Monday 31 October 2016

The Martyr of Roeux

October 31 is the feast of Saint Foillan, one of a trio of saintly brothers who went as missionaries to seventh-century Gaul.  It was in his new territory that Foillan met a martyr's death, a story recounted by Dame Augusta Drake in her collection of Catholic Legends:


 "At the time when the children of Clovis reigned in Gaul,” says an old chronicle, “ there was in Ireland a king by name Finnloga, who had a brother, the pious Bishop Brendan. Adfin, one of the kings of Scotland, had a daughter named Gelgés, who had embraced the religion of Christ. King Finnloga’ s son was smitten with her beauty, and married her, but privately, because it was necessary to conceal it from King Adfin, who was an implacable enemy of the faith. He soon discovered it, however, and had his daughter seized and condemned to be burnt. In vain his relations and other persons of influence represented to him that man ought not to separate what God had joined; he ordered the stake to be prepared. But no sooner had Gelgés placed her foot upon the burning wood than it was extinguished. Her father was not convinced by this prodigy, but he consented to spare the life of his daughter, and he condemned her to perpetual exile. She retired with her husband to good Bishop Brendan, her uncle, and there gave birth to three sons — Fursy, Folllan, and Ultan. On the death of the grandfather, Finnloga, their father was raised to the throne; but instead of returning to the court, they resolved, by Brendan’s instructions, to devote themselves to the service of God, and they embarked as missionaries for Gaul.” So far the chronicler.

 Fursy, after many labours and hardships, attained the crown of martyrdom. Foillan, the second brother, was preparing on the 31st October, 655, the day on which our narrative commences, to leave Nivelles, where he had been resting for a short space. Gertrude was at this time the abbess of the convent of Nivelles, and had given to Foillan, in 633, the domain of Fosses, where he had built a church and monastery, the tower of which, in fact, exists to this day. His brother Ultan was now at the monastery of Fosses, and Foillan was about to join him; but before doing so he wished to celebrate the festival of All Saints with his friend the blessed Vincent Maldegher. He took his journey therefore through an opening in the forest by the route of Soignies, where he was to receive hospitality for the night in the monastery of Vincent.

 After traversing many intricate paths in solitude and silence, without meeting any living being; and having moreover, as he thought, lost his way, he began to look about for some human habitation where he might obtain shelter and direction. At last he perceived some rude straw-built huts, and thither he accordingly directed his steps. This was the hamlet of Soneffe.

Foillan seeing that it was now late, and that he had not completed half his journey, was glad to enter a hut and ask for a guide. The frightful appearance and fierce looks of the inmates of the cabin would have frightened any one but the holy missionary. But, like the glass which we read of in the Arabian tale, that did not reflect any deformed object, the heart of the saint suspected no evil, and he at once desired two of the men to accompany him as guides. Foillan conversed with the men from time to time as they proceeded along the rough and unequal path; but they said little in reply. Finding they were still pagans, he spoke to them of God, His goodness and mercy, of the redemption of man by the blood of the Crucified, and of the paradise prepared for those who believe and do His will. All his words, however, fell unheeded on their ears, and he could only be silent and pray for them. At last the saint arrived with his guides at a part of the forest where an idol was worshipped; and there, whether it was that these pagans wished to force him to sacrifice like them to their god, or whether they thought only of robbing him, the four men threw themselves upon him and dispatched him with their clubs, heedless alike of his entreaties, or of the prayers which with his last voice he offered up for his murderers.

Night now set in cold and dismal. A violent wind began to howl among the trees; and next morning a thick snow, which lay for several months, covered the face of the country. Meantime, the companions of Foillan became alarmed at his prolonged absence, and at not having seen him at the feast of Christmas, which he was accustomed to celebrate at Fosses. The most dreadful fears began to be entertained, which were confirmed by several visions. His brother Ultan, as he was at prayers, saw pass before his eyes a dove white as snow, but with wings reddened with blood; a similar prodigy was seen by the abbess Gertrude; and on the 5th January, 656, information was given her in her cell at Nivelles, that in a certain spot of the forest of Soignies the snow was red. Next day she repaired thither, guided by a bloody vapour which hovered in the sky, and discovered the dead body of Foillan. It was at first earned with pomp to Nivelles, but Ultan desired it might be buried at Fosses, as the martyr himself had requested. In order to arrive at this monastery it was necessary to cross the Sambre, then swollen by the melted snow and ice. Not knowing where to cross, it is related that Gertrude ordering them to leave the horses free, the latter passed, followed by the crowd, through the place which has ever since been called the "Ford of St. Gertrude.”

 The body of the martyr was afterwards enclosed in a beautiful chapel; and on the same spot, at a later period, was raised a magnificent church, to which was added, in 1123, an abbey of Premonstratensians. The colour of the snow, which had revealed the place of the crime, gave to this place the name of Rood (red), which was afterwards known by the name of Le Roeux, an important barony in the middle ages, and at this day a thriving little village. Soneffe, whence the murderers of the holy Foillan came, continued, and still continues, to hear the marks of the divine malediction ; for while all the other hamlets around became flourishing towns, this alone has remained as in the times of paganism, a collection of miserable huts.

Drake, Dame Augusta Theodosia, ed. and trans., Catholic Legends: A New Collection (London, 1855), 208-211.

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

Thursday 27 October 2016

Saint Colman's Ducks

St. Colman's Ducks.

The old church of Templeshanbo in Wexford, from which the surrounding parish has its name, lies about three miles from the eastern base of Mount Leinster. It was anciently called Shanbo-Colman (Colman's old tent or booth) from St. Colman O'Ficra, the founder and patron, who lived in the seventh century, and who was held in great veneration there during the long lapse of years that the monastery continued to flourish after his death.

There is now a large graveyard attached to St. Colman's old church, and another about two hundred yards off. Between the two is St. Colman's holy well which was formerly much frequented by pilgrims  in honour of the patron on his festival day, the 27th  of October. But no pilgrim ever makes his "rounds"  or prays there now: the well has lost its reputation: even St. Colman's festival day is quite forgotten.

At this spot there was in former days a large pond supplied from the well, where for ages after St.  Colman's death a number of ducks were kept, which were believed to be under the saint's special protection, and on this account were regarded with affection and treated with great tenderness. They were quite tame and took food from the hand, never flying away at the approach of pilgrims, and never avoiding the gentle familiarities of the people.

Nothing could harm them: and the legend tells us in particular that it was impossible to cook them. Not that any of the good people of Templeshanbo would dare to molest or even frighten them; and the insane thought never entered into any one's head to kill and cook them for food. But as they were so  tame, persons fetching water from the pond on a dark night—so the legend goes on to say—sometimes by an unlucky chance brought one of them away in the vessel without knowing it, and threw the contents, bird and all, into a pot over a fire to be boiled.

Whenever this happened no matter how the people heaped on wood, or how long the fire was kept up, the water still remained as cold as when it was taken from the pond; and in the end the little duck was found not in the least harmed, swimming about unconcernedly on the top. It was of course brought back to the pond: and after this the water in the pot got heated and boiled without further trouble.

This is indeed a marvellous relation: but the version given by Giraldus is more marvellous still: and the birds, as he states, were not the common domestic ducks but the small species of wild duck commonly called teal. He tells us that if any one offered injury or disrespect to the Church, to the clergy, or to the ducks themselves, the whole flock flew away and betook themselves to some other lake at a distance. Soon after their flight the clear water of the pond grew muddy and putrid, emitted a foul smell, and altogether became quite unfit for either man or beast to use. They never returned till the offender was punished according to his deserts; and the moment they alighted on their old place, the water became clear and wholesome as before.

A kite once carried off one of these ducks and perched with it on a neighbouring tree. But the moment he set about killing his prey, his limbs grew stiff, and he fell to the ground dead before the eyes of several persons who happened to be looking on; while the duck flew back unharmed to its companions.

On another occasion a hungry fox seized one of them on a cold frosty evening, near a little cell dedicated to the saint that stood on the shore of the pond; and he ran into the cell with it to have a comfortable warm meal. But in the morning the brute was found lying on the floor choked, while the little duck was alive and well, with its head out of the fox's mouth and its body in his throat.

We find according to certain old authorities, that in the remote little island of Inishmurray in Sligo Bay, where this same Colman was also venerated there were tame ducks under his protection as in Templeshanbo, about which the very same story was told—that it was impossible to cook or harm  them. From these facts and legends we may gather  that St. Colman O'Ficra had an amiable love for birds, and that he kept a number of them as pets, ducks being his special favourites. And in memory of the good old man, the custom was affectionately kept up in both places by his successors. If we are allowed so much of a foundation to rest on, it is not hard to account for the growth of the marvellous part of the legend. The legend of St. Colman's ducks is now altogether forgotten in the neighbourhood; which is to be regretted; for the people would be all the better for a memory of it....

P.W. Joyce, The Wonders of Ireland (Dublin, 1911), 23-26.

Friday 21 October 2016

Saint Fintan Munna of Taghmon, October 21

October 21 is the feast of Saint Fintan better known as Saint Munna. Munna is an important figure who features in a number of well-known episodes from the lives of the Irish saints.  He also played a significant role in the Paschal Dating Controversy. All the sources suggest that he was quite a fiery character who was not to be crossed lightly. For a comprehensive account of his life please follow this link to a paper by Dr Edward Cullerton which was published in the Taghmon Historical Society Journal. Below is an account from Dom Michael Barrett's work,  A Calendar of Scottish Saints, for our saint was also venerated in Scotland:


21 St. Mund or Fintan-Munnu, Abbot, A.D. 635, 

HE was born in Ireland, and was a contemporary of St. Columba. He bears the character of being the most austere of all the Irish saints, and suffered grievously from bodily in firmities with the greatest resignation. Crossing over to Scotland, he dwelt for a time upon an island of Loch Leven, still called after him by the title of Eileanmunde. A more important foundation was afterwards made by this saint at Kilmun, north of the Firth of Clyde, in Argyllshire. An old burial ground still marks the site of the monastery founded by St. Mund; the hills and wooded glens which surround the spot make up a scene of striking beauty. A small bay in the vicinity is called " Holy Loch". It is a matter of dispute whether the title came from its proximity to St. Mund's foundation or from a shipload of earth from the Holy Land, destined to form part of the foundation of a church in Glasgow, and reputed to have been sunk in a storm near that spot. It is said that St. Mund made application to Baithen, St. Columba's successor at Iona, to be received as a monk of that monastery, but that Baithen advised the saint to return to Ireland and found a monastery there. The holy abbot gave this advice on account of a prophecy of St. Columba, who had foreseen St. Mund's desire, and had declared that God willed that saint to become abbot over others and not the disciple of Baithen. It was owing to this advice that St. Mund returned to his native land and founded Teach-Mun (Tagmon) in Wexford, which became famous under his rule. Mediaeval documents mention the saint's pastoral staff as preserved in Argyllshire; its hereditary custodian held a small croft at Kilmun; it may have been in honour of this saint that a fair was held at that place for eight days during April as alluded to in records of 1490. No trace of the above relic now remains. In Ireland this saint is known as St. Fintan-Munnu; but Mundus or Mund is the title which appears in Scottish records.

Dom Michael Barrett, O.S.B., A Calendar of Scottish Saints (2nd. revised ed., Fort Augustus, 1919), 151-152.

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

Sunday 16 October 2016

The Monastery and Library of Saint Gall

October 16 is the feast of Saint Gall, a contemporary of Saint Columbanus, whose journey led him to part company with his master and to go on to labour in Switzerland, where the canton of Saint-Gallen preserves his name. Saint Gall's other great contribution to the religious culture of his adopted homeland was the monastery which also bears his name. Below is a paper on the Monastery and Library of Saint Gall from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record of 1894. I am unable to reproduce the footnotes and some of the foreign language material, so please refer to the original volume for the complete work. The author is the journal's German expert, Father J. F. Hogan, who contributed a series of articles on Irish monastic foundations in Germany. In this paper he introduces us to the successors of Saint Gall and the reputation for learning which their monastery enjoyed. Along the way we will meet some of Saint Gall's most famous sons, including the Irish scholar Moengal, the hymnographer Notker Balbulus and the physician Notker Medicus, among many others, before ending on a wistful, romantic note:


AFTER the death of St. Gall his disciples did not disperse but continued under the rule of Columbanus to carry out the intentions of their founder. They were for the most part Irish monks who had been attracted to Switzerland by the fame of their countryman. During the disturbances that followed the decadence of the Merovingians, they had much to suffer from the barbarians who invaded the country from the north. They would, in all probability, have been completely exterminated had it not been for the protection of Talto, a powerful neighbour who earned for himself the well-deserved title of "Protector Hibernorum." They also induced a native priest, well known for his zeal, and for his important connections in the district to join them and become their abbot. This was Othmar of Chur, who brought to the service of the abbey the most devoted and enlightened zeal, and who died a martyr in its cause and in the cause of religion. His first care was to renew the cells of the monks, to rebuild the church, which was falling into decay, and to have the relics of St. Gall transferred from their resting-place and laid beneath the high altar of the new building. His energy and success soon became known abroad. Carloman, when about to retire for ever to the solitude of Monte Casino, stopped at the monastery on his way to Italy, and was so much impressed with its discipline and spirit, that he warmly recommended it to his brother Pepin. This monarch sent to its abbot a present of a bell, of sixty pounds in money, and of a right to twenty vassals in Breisgau beyond the Rhine. Such an example of royal munificence was quickly followed. Donations from smaller, but not less devoted personages, rapidly multiplied. In the modern cantons of Zurich, Thurgau, Appenzell, Schweitz, and St. Gall, the monastery received an enormous number of fiefs. Meyer von Knonau gives an immense list of them in one of his works. Those which were donated on the northern side of the Rhine are enumerated by Bishop Hefele in his History of the Introduction of Christianity into Southern Germany. They also are very numerous, and are scattered broadcast over the territory that extends from Basle and Strasburg on the one side, to the banks of the Danube on the other.

All these fiefs or properties did not come in to the monastery at once. They gradually accrued. But in the days of St. Othmar the movement had begun. The records of donations were carefully kept in the register of the monastery, and the motives of each one were usually inscribed in the act of transfer. Some gave up their possessions "for the glory of God and the propagation of His kingdom on earth;" others, "because the monastery teaches the Gospel and the doctrine of the Apostles." A rich proprietor, named Albrih, makes over a territory on account of " the instability of this chequered life."  The pious Countess Beata bequeathes her property " in view of the salvation of her soul, and in order to obtain an eternal recompense." Adalsind of Recchinbach is influenced by a motive, to which her sex is perennially sensitive "a desire to beautify and maintain the Church of our Blessed Lady." And thus to the end of the long chapter the formulas are renewed and repeated.

For centuries these large possessions were turned to the best account. Wherever a property fell into the hands of the monks, a church was built, and the pastorate of the country around it served from the monastery. Hence, as Bishop Hefele points out, the enormous number of churches dedicated to St. Gall, not only in Switzerland, but in Wurteinburg, Bavaria, and the Rhineland. The vassals of the surrounding country preferred to depend upon the monastery rather than on the exacting and rapacious lords who plundered and crushed them. The serfs, in particular, were delighted when they became subjects of the great institution. It meant for them kind masters, security, humane and considerate treatment, and a part, moreover, in the work of civilization which was going on, and which they looked upon, not only as conducive to a much better state of things in this world, but salutary even unto life eternal. There were, however, motives in abundance of a worldly kind to attach them to the monks. The monastery had its weavers, its tailors, its shoemakers, its blacksmiths, its smelters, its brewers, gardeners, grooms, shepherds, swineherds, besides a regular service of sailors and shipmen to manage its flotilla of boats on the Bodensee and the Rhine. All these contributed their part to the wealth of the monastery, whilst at the same time they enjoyed its privileges and protection. But, as the French proverb says, "qui a terre a guerre." The wealth of St. Gall did not escape the covetous eyes and the jealous greed of its neighbours. Two adventurous dukes, named Warin and Ruodbart, were the first to harrass the new establishment. The dispute began about some property which was bequeathed to the monks, and which these pretenders claimed as their own. In the course of the contest St. Othmar was taken prisoner, cast into a dungeon at the castle of Bodman, and afterwards at Stein, where he died on the 16th November, 759, having been practically starved to death by his jailors. The monastery, however, survived its persecutors, and freed itself ultimately from the power of all secular enemies. Its struggle for exemption from the jurisdiction of the bishops of Constance was longer and more envenomed, but in the end equally successful. Both successes were, no doubt, only transient, and were destined in subsequent ages to undergo many vicissitudes ; but they were of sufficient duration for the time to enable the institution to develop its interior life, and to acquire a fame for science and letters as well as for sanctity that was not equalled in Europe for two centuries.

These broils, whether of secular or ecclesiastical origin, occupied a good part of two hundred years, and during that time paralyzed, to a great extent, the intellectual influence of St. Gall. It was only in the year 818 that Louis the Mild, King of France, issued the edict which liberated St. Gall from the domination of the bishops of Constance, and left it absolutely free and unfettered to pursue its mission of civilization and benevolence. All the conditions were now favourable for such a career - wealth in abundance, exterior and interior peace, schools sufficient for the education of the poor, as well as of the nobles. It required only a man of genius or at least a man of good education and commanding talents to give a new impulse to the arts and sciences, in order to bring the influence of the establishment to maturity. This man appeared in due time in the person of Moengal or Marcellus, an Irish monk, who is regarded as the real founder of the school of St. Gall.

Moengal accompanied to Rome his uncle, named Marcus, who was a bishop in Ireland, and who went, with a large retinue of pilgrims, to visit the tombs of the apostles. On their return journey they made a pilgrimage to St. Gall, and were, as usual, hospitably received. The superiority of Moengal's education soon made its impression, with the result that he was implored by the monks to remain with them altogether, and assume the direction of their school. Moengal consented; and, as his uncle was now old and feeble, he also asked to be allowed to end his days in the monastery. He was freely accommodated, and welcomed as a permanent inmate of the cloister ; but his followers from Ireland were indignant at being deserted by the two leaders of their expedition. When they realized, however, the good that was to be done by their countrymen, they were satisfied, and received, before starting for Ireland, the blessing of the Bishop and of Moengal, who gave them over their mules, horses, money, and other accommodation for travelling, retaining for themselves only their books, vestments, and sacred vessels.

The direction of the monastic schools was now divided between Marcellus, or Moengal, and Iso. The young monks were confided to Marcellus, and the seculars to Iso. Iso was a native of Switzerland, of noble birth, and of uncommon talent. He was soon called away by the monks of Grandval, in Burgundy, who made him their abbot. After his departure, the whole responsibility of the schools fell upon Moengal. Under his direction some of the brothers were told off to make a special study of Greek ; they were the " Fratres Hellenici." Others cultivated Latin verse. Another class was set to master the ordinary arts of the "trivium" and "quadrivium." Others, again, were employed in the "Scriptorium," or in the laboratory. It was a perfect division of labour, in which nothing was neglected.

Amongst the many scholars trained by Marcellus, three became celebrated all over Europe. They were Notker, Ratpert, and Tuotilo. Notker belonged to a noble family of Thurgovia. He was, in every sense, the most admirable of the three. From his youth he had been afflicted with a delicate constitution, and with a defect in his speech, which gained him the name of Balbulus. He had, however, studied with the greatest diligence under Marcellus, and became a polished Latin scholar. His Martyrologium is one of the most important historical works of the period. He copied the Greek manuscripts of the canonical letters of the New Testament that were sent to him by Liutward, Bishop of Vercelli, and translated a few of the works of Aristotle. He wrote, besides, a book of Sequences, a sort of new lyrical church poetry then in vogue, and several other works on Scriptural and historical subjects. One of his canticles, a sequence on the Holy Ghost, was sung before Innocent III., in the eleventh century. The Pope inquired if the author were canonized ; and, on being informed that he was not, he expressed a desire that his process should be commenced. It was only centuries later, however, that Notker was beatified. Several other hymns were also composed by him. Those most generally adopted in the liturgy of the Middle Ages were the hymn for the feast of Columbanus :

" Nostri solemnis saeculi,
Refulgit dies inclyta
Quo sacer coelos Columba
Ascendet ferens trophoe.
Qui post altus Hybernia
Sacro edoctus dogmate,
Gallica arva adiens
Plebi salutem tribuit ;"

and the hymn for the Feast of All Saints :

"Omnes superni ordines
Quibus dicatur hic dies
Mille milleni millies
Vestros audite supplices."

A very different man from the gentle and delicate Notker was the ardent Tutilo. He was a powerful, man, well built, and equal to any labour. He was an orator, a linguist, an engineer, a painter, an illuminator, a musician, a poet, a sculptor. A perfect portrait of him has been drawn for us by Ekkehart. He was particularly skilled in music, painting, wood-carving, and decoration. It is related of him that once, in the city of Metz, when painting a figure of the Virgin, he was assisted by our Blessed Lady herself, and left behind him an image that was considered the most perfect work of art of the whole period. On another occasion, at the monastery of St. Alban's, at Mayence, he carved and decorated a high altar; which, according to Ekkehart, was not surpassed in the whole of Christendom. The ivory decorations on the covers of the Evangelium Longum are the work of his hands. They are marvels of delicacy and artistic combination. In music he surpassed all others; and, as Ekkehart reminds us, reflected the greatest credit on his Irish master, Marcellus. He could play on all kinds of musical instruments, and took particular delight in combining melodies and composing verses to suit them. The most famous of his hymns were the "Hodie Cantandus est," for the feast of Christmas, and the " Omnium virtutum gemmis" for the Ascension. Many tropes and fragments of hymns in honour of other festivals were also composed by him. Thus, for the Resurrection, he writes:

" Exurge rector gentium,
Nec moriturus amplius,
Orbemque totum posside
Tuo redemptum sanguine."

Some desultory verses were turned off at a moment when he was impressed with the infinite goodness of the Redeemer:

"Rex pie, rex regum, regnans, Christe, per aevum."
"Qui mare, qui terras, coeli qui sceptra gubernas."
"Noxia depellens, culparum debita solvens."
"Qui super astra sedes, Patri deitate cohaeres."
"Es quoque sermo Patris summi, reparator et orbis."
"Lux, via, vita, salus, spes, pax, sapientia, virtus."
"Hic tibi laus resonet ; chorus hic in laude resultet."

In addition to these numerous accomplishments Tuotulo was an inveterate traveller, a fencer, and an athlete. When attacked in the forests his assailants usually suffered for their temerity. On one occasion in particular two powerful men waylaid his companions ; but when Tuotulo came up with them they surrendered all their plunder, and were glad enough to escape with their lives. The calm and home-loving Rathpert often warned his companion against the dissipation of travelling; Tuotilo in his turn joked at the slippers of his mentor, and proved by his marvellous activity how much he had benefited by a change of air.
Nothing is known [writes the late Dr. W. K. Sullivan] of the origin of this singularly gifted man. If he were a Swiss or German, something would be known of his parentage or birthplace, as in the case of his friends Batpert and St. Notker. But if he were a foreigner, as he may have been, there is nothing singular in the silence of the monastic chroniclers concerning the events of his early life, about which they could know nothing except incidentally. Of the crowd of Irishmen who poured out of Ireland from the end of the sixth to the beginning of the tenth century, and who took an active part in the intellectual movement of the time, how few have left sufficient evidence to enable us even to connect them with the land of their birth. Their lot was cast in the darkest period of the Middle Ages, and they have consequently suffered the fate which too often befalls those who are the precursors or originators of great intellectual or moral movements, or founders of new branches of science or art.

In the second half of the ninth century there appear to have been many Irishmen at St. Gall, besides Moengal ; and everything that we know of Tuotilo favours the view that he also was one. In the first place, the name is, to say the least, as much like a latinized form of the Irish TuatalTuotal, or Tuathal, as of the Gothic Totilo. Again, the wandering disposition, the warm, impulsive spirit which made him equally ready to use his tongue or his arm against an enemy, remind us forcibly of St. Columbanus ; and lastly, his great skill in instrumental music, and especially the decidedly Irish character of the melodies of the two tropes 'Hodie Cantandus est' and 'Omnipotens Genitor' which have been published by Father Schubiger, seem conclusive as to his nationality. This Irish strain in his melodies may be the reason why these were considered in the Middle Ages to be peculiar and easily distinguishable from those of the other St. Gall composers. It is worth remarking that one of the oldest musical monuments of this period, the Liber Ymnorum Notkeri (still preserved at Einsiedlen, Codex 121), noted in Neunies, was illuminated, if not entirely written, by an Irish hand."

Tutilo was buried in the chapel of St. Catherine, in the church of St. Gall, and the inscription placed over his resting-place in after ages gratefully recorded that "no one ever went away sad from his tomb."

Ratpert was the third of the inseparable companions who formed what has been designated as the " Trifolium Sangalleuse." To him we are indebted for a most valuable history of his monastery from the death of St. Othmar down to his own times. He also is the author of several hymns, amongst others of the processional litany which begins:

"Ardua spes mundi, solidator et inclyte coeli."

But he was particularly successful as a teacher in the schools. Before his death his pupils came to present him with a book which they had ornamented and illuminated in the style of which he himself was such a master. Their address, which was read by the youngest, ran as follows :

" Hoc opus exiguum puerili pollice scriptum."
" Sit Ruhtperte tibi magnum, promtissime doctor."
"Largo lacte tuo potatus, pane cibatus."
"Ipse, precor, vigeas, valeas venereris, ameris."
" Hoc optant mecum pueri, juvenesque, senesque."

There were several other Notkers at St. Gall besides Notker Balbulus. Notker Medicus was the great physician of his age. He wrought wonderful cures by means of his art, and varied his occupations by painting a series of frescoes in the church of St. Gall and decorating manuscripts with inimitable miniatures. He was particularly devoted to the memory of St. Othmar, in whose honour he composed the hymn " Rector aeterni metuende saecli."

Another Notker was a nephew of the Emperor Otho I. He became Dean of St. Gall, Abbot of Stavelot, and Bishop of Liege. Notker Labeo was one of the earliest writers in the German language, into which, about the end of the tenth century and commencement of the eleventh, he translated a considerable portion of the Bible, and the works of several ecclesiastical and profane authors.

A contemporary of most of those mentioned above was Salomon, Abbot of St. Gall and Bishop of Constance. Salomon was one of the most troublesome friends the monastery ever had. From being a spoiled and wayward child he became an exceedingly clever but worldly ecclesiastic. The wise men of St. Gall shook their heads with good reason when he was allowed to put on the robe of St. Benedict and enter their community. His handsome appearance, and his noble connections, the protection of kings and courts, contributed to make him believe that monastic severity was not intended for such as he. He was, however, too powerful to be refused admittance; and once within, he behaved with discretion, if not with humility and submission. He bided his time until political disturbances gave him an outlet for his ambition, and the Emperor Arnulph, whom he served, was in a position to order the monks to elect him as their Abbot. Later on he also obtained for him the bishopric of Constance. And thus the monastery was brought once again under the sway of the Bishop. For the time it gained materially by the transaction, but a wide gap was opened to abuses from which the establishment was free in the days of its autonomy. It must be said, however, that once Salomon had reached the height of his ambition, he worked earnestly for the good of religion and the advancement of learning. As a minister under four successive emperors, he was one of the most powerful men in Europe. Yet he never lost his affection for St. Gall, and loved to retire there every year to discharge his functions as Abbot, and take his part in the simple and laborious life of the monks. He was, moreover, like Wolsey and Richelieu, a munificent patron of art and letters, and the Vocabularium Salamonis, drawn up under his directions, is one of the earliest encyclopaedias that was printed in Europe.

The Ekkeharts, like the Notkers, formed a regular dynasty amongst the distinguished sons of St. Gall. Ekkehart I. was at the head of the schools for many years, and afterwards councillor of the Emperor Otho the Great. The most famous of them, however, was the fourth of the name.

About the year 1040, the Emperor Conrad II. was led to believe that the discipline at St. Gall was fast on the decline, and he had recourse to the extreme measure of sending some monks from Cluny to reform the monastery. This proceeding was resented at St. Gall, and life was practically made so uncomfortable for the reformers that they had to withdraw. Ekkehart IV., who had spent some years directing the royal school at Mayence, just then returned to his old home at St. Gall. He was known to be a writer of talent, and was asked by his brethren to take up and immortalize the ancient glories of his Alma Mater. Ekkehart did not require to be pressed. He was passionately devoted to the grand old monastery, and was determined to relate its great achievements and confound its enemies. It is evident, however, from the first page that he and his monastery are on their defence. There is gall in his pen, and cutting sarcasm and bitter invective in his pages. The enemies of St. Gall are roundly denounced, and their treacherous intentions exposed to the world. There is little of the historic calm in this work. It is on the face of it a partisan production. Nevertheless, it gives many interesting glimpses into the interior of the monastery, draws life-like pictures of its most famous monks, and says the last word on the merits of its most glorious days. It is by turns jovial and angry, generous and unjust, accurate in detail and plainly dishonest. Nor are its pages altogether free from the coarse joke and the questionable anecdote, which are the surest signs of monastic decay and.the clearest proof that reform was urgently needed.

Some of the institutions of the monastery, as described by Ekkehart and others, are worthy of attention. From the importance of the gardener, that of higher officials may be judged. He had under his orders a regular cohort of servants, who lived together in a vast farm-house, of which he was the director. He had carefully read the treatise De Villis, and knew how to cultivate not only the ordinary garden vegetables but also chervil, coriander, dill, cummin, sage, fennel, mint, rosemary, loveage, and other plants required for the preparation of infusions, and general medical and curative purposes. Another officer had charge of the mill, the granaries, the fruit gardens, the waggons and boats for the transfer of corn and merchandise. The reign of the land steward extended over vast herds of oxen, cows, horses, swine, and the numerous flocks of goats and sheep that ranged over his wide domain. He also had his retinue of servants, and ruled them with all the authority of an autocrat. Nearer to the monastery was a great group of workshops, in one series of which lances, swords, gauntlets, cuirasses, shields, and coats of arms were manufactured ; in another, stalls for the church choirs, panels, screens, pulpits, tabernacles. Further on, sculptors and stonecutters plied their chisels. In a building by itself, well guarded, and full of mystery, worked the jewellers, goldsmiths, the lapidaries, the bezellers. Here the gold and silver are melted, ores are tested, alloys are combined, which make the metals solid and pleasant to the eye ; Bible covers in ivory or wood are enriched with plates of gold or with precious stones. Here also the finishing touch is given to the rich chasubles and mitres, to the reliquaries, shrines, lustres, altar-pieces, and to the elaborate iron and steel decorations for the great doors of the castles and manor houses.

But the wonder of the whole establishment is the Scriptorium. Here the fine parchment specially prepared from the skin of the mountain goat or the young reindeer is furnished to the copyists, the illuminators, the miniaturists. It is here those wonderful initial letters were illuminated in colours that are as fresh and strong to-day almost as on the day on which they were executed. Like the decorations of the Book of Kells at home they will stand the minutest inspection and the powers of the strongest microscope. They retain their proportions and their perfection of tint and shade, no matter how they are enlarged:
"Scarcely was there any other establishment so celebrated for the beauty of its manuscripts [writes Wattenbach], nor did any other so highly prize the art or develop with such care and ardour the ornamentation of initial letters. Therein, especially, do these monks show that they were faithful followers of their Irish brethren, whom they soon surpassed and left far behind. The Scottish manuscripts are distinguished by very elaborate execution, by brilliant colouring of unfading splendour, and by the richness and beauty of their ornamentation. Their favourite ornaments are the interlaced serpents, and by them as well as by the serpents' heads one can trace the influence of Irish art, as may be seen, for instance, in the gospels of Charles the Bald."

It was an Irish monk who taught this art, and the study and perseverance necessary to bring it to perfection. Two strophes composed by him are still venerated in the monastery. We quote them in the translation of an admiring Frenchman, not being able at this moment to lay our hands on the original:

[please consult original volume for this French text]

One of the most famous of the copyists and illuminators of St. Gall was the monk Sintram, who wrote the Evangelium Longum which is still preserved, and is one of the great treasures of St. Gall. In the early times even the Latin works were written in Irish characters. Of these, only two complete volumes and a few fragments now remain. The others were destroyed by fire in different conflagrations at the abbey, or lost during the numerous wars and confiscations from which it suffered. The labour of transcription was often exceedingly wearisome, as attested by casual notes of the copyists on the margins, or at the end of the book. " Written with great trouble," is a common observation. " As the sick man desireth health," runs another, " so doth the transcriber desire the end of his volume." Another is of a happier temperament; for he writes: -

"Libro complete
Saltat scriptor
Pede laeto."

Others, again, invoked imprecations on the heads of those who should presume, after all their trouble, to remove the book from the library. Thus one, who had just finished a copy of St. Jerome's translation of the Psalter, writes at the end :

" Auferret hoc in quis damnetur mille flagellis.
Judicioque Dei succumbat corpore pesti ;"

and at the end of the prophets, he adds :

" Si quis et hos auferat, gyppo, scabieque redundet."

The copyists were, no doubt, provoked to this rude method of defence. Noble visitors to the library often coveted, and obtained as presents, some of the best books that issued from the "Scriptorium." The Emperors Charles the Fat and Otho I. were great amateurs of books ; and on the occasions of their visits to the monastery had to be accommodated in this way. " Who would have thought," writes the chronicler, speaking of Otho, "that so powerful a brigand would stoop to pillage the cloister and rob a poor community of monks?"

The library of St. Gall remains to the present day one of the richest in Europe. It contains over twenty thousand volumes of very rare and costly books. It counts, moreover, one thousand five hundred manuscripts, and a large number of fragments and stray quaternios or sheets which embrace all kinds of works pagan, Christian, prose, poetry, Greek, Latin, German. Early in the ninth century the whole catalogue was composed of about twenty volumes of Latin, written in Irish characters Libri Scottice Scripti. We give them below as they are found in the catalogue of Weidman, published in 1841. Of these there is now but one solitary volume remaining. It is the Gospel of St. John, written on good parchment, and in large, clear Irish letters. It is certain, however, that all the old Irish books are not included in this list, for one whole book of the Gospels in similar handwriting is still extant. It is supposed to have been brought to St. Gall by Marcellus or Marcus. These two works are splendid specimens of calligraphy. They are based on the Vetus Itala version of the Bible which was the only version used in Ireland until St. Finian of Moville brought over St. Jerome's translation which he received as a present from Pope Palagius in 557. They agree, moreover, almost without a variant, with the Vercelli Codex published by Father Bianchini, in 1749. In addition to these there are several fragments of works written in Irish characters, and contained chiefly in the Codices Nos. 1394-1395 in the Library Catalogue. The Irish glosses of most importance in the library are those on Priscian's Grammar. They have been to a great extent deciphered and published by Zeuss. Amongst the valuable manuscripts of general interest to be seen in the cases are nine palimpsests or " Codices rescripti" of the fifth and sixth centuries ; a complete Bible of the ninth century, in royal folio ; the " Psalter of Notker," in Latin and German ; the " Psalter of Folchard ;" the " Psalterium Aureum ;" the " Evangelium Longum,'' all of which are written in Roman characters but decorated in Celtic style. There are two homilies of St. Isidore of Seville, written on Egyptian papyrus, dating from the seventh century ; the Antiphonarium of Pope Gregory the Great; four missals from the tenth century; the four books of the Odes of Horace, the Satires of Juvenal, Lucan's Pharsalia, a few works of Ovid and Statius, all from the ninth or tenth centuries. The most important manuscripts in the modern tongue comprise very early copies of the Nibelungenlied, and of the romances and exploits of Percival and Roland. Soon after the invention of printing, in 1450, several exceedingly rare books were procured for the monastery. There are two Bibles, one Latin and one German, dating from 1464 and 1466, respectively ; the Commentaries of Nicholas of Lyra, published at Strasburg, in 1492 ; a Commentary of St. Thomas of Aquin on the De Consolatione Philosophiae of Boethius, printed by Octaviari Skotus of Venice, in 1494; several very early copies of the Imitation of Christ, from the presses of Strasburg and Nuremburg ; the Missals of Chur, Augsburg, Constance and Basel, from 1483 to 1497. In addition to these, nearly all the great valuable collections illustrating the sciences of theology, history, and philosophy, are to be found there. Indeed it is one of the peculiarities of the library of St. Gall, that nearly all its works are rare and costly. The early cultivation in its schools of the science as well as of the art of music makes it also a favourite resort for those who are interested in the history of the notation of music and the primitive trials of counterpoint and harmony.

After the Council of Constance, the Roman Curia sent a commission, composed of three "savants," to examine the library, and obtain copies of the works of any of the ancient writers that they might discover there. These three men were Poggio, Cencio, and Bartolomeo di Monte Politiano. They discovered a large portion of the Argonauticon of Valerius Flaccus ; eight speeches of Cicero, bound up in a speech of Q. Asconius Pedianus ; a small work by Lactantius, De Utroque Homine ; the work of Vitruvius, on Architecture; Priscian's treatise on Grammar. A complete Quintilian (adhuc salvum et incolumen) was found by Poggio hidden away in an old tower, under a heap of rubbish. Several other works of minor importance were also discovered ; and the learned world was in ecstasy, particularly in Italy. Niebuhr's researches were not so fruitful. The poem of Merobaudes seems to have been the only thing of importance brought to light by him. There is no library in Europe, in which the work of research is easier than at St. Gall. This is chiefly due to the intelligence and foresight of two distinguished librarians of last century, Father Pius Kolb and Father Ildephonsus von Arx, who had all the manuscripts carefully catalogued and arranged in order, and to the most obliging and painstaking priest, Dr. Kah, who has charge of the library at the present time.

From the beginning of the thirteenth century the intellectual glory of St. Gall gradually declined. The monastery got mixed up in the political disputes of the empire and in the social troubles of later times. In 1204, its Abbot Ulrich Baron of Hohensax, was made a Prince of the German Empire, and his successors retained the title till the French Revolution. One of them led an army against Rudolf of Hapsburg, in 1280, to maintain the rights of the monastery, and they all had to contend with the revolutionary spirit of their vassals and serfs, who on several occasions made organized attempts to shake off the claims of the monastery. In 1795 a general insurrection of the tenants and labourers took place, and the Abbot Beda yielded to nearly all their demands. Cardinal Buoncompagni, Secretary of State to Pope Pius VII., negotiated a settlement between the Swiss Government and the authorities of the monastery. In 1806, however, the revolutionists got the upper hand, and the monastery was suppressed. During all these years the moral character of St. Gall was perfectly sound. In this respect its enemies had never a word to say against it. The tone and spirit may have been worldly, but the personal lives of its monks were beyond the breath of reproach. In the seventeenth century it had even a short revival of its old intellectual spirit. It was during the time that the learned Cardinal Sfondrati was Abbot of the monastery. This great canonist, theologian, and devoted churchman, was buried in Rome, in the church of St. Caecilia ; but he bequeathed his heart to St. Gall, where it is now enshrined in one of the chapels off the choir. Beneath the eloquent inscription that records the merits of the great abbot may be seen the words :

" Bene sperate."
"Ego dormio, sed cor meum vigilat."

The buildings of the great old monastery are now used for State purposes. The library alone has been left under the care of the bishop, who appoints the librarian. The splendid Cathedral of St. Gall, with its fine choir, its rich frescoes and windows, has always remained in Catholic hands. It is one of the most spacious churches in Europe ; and, what is better still, is well filled at the Masses and evening services.

Before we take leave of the monastery we must not neglect to mention that at the rear of the old building there was a spacious enclosure surrounded by high walls, and intersected within by rows of shrubs and cypress trees. It was the last resting-place of the monks and their dependents. This field of death, "ager mortis " as it was called, saw the end of many an interesting career. It witnessed many a touching scene which proved that the human heart was not dead under the cowl of the monk, and that the sacrifice of liberty and worldly enjoyment was amply soothed and rewarded by religion. Here lie the fathers and brethren of a thousand years, awaiting the blessed hope.

"Jusqu'au jour du grand reveil
On y trouve un doux sommeil."

Over their graves there is no name, no cross, no stone, but the green sward and the clear blue sky. Alone in the centre of the enclosure a large wooden crucifix arises and seems to embrace the land around it. At its base are inscribed the solemn words : " Of all the trees of the earth the holy cross alone bears fruit that tastes of life eternal."

In the graves around lie the ashes of many Irish monks who in the ardour of faith and through love of learning and higher things became voluntary exiles. They sleep far away from their native land of Erin. But nature took their mortal bodies back to her bosom on a friendly soil. On the last day they shall rise around their Blessed Father Gall to receive the reward of their labours. Meanwhile the lofty mountains which they loved keep guard around their earthly dwellings, and their dirge is murmured for ever by the swaying forest trees and the fall of the distant cascade.


Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol 15 (1894), 35-54.

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