Wednesday 26 August 2015

Saint Fillan of Strathfillan, August 26

August 26 is a second feast day of Saint Fillan of Strathfillan. As I used a Scottish source for the post on his January 9 commemoration, here I will bring Canon O'Hanlon's account from that date. But first, below is the entry for August 26 from Volume VIII of The Lives of the Irish Saints. Canon O'Hanlon is a little tentative about whether the saint commemorated today is the Saint Fillan also remembered on January 9 but the latest scholarly work, A Dictionary of Irish Saints by Pádraig Ó Riain, confirms that today is indeed a secondary feast of the great Scottish saint.

Reference has already been made to St. Foillan or Faelan, Abbot, at the 9th of January. He probably had a double festival. However, the reader is referred to what has been already written regarding his name and place. At the 26th of August, veneration was given to Faelan, Cluana Moescna, as we find recorded in the published Martyrology of Tallagh. In the manuscript copy of this Calendar contained in the Book of Leinster is found a similar entry; while in a marginal note, the commentator has stated in more detail, that place with which he had been connected. The Calendars of Cashel and of Marianus O'Gorman have his commemoration this day. When the monastery was founded at Cluain Mecsna, in the barony of Fertullagh, County of Westmeath, does not appear to be clearly known. In the Martyrology of Donegal, this present saint is designated in like manner, Faelan, of Cluain Moescna, in Fir-Tulach, in West Meath. Whether the present saint is identical with, or distinct from, the Faelan venerated at the 9th of January, cannot be very clearly ascertained, inasmuch as the name has been associated with the same place, although on different days. It is probable, however, we may have only one saint of the name, connected with this place, while two distinct festivals may have been assigned to him.

And now here is the much fuller entry from Volume I of The Lives of the Irish Saints at January 9. Canon O'Hanlon positively relishes bringing us all the details of Saint Fillan's life, miracles and relics, especially the defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314:





THE people of Scotland, as well as those of Ireland, have an ecclesiastical and a civil history, of which they may justly feel proud. This might be allowed, although episodes in the course of narrative are often clouded and infelicitous. A saint, connected with so great a military event as the victory at Bannockburn—attributed to his intercession—must excite an interest, beyond that occasioned by narrating the facts of his Life. Through the virtues and miracles of this holy abbot, Hibernia and Albania acquired new glories. Ireland and Scotland combine most interesting historic associations. The 'Land of brown heath and shaggy wood, Land of the mountain and the flood,' has received no inconsiderable amount of Christian blessings and missionary benefit from the Major and older Scotia.

This holy missionary's name is variously spelt, according to the different authorities cited by Bishop Forbes. It is found written Felanus, Foelanus, Faelan, Foilanus, Fillanus, Filanus, Filane, Phillane, Fulanus. Foilan or Faolan is the more Irish mode of wriiting this saint's name. In Scotland he is known more generally as Fillan, and there likewise his memory is greatly held in regard.

The most detailed narrative of his Acts we can find is that contained in the Breviary of Aberdeen, and in additions to it by Camerarius, Dempster,  Colgan and Bishop Forbes. The Bollandists and Rev. Alban Butler insert, likewise, some short notices of St. Filan, Felan or Foelan, abbot in  Scotland. The father of our saint was named Feradach, Colgan supposes him to have been a prince in the Ulster province, or of some place adjoining. At least, he belonged to the family of Fiatach Finn.  His mother was St. Kentigerna, whose acts and origin have been already treated, at the 7th day of this month. Their son, who has acquired such celebrity in Scotland, was a native of Ireland. In this island he was born, probably towards the close of the seventh century.

The Breviary of Aberdeen recounts a curious story, regarding the saint's earliest infancy. But, we may well question the truth of a prodigy, which is found related in the Chronicle of Paisley, and afterwards by Camerarius. His father, as the legend tells us, considering his child to be a monster, had ordered him to be thrown into a neighbouring lake. There he remained for a whole year, during which time he was sustained by angels. Through a Divine revelation, Foelan was found by a holy bishop, named Ybarus or Ibar, while the infant was playing with these ministers of God, Lifting the child carefully from the lake, Ibar took charge of Foelan's maintenance and instruction in the knowledge of holy things. Where this lake was situated does not appear from the narrative.

Foillan was baptized by this holy man Ibar. He could not have been St. Ibar, who, according to some accounts, flourished in Ireland, before the arrival of St. Patrick, in the fifth century, and who, according to other statements, died A.D. 500. Equally futile is the conjecture of Colgan, that he might have been St. lomhar or Imar Ua h-Aedhagain or O'Hagan, who lived in the eleventh century. Yet, the context of our saint's acts seems to favour a supposition, that all we have hitherto described took place in Ireland, where likewise he made a religious profession, under the direction of another  holy instructor, called Mundus.

When the saint grew up, he was transferred from the care of Ibar, and he was given in charge to this good abbot, named Mundus. Under their joint direction, St. Foilan made great spiritual progress. A conjecture has been offered, that St, Mundus was brother to St. Foilan. The disciple's fame for extraordinary sanctity was not only known to his brethren in the monastery, but it was soon diffused over all the country. Having received the monastic rule and habit from Abbot Mundus, desiring to indulge more in heavenly contemplation, our saint built a cell near the monastery.  On a certain occasion, when supper was ready in the refectory, a little messenger was despatched to announce this news to Foilan. Peeping through a chink in the cell, the servant was surprised to see the blessed monk writing in the dark, while his left hand afforded a clear light to his right hand. This he told to the monastic brethren. Foelan had a supernatural knowledge regarding this secret information; and, by Divine permission, an accident happened to the servant. Although displeased respecting the servant's want of secrecy, yet Foilan was afterwards moved with compassion, and he restored the use of that sight which the messenger had lost.

A great deal of doubt prevails with regard to the St. Mundus, who was the master of our saint. In one passage, Colgan seems to regard them both as the sons of Feredach. But again, he inclines to an opinion, that the baptizer must have been St. Fintan Munnu, and the son of Tulchan. Camerarius more widely errs against chronology, when he makes this St. Mundus, an abbot in the territory of Argyle, in Scotland, and who died A.D. 962. In this latter case, it is easy to understand, that St. Foilan could not have been his disciple, much less, that he could have succeeded Mundus as the ruler of a monastery. A Scottish author says Fillan was brought up in virtue and literature, in the Monastery of Pittenweem, and that a short time before his death he retired to the solitary desert of Tyrus.



When the blessed father Mundus died, by unanimous consent of the brethren, the holy monk Faolan, although reluctant, was elected abbot over the monastery. This he governed wisely, for his virtues and good example instructed his brethren in all holiness, chastity, and humility. Those who believed in Christ, he regarded as true and special friends. He exercised hospitality, through love for God and in the noblest spirit of charity.

After his baptism, and probably during the early stages of youth, St. Kentigerna was careful to rear her offspring in the most tender sentiments of piety. It is said she had a brother, named Comgan or Congan, who, with his sister and her sons, emigrated to Scotland. There he took up his residence, at Loughelch, in Northern Erchadia or Argyle. Here it is thought all lived together for a time.  Again, we are informed, that in obedience to an angelic message, St. Foelan went to his uncle, St. Congan, living at a place called Sirach or Siracht, in the upper parts of Glendeochquhy, or Glendorche. Whether this place was in Ireland or in Scotland has been disputed. But, it must be allowed, there are accounts in the acts of this saint which have been confused, very probably owing to the ignorance of those early waiters who have treated about him and his relatives.

While Camerarius calls the place of our saint's retirement Sira, not far from Glendorchy, this latter district he localizes in Fife, and he associates St. Fillan with Pittenweem. Again the place is called Sirach. On the other hand, Colgan has Cerete, the desert of Sirach, at Glendorche, formerly a forest, on the confines of the counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh, in the Ulster province. Wherever this spot may have been situated, we are told the site for a basilica had been Divinely pointed out to him, with his seven serving clerics. There he was given altogether to prayer, contemplation, and exercises of penance. It would not be easy to account for the great veneration in which St. Faolan was held throughout Scotland, unless he lived for a considerable time in that country. As we know his mother Kentigerna chose it for a place of residence, and, as it is stated, other relations were there domiciled, every motive urges us to believe the present saint selected Caledonia as a theatre for his missionary labours.

While at Glendorchy, St. Foelan, with his little dog, drove away a ferocious boar that had devastated this district. He also converted many of the people there from the errors of Gentilism. While building the basilica at Glendorchy, wains and oxen were used to draw materials. A miraculous occurrence is  related, which enabled the saint to prosecute his good work without interruption. It must be observed, however, that a certain St. Faolan, surnamed "the Stammerer," is stated to have belonged to Rath-Erran, in Alba, and also to Cill-Fhaelain, in Laoighs, of Leinster. Now, it seems just possible, he was really the saint so greatly venerated in Scotland, and to whom so many churches and places have been dedicated. He is also said to have been a leper. Yet, the authority of Bishop Forbes determines the probability of greater celebrity to St. Faolan or Fillan, whose feast is celebrated on this day.

For the most part, Scottish historians endeavour to claim this saint as a native of Scotland. This pretension, however, cannot fairly be allowed. This Colgan attempts to show, but in the effort he seems to admit very inappropriate chronologies. But, it would seem he rather quoted popularly national names to prove the force of historic tradition, in favour of his arguments. First, St. Foelan's mother was Kentigerna, daughter to a king of Leinster, as already appears from the life of this holy widow, and from an account, found in Scottish documents, cited by Camerarius himself Secondly, he was baptized by St. Ibar, who was an Irishman. This Colgan promised to show, in his notes to the acts of St. Ibar, bishop, at the 23rd of April. Thirdly, our saint was a disciple of St. Mundus, who he assumes not to have been a Scottish, but an Irish saint. This would appear, from Colgan's note to the present Acts, as also from a Life of St. Mundus and corresponding notes, which it was intended to publish at the 21st of October. Fourthly, because the natalis of our saint was observed in Ireland on the same day as in Scotland, viz., on the 9th of January, at Cluain Moescna, in the region of Feratulach, according to St. Aengus, to Marianus O'Gorman, the Commentator on Aengus, the Martyrology of Tallagh and Cashel, at the same day. While, therefore, St. Foilan is venerated in Scotland, because he reposed there, he is also reverenced in Ireland, because he was a native and an abbot belonging to our country. Fifthly, the natalis of our saint's sisters, who are called daughters to Feradach, is observed in Ireland, on the 23rd of March. This must appear, from what has been previously observed, and from notes to St. Kentigerna's Life, published at the 7th of January. And lastly, Foelan is expressly numbered among our Irish saints, at the 9th of January, by the Martyrologies of Tallagh, and of Cashel, as also by the Commentator on Aengus. Thus, while Ireland is honoured by his birth, education, and training, Scotland deserves a participation in the honour acquired, owing to his missionary career, his death there occurring, while his tomb and relics had been preserved, with so many great benefits conferred on his adopted country.

St. Foelan seems to have laboured at missionary work in Scotland. Bishop Forbes tells us, that the chief scene of his labours was in the parishes of Glendochart and Killen, in the uplands of Perthshire. There a river and strath are called after him. The saint's cave is yet shown at Pittenweem, in Fifeshire. This seems to indicate his close connexion with the locality.There is a place of worship dedicated to him at the chapel-yard, parish of Largs. In Wigtown there is a Kilphillane. In the parish of Largs, and  in the lands of Skelmorlie or Cunningham, are the lands of St. Fillan's Well. There was a chapel of St. Phillane, within the castle of Down, and another chapel of St. Phillane, without the same fortress, on the banks of the Teith. St. Philan is said to have had a monastery, dedicated to him, in Knapdale, where St. Cathaldus was educated. There is a Killellan—a corruption of Kill-Fillan—near Lochalsh, formerly in Northern Argyle, now Ross-shire, where our saint is said to have built a church in honour of his uncle, St. Congan. Srowan has a fair called Feile Fhaolain. There is a parish, called Killallan or Killellan—a corruption of Kill-Fillan—in Renfrewshire, Scotland. Near the kirk there is a large stone, with a hollow in the middle. This is called St. Fillan's Seat; and a little distant from it, there is a spring called Fillan's Well. At the close of the last century, a local minister had it filled up, to prevent devotions there practised. Here there is a fair in the month of January. The time for holding it is called indifferently, Fillan's Day, or Fillan's Fair. The "Kalendarium Drummondiense" states that Felan departed to Christ, in Ireland, on the 9th of January. At the same day, his feast occurs in the "Kalendarium de Culenros," in the "Kalendarium de Arbuthnott," in the "Kalendarium Breviarii Aberdonensis," in Adam King's Kalendar, in Dempster's "Menologium Scoticum," as also in the Scottish entries in the " Kalendar of David Camerarius." Dempster tells us, that his natalis was particularly observed at Lough Levin, and he is called Abbot in Argyle. From some of the foregoing authorities we learn, also, that his office was contained in Nine Lessons.



The exact year of this saint's death cannot be ascertained. Were we to credit Camerarius, he died A.D. 649. But it would seem, this is almost—if not altogether—a century too early. St. Foilan probably died, about the middle of the eighth age. He seems to have departed, on the 9th day of January; and at that date, our native martyrologists' record a festival in honour of a Faelan or Foilan, of Cluain Maosgna, in the territory of Feara-Tulach. Whether or not he must be identified with the present holy man seems open to great doubt. Some of the Scottish historians state, that St. Faolan was buried at Strathfillan. There for a long period his remains were religiously preserved. There too a celebrated fountain, known as "St. Fillan's Well," was held in great estimation throughout Scotland, on account of the many cures said to have been wrought in favour of pilgrims to it. Here a fair was held, and most likely on the day of this saint's festival.

An elaborate notice of the ancient bell of St. Fillan, with two excellent wood engravings illustrating it, has been prepared, by the Right Rev. A. P. Forbes, D.C.L., Protestant Bishop of Brechin. This object of art is very minutely described by the learned dignitary.  In this paper the bishop stated that, when on a visit to Lord Crawford in the autumn of 1869, he met an English gentleman, who told him in a casual conversation regarding the early Scotch Church, that in the house of a relation of his in Hertfordshire there was preserved St, Fillan's bell. The father of that relation, partly in frolic and partly to abolish a still existing usage, had carried it away in the year 1798. The result of this communication was, that ultimately the bell was handed over to the custody of Lord Crawford and the bishop. It was then placed on the table, for the purpose of being deposited in the society's collection. This bell was held in great reverence, and it was believed to possess miraculous powers. It is of yellow bronze—now covered with a fine patina— four-sided as all those ancient bells are. It is about twelve inches high. But the most remarkable portion of this bell is the handle, on which there is twice repeated the well-known emblem of the Phallus. This symbol has never hitherto been found in any of the Scoto-Irish metal work, although the cultus of the Menhir, which is the same in stone, still survives in Brittany. It was a moot question, whether St. Fillan's bell was Christian or pre-Christian. After careful consideration, Bishop Forbes came to the conclusion, that the bell belonged either to the bronze period, anterior to Christian times, or that, if Christian, it had been imported from southern lands. It might, in the latter case, have come from Italy, for, according to the legend, St. Ternan is  said to have got his bell from Pope Gregory the Great. 

At Strathfillan are the ruins of a building, 120 feet in length, and 22 broad. Some of its walls are standing, and the structure itself is said to have been a cathedral. Again at this place, there was a deep pool called the "Holy Pool," where even to the beginning of the present century insane people were brought. These were dipped after sunset and before sunrise, on the first day of the quarter, and their friends had hope of a restoration to sanity. Certain functions took place at the well, and afterwards in a corner of the ruined chapel, which was called "St. Fillan's Bed." This bed still exists. For a long time, a stone called " Fillan's Chair," and seven small stones, that are said to have been consecrated by the saint, had been kept at the mill of Killan. These were regarded as sacred objects.

Long after the time of St. Foelan, his staff or crozier had been preserved in the wilds of Glendochart, in Perthshire, where the saint is said to have been buried. As usual among the Irish and Scotch, a certain family had charge of this relic. The possessors enjoyed special privileges in consequence of their trust. Among these were the holding of maintenance lands. This relic of St. Fillan was called the Coygerach, and its holders sought a royal charter, early in the fifteenth century, to confirm their rights. On the 22nd of April, A.D. 1428, the Baillie of Glendochart called an inquest of the men of the glen to give their verdict, regarding the authority and privileges of the relic of St. Fillan, commonly called the "Coygerach." Their verdict was, that this relic, then in the keeping of Finlay Jorc, had been originally granted by the successor of St. Fillan to one of Finlay's progenitors. Finlay himself was declared the rightful "heir of the office," whose privileges had been in exercise from the time of King Robert Bruce, and downward to their own day. Malise Doire was keeper of the "Coygerach" forty years later.'"

Many miracles were wrought by St. Foilan. To his intercession is attributed that glorious victory of Bannockburn, obtained by Robert Bruce over the English forces. The details of this celebrated battle are recorded by the mediaeval and more modem Scottish and English historians. Edward II., King of England, collected a force, amounting, it is stated, to one hundred and fifty thousand foot, with several thousand horse, for the invasion of Scotland. To oppose this immense army, comprising men of various nations, Bruce could scarcely muster thirty-four thousand men. Placing his whole trust in God, the Scottish King betook himself to prayer. Entertaining a great veneration towards St. Fillan, he entreated a certain abbot or priest, who was custodian, for a relic of this saint. The relic was an arm of St. Fillan, which had been preserved in a silver case. Fearing this relic might be lost in battle, the priest removed it fi:om the shrine, which was then presented to King Robert. In presence of many persons, the shrine was seen to open suddenly, and afterwards to close of its own accord. The priest then approached, to behold the result of this miraculous occurrence, when he saw the arm of St. Filan deposited again within its shrine. He related what had occurred to the King. Filled with admiration, on account of this incident, the priest exclaimed that Heaven should prove favourable to their cause. On the eve of this great battle, the Scottish King obtained some successes. Thus inspired with hope, although greatly fatigued, Bruce spent the remaining part of that night in prayer, and in acts of thanksgiving. On the following day, he ordered the Holy Sacrifice of Mass to be celebrated. He desired all his soldiers to partake of the Holy Eucharist, that thus they might be spiritually strengthened. A certain abbot, named Maurice, celebrated the Divine Mysteries on an eminence. He administered the Holy Sacrament to King Robert and to his nobles. Through the ministry of other priests, the entire army received Holy Communion. Afterwards, taking a crucifix in his hands, and showing the image of Christ crucified to the Scottish soldiers, Abbot Maurice exhorted them to defend their country with courage, trusting solely in God's goodness.  He then desired the warriors to prostrate themselves in prayer.

After a spirited address to his soldiers,  the army was placed in position by Bruce, while the English cavalry and archers advanced. Immediately the onset commenced, and the Scots fought with determined courage. After a fierce conflict, victory declared in their favour. Both armies were engaged not far from the castle of Sterling, then besieged by the Scots, and on the glorious field of Bannockbum. This battle took place on Midsummer Day, the Feast of St.  John the Baptist, A.D. 1314. The forces on both sides are variously estimated by English and Scottish writers. The English summoned a large host belonging to various nationalities; but the Scots appear to have had not alone the advantage of a brave and able leader, but a greater perfection of military discipline and order in their ranks. Soon after the battle commenced in earnest, the English skirmishers and vanguard fell into disarray. Bruce, leading the centre division and bringing up his reserves, added to their confusion, and the Scots advancing in compact bodies ensured their foes' discomfiture. The valiant Scottish king pushed forward the various divisions of his army. After a vigorous charge, the English horse and infantry became panic-stricken. At last the invading host gave way, and Edward's forces fled from Bannockburn in the wildest disorder. Many, trying to escape across the river in their rere, were driven into its waters and drowned; while a vast number fell under the battle-axes and spears of their opponents. An immense booty was the prize of the Scottish army. Like chaff scattered before the whirlwind, the English fled in dismay, and with continuously diminishing bands, towards the northern borders of England. Stirling almost immediately surrendered to King Robert, while Scotland recovered her independence, in a manner, most creditable to her military prowess, and most complete in the results achieved. It was believed, the great triumph at Bannockburn had been owing solely to St. Fillan's intercession, and to the mercy of the Almighty. Fifty thousand of the English are said by Scottish writers to have fallen in battle, or afterwards in the pursuit. Only a very small number of the Scottish army, and especially of their nobles, had been slain. The English king escaped with great difficulty, and he crossed the River Tweed, in a small boat, with only a single attendant.

When Bishop Macdonnell, who lately died in Upper Canada, and at a very advanced age, left the Highlands of Scotland, he brought with him that old staff and crook, used by the Abbot of St. Fillan to bless the Scottish army, before the battle of Bannockburn. It was of solid silver, and the workmanship proves its genuineness and antiquity. A relic is inclosed behind a white stone. This precious heirloom is yet preserved by the Catholic Bishop of Toronto. The Scots knelt before the abbot while holding this staff, according to tradition. The English monarch is said to have remarked, that his northern foes were then kneeling to sue for mercy. But, as of old, the chosen people of Israel trusted in the God of Battles when their cause was just, and referred to Him all the glory of victory; so did an oppressed nation wrest from ambitious and cruel invaders their rights and freedom, of which they had been so treacherously deprived. Our saint prayed for the devoted soldiers, who combined patriotic ardour with religious feeling and duty. The issue was fraught with triumph, right gloriously prevailing against the efforts of human might and despotic power. So should the warrior, especially in the trying moment of battles and danger, strengthen his soul by spiritual exercises, and trust his valour and his safety to the protection of the Lord of Hosts.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

No comments: