshire convent, of which Saint Editha became abbess, and prepared for death, living as an anchorite in an island of the river Trent. When the magnificent abbey of Burton-on-Trent was founded in the eleventh century it was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and Saint Modwena, and the relics of the latter were deposited there from the tiny islet where she had been buried.

Saint Edana is titular saint of a parish in Elphin and of another parish in the diocese of Tuam. Many cures were ascribed to the waters of her well in ancient times.

Saint Moninna of Mount Cullen died on the sixth of the month, on which day her feast is kept. Beyond the fact of her living a lonely and penitential life little is told about her.

The feast of Saint Idus, who was instructed by the national apostle, is observed on the fourteenth of the month. He later ruled a diocese in Leinster, and his name appears in some of the old Irish prayers attributed to Saint Moling.

On the twenty-second of July Saint Dabius is honoured. He laboured as a confessor both in Ireland and Scotland, where a church is dedicated to him at Kippau, in the Highlands. He is titular saint of a parish in Down.

Saint Nissen was baptised by Saint Patrick, and on his ordination was appointed abbot of the monastery of Mountgarret, in Wexford. He is honoured in that district on the twenty-fifth of the month.

Saint Turninus, whose feast is on the seventeenth of July, was one of the Irishmen who accompanied the famous Saint Foillan first to England, and afterwards to the Continent. The scene of his missionary labours was in the neighbourhood of Antwerp, where he died worn out by his apostolic zeal towards the close of the eighth century. His relics were long preserved in a monastery near Liege.

Irish Rosary, Volume 25 (1921), 544-547.

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