Wednesday 31 August 2016

Saint Aedh, the Martyr, August 31

There is a rather intriguing entry in the Martyrology of Tallaght at August 31 for a Saint Aedh, described as a Martyr. This is interesting, first because an Irish martyr, at least on home soil, is a very rare bird indeed and secondly because he is but one of a number of saints who bear this name whose feasts are commemorated on this day. The most well-known of the saints Aedh (Aodh, Aedhan, Aid, Aidan) whose feasts are recorded today on the calendars has to be Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne, but there is also a Deacon Aedh. The Aedh who was also a 'martyr', however, remains an enigma and as far as I can see is recorded only in The Martyrology of Tallaght. Canon O'Hanlon has but a single sentence to write on this saint in Volume VIII of his Lives of the Irish Saints:

St. Aedh, Martyr. 

Veneration was given to an Aedh, Martyr, at the 31st of August, as we find set down in the Martyrology of Tallagh. Again, under the head of Inis Cathaigh, Duald Mac Firbis enters, Aedhan, bishop, from Inis-Cathaigh, at August 31st. The reason for this localization, however, is not stated.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Saint Fiacre of Meaux, August 30

August 30 is the feast day of an Irish saint whose life was mostly spent outside this country - Fiacre of Meaux. I have previously posted a twentieth-century account of the saint here but below is a paper from 1876. The author is the then Bishop of Ossory, later to be Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, Patrick Francis Moran (1830-1911). Cardinal Moran took an active interest in the history of the early Irish church and his many writings reflect the climate of the national revival which was in full swing during his lifetime. In his account of Saint Fiacre, PFM brings together much of the traditional lore associated with the saint and gives a place also to his sister, Saint Syra. I was interested too by the seventeenth-century dimension to the cult of Saint Fiacre, in particular the visits of Irish exiles to his shrine.


St. FIACHRA, better known by the name of Fiacre, by which he was designated on the Continent, was born about the year 590, of a princely family in the north of Connaught; but renouncing the honours and applause of the world, sought in retreat and solitude the highest paths of perfection. Whilst as yet in the world, charity was one of his distinctive virtues. A poor man one day solicited an alms for the love of God. Fiachra told his attendant to give him any money that he might have, and the attendant pretended to do so. The saint, however, fearing lest any mistake might have been made, went after the poor man and asked him how he had fared. He then learned that the attendant’s money being exhausted by preceding alms, nothing had been given to him; whereupon the saint, taking off the rich mantle which he wore, bestowed it on the poor man. This same virtue continued to characterize St. Fiachra throughout the whole of his subsequent career.

Having resolved to devote himself to a religious life, he put himself under the care of St. Cuanna, who was at this time famed for learning and sanctity, and attracted numerous disciples to his monastery at Kilcoona, on the shore of Loch Orbsen. Being ordained priest, St. Fiachra was filled with the desire to serve God in solitude, and therefore, quitting his native district, and the school of St. Cuanna, he fixed his first hermitage on the banks of the Nore, and for many years lived there leading a most holy and austere life. The spot thus hallowed by the virtues and penitential austerities of our saint is still known by the name Kill-Fiachra, or Kilfera, and is situate on the west bank of the Nore, about three miles below Kilkenny. The memory of St. Fiachra is honoured there on the 30th of August, the same day on which his festival is marked in the Martyrologies of Marianus O' Gorman and of Donegal. The outlines of St. Fiachra’s old church or cell may be easily traced, and fragments of its stone-work are scattered through the adjoining burial-ground. A little to the south of Kilfera is the holy well of St. Fiachra.

This silent retreat had for our saint all the charms of a paradise. His virtues, however, soon became known, and many disciples flocked around him; and it seemed as if greater honour and reverence awaited him in his retreat, than would have attended him in the princely inheritance which he had abandoned. He resolved, therefore, to seek in distant countries the solitude which was denied him at home; and thus it came to pass, in the words of the Martyrology of Donegal, that he “ brought a blessing to France." St Fiachra remained for some time in Iona, attracted thither by the fame of the virtues and miracles of its holy founder. Continuing his journey towards France, the vessel in which he sailed encountered a terrible storm at sea, but when all seemed lost, the tempest was stilled by the prayers of our saint. St. Faro, who was at this time Bishop of Meaux, had opened a hospice for pilgrims at the gates of his episcopal city. He belonged to the highest nobility of France, and for several years had ranked among the richest of the courtiers, as well as among the bravest of the leaders of the armies of King Clothaire ; now, however, as bishop, all his possessions and influence were placed at the service of religion and of the poor. At the hospice which he endowed none were so welcome as the pilgrims from Erin; for St. Faro attributed all his worldly prosperity, as well as his ecclesiastical calling, to the blessing which the great Irish missioner Columbanus, in requital for the hospitality which was shown him, had bestowed on his parents and household. St. Fiachra, journeying on whither God might summon him, entered this hospice at Meaux, and under the garb of a poor pilgrim, lived there for some years wholly devoted to the most perfect practices of piety. His relative, St Kilian, however, when making a pilgrimage to Rome, entered the same hospice, and made known our saint’s rank. Fiachra would willingly have fled elsewhere, but Faro asked him not to leave a spot where he had found such happiness and peace, and offered him a site for a hermitage at a short distance from Meaux, with a grant of as much land as he would himself surround with a fosse in one day. St. Fiachra selected for his enclosure an adjoining desert tract called Broilus (which name in mediaeval Latin means a small wood), known in later times as Breuil, and now called Brie, situated on an elevated position not far from the banks of the Marne; and whilst he traced its boundaries with a wooden stake, a fosse was miraculously formed along the track. In the retreat thus miraculously enclosed, St. Fiacre spent his whole time in prayer and manual labour. His food consisted of roots and wild herbs, and in the heart of France he renewed the austerities by which SS. Paul and Anthony and Hilarion had sanctified the deserts of the East. Like all the great saints of Ireland he cherished a special devotion to the holy Mother of God, and it is commemorated in his Acts, that close to his cell he erected an oratory in her honour, oratorio in honorem Beatae Mariae constructo. Many holy disciples soon flocked to Breuil to emulate the penitential spirit, and to copy the virtues, of our saint. He obliged them to devote themselves in great part to manual labour, cultivating the garden which he had enclosed; and the fruit of their industry was applied to the maintenance of pilgrims and to the relief of captives. After the discovery of his place of concealment, deputies came to Meaux, requesting the saint to return home, and to assume the government of his native principality, which happened to be then vacant. Fiachra asked for a little time to deliberate on a matter of such importance, and in the meanwhile prayed to God that He might in His mercy visit him with some malady that would not permit his return. The next day the saint was found covered with leprosy, and the messengers, seeing that their mission was frustrated, at once took their departure from Meaux. It is also related in the saint’s life that he was visited at Breuil by his sister St. Syra. She had from her infancy been remarkable for sanctity, frequently passing the whole night in prayer prostrate before the crucifix, and practising the most rigorous austerities. With three companions she set out for Meaux, and having received from her brother many lessons of heavenly wisdom, entered the Monastery of Faramoutiers, then governed by St. Burgundofara, sister of St. Faro, and after some years proceeded to Troyes, where she ruled a monastery as abbess for a long time, and guided many souls to God. In an ancient hymn, composed in her praise, she is thus addressed:

“ O Syra. virgo pura,
Regis Scotorum filia,
Sancti Fiacrii soror,
Tu es Stella eximia,
Praefulgens Virginum gemma,
Campaniae laus, et honor,
Ad sepulchrum confagiunt
Tuum populi, et sentiunt
Sanitatis remedium.”

The festival of St. Syra is kept at Troyes on the 8th of June, and before the French Revolution there were several convents in France that honoured her as patron. St. Fiachra died at his hermitage about the year 670, and his shrine was soon honoured by many miracles. One of these is specially recorded in the French Life of St. Fiacre. A farmer of Montigny (Seine-et-Marne) was proceeding on pilgrimage to the shrine of our saint, bringing with him his two children, who were infirm. The horse stumbled when passing a river, and the children were precipitated into the stream. It seemed impossible to rescue them, as the current was so rapid; but the father having invoked St. Fiachra’s aid, the saint appeared on the water, and taking the children by the hand, lead them to the bank in safety.

St. Fiachra is at present venerated as special patron at Brie, about four miles from the city of Meaux, and also as one of the chief patrons of the diocese of Meaux; and he is also honoured throughout France as the particular patron of gardeners and of the Fiacre-drivers. Indeed, the French cab is said to have derived its name fiacre from being specially called into requisition in early times for the use of pilgrims hastening to his shrine. More than thirty churches in France are also dedicated to our saint. About three miles from Brie is St. Fiacre’s well. It is enclosed in an oratory, which was rebuilt in 1852. Pilgrims also flock to his holy well at Monstrelet, near Boufflers, which is famed for miraculous cures. The other chief places of pilgrimage in honour of our saint are Aubignan, in the diocese of Avignon; Buss, in the diocese of Arras; Ramecourt and Dizy-le-Gros, in the diocese of Soissons; Ouzoer-les-Champs, in the diocese of Orleans; Bovancourt, in the diocese of Rheims; Cuy-Saint-Fiacre, in the diocese of Rouen; Saint Fiacre, in the diocese of Nantes; Saint Fiacre, near Guincamp, in the diocese of St. Brieuc ; and Radenac, in the diocese of Vannes. His festival is kept in France, as in Ireland, on the 30th of August.

The proper lessons for our saint in the Breviary of Meaux inform us, that he adopted in France the strict rule of the early Irish monasteries, which prohibited any female from crossing the threshold of his oratory or hermitage. A royal lady of France attempted on one occasion, through curiosity, to violate this rule, but was at once struck down with a violent sickness, to which the physicians thenceforth applied the name of “ St. Fiacre’s malady."

The shrine of St. Fiachra was for centuries one of the most famous in France, and many pilgrims resorted thither even from distant nations. We read in the Annals of the Trinitarian Order; that the holy founder of that order, St. John of Valois, cherished a special devotion for St. Fiachra, and, not satisfied with emulating his virtues at a distance, wished to erect for himself a hermitage as near as he could to Breuil, that thus the sight of the spot where our saint had lived, and where his relics were preserved, might be a constant stimulus to piety. In later times the Apostle of France, St. Vincent de Paul, also made a pilgrimage to St. Fiachra’s shrine. When, in the fourteenth century, Edward the Biack Prince ravaged the country around Meaux, the sanctuary at Breuil alone was spared. He caused, however, the shrine of the saint to be opened, and extracted a portion of the relics which he desired to bring with him to England. When passing through Normandy, he deposited these relics on an altar at Montloup, not far distant from Toumay, where there was a chapel erected in honour of St. Fiachra, but no strength of man was able afterwards to remove the relics from that altar. The death of the Prince soon after was popularly regarded as a punishment for his want of due reverence for the shrine of our saint. Henry V. of England also visited Breuil after the battle of Agincourt. He ordered the sanctuary of St. Fiachra to be respected, and declared that he had nowhere seen so great devotion as that shown by the faithful to our saint. Among the other royal visits may be mentioned that of Louis XIV., who, with his Queen and the Court, went thither on pilgrimage when returning from Strasburg in 1693.

When the sword of persecution forced many Catholic families of Ireland to seek a home on the Continent, and many of her bravest sons to enter the armies of France or Spain, the shrine of St. Fiacre, at Meaux, became a favorite resort of the Irish exiles; and it would appear that each year on his recurring festival, they organized a special pilgrimage in his honour. Father Hay, in his Scotia Sacra (page 39), tells us that when sub-prior of the Benedictine Monastery of Essoines, situated on the banks of the river Marne, he himself had visited this sanctuary, and adds some verses from three Latin poems, which he found hanging on the walls around the altar of our saint. Each poem bore the heading, “ Divo Fiacrio Carmen,” i.e., “ a poem in honour of St. Fiacre.” The first thus commenced:

“ Regis Hiberni generosa proles,
Fortis Eugeni soboles Fiacri
Sancte, materno gremio corusca
Syderis instar.”

This is followed by thirty-eight other verses, and at the end is added, “ This was sung by the Irish pilgrims in the year 1679.” The second poem is still longer, having 123 verses, with the note, “offered by an Irish choir in the year of our Lord 1680.” The third has 206 verses, and has at the close, “An Irish choir offered this in 1681.”

The greater part of the relics of our saint were scattered and the oratory and shrine of St. Fiacre, at Breuil, were demolished in the revolutionary storm which laid waste the fairest districts of France at the close of the last century. From the time of the saint’s death his relics seem to have been famed for miracles. As early as the eleventh century we find it commemorated that the fame of the miracles performed there attracted many pilgrims to his shrine. Fulck de Beauvais, who flourished in that age, in his metrical life of St. Faro, Bishop of Meaux, mentions as one of the chief glories of that saint’s pontificate that he granted Breuil to Fiachra (who in Latin is oftentimes called Fefrus) and thus rendered the whole diocese of Meaux illustrious for miracles : —

“ Heredem Fefrum dedit in quibus esse beatum,
Huic Broilum tribuit, qui templum condidit illic,
Hic duxit vitam, vitam finivit ibidem,
Meldica nunc signis floret provincia Fefri.”

In the beginning of the reign of St. Louis of France the first solemn translation of our saint’s relics took place. By his munificence they were placed in a rich shrine, and thenceforward each year, on the Sunday after Pentecost, the anniversary of this translation, a portion of the relics was borne in procession through Breuil. Pope Gregory the IX. granted special indulgences for those, who, on his festival-day, would visit the saint’s relics at Breuil. In the year 1562 the shrine and relics of our saint were removed to the sanctuary of St. Burgundofara in Meaux, the better to preserve them from the fury of the Huguenots, and after a little time, at the request of the civic authorities, were deposited in the cathedral of that city. The pilgrimages, however, continued to be made to Breuil as heretofore, and when religious peace was restored in France every effort was made by the inhabitants to have the treasure of the saint's relics restored to them. All that they could obtain, however, was a portion of these precious remains, encased in a silver shrine, presented to the sanctuary at Breuil by the Bishop of Meaux, in 1649. As regards the shrine in the Cathedral of Meaux, it was so richly ornamented by Queen Anne of Austria that it was considered second to none in France, before the period of the French Revolution. The illustrious Bossuet delivered some of his beautiful discourses on our saint’s festival, presenting him to the faithful as “a model of the Christian spirit of solitude, of silence, and of constant prayer;” and he loved to repeat that their cathedral “was enriched by the precious treasure of his relics.” In Mabillon’s time Breuil was still frequented by pilgrims, and miracles continued to be there wrought at the saint’s shrine. He thus writes in his Annals of the Benedictine Order (vol. i. p. 314) “Sane vix ullus alius etiam nunc celebrior miraculorum patrator in Gallia: vix ullus alius locus amplius frequentatus a peregrinis qui istuc voti causa undique confluunt.” Only small portions of these relics escaped the fury with which the revolutionists at the close of the last century raged against the shrines of the saints; and of these some at present enrich the parochial church at Brie; others are preserved in the cathedral and other churches throughout the diocese of Meaux. The parochial church of Brie retains also the large block of stone on which St. Fiachra used to rest, and which bears the impress of the saint; as also the ancient wooden case in which the relics were at one time preserved. The sites of the enclosure and of the saint’s hermitage are traditionally pointed out, and may easily be traced, but no remains can now be seen of the ancient buildings.

The late learned Protestant Bishop of Brechin, Dr. Forbes, having given a short notice of our saint in his Kalendars of Scottish Saints, remarks that this commemoration of St. Fiachra in France “suggests an allusion to that marvellous Irish Christian colonization which is one of the most remarkable facts in the history of Christianity, and to which, till the present century, scanty justice has been done. The daughter Church of Gaul, Ireland, soon returned to bless that nation from whom she had received the faith, and not that nation only, but all the West of Europe, from Iceland to Tarentum, felt its power. Combatting Arianism in Lombardy, paganism in England and Germany; cultivating letters at the court of Charlemagne, and physical science in the see of Salzburg; teaching Greek at Chiemsee, and copying the precious manuscripts of antiquity at Bobbio and Luxeuil: the (Irish) clergy grasped the lamp of religion, as it fell from the hands of the worn-out Roman races; and the austere sanctity of Irish monasticism — an austerity which, from existing rules, we know to have surpassed that of St. Benedict himself — asserted its footing in the different nations of the Continent, of which many of the patron saints belong to this family. In the Vosges and the Jura we have St Fridolin; at Luxeuil and Bobbio, St. Columbanus; in Switzerland, St. Gall; at Salzburg, St. Virgilius; in Thuringia, St. Kilian; at Lucca, St. Frigidian; at Fiesole, St. Donatus; and at Taranto, St Cathaldus.”— page 341.

St. Fiachra is also honoured in Italy, especially at Florence, where a noble chapel was erected in his honour by the Grand Duke in the year 1627, and was again richly adorned by the then reigning Duke towards the close of the seventeenth century, at whose request some relics of the saint, the gift of the illustrious Bishop of Meaux, Benigne Bossuet, were translated thither with great pomp in the year 1695. Since that time St. Fiachra has been reckoned among the chief patrons of Tuscany.

When St. Fiachra was proceeding to France, if not at an earlier period of his life, he seems to have stopped for some time in Scotland, and his memory was long cherished in the churches of that kingdom. In Stewart’s Metrical Chronicle of Scotland, our saint appears as “Sanct Feacar,” and again under the name of “ Fiancorus.” The parish of Nigg, situate on the opposite side of the river Dee from Aberdeen, had St. Fiacre for patron, and its church was called “ St. Fiacer’s Church.” The ancient burial-ground also bore his name; his holy well was corruptly called St. Fithoc’s well, and the bay near which it stands, St. Ficker’s Bay. From these corruptions of the name arose other still more curious forms; thus, for instance, from Fithoc , arose Mofithog and Mofuttach: and we find that in the Kalendar of Camerarius, our saint is entered as S. Mofutacus, whilst in an ancient Dunkeld Litany he is invoked as St. Futtach. All these various forms, however, of the name of St. Fiachra only serve to show how widespread was the veneration of this great saint, and how generally he was honoured throughout the churches of Scotland.

P. F. M.

The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume XII(1876), 361-368.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

How to Honour a Saint - a Medieval Hagiographer's View

Recently, I came across a rather interesting description by a medieval hagiographer of the various ways in which a saint may be honoured:
The author of a vita of St. Nicholas, composed sometime in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, tells us how he views the various ways of honouring a saint. If someone celebrated the memory of the saint with all his heart and soul, says this anonymous author, he will not go away disappointed. If someone builds a chapel in the saint's name, he will confound the devil as well as all his enemies, and God will increase his possessions as he did for Job. If someone writes down the life and miracles of the saint, he will be granted release from sins on the Day of Judgment. And if someone expounds the saint's life and miracles before other men, he will earn his reward in heaven and eternal life. In short, to honour the saint on his feast day is fine; to build something in his name is better; to write down his life is better still - but to declaim it before others is the best of all.
Nancy Patterson Ševčenko, The Vita Icon and the Painter as Hagiographer, Dumbarton Oaks Papers Vol. 53 (1999), pp. 149-165 at page 149.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

Monday 22 August 2016

The Life, Miracles and Relics of Saint Andrew of Fiesole

August 22 is the feast of Saint Andrew of Fiesole.  I have already published an account of him from the work of Margaret Stokes, now we can revisit this wonderful saint through the pages of Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish saints:



...The Life of this holy pilgrim—an exile from his native country—has been specially written in Italian by Philippus Villanus. When treating about his sister, St. Brigid, of Opacum, at Fiesole, in Italy, Father John Colgan, and the Bollandists have not omitted to draw their account, mainly from that Life. Filippo Villani was a Florentine gentleman of an ancient and respectable family, the son of Matteo, and the nephew of Giovanni Villani, who wrote a much esteemed History of Florence. This begins with the foundation of that city, and it continues to the year of his death, A.D. 1348. His brother Matteo continued it to A.D. 1363, the year when he died. Afterwards, his son Filippo added forty-two chapters, and ended it with the year 1364. The latter wrote in Latin the Lives of illustrious men belonging to Florence; but the original Manuscript of that work has not been hitherto discovered. Two different copies of St. Andrew's Life—the authorship attributed to Filippo Villani—were in possession of the Bollandists, with two shorter Lives, very similar to each other, and which seem to have been intended as panegyrics of the saint. They were written for one of his festival celebrations. Those appear to have been abbreviated from the longer Acts. At the 22nd of August, the Bollandists publish the Latin Acts of St. Andrew from a Manuscript of Placidus Puchinellus, and which they had obtained. These have been edited by Father Guilielmus Cuper, who has prefixed a Previous Commentary, and added notes. The editor, however, proposes some difficulties, regarding the authorship of those Acts, owing to the introduction of the name Leonardus, in the Prologue, and that person to whom the tract had been dedicated. If he were Leonardus Bonafides, the Carthusian, who became Bishop of Cortona, and who erected a chapel to St. Andrew, in the church of St. Martin de Mensula, it is quite evident, that Filippo Villani, who lived in the fourteenth century, could not have been the writer. So that, either another and a different Filippo Villani must be found; or a different Leonardus, than he who constructed a chapel for the relics of St. Andrew in the Monastery of St. Martin of Mensola, in order to synchronise the author and his patron. The Irish Franciscan Fathers of St. Isidore, at Rome, had a copy of St. Andrew's Life, and of this the Bollandists obtained a transcript. The posthumous list, referring to Colgan's unpublished Lives of Irish Saints, contained the name of St. Andreas, as if intended for printing, at the 22nd of August. Father Stephen White records him, likewise, as one of the Irish saints who went abroad. In Butler's work, at the 22nd of August, is found a very brief notice of St. Andrew, Deacon, and Confessor. There is a brief account of this holy bishop of Fiesole in "Les Vies des Saints," in the Petits Bollandistes, at the 22nd of August. Later, still, a very interesting account of St. Andrew has been inserted in a work, written by Miss Margaret Stokes.

This Irish or Scottish gentleman was born, probably towards the close of the eighth or beginning of the ninth century. In what part of Ireland, his birth took place, has not transpired, nor have we been able to find his pedigree, through any process of onomancy. From early youth, he felt a truly fraternal affection for his sister, St. Brigid, and her virtues were justly calculated to cement their mutual endearment. Andrew was the elder of the two, while he was also her constant guide and counsellor. They were the children of noble and virtuous parents. Both Andrew and Brigid were accustomed from their earliest youth to pause at the church door, to enter it and to pray, when they walked together on their way to school. This service they repeated each hour they could save from sleep. From his youth, Andrew was comely in features, modest in dress and gestures, and grave in deportment. Moreover, he loved practices of penance and mortification, while he was accustomed to fast very rigorously. He carefully avoided the company and conversation of those, who might be likely to endanger his morals. Besides, the youth of Andrew was spent in the study of letters and in the exercises of piety. There were none, however poor and miserable, who left the house in which he lived uncomforted, so deeply were compassion and the love of unhappy persons rooted in his heart. Meanwhile, his parents were careful that he should be taught the art of riding, and such other accomplishments as befitted his high rank. Time passed on, and a distinguished teacher of Divine philosophy, named Donatus, arrived near their place. He came from many miles distant. Hearing of Andrew's great promise, Donat formed his acquaintance, took him to his school, and soon a life-long friendship was established between them. The kindly greeting he received gave Andrew heartfelt satisfaction, and afterwards, he received lessons from that Christian philosopher, named Donat, or Donatus, who is thought to have been educated at Iniscaltra or Holy Island, on Lough Derg, a wide-spreading lake on the River Shannon. This conclusion has been drawn from the circumstance, that a Latin hexameter poem, giving the Life of St. Brigid of Kildare, had been written by Caolan, who calls himself a monk of Iniscaltra, and to that Donatus of Fiesole has added the Prologue.

One day, while Donatus and Andrew were standing at the entrance of that cashel surrounding their monastery, and discoursing as was their custom on various matters human and divine; the former revealed to his disciple a desire he had long entertained, to journey into distant lands, and especially to visit all the holy places throughout Italy. Then, he resolved on seeking a spot, where his family and friends could not find him. There, too, he purposed devoting the remainder of his life to God's service. Unable to part from his beloved master, Andrew prayed that he might become the companion of Donat's travels. At last, it was arranged, they should pay no heed to the opposition of their families and friends, but set out at once after taking their "final leave. Great was the grief of Brigid, when she heard of that project, and she cried out: "Brother dear, why dost thou leave me? When shall we see each other again?" At last, with much gentleness, Andrew put his sister from him. Then, in a spirit of resignation, she said : "Go in peace, and pray to God for me abandoned here in sorrow." Afterwards, accompanied by their families and friends, they went to the sea-coast, where a ship was waiting to receive them on board.

Both the master and the scholar thus left their own country of Scotia, and travelled to Italy.They had very scant provision for their journey,intending as pilgrims contented and humble in spirit to travel on foot from place to place, while resting in those monasteries, containing relics of thesaints. They often turned aside to visit certain hermitages, in almostinaccessible places, and where they might hold converse with holy anchorites. After such adventures, they at length crossed the Alps, and travelled to a resting spot among the Apennine Mountains of Italy. In those journeyings, Donatus was the guiding spirit, who directed their course. The city he went to, in fine, was situated in Etruria; and under the appellation of Faesule, it was one of the twelve cities of that province, being the most distinguished by its celebrity and beautiful situation, as also for the presumed skill of its denizens in the interpretation of omens and prognostics. With the rest of Etruria, it submitted to the Roman power, and it was colonized by Scylla. Fiesole had survived the general desolation of Italy, during the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth centuries. At the time Donatus and Andrew entered that city as pilgrims and rested in the public hospice, discord and dissension had followed those devastations caused by the Northmen, and the city had been deprived of its Bishop. The people were anxious about the appointment of his successor, and they earnestly prayed the Almighty to send them a good chief pastor. A wonderful miracle revealed to them, that two holy strangers had just arrived; and, it is stated, all the bells of the city began to ring, without human agency; while a voice from Heaven was heard, "Receive the stranger who approaches, Donatus of Scotia, and take him for your shepherd !" This was accepted as a manifestation of God's holy will. At the same moment, the lamps in all the churches were suddenly extinguished, but only to be succeeded by a miraculous light, which spread over the whole horizon.

With the multitude of the inhabitants, those pious pilgrims sought the chief temple, and there admiring the faithful at their devotions, at first it was supposed that congregation had been collected on the occasion of some great local festival. However, one of the crowd noticing the strangers asked Donatus their names and whence they came. He answered modestly, "We are both Scots; my companion is named Andrew, and I am Donatus; we are both as pilgrims travelling to Rome." That person, who had heard the voice from Heaven, immediately cried out: "Citizens, that man is present, who has been called by the Almighty." Public excitement and joy then reached the highest pitch of enthusiasm,and rushing to embrace him, the people exclaimed with one voice, "Father Donatus, as you see, the Lord hath given thee to us. Have pity on our people, and effectively remove the discord and scandal that have hitherto prevailed. Have compassion also on our labours, and do not decline, we humbly request, that mercy which Heaven has thus manifested." In vain he protested, even with tears, to be allowed to proceed as an humble pilgrim to Rome, and he tried by various arguments to dissuade the people from their purpose. However, the faithful would hear of no refusal; and, at last, knowing it to be in accordance with the Divine will, he yielded to their request. Accordingly, Donat was elected Bishop of Fiesole, where his virtues and merits rendered him so pleasing to the Almighty, that he has since been venerated as its patron saint. No sooner did he assume that sacred office, than he laboured to discharge all its duties with a zeal, prudence and moderation, which gained him the affections of his flock. His noble simplicity of character and his affable manners were united with a piety and judgment, altogether amiable and admirable. The good he encouraged, the bad he reprehended; his advice was wise and his judgments were just; he was liberal in bestowing alms ; he was assiduous in prayer; he was eloquent in exhortation, and true in word; mild and benignant in courtesy to all, it is not surprising, that he gained the affections both of his clergy and the people.

Owing to the persuasion of St. Donat, Andrew became a Deacon to serve the church of Fiesole. At first, he was reluctant to accept that grade of orders, as through sincere humility he did not think himself worthy to advance from the ranks of the laity. However, under the precept of obedience, united with argument and persuasion, he at length conformed to the wishes of his spiritual guide and master. His compliance likewise gave great satisfaction to the clergy and people of Fiesole, among whom he lived, and with whom he was especially popular. In his new position, he endeavoured to emulate the examples of the holy Levites, St. Stephen and St. Laurence, especially in looking after the wants of the poor, and in cheerfully devoting himself to the other various duties assigned him. Thus, the faithful disciple who had followed Donatus from Ireland remained at his side until death, serving him in humility and goodness. Such was his modesty and wisdom, that he was loved and trusted by the people of Fiesole no less than by his master. Furthermore, Donatus had desired to promote him to the office of Archdeacon, so as to raise his rank and esteem in the people's eyes.

It so happened, that while Andrew was still a deacon, the beloved daughter of a noble and wealthy inhabitant of Fiesole had become paralyzed, while all that medical skill could avail had been tried in vain for her recovery. At last, the father kneeling besought Bishop Donatus, and earnestly implored him to visit his house, and to place his hand on the girl's head. The Bishop extended his hand, and raising the suppliant, by a sudden inspiration, he called Andrew to their presence. He then declared, that for his deacon was reserved that gift of healing, and then asked Andrew by a precept of obedience, to part with the noble for his house, and to effect the cure. Andrew obeyed accordingly, and when they had both entered the house, that girl was found reclining on a couch. The holy deacon fell upon his knees, and extending his hands towards Heaven prayed with great fervour; then, as if moved by a sudden impulse, he arose, and cried out with a loud voice : "Daughter arise, for our Lord Jesus Christ hath healed thee." Immediately she arose, to the great astonishment of all present. Then, in a transport of gratitude, she threw herself at the feet of Andrew, kissing them, giving thanks to God and to his servant, through whose intervention she had been restored to strength. Soon the fame of that miracle spread abroad, and especially was Bishop Donatus gratified with the result. Knowing that Andrew was now a choice favourite of Heaven, he pressed on him the acceptance of the highest office in his church. The holy disciple had still a lowly opinion of his own merits ; however, he humbly submitted his own will to that of his beloved Bishop. He was accordingly promoted to be Archdeacon, under him, in the church at Faesule...

It happened one day, that the two attached friends, Donatus and Andrew, were walking together round the foot of a hill at Fiesole, when they came to the banks of the little river Mensola, which flows beneath a certain height. It was crowned by a church dedicated to St. Martin. Ascending the hill, they found that ancient sanctuary in ruins, and on inquring the cause of this desolation from people in the neighbourhood, they learned that it had been laid waste in former days by the barbarous soldiers of Totila. As he stood in his sadness among the broken walls, and bewailed the destruction of that temple, the Bishop wept, and then in silent prayer Donatus entreated of God, to send someone who would restore His church. The deacon Andrew, standing by, and seeing the tears of his most holy father, inquired the cause for his sorrow. Then, lifting up his voice to Heaven, Donatus cried aloud : " Behold how Thy sanctuaries are laid low, and Thy high places are made desolate, and Thy temple has become the den of robbers and of wicked men, who show tyranny against Thy house before the eyes of all men''. Hearing these words, and filled with the zeal of charity, Andrew humbly offered to the bishop his earnest service for the restoration of the temple, and then, fixing his eyes on the ground, awaited his pleasure and commands. Donatus praised the devotion of the holy man, whose offer corresponded with his own thought. He made the sign of the cross, with hands stretched over him. Blessing him in God's name, the Bishop said, that henceforth he was free to devote himself to a pious work, and that when he had restored the monastery, he might therein dedicate the remaining days of his life to the Lord, along with such of the brethren as he should chose.

The basilica of St. Martin had almost gone into ruin at that time, but St. Andrew restored it suitably to serve for purposes of public worship. Though the work seemed arduous for a poor and needy man ; yet, strengthened by the holy bishop, Andrew began to clear the sacred place from brambles and from thorns, to search for the ancient foundations, and to dig out the stones of the old walls, hidden under the rubbish. He also prepared new stones, cement, and other things necessary for the building, and with sedulous care. He sought alms from pious and faithful persons in the neigbourhood around ; he hired builders, with whom he laboured himself, continually prosecuting these labours in the restoration of the church, so far as his little body attenuated by fasting allowed.

In a short time, the basilica was not only restored, but enlarged ; moreover, the man of God bought lands sufficient for his small company of monks, with such sums as he could save by a holy parsimony, or earn through his own labours, and that of his brethren. During their labours, they lived on a most scanty subsistence, rejecting all superfluous things, that might soften and enervate the rigour of their penitence. After the completion of their work, he distributed the surplus funds among the poor, not allowing those offerings he received to be hidden in chests, even to the amount of one iota ; for the man of God thought avarice one of the greatest sins of which an ecclesiastic could be guilty.

Having thus established his monastery near that of his master Donatus, Andrew led a holy life in that place, until he attained a good old age. Were we to relate all the miracles which God deigned to grant, in return for the prayers of this holy man, the account should expand beyond those limits usual in sacred writings. In San Martino a Mensola, St. Andrew drew around him a number of devoted men, who, invested with the religious garb, led a life of austerity and purity. Nor can the pen record those glorious deeds of his old age. His gift of working miracles was very extraordinary. He cast out demons, gave sight to the blind, health to the fevered, and strength to the infirm, so that they might live to render thanks to their Creator. Even the afflicted, who touched only his garments, received spiritual comfort, and often bodily health. At San Martino de Mensola the holy man lived, and there, too, he expected, with a tranquil mind, the approach of his latter end.

Thus favoured with supernatural powers by the Almighty, the mind of His holy servant Andrew received spiritual illumination also regarding his approaching dissolution. Having contracted a fever, he called all his brethren together, and affectionately exhorted them to preserve their souls in patience and perseverance, while always fearing the judgment of God. Moreover, he desired them to serve the Lord in that place which he had selected. His moving admonitions greatly affected the children of his household, especially as they now understood their superior's term of life was fast drawing to a close.

It seems to be pretty well established, that St. Donatus and St. Andrew lived together in Fiesole about the middle of the ninth century; although no certain date can be assigned for their respective dates of death. Nevertheless, as Grausolphus, Bishop of Fiesole, was present at the Council of Rome, held in 826, most likely he was immediately succeeded by Donatus, who nourished there as Bishop forty-seven years, and he was again succeeded by Zenobius Fesulanus, who, among other Bishops, subscribed an Epistle, which issued from the Council of Ravenna, A.D. 877. It seems very probable, as Andrew is said to have survived his master Donatus, and as he was a junior in age to him, that the date for his death must have been towards the close of the ninth century.

Having outlived the holy Bishop Donatus, his faithful friend and master, St. Andrew was afterwards called to bliss. Just before his departure, the memory of his childhood and of his native country came to his mind, and above all others, he thought on his dearly loved sister Brigid, whom he had left behind in Ireland, and whom he had not beheld for upwards of forty years. He longed greatly to see her before his death. Mercifully willing to comfort Andrew, the Lord was pleased to gratify that earnest desire. At this time, Brigid was seated at her retired home, where she lived usually on a frugal meal of salad and of small fishes. Then an angel came to her chamber, and bore her in a miraculous manner to the bedside of Andrew. The monks who stood around his couch were quite amazed, and they were struck dumb at her appearance. In like manner, trembling and awe-struck, Brigid gazed upon her aged and dying brother, as also on those who were there in their strange costumes. She thought it was a vision. However, on lifting up his eyes, Andrew knew what had happened, and looking upon her, he said in tender tones: "Brigid, my beloved sister, long have I wished in my soul to see thee before I die, but all my hope was fading out as death approached, and I remembered the great distance between us. But the fount of eternal love has granted to me, a sinner, this great favour that thou hast now known. Fear not, for it is in very deed and truth Andrew of Ireland, thy brother, whom thou beholdest before thee. Now thou shalt but for a short time see him, whom thou hast thought had long departed from this world. I trusted that God would grant my dying request through thy merits; I always hoped thou wouldst come, a solitary and a penitent, to this place, where far from my country, I have passed my days a feeble soldier, so that my shortcomings might be filled up by the measure of thy virtues. Behold herein the mercy of God. Fear not, but pray for me with all the fervour of thy soul. Behold the hour is at hand and my summons has come. Abandon thy amazement, and know that what thou here seest is true."

Then, awaking as it were from sleep, Brigid wept through joy, and fervour, and grief; kissing her brother's hand, she held it tightly, but could not speak, so choked was she by sobs and sighs. She folded her brother in a chaste embrace, and crying out in prayer, she bathed him with her tears. Then wearied in this hour of sorrow, she was at first silent, but afterwards kneeling, she thus broke forth in prayer: "All powerful God, who alone doest marvels, whom the powers of Heaven serve, whom the elements obey, on whom all creatures justly wait, I give Thee thanks with praise and blessing, since Thou hast vouchsafed to Thy handmaiden to lead her to the presence of her brother. All honour and glory be unto Thee." Then turning to the dying man, she said: "O most holy brother, long years ago the best guide of my youth and the director and guardian of that life which through thy holy persuasion I have dedicated to the Lord, now I both rejoice and mourn at the same moment. For when I see thy weakness, I pity thee in my affection, and yet I grieve and mourn that thou shouldst go so soon from this miserable world wherein thou leavest me unconsoled. But, when I see with what great striving thou hast resisted the temptations of this life, and hast defeated the evil one, and in thy good deeds art justified before the Lord, I exult and rejoice. For the rest, I do but say: whatsoever days remain for me, after thou hast gone, I am resolved to dedicate to thy just will, following in thy footsteps so far as the weakness of my sinful frame allows. I will tarry patiently in this place, whither the angel of the Lord has borne me, so long as God wills, but praying of thee, dearest brother, to entreat of Him, that He may grant a man's strength to aid my woman's frailty. And now, my brother! be strong in the Lord, and show in death that strength in the cross, which thou didst bear in life."

We have already seen in the Acts of this holy sister, St. Brigid, how she was thus miraculously conveyed from Ireland to Fiesole, and how she appeared at her brother's bed-side to console him when death was approaching. She then expressed her intention of remaining in that place, and of devoting the remainder of her days to the service of the Almighty. When she had spoken, and in the manner already related, the man of God, strengthened by his sister's words, raised himself on his knees from the hair couch on which he lay, and having clasped his hands on high, so far as his failing strength allowed, he bade farewell to his sister and to his brethren. Then raising his eyes to heaven he prayed, "Receive into thy bosom, O Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour, the spirit of Thy servant Andrew." Then having covered his eyes, he straightway died. The brethren, who with his sister were praying around him and expecting the hour of his departure, suddenly beheld a splendour of light descend upon the man of God from heaven. Owing to excessive brilliancy, it was more than their eyes could endure, and at the same time, the whole house was filled with a fragrant odour. When that great light returned to the heaven whence it came, and when they could look upon the holy corpse again, they saw Andrew laid upon the bed, as if in sleep, his arms folded and crossed upon his breast.

The monks then, according to their usual custom, reverently carried the body thence, and laid it on a bier opposite the altar, until such time as they could duly celebrate the funeral obsequies. Meanwhile, all the people of Fiesole, male and female, young and old, as if summoned by a heavenly trumpet, left the city and hastened in crowds to the monastery of St. Martin on the Mensola. Moreover, crowds assembled from regions round about, to that place where the body lay. They kissed Andrew's hands and feet, in their reverence and devotion, carrying away with them as relics whatever little fragments of the holy man's garments they could secure.

His body was buried in a chapel of the basilica of St. Martin, which he had restored. At the shrine of St. Andrew, many miracles were afterwards wrought, in favour of the infirm and afflicted; while numbers of the faithful from the country around, and pilgrims from afar, were accustomed to frequent his chapel, and to pray for spiritual and temporal blessings, through his merits and intercession.

When consigned to the earth, no particular mark seems to have indicated that exact spot where his body lay; or, at least, in course of time, all memory of it had passed away from popular traditions. However, a miracle revealed the secret, when a married lady of rank and great beauty, but of light character, died. She had been buried over the coffin of St. Andrew, and before his altar. In a vision, the holy man thrice appeared to a priest, who was chaplain to certain nuns at Fiesole, and warned him, that the remains of that lady should be removed, and that the chapel should be purified. As the priest at first had neglected that warning, he was suddenly struck with epilepsy, to the great horror of the nuns, who poured forth their prayers to St. Andrew for his recovery. He was thus restored to his former condition, when that priest declared what had happened in the vision. Then it was resolved, that the mortal and putrid remains of that lady should be removed, and this labour was effected with some difficulty and loathing by the grave diggers. Nevertheless, when that work had been accomplished, on digging somewhat deeper, the workmen found St. Andrew's coffin, in which his remains were freshly preserved, and from which an agreeable odour then emanated. This event took place in the year 1285. The remains of St. Andrew were therefore raised from that grave, in which they had been so long buried, and with great solemnity, they were placed before the high altar. A handsome shrine had been prepared for their reception; and thenceforward, the veneration for our saint became more extended.

It is stated in the Latin Life of this saint, the miracles then wrought so frequently were notified by testimony sufficiently convincing to the sovereign Pontiff at Rome, who did not hesitate canonically to inscribe Andrew's name in the Catalogue of the saints. However, confirmation of such statement is otherwise wanting; yet, it seems to have been derived from an ancient local tradition. About the year 1380, a certain noble Florentine matron, having experienced the efficacy of St. Andrew's intercession, ordered a silver bust of the holy patron to be made, and on it were inscribed these characters: " D. Andreae natione Scoti, S. Donati Episcopi Faesulani concivis, discipuli, comitis, ac Levitae. Claruit circa Annum DCCCLXXX." This she brought, and with gratitude she placed it in the church of St, Martin at Mensula. However, as that sanctuary had been exposed to various depredations, the Benedictine monks at Florence translated it thither to their abbey, and for greater security. In it, they enclosed the middle part of St. Andrew's head. On solemn festivals, and on the octave of the Festival of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that relic was exposed on the high altar of their church; for veneration of the faithful.

From a time very remote, the people of Florence, of Fesule, and of that country around, had established a Confraternity, which assembled in the Church of St. Martin at Mensola, on Sundays and on Festival Days, to practise devotions, and to ask the intercession of St. Andrew. In lapse of time, that religious confraternity had dissolved; but, in 1473, a pious servant of God resolved on its revival, by associating women with men to perpetuate more those devout exercises. However, even the latter sodality fell away, owing to the casualties of intestine wars and pestilence. It was again revived, in 1600, owing to the pious zeal of Father Luke Bartolino, Abbot of the Florentine monastery, and he also ordered the ancient tomb of St. Andrew in the middle of St. Martin's Church to be restored. Honours were likewise paid to the memory of St. Andrew, long after his death, by the noble family of Mazzini, and in the Church of St. Donninus, where they erected a chapel dedicated specially to him. Also Leonardus Bonafides, afterwards raised to the see of Cortona, took care that a chapel in honour of St. Andrew should be erected in the Church of St. Martin de Mensula ; and, he transferred the relics of our saint to the altar of that chapel with great solemnity. The Roman Pontiffs also granted various indulgences to the faithful who devoutly visited his shrine. Moreover, Leonardus restored the chapel of St. Andrew, and erected a marble altar in it, which was consecrated in 1602, on the xv. Of the August Kalends. In fine, about the year 1613 or 1614, certain workmen repaired the confraternity room and chapel of St. Andrew; in which they were accustomed to assemble, and to celebrate the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, with St. Andrew, was regarded as their particular patron.

It may be inferred from the foregoing narrative, that the local veneration for St. Andrew has been observed, especially in the country around Fesule, from the ninth to the present century. In the Calendars, he has been recorded, and in many of them with high eulogy. Thus, the Florentine copy of Usuard has the feast of St. Andrew, deacon and minister to St. Donatus of Scotia, at the 22nd of August. While Dempster and Camerarius assign the feast of St. Andrew, Archdeacon of Fesule, to the 4th of August, nearly all other Calendarists are agreed, that his festival belongs more properly to the present date. At the 22nd of August, this holy Archdeacon is commemorated by Philip Ferrarius, in words of eulogy, and he is followed by Castellan. That this was his true festival has been shown by Placidus Puccinello, in the Life of St. Andrew, which is written in Italian. He proves it to have been an ancient custom for the Benedictine monks of the Abbey at Florence to expose, on the 22nd of August, a part of St. Andrew's head for public veneration of the faithful each year, on the high altar of their church. Moreover, on that same day, the Florentine monks went to the Church of St. Martin at Mensula, and there with the congregation, St. Andrew was solemnly reverenced by them, while the other part of his head was carried around in religious procession. Nor is this proof weakened owing to the circumstance, that a confraternity of working men, instituted to honour their patron saint, have selected the first Sunday after the 22nd of August for a special religious ceremony; because they deemed Sunday to be a more suitable day for collecting a greater number of people to join in their devotions, and to add much more to the solemnity. This saint is probably the Andreas mentioned in Henry Fitzsimon's list, but without a date for his festival being assigned. A notice of him occurs in the " Circle of the Seasons," and also at the present date. Long after St. Andrew's time, we learn from certain Manuscripts remaining to our own days, that the people of Florence, Faesule and the neighbourhood, were accustomed to assemble, and to celebrate his Festival with great devotion, as also to hear his panegyric pronounced by eloquent preachers.

Although nearly forgotten in his native country, or at least not honoured in a similar manner; yet, among the heavenly choirs, and in the assembly of the saints, his glory remains perpetually preserved, while his virtues on earth have only their transitory record.

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

Sunday 14 August 2016

The Monastic School of Ross

Below is a paper on the Monastic School of Ross by Archbishop John Healy (1841-1918), in which he examines the history of Saint Fachtna's foundation. Saint Fachtna is commemorated on August 14 and a previous account of his life can be found here.


THE monastic school of ROSS, more commonly called Ross Ailithir, was one of the most celebrated in the South of Ireland. Its founder was St. Fachtna the patron of the diocese of Ross, who is commonly identified with St. Fachtna, the founder and patron of the diocese of Kilmore. This is, indeed, highly probable, seeing that both dioceses celebrate the feasts of their respective patrons on the same day, the 14th of August, and besides, both belonged to the same princely race of the Corca Laighde.

The territory of Corca Laighde, which takes its name from the ruling tribe, was conterminous with the diocese of Ross, of which, as we said, St. Fachtna, was founder and first bishop. It extended in ancient times along the southwestern coast of Cork from Courtmacsherry Bay to Dursey Head, and included besides East and West Carberry, the modern baronies of Beare and Bantry towards the western margin, as well as the baronies of Ibane and Barryroe on its eastern borders. Afterwards, however, this territory was greatly contracted by hostile incursions, especially by the inroads of the O'Sullivans on the west, of the O'Mahonys on the east, and thus the territory of Corca Laighde was reduced so as to include only West and a small portion of East Carberry.

The race called the Corca Laighde derived their name from Lugaidh Laighe of the line of Ith, uncle of Milesius, who flourished in the second century of the Christian era. The mother of the celebrated St. Ciaran of Saighre belonged to this family. Her name was Liaghain, latinized Liadania, and she was married to an Ossorian prince called Luighneadh, of which marriage St. Ciaran was born at the residence of his mother's family, called Fintraigh, in Cape Clear Island, about the middle of the fifth century. St. Fachtna was born also in the same territory at a place called Tulachteann, in sight of the southern sea, but as he died young about forty-six years of age late in the sixth century, he cannot have been born for many years after St. Ciaran. He is sometimes called Mac Mongach, either from the name of his father, or because he was born with much hair on his head mongach, i.e. hairy.

Like Brendan and Cuimin of Clonfert, he was nurtured under the care of St. Ita, the Bridget of Munster, and received from that wise and gentle virgin those lessons of piety that afterwards produced such abundant fruit. The whole of his family, however, must have been trained in virtue at home, for we are told that no less than seven of his brothers were enrolled in the catalogue of the Irish saints. After leaving Ita's care he went to the famous seminary of St. Finnbarr, at Lough Eirche, near Cork, where so many of the holy men of the sixth century received their early training. The name Fachtna (i.e.facundus, the eloquent), is expressly mentioned in the Life of St. Garvan (26th March) amongst those who crowded to that domicile of all virtue and of all wisdom.

Leaving St. Barry's academy, Fachtna founded for himself the monastery of Molana, in the little island of Dairinis, near Youghal, towards the mouth of the Blackwater. Shortly afterwards, however, he returned to his native territory, and founded on a promontory between two pleasant bays of the southern ocean the celebrated establishment now called Ross Carberry, but recently known as Ross Ailithir, from the number of pilgrim students who crowded its halls, not only from all parts of Ireland, but from all parts of Europe. It was admirably situated as a retreat for the holy and the wise, on a gentle eminence rising from the sea, in the midst of green fields, looking down on the glancing waters of the rushing tides, and smiling under the light of ever-genial skies. Here Fachtna "the good and wise," though still young in years founded, what is called in the Life of St. Mochoemoc, " magnum studium scholarium," a great college not only for the study of sacred Scripture, but also for the cultivation of all the liberal arts.

Amongst other distinguished teachers who helped to make the school of Ross famous was St. Brendan, the navigator, who later on founded the sees both of Ardfert and Clonfert. Usher tells us, quoting from an old document, that about the year 540 A.D., Brendan was engaged for some time in teaching the liberal arts at Ross Ailithir during the lifetime too of its holy founder. Fachtna and Brendan were intimate friends, for both were nurtured by the holy virgin Ita of Killeedy, and no doubt loved each other with the deep and abiding affection of foster brothers. It is only natural, therefore, that Brendan should go to visit St. Fachtna at Ross, and aid him with the influence of his name and character in starting and organising the new school.

It was at this period that an unforeseen misfortune happened to Fachtna, which to one engaged, as he was, would become a double misfortune. By some accident he became entirely blind, so that he could neither read nor see anything. In this affliction the saint had recourse to God and was directed by an angel to apply to Nessa, the sister of St. Ita, and then about to become the mother of that child of promise St. Mochoemoc, through whom he would obtain his eyesight. Fachtna did so, and miraculously recovered his eyesight.

It seems St, Fachtna must have acquired great fame as a preacher, and no doubt too as a teacher of eloquence, for the surname of "Facundus," which is sometimes used instead of his own name, was given to him. He was, it appears, clothed with the episcopal dignity, and thus became founder of the diocese of Ross, which, not however without mutations, has continued down to our own times, and still ranks amongst the independent Sees of Ireland. The saint died at the early age of forty-six, and was buried in his own Cathedral Church of Ross. The holy work, however, in which he was engaged, was continued by his successors, and for many centuries Ross continued to be a great school whose halls were crowded by students from every land. St. Cuimin of Connor, describes Fachtna as the " generous and steadfast, who loved to address assembled crowds, and never spoke aught that was base and displeasing to God" in allusion to his sanctity and eloquence.

His immediate successor was Conall, whose succession to Fachtna in the monastery and see of Ross was foretold by St. Ciaran of Saighre. Mention is also made of St. Finchad of Ross-ailithir, who seems to have been a fellow pupil of the founder at the great school of Finnbarr in Cork. These two saints were probably tribes-men of St. Fachtna, for we are told that he was succeeded in his See by twenty-seven bishops of his own tribe, whose jurisdiction was conterminous with the chief of the clann over the territory of Corcalaighde.

" Seven and twenty bishops nobly
Occupied Ross of the fertile fields,
From Fachtna the eloquent, the renowned,
To the well-ordered Episcopate of Dongalach."

The names are unfortunately not given in our annals in this as well as in many other instances where a succession of bishops with well-defined jurisdiction was undoubtedly preserved. O'Flaherty puts the same statement in hexameters

"Dongalus a Fachtna ter nonus episcopus extat
Lugadia de gente, dedit cui Rossia mitram."

Which another poet translates in this fashion :

" Hail happy Ross, who could produce thrice nine
All mitred sages of Lugadia's line,
From Fachtna crowned with everlasting praise
Down to the date of Dongal's pious days."

During the ninth century we find frequent mention of the "abbots" of Ross-ailithir in the Four Masters, and we are told that it was burned by the Danes, in 840, along with the greater part of Munster. In the tenth and eleventh centuries we find reference is made, not to the "bishops" or "abbots," but to the " airchinnech " of Ross-ailithir; and it is quite possible that during this disturbed period laymen took possession of the abbacy with this title, having ecclesiastics under them to perform the spiritual functions. Once only we find reference to a "bishop," in 1085, when the death of Neachtain Mac Neachtain, the distinguished Bishop of Ross-ailithir is recorded.

But whether it was bishop, abbot, or airchinnech, who held the spiritual sway of the monastery, and its adjacent territory, the school continued to flourish even during those centuries most unpropitious to the cultivation of learning. In 866, or according to the Chronicon Scotorum in 868, we are told of the death of Feargus, scribe and anchorite of Ross-ailithir, showing that the work of copying manuscripts was still continued in its schools. But we have still and more striking evidence during the tenth century of the literary work done at Ross-ailithir, for a manual of ancient geography,written by one of these lectors in the Irish language, is happily still preserved in the Book of Leinster.

The author of this most interesting treatise, as we know from the same authority, was Mac Cosse, who was Ferlegind, that is a reader, or lecturer of Ross-ailithir. A passage in the Annals of Innisfallen enables us to identify him, and his history furnishes a striking example of the vicissitudes of those disturbed times:

"The son of Imar left Waterford and [there followed] the destruction of Ross of the Pilgrims by the foreigners, and the taking prisoner of the Felegind i.e. Mac Cosse-de-brain, and his ransoming by Brian at Scattery Island."

This entry enables us to fix the probable date of this geographical poem of MacCosse, which seems to have been the manual of classical geography made use of in Ross-ailithir, and hence so full of interest for the student of the history of our ancient schools. This Imar was king of the Danes of Limerick, but in 968 the Danes of Limerick were completely defeated by Mahoun and his younger brother Brian Boru. Imar made his escape to Wales, but after a year or two returned again, first, it would seem, toWaterford ; issuing thence he harried all the coasts and islands of the South, and finally returned to Limerick with a large fleet and army. But he deemed Scattery Island a more secure stronghold, and having fortified it he made that island his head-quarters, and no doubt kept his prisoners there also. Scattery itself was captured from the Danes by Brian, a little later on in 976, and there Imar was slain; so that it was in the interval between 970-976 that MacCosse was kept a prisoner at Scattery Island, and ransomed by the generosity of Brian, who always loved learning and learned men.

This poem consists of one hundred and thirty-six lines, giving a general account of the geography of the ancient world, and was, no doubt, first got by rote by the students, and then, more fully explained by the lecturer to his pupils. This tenth century is generally regarded as the darkest of the dark ages; yet, we have no doubt that,whoever reads over this poem will be surprised at the extent and variety of geographical knowledge communicated to the pupils of Ross-ailithir in that darkened age, when the Danish ships, too, were roaming round the coasts of Ireland. It is not merely that the position of the various countries is stated with much accuracy, but we have, as we should now say, an account of their fauna and flora their natural productions, as well as their physical features. The writer, too, seems to be acquainted not merely with the principal Latin authors, but also with the writings of at least some of the Grecian authorities.

In the opening stanza he describes the five zones: "two frigid of bright aspect'' alluding, no doubt, to their snowy wastes and wintry skies, lit up by the aurora borealis and then two temperate around the fiery zone, which stretches about the middle of the world. There are three continents, Europe, Africa, and Asia ; the latter founded by the Asian Queen, and much the larger, because she unduly trespassed on the territories of her neighbours. Adam's paradise is in the far East, beyond the Indus, surrounded by a wall of fire. India "great and proud," is bounded on the west by that river, on the north by the hills of Hindoo Coosh. That country is famous " for its magnets, and its diamonds, its pearls, its gold dust, and its carbuncles." There are to be found the fierce one-horned beast, and the mighty elephant it is a land where "soft and balmy breezes blow," and two harvests ripen within the year. In like manner he describes the other countries of Asia ; the mare rubrum " swift and strong," andEgypt, by the banks of Nile, the most fertile of all lands. He even tells us of the burning fires of the Alaunian land, alluding to the petroleum springs around the Caspian. He names all the provinces of Asia Minor " little Asia," he calls it and says most accurately, that it was bounded on the west by the Propontus and the AEgean sea. In like manner he describes Africa, and derives its name from Apher, a son of Abraham and Keturah, showing that he was familiar with the Greek of the Antiquities of Josephus. He then goes through the various countries of Europe, giving their names, and chief cities. The principal rivers, too, are named, and their courses fixed, when he says that -

"Three streams issue from the Alps westward, and across Europe they appear
The Rhine in the north-west, the Loire, and the River Rhone."

Finally, he comes to Ireland, which, in loving language, he proclaims to be

"A pleasant and joyous land, wealth abounding ; the land of the sons of Milesius ; a land of branching stems ; the most fertile land that is under the sun."

So ends this most interesting manual of geography, written by an Irish scholar, in the Irish tongue, and taught to the students of Ross-ailithir, whilst the Danish pirates were roaming round our seas, and ruling with strong hand in Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick.

Of the subsequent fortune of Ross-ailithir we know little. In 1127 the fleet of Toirdhealbach O'Conor sailed to Rossailithir, and despoiled Desmond, as the Chronicon Scotorum informs us for it was not the Dane alone that our schools and churches had to fear often, far too often, the spoiler was some rival chieftain, whose churches and monasteries were sure to be spoiled very soon in their turn. Then came the greatest of all the devastators the Anglo-Normans, who laid waste Corca Laighde under Fitz Stephen, a few years after Bishop O'Carbhail went to his rest in 1168. Since that period the school has disappeared, but the see of Ross still holds its ground, after having gone through some strange vicissitudes of union and separation from the neighbouring dioceses of Cloyne and Cork.


Friday 5 August 2016

The Celtic Relations of Saint Oswald of Northumbria

August 5 is the feastday of Saint Oswald of Northumbria, a protege of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne, and below is a 1909 paper on the Irish influences in the life of this royal martyr:


J. M. Mackinlay

By relationships I do not mean ties of blood, but ties of circumstance. St. Oswald was Anglic by birth, and ruled over an Anglic people, but at various times during his romantic career he was brought into touch with Celtic influences. When his father, AEthelfrith, King of Northumbria, was killed in battle in the year 617, and was succeeded by Eadwine, brother-in-law of the dead king, Oswald, who was then about thirteen years of age, had to flee from his native land. He went to the north-west, and along with his elder brother Eanwith and a dozen followers, sought refuge in the monastery of Iona. St. Columba had been dead twenty years; but the tradition of his sanctity was still a living force in the island. Celtic monasteries were places of education as well as of devotion. When speaking of monastic institutions in Erin, Miss Eleanor Hull in her Early Christian Ireland remarks: 'Let us see what sort of life a boy lived in one of these great schools. It was a busy life, for they had not only to learn lessons and to attend the services of the church, but they had also to take their share in the general work of the place. The monks and students alike seem to have taken part in cultivating the ground, in grinding and baking bread, and in doing the duties both of farmers and cooks. Even the bishops and clergy seem at first to have worked with their hands, and to have laboured in the fields, but as the establishments grew larger the work must have been divided, and the lay brethren no doubt performed the ordinary duties, while the monks and clergy gave themselves to teaching and the services of the Church. But in St. Columcille's time all shared the work, and even men of noble birth ploughed and reaped and attended to the wants of the establishment.'

When Oswald and his brother, along with their companions, entered the monastery of Iona, they apparently did so merely because it supplied an asylum during a time of political unrest, for they were still Pagans. They allowed themselves, however, to be instructed in the doctrines of Christianity. Eventually they made profession of the new faith and received the seal of baptism. When Oswald came to Iona its Abbot was Fergna Brit, i.e. the Briton, otherwise called Virgnous, who was head of the monastery from 605 till 623. He had been one of its inmates when St. Columba was Abbot, and according to Adamnan was witness of a miraculous light which, on one occasion, enveloped the saint, and which he alone of all the brethren was permitted to see.

Meanwhile political changes were making themselves felt in Northumbria, rumours of which penetrated even into the recesses of the Icolmkill monastery. Though evidently content with his mode of life there, with its round of study, labour, and devotion, Oswald did not forget his home-land and his royal ancestry. At Iona he was still an exile. 'Unhappy it is for a man, however good his means and his lot, if he does not see his own country and his own home at the time of rising in the morning and at the time of lying at night.' This sentiment thus expressed in Dr. Alexander Carmichael's admirable version of Deirdire was found true in the experiences of the royal exile.

In 633, sixteen years after Oswald became a fugitive, Eadwine fell in battle at Heathfield (now Hatfield), in Yorkshire, crushed by the combined armies of Penda, ruler of Mercia, and his ally Csedwalla, a British prince. Eanwith thereupon ascended the Bernician throne, and Osric, a cousin of Eadwine, that of Deira ; but in the following year both these princes were slain, and the two thrones were vacant. This was a call to Oswald to enter public life, and he did not let the opportunity pass. With a small army recruited probably, as Dr. W. F. Skene suggests, from among the men of the Border north of the Tweed, he marched south and met, near the Roman Wall, between the Tyne and the Solway, a Pagan army much larger than his own, under the leadership of Catlon, who has been identified, though not conclusively, with Caedwalla.

On the day before the battle Oswald was sleeping in his tent, when, according to the narrative of Adamnan, a wonderful and cheering vision was vouchsafed to him. Adamnan says : 'He saw St. Columba in a vision, beaming with angelic brightness, and of figure so majestic that his head seemed to touch the clouds. The blessed man, having announced his name to the king, stood in the midst of the camp, and covered it all with his brilliant garment, except at one small distant point ; and at the same time he uttered those cheering words which the Lord spake to Jesua Ben Nun before the passage of the Jordan, after Moses' death, saying, " Be strong and of a good courage ; behold, I shall be with thee," etc. Then St. Columba, having said these words to the king in the vision, added, "March out this following night from your camp to battle, for on this occasion the Lord has granted to me that your foes shall be put to flight, that your enemy Catlon shall be delivered into your hands, and that after the battle you shall return in triumph, and have a happy reign." ; To give emphasis to the above story Adamnan adds: 'I, Adamnan, had this narrative from the lips of my predecessor, the Abbot Failbe, who solemnly declared that he had himself heard King Oswald relating this same vision to Segine the Abbot.' The incident, however we may interpret it, is of special interest as showing what a hold the monastery of Iona had taken on the mind of Oswald. What he had there heard of its great founder had so impressed him that now, at a critical juncture in his life, his imagination was stirred by memories of what he had been told.

In the battle that followed Oswald and his army obtained a decisive victory. The scene of the conflict was a place some seven or eight miles north of Hexham, styled in the English tongue Heavenfield or the Heavenly Field, which name, according to Bede, 'it formerly received as a presage of what was afterwards to happen, denoting that there the heavenly trophy would be erected, the heavenly victory begun, and heavenly miracles be wrought.' Bede's reference to the heavenly trophy and the heavenly miracles relates to a wooden cross erected by Oswald before the battle and to the cures believed to have been wrought by chips of its wood when placed in water. The conflict is styled by Nennius the battle of Catscaull, supposed to represent Cad-ys-gual, i.e. the battle at the wall. A church was afterwards built on the spot, and dedicated to St. Oswald.

Nothing now lay between Oswald and the throne of Northumbria, and in ascending it he re-united the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. In addition he was overlord of practically all England except Kent, of the islands of Anglesea and Man, and even of the Cymric kingdom of Strathclyde, whose capital was Alcluith, now Dunbarton, i.e. the hill or fort of the Britons. During the time of Eadwine Christianity had been introduced into Deira by St. Paulinus ; but in Bernicia heathenism still prevailed. Accordingly when Oswald formed a plan for evangelising the northern portion of his realm, it was natural that his thoughts should turn to Iona for the help he needed. ' The same Oswald' says Bede, 'as soon as he ascended the throne, being desirous that all his nation should receive the Christian faith, whereof he had found happy experience in vanquishing the barbarians, sent to the elders of the Scots . . . desiring they would send him a bishop by whose instruction and ministry the English nation, which he governed, might be taught the advantages and receive the sacraments of the Christian faith.' In response to the king's request one of the brethren named Corman, was sent to Bernicia, but he was too austere and had little success in his preaching. On his return to Iona he was succeeded among the Angles by Aidan, whom Bede describes as ' a man of singular meekness, piety, and moderation.' The only blemish in his character hinted at by Bede was his habit of celebrating Easter at the Celtic and not the Roman time of year.

The king assigned to Aidan as his Episcopal seat, Lindisfarne, off the Northumbrian coast, known later as Holy Island. It had a special attraction for the missionary bishop as it recalled his Scottish home. Aidan, as the Rev. Canon Raine points out, 'had been long accustomed to the sea-girt shore of Iona; and Lindisfarne would doubtless appear to him a second Iona embosomed in the waves'. The Bishop, unaccustomed to the Anglic speech, had difficulty in making himself understood in Northumbria ; but the king, who had become familiar with Gaelic during his residence in Iona, was in the habit of acting as interpreter to the chief men of the court. Bede tells us that many other Scottish missionaries settled in different parts of the Northumbrian realm, that churches were built, and that money and lands were given by the king to found monasteries. An anecdote told by Bede exemplifies King Oswald's kindness to the poor. One Easter the king was sitting at dinner with Bishop Aidan, and on the table was a silver dish full of dainties. When the king was informed that a number of starving people stood without seeking alms, he at once sent food to them, and ordered the silver dish to be broken up, and divided among them ; 'at which sight' says Bede, 'the bishop, much taken with such an act of piety, laid hold of his right hand and said, "May this hand never perish." Which fell out according to his prayer, for his arm and hand, being cut off from his body, when he was slain in battle, remain entire and uncorrupted to this day.

In 642, eight years after his accession to the Northumbrian throne, Oswald was slain in battle at a place called by Bede Maserfield, believed to be Oswestry in Shropshire. His conqueror was Penda of Mercia, who, flushed with triumph, caused the dead king's head, arms, and hands to be cut off and fixed on stakes. The story of Oswald's relics forms a picturesque chapter in the annals of hagiology; but the narration of their wanderings lies beyond the scope of the present article. The stake on which the king's head was fixed was believed to have acquired thereby miraculous powers. Bede tells us that when Acca, afterwards Bishop of Hexham, was in Ireland on pilgrimage he found that the fame of the king's sanctity was already spread far and near. A violent plague was raging at the time. Acca was asked by a certain scholar, who was dangerously ill, if he could supply any relics of St. Oswald, in the hope that they might bring restoration to health. Acca replied that he had with him a piece of the oaken stake on which the king's head had been fixed at Maserfield. He forthwith blessed some water and placed in it a chip of the wood as was done in the case of the cross at Heavenfield, already referred to. The sick man drank the water and recovered, and King Oswald got the credit of the cure.

The Celtic Review, VOLUME V JULY 1908 TO APRIL 1909, 304-9.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

Thursday 4 August 2016

The Monastic Teaching of Saint Molua

Canon O'Hanlon's account of Saint Molua (Lugid) in his Lives of the Irish Saints paints a picture of the type of teaching the saint imparted to those pursuing the monastic life under his care. He was credited with having written an austere monastic rule, but the text does not seem to have survived. In the first incident, Saint Molua deals with a novice lay brother who hasn't quite grasped the idea of living in community:

'A great number of monks flocked to Clonfert Molua, and placed themselves under the rule of its holy abbot, who received them most affectionately. Indeed, it was his habitual practice, to deal leniently with all his subjects; so that only by mild persuasions, and without asperity of speech or manner, did he seek their spiritual correction or improvement. An anecdote is related, whereby we may understand, he had an indirect and a pleasantly quiet way for administering reproof. A laic, who was probably with him as a novice, seems to have been so eccentric, that he did not wish any other person to live in the house with him. One day, while he was alone, Lugid paid him a visit, and found that he was sitting before the fire warming himself. Then said the laic to him: "Sit down and warm your feet." Lugid replied: " You give me good advice," and he sat down. However, the man went out, and on returning, he found Lugid walking about the fireplace and turning around, so as to obstruct the heat from reaching the owner. Then said the laic to him : "Why are you thus acting, or why do you walk before the fire?" Then Lugid replied in a vein of satiric humour : "I do so turn myself, that I may receive the whole benefit of the blaze, and that it alone may warm every part of my body." The reproof was felt, and then that man consented to have another share his place of dwelling.'

In the second incident, Saint Molua offers some thoughts on the subject of confession:

'Having approached a spot called Tuaim Domnaich, near which a cross was erected, a certain monk accompanying him felt great contrition, because he had not confessed the sins, committed on that day, to his director. He asked the permission of our saint, that he might be able to repair such a fault. "But, is it so great a sin," said he, "to avoid confession in this life? or is it not quite sufficient, to ask pardon of God for our sins? " Molua said: " If a man do not confess his sins, he cannot obtain pardon, unless the omnipotent God in his mercy shall grant it to the penitent, after inflicting a great punishment of penance on him here, and after a public accusation by the Devil, on the day of future judgment. For, as the pavement of a house is daily covered by the roof, so must the soul be covered by daily confession." The monk, hearing this from his abbot, promised to confess his venial faults, which he afterwards did with great exactness, while the saint and his brethren were greatly rejoiced, because this monk abandoned his former presumption'.

And in the third story, he teaches a former bard the value of humility, obedience, and perseverance:

'A bard named Conan had joined his religious community, but he was not used to manual labour. One day, Lugid said to him : "Let us go together, and do a little work." Taking with them two reaping-hooks, and going into a wood, they found there a great quantity of thistles. Then said Lugid: " Come, and let us cut down this brake of thistles together." Conan answered, "I alone can cut them off"; when Lugid pressing a fork against one of the thistles, the bard soon struck it down. Then the abbot told him to cease work for that day, much to the surprise of Conan, and both returned to the monastery. Going again the next day, they cut down only two thistles; on the third day, they cut down three; and on each succeeding day, they cut down one more in addition. It was probably to give a practical lesson in persevering industry to his monk, that the abbot so willed. In due course, a great clearance was effected, and afterwards the open was characterized as the Road of Conan. '

Towards the end of his account of Saint Molua's life, O'Hanlon gives a most beautiful description of the saint's final testament to his monastic family:

'Finding the day of his departure about to approach, our saint called his monks together, and in giving many other precepts for their guidance, he said to them: "Beloved brethren, till the land and labour well, that you may have a sufficiency for food, for drink, and for clothing; for where a competence shall be found among God's servants, there must be stability; where stability is found, there shall be religion, and the end of true religion is life everlasting. My dearly beloved children, let constancy be found among you, and proper silence; take care of the pilgrims; and on account of prayer, love to labour with your own hands. Receive strangers always for Christ's sake; spend the morning in prayer; read afterwards, and then toil until evening; while finding time also for God's work, and for other necessities." Thus he exhorted his religious, according to the spirit of his Rule, and with the tenderness of a father, bestowing his last best gifts on his beloved children.'