Wednesday 30 November 2016

The Saints of Catholic Scotland

November 30 is the feast of Scotland's patron, Saint Andrew, and thus a fitting occasion on which to bring a 1918 article by Dom Michael Barrett (1848-1924) on Scottish saints. We will not of course be straying too far off-topic for many Scottish saints have links to Ireland, a number of whom are mentioned here. I was also interested to learn of the two later medieval saints at the end of the paper, both of whom were new to me. The author was a convert to Catholicism who entered the Benedictine order and established a reputation as a hagiologist. His best-known work, A Calendar of Scottish Saints, is also available to read online through the Internet Archive:


SOME three years ago, when the Chapel of St. Andrew and the Saints of Scotland in Westminster Cathedral was being decorated by the generosity of the Marquess of Bute, the present writer was privileged to assist in the compilation of the list of saints' names now inscribed upon those marble walls. To many persons — Catholics, even — that enumeration has been matter for wonder; it has seemed almost beyond belief that so many holy ones, linked close to the history of Scotland, should have become so absolutely forgotten that their very names, for the most part, were unknown. It is indeed a matter for lament that until recent years many such saints should have attracted so little interest; still more is it to be regretted that the writers who have helped to perpetuate their memories must be sought for, as a rule, among non-Catholic antiquarians — we Catholics, the saints' own brethren in the faith, taking but little interest in their histories or cult.

It may help forward this tardy appreciation, now at length beginning to stir in the minds of Catholics, if some brief notes on the subject be here offered. The names selected for the adornment of the chapel in question were carefully chosen from a larger number as representing saints authentically vouched for by reliable sources. It would encroach too much upon valuable space to attempt to touch upon even these. It will be sufficient for our present purpose to restrict our inquiry to the saints of Scottish origin alone, and of these only the better known. Dr. Hill Burton, sometime Historiographer Royal of Scotland, used to delight, as his Catholic widow told the present writer, in the gibe — without foundation, as will be seen — that all the Scottish saints were Irish! It is true that the intimate connection between the west of Scotland and adjacent Ireland in early ages led to numerous Christian missionaries passing over to preach the Gospel to the pagan races of the mainland; from this fact comes the preponderance of Irish names in the calendar of Scottish saints. Of these saintly men and their deeds it may be possible to speak on another occasion; in this paper we will confine our researches to Scots alone.

A preliminary remark suggests itself as to the sources of information upon which we have to rely. Of books or manuscripts on the subject there is a regrettable dearth. The "Breviary of Aberdeen" (1509), compiled by the illustrious Bishop of that see, William Elphinstone, founder of Aberdeen University, is the chief fount of information. Others consist of Irish ecclesiastical records. But alongside of these and forming strong corroborative evidence are the traces of the cult of ancient saints in the dedication of churches, in holy wells, fair-days and the innumerable place-names still in use. This will be recognized in passing.

The earliest saint of Scottish birth, and indeed the first authentic Christian missionary in the country, was St. Ninian. One of the best known of Scottish saints, his history need be but briefly outlined. St. Bede, in his History calls the saint "a most reverend Bishop and holy man . . . who at Rome had been regularly instructed in the faith and mysteries of the truth." St. Aelred, a later biographer, gives further particulars. Ninian, he tells us, was the son of a Pictish chieftain of Galloway and was born about A.D. 360. After a youth of true piety, he journeyed to Rome, where Pope St. Damasus gave him competent instructors in all Catholic learning, and Pope Siricius ordained him, consecrated him Bishop and sent him to evangelize the pagan peoples of the west of Scotland. Not only did the saint convert the people of Galloway, but also the southern Picts, inhabiting the country north of the Forth; he ordained priests, consecrated Bishops, portioned out the country into missionary districts and founded at Whithorn a monastery destined to become the centre of learning and school of sanctity for Ireland as well as Scotland. From St. Martin of Tours — a relative, as it is said — he obtained workmen to erect the first stone church in Scotland. From its walls of shining white it gained the name of "Candida Casa" ("White House"), which gave the title, still borne by the Bishop of Galloway, to the see established by St. Ninian, as well as that of "Whithorn" to the town which grew up around it. At St. Martin's death, before the building was finished, the founder determined to call the church by that saint's name, but later ages changed it for that of Ninian. So popular was the devotion to this saint that in Scotland alone the churches dedicated to him are computed to have numbered at least sixty-three. In Ireland, too, his memory was deeply cherished. Though many writers give A.D. 432 as the date of his death, that is by no means certain.

It is a departure from the resolve to speak of Scottish saints alone if we interpolate here some remarks upon the mission of St. Palladius in the closing years of the life of St. Ninian; but it seems desirable for more reasons than one. From St. Prosper of Acquitaine we learn that Pope Celestine raised Palladius, the Roman deacon, to the episcopate about the year 431, and sent him as Bishop to the Christian Scots. At that date, Ireland was known as Scotia, and a well-founded tradition tells of St. Ninian having assisted Palladius in his missionary efforts in Ireland in the founding of a church and monastery there by the great Scottish Bishop. From many Irish records it is clear that Palladius visited that country, though some historians relate that he quitted it eventually on account of the people being ill disposed towards him. Scottish tradition, however, maintains that St. Palladius was a missionary in Scotland, where he carried on the work begun by St. Ninian. As proof of this, Scottish writers adduce the facts of the baptism of St. Ternan (to be mentioned later) by Palladius and the foundation by him of the church at Fordun, in Kincardineshire, where, as the historian Boece relates, his relics were translated to a silver shrine by Archbishop Schevez, a thousand years later. The ruins of his chapel at Fordun and a holy well there, called by his name, as also "Paldy's Fair," formerly held annually on July 6, are further proofs. The contradictory traditions seem to be reconciled by the testimony of the "Vita Prima S.Patritii," written before the eleventh century; it is there stated that the saint on leaving Ireland was driven by a tempest to the east coast of Scotland and landed at Fordun. Other Irish writers hold the same view and have been followed by the Aberdeen Breviary. The Arbuthnott Missal, too, contains a hymn in celebration of his missionary labors. The chief reason for alluding here to St. Palladius is the fact of his mission in Scotland having been referred to, as a traditional belief, in the Bull "Ex supremo Apostolatus apice," by which Leo XIII. in 1878 restored the Scottish hierarchy. The same Pontiff recognized, in 1898, the immemorial cultus of the saint.

Whatever difference of opinion may cast doubt upon the actual presence of St. Palladius in the country, there can be no denying the missionary labors of his disciple, St. Ternan. Scottish tradition tells of his baptism by Palladius, by means of a miraculous spring of water provided for the purpose. This, like many such embroideries of reliable history, need not detain us. What is certain is that Ternan took up the work commenced by St. Ninian in the northern district of which he was a native. He fixed his residence, after he became Bishop, at Abernethy, but other churches in the district were later placed under his patronage, a testimony to his missionary labors in those parts. Arbuthnott, in Kincardineshire, where an ancient Romanesque church of St. Ternan is still to be seen, was one of these. A manuscript missal, the only Scottish book of the kind that has survived the Reformation, was used in this church and is known as the Arbuthnott Missal, from the fact that Robert Arbuthnott, proprietor of the estate, caused it to be drawn up some time before his death in 1509 by the then vicar, James Sibbald. This missal contains a proper Mass and Office for St. Ternan, and St. Palladius, as already noted, is referred to in its pages. St. Ternan died at Abernethy, but was buried at Banchory, on the Dee, distinguished by the additon of the saint's name from another Banchory in the district; the former is known as Banchory-Ternan, and the church, dedicated to him, possessed in Catholic ages not only his relics, but a copy of St. Matthew's Gospel which had belonged to him, magnificently bound in gold and silver, and the saint's bell. The latter is thought to have been identical with an ancient bell discovered in recent times during the construction of a railway; unfortunately, owing to ignorance, it was not preserved. St. Ternan was titular of the church at Slains, Aberdeenshire, and of chapels at Findon, Kincardineshire, and Taransay, in the island of Harris; at Findon is St. Ternan's Well and at Banchory a fair was formerly held on his feast day, June 12, and may possibly still survive.

Thenog (or Thenew), mother of St. Kentigern (or Mungo), lived in the sixth century and was honored among Scottish saints; her feast day was celebrated on July 18. Her history is involved in much obscurity, for the legends that had grown up around it and were committed to writing six centuries later can scarcely be accepted as sober history. She is said to have been the daughter of a pagan ruler of Southeast Scotland, and that having been deceived and betrayed, she was about to become a mother. Her father in anger ordered the girl to be placed in a little coracle and set adrift on the open sea. The boat was launched at Aberlady, on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, but it drifted inland towards the northwest and came ashore near Culross, in Fifeshire. A saintly hermit who lived there — Servan (or Serf) by name — befriended the outcast and the infant to whom she gave birth. He baptized both and educated the boy, who became renowned in Scottish annals as the illustrious Mungo. Thenog is said to have given herself to a life of prayer and penance. After her death she was invoked as a saint and her remains were honored in Glasgow Cathedral, where they were enshrined with those of her saintly son. A chapel was built in a later age on the spot where she landed, and its ruins are still to be seen. Another chapel was erected to her memory in the city of Glasgow; the street in which it stood (part of the present Argyle street) gained the name of St. Thenew's Gate, and the chapel with its holy well hard by became a favorite place of pilgrimage. The chapel is mentioned in documents dating from 1426, and traces of it were still to be seen as late as 1736. Up to the end of the eighteenth century the well was a place of resort; votive offerings of metal eyes, ears, hands and feet still hung upon the old tree near it — witnessing to the power of the saint's intercession. A Presbyterian church occupies the site of the ancient chapel; it bears the name of St. Enoch's, a corrupt form of St. Thenog's, which had passed into St. Tennoch's in the course of ages. The square in which the modern church stands has given its designation to St. Enoch's railway station. St. Thenog's feast is given in the Aberdeen Breviary with a proper Office.

In this connection it seems desirable to treat upon St. Servan — known also as St. Serf — before passing on to the less debatable ground occupied by St. Mungo, his accredited disciple. Until comparatively recent times the story of the charity shown to the forlorn Thenog and her child passed without question. But modern historical critics pointed out an undeniable anachronism in the story which tended to cast doubt upon any connection between Serf and Kentigern. If St. Serf, as had been stated by Fordun and others, was, like Ternan, a disciple and fellow-worker with St. Palladius, who died about the middle of the fifth century, he must have been born about the beginning of that century, and at the birth of St. Mungo (given as 518) must have been a centenarian at least. This might pass, but other records mention St. Serf, the founder of the church of Culross, as a contemporary of St. Adamnan, and the head of the Culdees in the seventh century. The only possible explanation which can meet the case is to suppose that two saints bearing the same name lived at Culross at different epochs. Color is given to this suggestion by the fact of the absolute silence of any connection between St. Serf and St. Kentigern in one ancient life of the former still extant. Whatever be the case, the name of Serf was held in honor at Culross and the neighborhood. The saint's cave became a place of pilgrimage, and the locality in which it stood, known as Dysart ("Desert"), gave its name to the town which sprang up there. Churches were dedicated to St. Serf at Monzievaird, in Perthshire, and Alva, in Stirlingshire; holy wells called after him were venerated in each of these places. Fairs held on his feast day at Abercorn and Aberlednock seem to point to dedications to him there also. But it was at Culross that his memory was especially cherished. The Cistercian monastery founded there in the thirteenth century united his name with that of Our Lady as titular; a fair was held there also on his festival. But more striking still, the custom prevailed at Culross from time immemorial of a procession of young men through the streets, all carrying green branches, on the 1st of July (St. Serf's Day) and of the dedication of the remainder of the day to holiday sports and amusements; the Town Cross, too, round which the procession was accustomed to pass, was gayly decorated with garlands and ribbons. These festivities, evidently Catholic in origin, continued up to the time of George III. To avoid too many public holidays, they were transferred to the King's birthday, and even survived the accession of Queen Victoria. St. Serf's feast is placed on July 1 in the Breviary of Aberdeen.

Another saint whom tradition connects with St Ternan and who must therefore have flourished in the late fifth or early sixth century was St. Merchard, Bishop. Born of pagan parents in the district of Kincardine-O'Neil, Aberdeenshire, he became a Christian early in life and is said to have been ordained by St. Ternan, who associated him with himself in missionary labors. Tradition speaks of his having journeyed to Rome later in life and having been there consecrated Bishop. One of St. Merchard's churches was in Glenmoriston, Inverness-shire; the writer is familiar with its site and the ancient burial ground, still in use, attached to it. The local tradition tells that the saint when laboring as a missionary in the neighboring glen of Strathglass, in company with two disciples, discovered by revelation three bright new bells buried in the earth. Of these he gave one to each of his companions and retained the third for his own use. Each was to take a different direction and found a church in a spot where his bell should ring thrice of its own accord. Two churches were thus built, one in Strathglass and the other in the Isle of Skye. St. Merchard scaled the hills towards Glenmoriston. The point where he came in sight of the glen is still called "Suidh Mhercheird" ("Merchard's Seat"), and there his bell is said to have first sounded. Descending to the valley of the River Moriston, he came to a spot near Ballintombuie, where his bell rang the second time; the place is marked by a spring of excellent water, still called "Fuaran Mhercheird" ("Merchard's Well") by Protestants as well as Catholics. The old churchyard by the river, where his church was built, bears the name of "Qachan Mhercheird." Whatever additions may have been made to the authentic story of the saint's labors in that glen, it is beyond doubt that a very ancient iron bell was preserved in the churchyard for many centuries, even after the church had fallen to ruins in the seventeenth century. The narrow- pointed spar of granite which supported it may still be seen. The bell was removed by one of the lairds to his own residence, but so great was the dissatisfaction expressed by the people of the glen that he eventually restored it. Unfortunately it was wantonly hidden away by some half-tipsy strangers more than forty years ago, and has never since been found. A Scottish priest informed the present writer that he had questioned one of the delinquents in after years, but the man could not recall what they had done with the relic. Devotion to St. Merchard was very strong in that district in Catholic ages and the saint is still regarded by Catholics as the local patron; the small chapel in the glen, built when Catholics were far more numerous, bears his name. The saint's remains were venerated at Kincardine-O'Neil, where a church was erected over his tomb. A fair was formerly held there for eight days, during the octave of his feast, which the Aberdeen Breviary places on August 24. He is sometimes referred to as Yrchard.

The renowned apostle of Strathclyde, St. Mungo, or Kentigern, must not be passed over, although his name has been more generally kept in remembrance than those of other Scottish saints. The legend of his education by St. Serf has been already mentioned. Mungo's title to veneration rests upon his unwearying labors for the district of Scotland which he evangelized. The ancient kingdom of Strathclyde extended from the River Derwent, in Cumberland, to the Clyde. St. Ninian had long before preached the faith there, but in the course of two hundred years, owing to constant strife and warfare, it had almost disappeared. St. Mungo was to bring it back again by his imwearied labors, fervent prayers and the purity and austerity of his life. He took up his abode at Cathures, now known as Glasgow, where many disciples gathered round him. Eventually raised to the episcopate, he ruled his flock with all the ardor of an apostle. The persecution of a wicked king drove Mungo into exile. After preaching in Cumberland, where many dedications still bear witness to his zeal, he made his way into South Wales, where St. David, the great monastic founder, received him with affection. St. Mungo became the father of a flourishing monastery at Llanelwy, where mtore than nine hundred monks are said to have kept up by constantly renewed choirs day and night unceasing praise of God. Recalled to Glasgow, he left his monastic family in charge of St. Asaph, whose name took the place of the original designation, Llanelwy, and became, as St. Asaph's, a centre of piety and learning and the seat of a bishopric. St. Mungo closed his career at Glasgow in extreme old age. He was laid to rest in the spot where the beautiful Gothic cathedral, still almost entire, was built over his tomb. There, in the magnificent undercroft, his resting place is pointed out to this day, although the splendid shrine, which kings delighted to visit out of devotion, was destroyed when Puritans ousted the Catholic religion. St. Mungo's dedications, in England and Wales, as in Scotland, are too numerous to recall here. The date of his death is variously stated, but was probably 612, and certainly on the octave of the Epiphany, January 13. His feast, formerly kept on that day, is now observed on the 14th.

Of the two saints who follow, one is even better known than St. Mungo, and needs little mention here; the other is illustrious by reason of the connection between them. These are the great St. Cuthbert, the apostle of Lothian, and his master and teacher, St. Boisil. St. Cuthbert is generally classed among English saints, on account of his having been later raised to an English bishopric, but he has never been claimed as an Englishman by birth. The tradition of the church of Durham was that the saint was of Irish race, but this view does not tally with St. Bede's account of Cuthbert, and the careful Bollandists for many reasons reject that tradition. The most reliable authorities are of opinion that he was born of lowly parentage in the neighborhood of Melrose. It was while tending his flock on Lammermoor that he had that vision of the heavenly glory of St. Aidan, the monk-Bishop, which turned his thoughts towards the monastic state. Later on he entered Melrose as a novice, and was received gladly by Boisil, the prior, who was enlightened to predict for the youth a glorious future in the Lord's service. After years of monastic training, of teaching both by word and example, and of zealous missionary labors, which were most abundant and fruitful, Cuthbert was made Bishop of Lindisfarne, and for the two years he filled that office was a model of every virtue and a pastor full of zeal and charity. In the pages of St. Bede we have an authentic record of Cuthbert's life and character, written not more than forty years after the saint's death by one who was practically a contemporary and who styles him a saint. St. Cuthbert died in 687; he had been more than thirty years a monk. Eleven years after death his body was found still incorrupt. Incursions of the Danes rendered his tomb at Lindisfarne unsafe from desecration, and for two hundred years his body was conveyed from place to place, until it was laid to rest in Durham Minster. When Henry VIII. destroyed the sacred shrines of England St. Cuthbert's incorrupt body was secretly moved by the monks of Durham to a secure hiding place whose exact locality has been handed down by tradition through certain chosen members of the Order of St. Benedict even to this present day.

St. Cuthbert's honored master, St. Boisil, was prior of Melrose, under the holy Abbot Eata. Melrose must not be confounded with the later Cistercian abbey of that name, founded by David I. Old Melrose was an earlier monastery which followed the rule of St. Columba, and had been founded by the same St. Aidan whose sanctity and glory had been revealed to the young Cuthbert. Boisil is styled by Venerable Bede "a monk and priest of surpassing merit and prophetic spirit”; he it was who welcomed Cuthbert to Melrose, and being deeply learned in the Scriptures, became his master and devoted friend. In 664 a terrible epidemic known as the "yellow plague" ravaged Scotland, carrying off numbers of the inhabitants. Boisil and Cuthbert were both attacked and in danger of death. But from the first St. Boisil foretold that he would die and St. Cuthbert recover, and so it fell out. Before the end, Boisil prophesied the future greatness of his beloved pupil and his elevation to the episcopate. In the few days remaining before Boisil's peaceful death the friends were occupied in finishing the study of the Gospel of St. John, upon which they had been previously engaged. St. Boswell's, near Melrose, took its name from this saint, and the church was dedicated to him. The present village of the name has sprung up at a little distance from the ancient place, which has now entirely disappeared with the exception of the old church, restored a century ago. St. Boisil's holy well is near it, and an annual fair, held on July 18, seems to have some connection with the saint, although his feast in Scottish calendars occurs on February 23. St. Bede has written in great praise of St. Boisil's personal holiness of life. His remains were translated to Durham Minster in 1030 and deposited near the body of St Cuthbert. Some other zealous Bishops who labored in various parts of Scotland must not be overlooked. St. Caran, a saint of the seventh century, was held in honor in the northeastern districts. At Fetteresso, in Kincardineshire, are the ruins of an ancient church dedicated to him. At Drumlithie, in the same county, is a holy well called St. Caran's. A fair was formerly held on his feast day, December 23, at Anstruther, in Fifeshire, which seems to indicate the dedication of the church to this saint, though no other evidence is forthcoming. It may be remarked that it was at Anstruther that Knox preached one of his inflammatory sermons against idolatry which resulted in the destruction of the altars and images in that beautiful building. There are traces of the veneration of St. Caran in Strathrnore (Caithness) also, but he is thought to have been an east country saint. No particulars of his life are known to us; his feast is noted in the Aberdeen Breviary.

The next saint is far better known, and traces of his cultus are not far to seek in the northern counties of Scotland, where he labored and prayed. This is the illustrious Bishop, St. Nathalan, patron saint of Deeside, who was of Pictish race and flourished in the seventh century. He was born of a noble family at Tullich, Aberdeenshire, and from his earliest years was distinguished for fervent piety. In spite of his rank he loved to labor in the fields as a means of fostering prayer and subduing the passions. In a moment of impatience he once murmured slightly against God's providence, and as a penance he resolved to make a pilgrimage to Rome, wearing a heavy chain which he secured by a lock and then threw away the key into the River Dee; the spot still bears the name of "Pool of the Key." One legend tells of his buying a fish for food when in Rome and finding the key within it; but this is not the only saint of whom the like wonder is related. In Rome Nathalan became a cleric, and after years of study was sent at his own desire to preach the faith to his countrymen. He was consecrated Bishop and returned to Scotland, where he labored as a missionary all his life. Three of the Deeside churches — built at his own cost — were founded by him, Tullich, his native place; Bothelney (now called Meldrum) and Cowie or Collie. Irish records allude to him as visiting that country, and the foundation of the monastery of Dungiven, in Ulster, is attributed to him. Many wonders are related of St. Nathalan; distributing all his corn to famishing neighbors on one occasion, he sowed his fields with sand, and a copious harvest, it is said, resulted; by the fervor of his prayers he stayed a raging pestilence with which Bothelney was threatened. The latter miracle earned for the saint the observance of his feast day there in after years as a general holiday, when no work was permissible; the day (January 8) continued to be thus kept even in Protestant times, when the reason for it had long been lost sight of. There are many traces of St. Nathalan in Deeside. Meldrum was once known as Bothelney, said to be a corruption of "Bothnethalen" ("dwelling of Nathalan"); Nauchlan's Well is a spring near the old church, and the saint's fair was annually held there until comparatively recent times. A huge slab of granite, now forming the lintel of one of the doors of the church at Tullich, formerly lay within the building. It has an antique cross engraved upon it, and it is conjectured that it may have formed part of the saint's tomb originally. St. Nathalan died about A. D. 678. His feast was restored to Scotland by Leo XIII., and is kept on January 28, as the actual day of his death falls during the privileged octave of the Epiphany.

Very little is known for certainty about St. Talarican, the Scottish saint of about the same period. The Breviary of Aberdeen actually styles him an Irishman; but Dr. Forbes, a competent authority, maintains his Pictish origin from the character of his name and from the fact that no saint who can be identified with Talarican is mentioned in Irish calendars. Beyond the fact of his having labored strenuously in the north of Scotland — evident from the dedications to him which survive, and his care to offer Mass daily, there are no particulars of his life extant. The large district of Inverness-shire, known as Kiltarlity, where the ruins of Beauly Priory may still be seen, took its name from this saint. The church of Fordyce, Banffshire, where "St. Tarkin's Well" exists, and the saint's fair was annually held; a former church and burial ground called by his name near Loch Portree, in Skye; the traces of another church in the island of Taransay — these are St. Talarican's chief memorials. He died early in the eighth century; has feast falls on October 30. His cultus was restored by Leo XIII.

Another saint of the eighth century, St. Baldred, has been erroneously styled the disciple of St. Mungo, but there is evidence that he lived more than a century later. He retired to a hermitage on the Bass Rock, the lofty conical islet in the North Sea opposite North Berwick; from thence he made occasional missionary excursions to the mainland. He has been called the apostle of East Lothian; it seems certain that he founded at least three churches in Haddingtonshire — Aldhame, Tyningham and Prestonkirk. At the site once occupied by the former village (which no longer exists) is St. Baldred's Cave on the seashore. At Prestonkirk, where the church bears his name, is a holy well whose water, as a Protestant authority relates, is renowned for its excellence for making tea! The saint is patron of Tyningham church also, and his chapel, though ruined, is still discernible on the Bass Rock. An eddy in the Tyne is styled "St. Baldred's Whirl." Simeon of Durham gives the date of St. Baldred's death as 756, and Alcuin, writing in the eighth century, also mentions him. A curious legend, which is scarcely likely to meet with acceptance from modern critics, is recounted in the Aberdeen Breviary in the lessons of the saint's office on March 6. At the death of the saint, it is said, his three churches on the mainland each laid claim to his body. Grace dissensions would inevitably have been caused had not the saint settled the dispute in a manner which gave universal satisfaction. When the rival claimants appeared to bear away the precious remains, they found side by side on the shore three bodies exactly similar, and each party carried back to their own church what each had ardently desired to possess.

It should be borne in mind that the pious and learned compiler of the Breviary in question does not vouch for the absolute accuracy of the legends there set forth. He has merely embodied the traditional lore which he had found in existence in the late fifteenth century. With regard to the legend in question, an explanation of its origin readily occurs: relics of St. Baldred treasured in each of the three churches might easily acquire the popular designation of "St. Baldred's body" in each case. The legend in its later form might thus take shape in the course of passing ages. Similar cases are to be met with in regard to the sacred remains of other saints; a relic of a head, especially if preserved in a reliquary of appropriate form, tends to become in popular speech "the head" of the saint in question. Have we not heard, to our amusement, the oft-repeated accusation that the Catholic Church tacitly permits the veneration of various arms, fingers and even heads of some particular saint in various localities at the same time? Though other saints who flourished at about the same period as the above might be treated upon, it may be more satisfactory to pass on to others of greater interest found in a later epoch. St Duthac, the next to claim our attention, lived in the eleventh century. Though born in Scotland, he passed over to Ireland for the sake of Scriptural studies. After returning to his own land he was made a Bishop and gave himself to the spread of the Gospel in the districts of Moray and Ross. He is said to have been particularly zealous in hearing confessions. An Irish record relates that he died at Armagh, but this is not in accordance with Scottish tradition. His tomb at Tain, in Ross-shire, became one of the chief Scottish places of pilgrimage, and the Breviary of Aberdeen tells of his body having been found incorrupt there, seven years after his death, and of miracles wrought by his intercession. Some Scottish writers place St. Duthac's death two centuries later than the Irish tradition, but it has been pointed out that the saint's visit to Ireland for study is inconsistent with the state of that country in 1220, though it is quite compatible with circumstances in the earlier century. The discrepancy may perhaps be explained by allowing that St Duthac may have died at Armagh about 1065, but that his remains were translated to Tain in the thirteenth century. But another view suggests itself: Ardmanach was the name by which the district around Tain was formerly known; it is possible that "Ardmacha" of the Irish annals may be a corruption of this. Tain bore the Celtic name of "Baile Dhuich" ("Duthac's Town"). The burg arms still retain his figure with the inscription, "Sanctus Duthacus." Two annual fairs were called after him, one in March — "St. Duthus in Lent," the other in December; as his feast day was kept in March, it seems probable that the fair held on the sixth day after Christmas commemorated that later translation of his body "to a more honorable shrine," referred to by the Aberdeen Breviary, which seems to strengthen the tradition of his earlier birth. St. Duthus' Cairn at Tain recalls the saint's memory, as well as a holy well in Cromarty parish. Loch Duich, Kintail, Kilduthie, in Kincardineshire, and Arduthie, in the same county, are named after him. Aberdeen Cathedral possessed some of his relics, and his bell was honored at Tain in 1505. Leo XIII restored St. Duthac's feast to Scotland, and his memory is celebrated on March 8.

The difficulty with regard to accurate dates, already referred to in other instances, occurs in relation to St. Bean, our next saint. Tradition makes him Bishop of Mortlach, but modem historical critics deny the existence of such a see. The evidence of the foundation of a Bishopric of Mortlach adduced by the historian Fordun— certain characters belonging to the See of Aberdeen — can no longer be accepted; the charters in question have been shown by internal evidence to be undoubtedly spurious. The Bollandists, however, incline to the view put forward by Robertson that though there was no See of Mortlach, St. Bean fixed his abode there. His connection with that Banffshire locality is proved by the dedicatiorv of the church to him, and the existence there previous to 1757 of an ancient stone statue traditionally reported to represent him. The place-name Balvanie ("Dwelling of Bean the Great," as its Celtic form, "Bal-beni-mor," indicates) is further evidence of the fact. The churches of Fowlis Wester and Kinkell, both in Perth-shire, were other dedications to this saint and an annual fair held at the former place on St. Bean's feast, old style, as well as a sacred spring bearing his name are further proofs of his cultus there. He died on October 26, about the end of the eleventh century.

A curious blunder in the Roman Martyrology concerning St. Bean may here be mentioned. On December 16 is commemorated: "Aberdone in Hibernia sancti Beani Episcopi" ("At Aberdeen in Ireland the blessed Bishop Bean"). The explanation is not far to seek. An Irish Bishop of the same name was honored in that country on December 16, and the two came to be regarded as the same person. This led to the insertion in the Usuard of Molanus on that date of the following: "In Hybernia Beani episcopi primi Aberdonensis" ("In Ireland, Bean, first Bishop of Aberdeen"). A slight change in the wording produced the present extraordinary statement of the martyrology. St. Bean's cultus was recognized by Leo XIII in 1898.

Regarding our next saint, we find the unusual instance of a Scotsman whose tomb in England became the bourne of an exceedingly popular pilgrimage in Catholic ages. St. William, honored later as a martyr, was a native of Perth in the latter part of the twelfth century. For many years he followed the trade of a baker. To atone for a period of irreligion in his youthful years, William began to lead a life of notable piety and charity. He made it a custom to bestow upon the poor in alms a tenth part of the bread he made. Finding a deserted infant lying abandoned in the street, he carried home the child and reared him as though he had been his own son until the lad grew to manhood. Desiring to make a pilgrimage to the holy places in Palestine, William set out, accompanied by this foster-child, by way of England. The two had passed through Rochester and were on their way to Canterbury, when the holy man's companion, at a lonely spot near Maidstone, savagely attacked his benefactor with a blow from his staff, and having felled him to the ground, slew him with an axe. Robbing the body, he left it lying there and took flight. There the body lay for some days, until a mad woman in her wanderings discovered it. In childish sport she crowned the head with flowers and afterwards transferred the wreath to her own brow. In an instant she became of sound mind, and flying to the Cathedral, related to the clergy all that had happened. Touched by the miracle, they bore the body to the Cathedral for honorable burial. The circumstances of his death gained for William the title of martyr and led to the petition of Bishop Laurence de S. Martino to Pope Innocent IV. for William's canonization; this was granted in 1256. The recognition of William's sanctity led to the erection of a shrine in the Cathedral for his remains and a continually increasing concourse of pilgrims thither. From their generous offerings a new choir and a central tower and spire were added to the Cathedral. Among the pilgrims was the English monarch, Edward I., who made his offerings there in 1300. Pope Boniface IX in 1399 granted an indulgence to pilgrims to the shrine. A little chapel, erected at the spot where he had been slain, was evidently visited by pilgrims, as its name, "Palmersdene," implies. Its ruins are still to be seen, near St. William's Hospital, on the road to Maidstone. The relics of St. William of Rochester, as the saint came to be styled, met the fate of all such sacred remains in the general demolition of shrines in 1538. His feast was kept on May 23, which was probably the anniversary of the discovery of his body.

The last Scotsman canonized before the Reformation was St. Gilbert, Bishop of Caithness, who flourished in the thirteenth century. He was of noble birth, being son of William, Lord of Duffus. Entering the Cistercian abbey of Melrose, Gilbert became a monk. Later on he was raised to the episcopal See of Caithness, which he occupied for twenty years. His Cathedral at Dornoch was a humble building dedicated to the Irish saint, Finbar, who had been a missionary in those parts. The extreme poverty of the diocese and the unsettled state of society had prevented the erection of a worthier sanctuary. This became Gilbert's first aim; under his direction and at his sole cost a beautiful Cathedral arose at Dornoch, an early English building, with aisles, transepts, central tower and lofty spire. The saintly prelate took a delight in laboring with his own hands in the work of erection and superintended the manufacture of glass for the windows in the glass works he had established for the purpose at Sideray. When the material building had been completed, St. Gilbert's next care was the formation of his cathedral chapter. He established ten canons and adopted the use -of Lincoln in the sacred offices. The magnitude of his work may be better estimated by Waring in mind the half-savage nature of the people of his diocese at that period. Two of his predecessors had been either burned or stoned to death by an angry mob in return for what was considered excessive zeal on the part of the clergy; it was left to St. Gilbert, by his holy and wise administration, to tame, to some extent, such rebellious spirits. St. Gilbert dedicated his completed church to St. Mary the Virgin, a century after his death, which took place in 1245. It had come to be styled SS. Mary and Gilbert, for the many miracles attributed to him had led to his being regarded as a saint. In honor of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Gilbert, Pope Pius II conferred upon the Cathedral the privilege of "Sanctuary," and the contemporary monarch, James III, confirmed the Papal grant by civil legislation In 1464. The relics of the saint were venerated in Dornoch until the Reformation; there is record of accused persons clearing themselves of charges by swearing "on the relics of St. Gilbert" and "touching the same relics" in the chapter house in 1545. The Cathedral was destroyed by fire in an affray between hostile barons in 1570, ten years after the overthrow of the Catholic religion in Scotland. It was rebuilt in modern times; the ancient tower has been incorporated into the present building. No portion of St. Gilbert's shrine remains except a mutilated statue which is thought to have been part of it. The Breviary of Aberdeen gives St. Gilbert's feast on April 1, the day of his death.

In this brief review of the chief saints of Scottish birth whom their fellow-countrymen delighted to honor in past ages it has to be confessed that there is a scantiness of detail as to many of them which is to be deplored. This is to be accounted for by the wholesale destruction of an immense number of documents referring to Church history, when lawless hordes were permitted and even encouraged to pillage and demolish all church property at the Reformation period. Father Thomas Innes (died 1744), one of the first in a later age to draw attention to the ancient Scottish Church and her history, writes thus on the subject:

"The registers of the churches and bibliothecs or libraries were cast into the fire; and these were so entirely destroyed that if in Scotland there had happened a debate about the consecrations or ordinations of Bishops and priests, either before or about the time of the Reformation, I do not believe that of all our ancient Bishops and priests, ordained within the country, there could have been found the register or act of consecration of any one of them — so careful were the Reformers to sweep clean away all that could renew the memory of the religion in which they had been baptized."

The Protestant Archbishop Spottiswood in his history bears similar testimony. Writing about eighty years after the events he describes, he says: "Thereupon ensued a pitiful vastation of churches and church buildings throughout all parts of the realm; for every one made bold to put to their hands, the meaner sort imitating the ensample of the greater and those who were in authority. . . . The registers of the church and bibliothéques were cast into the fire. In a word, all was ruined.”

It is subject for thankfulness that some scraps of ancient records have been spared from the wreck to tell us the little that we are able to gather regarding the early saints of Catholic Scotland.

Michael Barrett, O. S. B.

Fort Augustus, Scotland.

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

Sunday 27 November 2016

Saint Virgil of Salzburg, November 27

November 27 is the feastday of a saint into whose interesting life and career I hope to do much more research - Virgil of Salzburg. Behind this classical name lies an eighth-century Irishman, Fearghal, whose love of learning threatened to lead him into trouble, especially with his contemporary, Saint Boniface, who, like Virgil, laboured among the Germans. Below is a paper from the American Ecclesiastical Review on the life of Saint Virgil, not only a great Irish missionary, but also a great Irish scholar.


SOME time ago an item of news made the rounds of the Catholic press that must have cheered the heart of every missionary. Catholic Ireland, it said, has begun to take an active share in the evangelization of China. On St. Patrick's Day the Chinese Missionary Society of Maynooth, one of the youngest of our missionary organizations, sent forth its first band of apostles to the Far East. Their destination is the Province of Hupe on the Yangtzekiang. Others will follow soon, for the Mission Seminary is filled to overflowing with students.

On reading this welcome news my thoughts turned back to the glorious days of the ancient Irish Church, when Ireland's sons went over the seas in shiploads to bring Christianity and civilization -to every country of Europe; when Columkille converted the Pict, Columbanus and Gall preached to the Alamannian and the Lombard, and Kilian laid down his life in defence of the faith in the Thuringian Forest. What a pity that, with but a few exceptions, these Irish heroes of Christianity found no contemporary biographers to tell the world of their deeds and sufferings. Of many of them we know hardly more than their names; with others legend and folklore have been so busy that it is no easy task to separate the chaff from the wheat in the accounts that have come down to us. In this paper we shall attempt to sketch the career of one of the last great Irish missionaries of the early Middle Ages St. Virgil of Salzburg. His so-called biography was written four hundred years after his death and is of no historical value. For our knowledge of him we are indebted to occasional notices in various contemporary sources.


About the early life of Virgil, or Fergil, as he was called in his native land, we know nothing at all. When we first hear of him, he was abbot of Aghaboe in the present Queen's County, Ireland. His superior knowledge of mathematics had gained for him the surname of the Geometer. About 743 he left his monastery to spend the rest of his days on the Continent as a voluntary exile "for the love of Christ ". The fame of St. Fursy's tomb and of the great Irish monastery that had sprung up round it drew him to Peronne in Western Gaul. At Quierzy on the Oise he met the Neustrian Mayor of the Palace, Pippin the Short, who had just returned from his successful expedition against his rebellious brother-in-law, Duke Odilo of Bavaria, The Prince became greatly attached to the learned monk and kept him in his palace for two years. Then he sent him to Odilo, who after a short period of imprisonment had been permitted to resume the government of his dukedom. Of Virgil's companions two are known to us by name : Tuti, or Dobda, an Irish Bishop, called the Greek, and Sidonius, who was probably also an Irishman.


Several years before Virgil's arrival St. Boniface had organized and reformed the Bavarian Church. He had divided the country into four dioceses, viz., Passau, Ratisbon, Freising, and Salzburg, and appointed able and God-fearing men to preside over them. A synod, which met in Ratisbon in 740, crowned the work of reform and ushered in a long period of bloom for the Church in Bavaria. Amongst the clergy there were, however, still some whose unclerical conduct or lack of theological training was a constant source of annoyance to Boniface and of disedification to the faithful. It was an unlettered priest who occasioned the famous controversy between Boniface and Virgil which was attended with such unpleasant consequences for both. Owing to his ignorance of Latin he had baptized with the words: "Baptizo te in nomine patria et filia et Spiritus Sancti" (" I baptize thee in the name fatherland and daughter and of the Holy Ghost"). Boniface, always scrupulous, and still more so as he advanced in years, decided that baptisms administered in this manner were not valid, and ordered rebaptism. Virgil and his friend Sidonius, whom he appears to have charged with this task, questioned his ruling and sought from Pope Zachary a clear decision in the matter. The Pontiff pronounced in favor of the Irishmen. "If the person who baptized," he wrote to Boniface on I July, 746, " had no intention to introduce either error or heresy, but merely from ignorance of the Roman tongue made use of such words, we cannot agree with you that on this account the baptisms must be repeated. Therefore, if the report that has reached us is true, you must not in future issue such orders, but zealously hold to what the Fathers teach." Boniface submitted, but the friction between him and Virgil did not end here.

About this time Bishop John of Salzburg died. Without consulting either the Pope or his Legate, Odilo appointed Virgil to succeed him, making him at the same time abbot of St. Peter's monastery in that town. Virgil took upon himself the administration of the vacant see, but for some reason or other deferred his episcopal consecration indefinitely. The purely episcopal functions were performed by his friend Dobdagrec. Such arrangements were frequently found in Ireland in those days and in Continental districts where Irish influence was paramount When Boniface, who was by no means inclined to give up his rights over the Bavarian Church, contested his position, Virgil replied that he held it with the sanction of the Pope. Zachary flatly denied this: he did not even know, he said, whether to call Virgil a priest or not. We may suppose that Virgil acted in good faith, and that he was misled by Odilo into believing that the matter had been arranged with the Holy See.

Virgil's uncanonical position in Salzburg was only one of the charges that Boniface lodged against him in Rome; another was that he strove to poison the mind of Odilo against him; a third, that he was a teacher of heresy. What truth there was in the second accusation, we have no means of determining.

In regard to the third, we have no first-hand information as to Virgil's supposed heretical teachings, but only the Pope's answer to Boniface's report. According to this, he taught that "there was another world, and other men beneath the earth, and sun, and moon." From these words it is not altogether clear what Virgil's doctrine was, or where his error lay. A glance at the cosmographical ideas current at the time may throw some light on this much-mooted question.

The earth, anciently believed to be a flat surface, was already known to the educated Greeks and Romans to be a globe. On the question of antipodes, or inhabitants on the other side of the globe, opinion was divided. Those who believed in their existence maintained that they were a race of men wholly independent of us and separated from us by an impassable barrier of heat and water. Called upon to express their views on these matters, the Christian doctors left the question of the sphericity of the earth open, but emphatically rejected the doctrine of antipodes as repugnant to the scriptural teaching on the unity of the human race, the universality of original sin, and the redemption of all men by Christ.

In the eighth century the great mass of the uneducated and no doubt the vast majority of the educated also, regarded the earth as a plane; but neither the doctrine of the sphericity of the earth nor the supposed existence of dwellers under the earth was entirely forgotten. Being a great scholar, Virgil must have been acquainted with Martianus Capella, Bede, and Isidore of Seville, perhaps also with Pliny and Macrobius. In Bede, Pliny or Macrobius he found scientific proofs for the sphericity of the earth, and in Isidore he read of the "unknown regions beyond the ocean" and of the races of men "fabled" to dwell there. In his lectures to the monks of St. Peter's, in his conversations with his friends, perhaps even from the pulpit, he may have given expression to these views without the necessary explanations. If he had merely spoken of another world beneath our earth with another sun and moon or the same sun and moon that illumine ours, his doctrine might have aroused astonishment and even contradiction, but neither Boniface nor any other bishop would have branded it as heretical ; for these are questions that can in no way be a matter of faith; but if he spoke of other men beneath the earth, of antipodes, he was universally understood to mean, even if he did not expressly say so, a race of men not descended from Adam and not redeemed by Christ, and Boniface was perfectly justified in denouncing him to the Pope.

Zachary pronounced no immediate sentence in the case. He was evidently not fully convinced of Virgil's guilt. "In regard to the said Virgil's sinful and perverse doctrine," he wrote to Boniface on 1 May, 748, "which he has taught against God and his own soul if it be proved that he holds that there is another world, and other men beneath the earth, and sun and moon summon a council, expel him from the Church, and degrade him from the priesthood." He also wrote to Duke Odilo, requesting him to send Virgil to Rome to be examined. To Virgil and Sidonius the latter had evidently again identified himself with his countryman he sent a letter of reprimand and a summons to appear before him. Boniface himself he admonished "not to give way to anger in dealing with the erring, but rather to reprove, convict, and rebuke them in all patience that they may the more surely return from error to the path of truth".

We do not know whether Virgil went to Rome or not; nor is there any trace of a Bavarian council having been summoned to decide his case. The war that broke out between the Franks and the Bavarians after the death of Odilo in the summer of 748 and ended in the defeat of the latter, probably made the holding of a synod impossible. It has been suggested that Pippin interfered in favor of his former protege, and prevented further action against him by his fellow bishops. I am inclined to believe that Boniface followed the advice of the Pope and in a friendly conference gave Virgil the opportunity of clearing himself entirely from the imputation of heresy. At all events, what we know of Virgil's subsequent career precludes even the possibility of his having been deposed from his office or subjected to any ecclesiastical penalty.


At the urgent request of the clergy and laity of Salzburg Virgil received episcopal consecration on 15 June, 767. All our sources agree that he ruled his diocese with wisdom and energy. Immediately after his consecration he began the erection of a cathedral church. It was finished in 774 and dedicated to St. Rupert, the Apostle of Bavaria, whose relics he had removed to it from their former resting-place in St. Peter's monastery. An incident which occurred in 767 shows that he had completely broken with the views of his native land on the episcopal office, and that he had become a "Continental bishop" in the full sense of the word. A certain nobleman, named Gunther, had erected a monastery at Otting near the present town of Waging and requested Virgil to help him to find monks for it and to consecrate the monastery church. Virgil promised to do so, but only on condition that the new foundation should be subject to his jurisdiction. Virgil did not, it seems, found any monasteries himself, several, however, such as Tegernsee, Kremsmunster and Chiemsee, owed their erection to his initiative. He was, on the other hand, a great church builder, as his epitaph testifies :

Interim et erexit pulchro molimine multa
Templa, loco quaedam nunc quae cernuntur in isto.

Virgil also took an active part in the ecclesiastical life of Bavaria. In 774 he was present at the important synod held at Dingolfing in Lower Bavaria. The acts of the synod are still preserved. They show how zealously the bishops watched over the spiritual and temporal welfare of their flocks. They insist on the strict observance of Sunday, on discipline in the monasteries, and on the rights as well as the duties of serfs and slaves. To restrain duelling, they decreed that a peaceful settlement must be attempted before an appeal to arms was permitted. It was at this synod, too, that the bishops and abbots of Bavaria formed a union, or confraternity, of prayer, the members of which pledged themselves to assist each other by prayers and good works in life and by Masses after death.


Endowed with a full share of the missionary zeal of his countrymen, Virgil also turned his attention to the pagan nations settled on the borders of his diocese. About the middle of the eighth century Borut, the ruler of the Carantanian Slavs, sought the aid of the Bavarians against the fierce Avars, who had been harassing and pillaging his lands for years. Duke Odilo acceded to the request, but Borut had to acknowledge his overlordship and send his son Gorazd and his nephew Cheitmar as hostages to Bavaria. Here the princes were instructed in the Christian religion and received baptism. Borut was succeeded by Gorazd, who thus became the first Christian ruler of the Alpine Slavs. His premature death prevented him, however, from doing anything for the spread of the Christian faith amongst his subjects. His successor Cheitmar requested Virgil, to whom he was bound by ties of devoted friendship, to preach the Gospel to the Carantanians. Unable to do so himself, Virgil sent his countryman Modestus with a number of priests and clerics in his stead.

For ten years Modestus labored untiringly amongst the rude peasants and shepherds of the Carinthian and Styrian mountains. In spite of the difficulties and dangers with which he had to cope, he succeeded in establishing Christianity firmly in the land. Christian communities sprang up in various parts, and with Virgil's aid half a dozen churches, rough wooden structures, but sufficient for the needs of the faithful, could be erected. After the death of Modestus in 760 the infant Slavish Church was threatened with utter ruin. The pagans took up arms against the Bavarians, fired the churches and expelled the missionaries. Still Virgil did not lose heart. As soon as the insurrection was quelled, he dispatched a fresh band of apostles to take up the abandoned work. The ruined churches were rebuilt, the scattered Christians returned to their homes, and better days began to dawn for the mission. Virgil did not live to see the full fruits of his efforts for the conversion of the Slavs. Still it was he who had prepared the soil and sown the seed and sent the laborers, and therefore he has been justly styled the "apostle of the Carantanians ". He had also planned the evangelization of the Avars, who dwelt farther to the east; but as no favorable opening presented itself, he desisted from the attempt.


After his conflict with St. Boniface, Virgil to all appearance gave up his speculations in cosmography; his restless mind, however, was busy in another direction. He took the liveliest interest in the preservation of the historical traditions of the Bavarian Church. He gathered the materials for a life of St. Rupert and encouraged his episcopal colleague, Aribo of Freising, to write the life of St. Corbinian. But the most important historical document which we owe to him is the Salzburg Liber Vitae (Book of Life). It was begun in the year of his death, and contains the names of all persons, clerical and lay, living and dead, who were in spiritual communion with the monks of St. Peter's monastery in Salzburg, and for whom commemoration was to be made at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Among the thousand names entered on the lists are those of all the Abbots of Iona (Hy) from 597, the year of the death of St. Columkille, to 767. Among the living potentates we find the name of the Pictish King Cinadhon. A letter is still extant in which a certain Abbot Adalbert recommends a deceased monk to the prayers of Virgil and his associates.

Virgil died 27 November, 784. Alcuin celebrated his virtues and learning in a poem which is still preserved. On 5 April, 1167, the Cathedral of St. Rupert in Salzburg was destroyed by fire. In 1181 some workmen, while clearing away the debris, discovered Virgil's tomb with an image of the saint bearing the inscription :

Virgilius templum construxit scemate pulchro.

Numerous miracles ascribed to his intercession led to the introduction of his cause in Rome and his canonization by Gregory IX in 1233. His feast is celebrated on the 27th of November. This is all that authentic history tells us of Virgil, the scholar, bishop, apostle, and saint. Only total ignorance of the facts, or the wish at all costs to cast an aspersion on the papacy, can make of him, as has been frequently done, a "martyr of science and a victim of Roman intolerance ".


American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol LXIII, (1920) 13-21.

Friday 25 November 2016

The Legend of Saint Catherine of Alexandria

November 25 is the feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, one of the great eastern female martyrs. The story of Saint Catherine's martyrdom was immensely popular in the medieval west and includes a fifteenth-century Irish version. In 2014 I posted a translation of a medieval Irish poem in honour of Saint Catherine here, below is a later poetic offering by a nineteenth-century Irish woman, Ellen O'Connell Fitzsimmon. I hadn't heard of the author before but learnt here that she was actually a daughter of the Liberator himself, Daniel O'Connell. Our poetess tells us in the introduction to her work that she was inspired by a fresco in Saint Clement's Basilica in Rome to give her own version of Saint Catherine's martyrdom:

By Ellen Fitzsimon (born O'Connell).


BENEATH Saint Clement's venerated dome,
Most perfect of the Basilics of Rome,
(Where a good Irish friar hath done more
Than all the rich and pious had before
In many centuries), there met my sight
A fresco painting, not long given to light,
The which a noble, simple story told
Of triumph by Saint Catherine won of old
Against the heathen sages, and the day
When for the Christian Faith she gave her life away.
Recalling this, and many a glorious feat
Of that great Saint, her legend I repeat.
Laying my homage humbly at her feet.


In Alexandria, centuries ago,
Amid a circle of philosophers.
Of solemn sages, throughout Egypt famed.
With others from the walls of palmy Rome,
And Greece's classic clime, sate Catherine,
A Christian virgin, stately, fair, and young.
Descended of a high Imperial race.
And further graced with genius' golden gifts.
Calmly she sate, and disputation held
With all those mighty masters of the mind.
Alike on sciences and curious arts,
On all thy varied forms. Philosophy!
And higher still. Theology divine.
In admiration, mixed with awe, the crowd
Of listeners hung upon her silvery tones.
The while with wondrous eloquence she spake
The might, the majesty of Heaven's ways
Revealed to man ! refuting thoroughly
All arguments, however plausible,
By her opponents brought forth to support
The worn-out faith on fable solely founded.
On fable, feeble, foolish, and unclean!
At length the pseudo-sages — struggling still
Against conviction, nor content to own
Defeat, except by silence — suddenly
Broke up the assembly, on some poor pretence.
And each departed, feeling envious hate
Invade his inmost soul against Catherine,
Who thus had humbled them before the people.
She meantime to her very palace doors
Was by the shouting citizens attended
As in a triumph. Then, the crowd once gone,
She sought her secret cell, to purity.
To constant faith, true love, and hope divine.
Kept sacred. There, before the crucifix
Kneeling, she cried, “To Thee, to Thee, O Lord,
The glory and the praise, that Thou hast lent
Thy handmaid power to triumph in Thy name”.
Not many days now passed, ere to the city
Came Maximin, the tyrant Emperor.
Soon summoned to his court were all the nobles,
And all the brave, the youthful and the fair ;
Amongst them Catherine, as a kinswoman
Of the Imperial Caesar, held high place,
No less than for her bearing and her genius.
Scarce had the Emperor beheld the maid
When love (as fierce as hate) possessed his soul!
Oh, no! not love, but passion, such as fills
The brindled panther s panting breast, for her
His bright-eyed, cruel co-mate of the woods !
All unaccustomed, save to swift success,
He signified his feelings, doubting not
Of joyful acceptation, Catherine,
Without or exultation or disdain.
Declined his suit. Fired fourfold by repulse,
He, who at first had nothing meant in honour.
Now cried, " Thou surely dost not understand
That Caesar woos thee for his bride, his Empress"
Still calm, unmoved, the maid rejected him;
For she had bound herself by secret vow
The bride of Heaven alone, nor would resign
For earthly throne the virgin's privilege
To follow in the path the Lamb doth tread.
Foaming with fury, yet not daring aught
Against a daughter of Imperial line.
The tyrant saw her leave his courtly halls.
The while he cried, "Oh! for a safe revenge
On this insulting woman!"
Since this earth
First ran its destined course around the sun.
Was never wanting to a tyrant's rage
Fit instrument  false philosopher,
Of those whom Catherine lately overcame,
Gladly embraced the occasion offered him
To work her evil. To the infuriate Caesar
Did he denounce her as blasphemer 'gainst
The gods of Rome, of Athens, and of Egypt,
As being that most vile of all vile things,
A Christian! Summoned to the dread tribunal
Of Maximin, who triumphed in the thought
Of humbling her, came now without delay
The lovely lady. Stately and serene
Did she approach, and, questioned of her faith,
Unhesitating owned herself a Christian.
The Emperor, his passion moved anew at sight
Both of her beauty and unflinching courage,
Offered her life and freedom on condition
That she unto the gods made sacrifice.
Again rejected, he went further still,
Promising safety, liberty of faith,
If she would only bless him with her hand.
Needs not to say what Catherine replied ;
Enough that in his rage he sentenced her
Instant to perish by a fearful death,
By cruel torture on a whirling wheel 
His orders were obeyed. Amid the groans
Of many, and the secret tears of more.
The maid, upon whose brow sate peace and joy,
Was bound upon the wheel, while Maximin,
Panting for vengeance, loudly called upon
The executioner to do his duty.
The wretch approached to turn the fatal wheel.
To which the maiden was already bound.
When, lo! a miracle! As struck by lightning.
The horrid engine into pieces fell;
And Catherine, her arms crossed on her breast.
Stood, calmly there, uninjured and unbound!
Then rose up to the firmament a shout
Of jubilee from all the multitude,
“The gods forbid that Catherine should die!"
And breaking through the strongest barriers
They placed the virgin on a lofty car,
And drew her with rejoicing to her home!
The tyrant dared not then oppose the people
In their wild moment of enthusiasm ;
But when dark night enwrapped the slumbering city
Was Catherine seized, and secretly conveyed
To prison by his orders. There some days
She languished in the deepest of the dungeons.
Thence, still in silence and in secrecy,
Brought forth at dawn, she perished by the sword,
Her latest breath breathed out in prayer and praise !
Towards morn, a rumour of the virgin's death
Spread through the city, whence derived none knew :
Nor did the people dare to speak aloud
Their doubts and fears upon the matter now ;
For Maximin with arm'd satellites
Had filled each public square and market-place,
And made the craven-hearted people quail
By vast display of force.
The night had come.
The dead of night. The city slumbering lay;
No star shone sparkling in the firmament.
But, like a pall, hung darkness on the earth:
When lo! a sound such as no instrument.
No trumpet, save archangel's, e'er gave out,
So sadly sweet, so thrilling, terrible.
Roused sudden from their sleep the citizens;
While, high in air, a dazzling, blinding light
Shone, 'neath whose glare the Pagans, all aghast.
Fell prone to earth, the while the Christians saw
A band of bright-wing'd angels cleave the sky,
Bearing the body of Saint Catherine
And chanting hymns of triumph as they flew,
Until they reached the summit of a hill
Where they deposited their holy charge
In safety on a spot where, long years after,
A church and monastery were up-raised.
Who owned Saint Catherine for their Patroness,
Their pious intercessor with the Lord!
Such is the legend handed down to us 
In truth and wisdom from the ancient days.

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Thursday 24 November 2016

Saint Colman of Cloyne, November 24

November 24 is the feastday of a Cork poet-saint, Colman of Cloyne. I have previously posted Archdall's account of the saint and his locality here. Below is another account of the life of Saint Colman and the locality of Cloyne, this time from Mary Frances Cusack, the 'Nun of Kenmare':

According to the Annals of the Four Masters, St. Colman died in the year 600 (i.e., 601 of our present computation), and the 24th of November is the day on which his festival is marked in all the ancient calendars, and on which it is still observed in the diocese of Cloyne. Our patron of Cloyne must not be confounded with another St. Colman, who was honoured on the same day. Both these saints are thus commemorated by St. Aengus, in his Felire, at the 24th of November:

"With Cianan of Daimliac,
A beautiful ear of our wheat,
Mac Lenine, the most excellent,
With Colman of Dubh-Chuillenn."

The Martyrology of Donegal preserves the following quatrain from the ancient poem Naomhsheanchus, on the Saints of Ireland:

"Colman, son of Lenin, the full.
And Mothemneag, son of Corban,
Were of the race of two brothers—
Oilioll Oluim, and Lughaidh."

—O'Curry's MSS. Annal. Inisfal.

The old Latin Life of St. Brendan passes the following eulogy on St. Colman:—"This Colman, the son of Lenin, was for learning and a holy life chief among the saints. He founded the church of Cloyne, which is at this day a cathedral, and famous throughout the province of Munster."

Cloyne was situated in the territory of Ui-Lethain, and in that sub-division which was called Ui-Mocaille, a name that is still retained in the barony of Imokilly. It is distant nineteen miles from Cork, and "is seated in the heart of a rich and highly cultivated country, being embosomed in gently rising hills. It does credit to the choice of the ancient fathers who here took up their abode in very remote times."— Brash, Journal of Kilkenny, Arch. Society. (New Series, ii. 253.)

To distinguish this See from other churches of the same name —of which there were several scattered throughout Ireland— it was sometimes called by the name Cluain-mor, i.e., "The Great Cloyne," but more generally Cluain-uamha, that is " Cloyne of the Caves." There are some very deep and interesting caves close by the old Cathedral. It is probable St Colman or some of his religious lived in them in olden times; and it is the popular tradition that many of the clergy and people found a safe retreat there when the country was engaged by the Danes…

…. Cloyne, according to an ancient MS., was the favourite place of burial for the " best bloods of Ireland," on account of the sanctity of the founder of the See. That it was so venerated we find from the will of Cormac Mac Cullenan, who desired to be buried here.

In the "Book of Rights," page 87, Cluain-uamha is mentioned as one of the royal residences of the kings of Cashel, and subsequently is added: —

"Of the rights of Cashel, in its power
Are Bruree, and the great Muilchead,
Seanchua the beautiful, Rosraeda the bright,
And to it belongs the noble fort of Cluain-uamha."

M. F Cusack, A History of the City and County of Cork (Dublin and Cork, 1875), 516-521.

Monday 21 November 2016

Saint Columbanus, November 21

November 21 is the feast of Saint Columbanus and to mark the occasion below is a paper by Archbishop John Healy, one of a series on Irish monastic schools, which appeared in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record in the closing decades of the nineteenth century:

The School of Bangor - St. Columbanus.

ST. COLUMBANUS was the great glory of the school of Bangor. He is one of the most striking figures of his age; his influence has been even felt down to our own times. The libraries which contain manuscripts written by his monks are ransacked for these literary treasures, and the greatest scholars of France and Germany study the Celtic glosses which the monks of Columbanus jotted down on the margins or between the leaves of their manuscripts. Hence we think it right to call special attention to the literary labours of Columbanus, because he is at once the highest representative of Celtic culture and Celtic monasticism.

We need not dwell at length on the facts of his life, striking and interesting as his marvellous career undoubtedly is. His life, published by Surius, was written by an Italian monk of Bobbio, called Jonas, at the request of his ecclesiastical superiors, and, though full enough in details regarding his life on the Continent, it is meagre as to facts of his youth in Ireland. It is, however, so far as it goes, authentic, for the informants of Jonas, were the members of his own community of Bobbio, who were companions of the saint, and eye-witnesses of what they relate.

Columbanus, or Columba, was the Latin name given to the saint, probably on account of the sweetness of his disposition. For although in the cause of God he was impetuous, and sometimes even headstrong, we are told that to his companions and associates he was ever gracious and quiet as the dove. We know for certain that he was a native of West Leinster, and born about the year 543, if not earlier, for he was at least 72 years at his death in 615. In his boyhood he gave himself up with great zeal and success to the study of grammar, and of the other liberal arts then taught in our Irish schools, including geometry, arithmetic, dialectics, astronomy, rhetoric, and music. He was a handsome youth, too, well-shaped and prepossessing in appearance, fair and blue-eyed like most of the nobles of the Scots. This was to him a source of great danger, for at least one young maiden strove to win the affections of the handsome scholar, and wean his heart from God. Old Jonas, the writer of the life, shudders at the thought of the danger to which Columbanus was exposed, and the devilish snares that were laid for his innocence. The youth himself was fully sensible of his danger, and sought the counsel of a holy virgin who lived in a hermitage hard by. At first he spoke with hesitation and humility, but afterwards with confidence and courage, which showed that he was a youth of high spirit, and therefore all the more in danger. "What need," replied the virgin, "to seek my counsel. I myself have fled the world, and for fifteen years have remained shut up in this cell. Remember the warning examples of David, Samson, and Solomon, who were led astray by the love of women. There is no security for you except in flight." The youth was greatly terrified by this solemn warning, and bidding farewell to his parents, resolved to leave home and retire for his soul's sake to some religious house where he would be secure. His mother, with tears, besought him to stay; she even threw herself on the threshold before him, but the boy, declaring that whoever loved his father or mother more than Christ, is unworthy of him, stepped aside, and left his home and his parents, whom he never saw again.

He went straight to Cluaninis, in Lough Erne, whose hundred islets in those days were the homes of holy men, who gave themselves up to prayer, penance, and sacred study. An old man named Sinell, was at that time famous for holiness and learning, and so Columbanus placed himself under his care, and made great progress both in profane learning, and especially in the study of the Sacred Scriptures.

At this time the fame of Bangor was great throughout the land: so Columbanus leaving his master Sinell of Lough Erne, came to Comgall, and prostrating himself before the Abbot begged to be admitted amongst his monks. The request was granted at once, and Columbanus, as we are expressly informed, spent many years in that great monastery by the sea, going through all the literary and religious exercises of the community with much fervour and exactness. This was the spring-time of his life, in which he sowed the seeds of that spiritual harvest, which France and Italy afterwards reaped in such abundance. His rule was the rule of Bangor. His learning was the learning of Bangor, His spirit was the spirit of Bangor.

When fully trained in knowledge and piety, Columbanus sought his Abbot Comgall, and begged leave to go, like so many of his countrymen, on a pilgrimage for Christ. It was the impulse of the Celtic mind from the beginning- it is so still-the Irish are a nation of Apostles. It is not a mere love of change or foreign travel, or tedium of home, the pilgrimage, or peregrinatio, was essentially undertaken to spread the Gospel of Christ. The holy Abbot Comgall gladly assented. He gave him his leave and his blessing, and Columbanus, taking with him twelve companions, prepared to cross the sea. Money they had none: they needed none. The only treasure they took with them was their books slung over their shoulders in leathern satchels, and so, with their staves in their hands, and courage in their hearts, they set out from their native country never to return. At first they went to England, and traversing that country, where it seems, too, they were joined by some associates, they found means to cross the channel and came to Gaul, about the year 575.

Gaul at that time was in a deplorable state. The country was nearly depopulated by a century of cruel wars; and although the Kings of the Franks were nominally Christians, and their people Catholics, yet partly from the disturbances of the times, and partly from the negligence of the prelates, vice and crime were everywhere triumphant. The apostolic man with his companions at once set about preaching the Gospel in these half-Christian towns and villages. Poor, half-naked, hungry, their lives were a sermon; but moreover, Columbanus was gifted with great eloquence, and a sweet persuasive manner that no one could resist. They were everywhere received as men of God, and the fame of their holiness and miracles even came to the court of Sigebert, King of Austrasia, of which Metz was the capital. He pressed them to stay in his dominions, but they would not. They went their way southward through a wild and desert country, preaching and teaching, healing and converting, until they came to the Court of Gontran, grandson of Clovis, at that time King of Burgundy-one of the three kingdoms into which the great monarchy of Clovis had come to be subdivided.

Gontran received the missionaries with a warm welcome, and at first established them at a place called Annegray, where there was an old Roman castle in the modern department of the Haute-Saone. The King offered them both food and money, but these things they declined, and such was their extreme poverty, that they were often forced to live for weeks together on the herbs of the field, on the berries, and even the bark of the trees. Columbanus used from time to time bury himself alone in the depths of the forest, heedless of hunger, which stared him in the face, and of the wild beasts that roamed around him, trusting altogether to the good providence of God. He became even the prince of the wild animals. The birds would pick the crumbs from his feet; the squirrels would hide themselves under his cowl; the hungry wolves harmed him not; he slept in the cave where a bear had its den. Once a week a boy would bring him a little bread or vegetables: he needed nothing else. He had no companion. The Bible transcribed, no doubt, at Bangor with his own hand, was his only study and his highest solace. Thus for weeks, and even months, he led a life, like John the Baptist, in the wilderness, wholly divine.

Meanwhile the number of disciples in the monastery at the old rained castle of Annegray daily increased, and it became necessary to seek a more suitable site for a larger community. Here too the Burgundian King Gontran proved himself the generous patron of Columbanus and his monks. There was at the foot of the Vosges mountains, where warm medicinal springs pour out a healing stream, an old Roman settlement called Leuxeil. But it was now a desert. The broken walls of the ancient villas were covered with shrubs and weeds. The woods had extended from the slopes of the mountain down to the valleys covering all the country round. There was no population, no tillage, no arable land; it was all a savage forest, filled with wolves, bears, foxes, and wild cats. Not a promising site for a monastic settlement, but such a place exactly as Columba and his companions desired. They wanted solitude, they loved labour, and they would have plenty of both. In a few years a marvellous change came over the scene. The woods were cleared, the lands were tilled, fields of waving corn rewarded the labour of the monks, and smiling vineyards gave them wine for the sick and for the holy Sacrifice. The noblest youths of the Franks begged to be admitted to the brotherhood, and gladly took their share in the daily round of prayer, penance, and ceaseless toil. They worked so long that they fell asleep from fatigue when walking home. They slept so little that it was a new penance to tear themselves from the mats on which they lay. But the blessing of God was upon them; they grew in numbers, and in holiness, and in happiness, not the happiness of men who love this world, but the happiness of those who truly serve God.

But now a sore trial was nigh. God wished to purify his servants by suffering, and to extend to other lands the sphere of their usefulness. The first trial came from the secular clergy. Those Irish monks were men of virtue and austerity, but they were also in many respects very peculiar. They had a liturgy of their own somewhat different from that in use around them; they had a queer tonsure, like Simon Magus, it was said, in front from ear to ear, instead of the orthodox and customary crown. Worst of all, it sometimes happened that they celebrated Easter on Palm Sunday, so that they were singing their alleluias when all the churches of the Franks were in the mourning of Passion time. Remonstrance was useless; they adhered tenaciously to their country's usages; nothing could convince them that what St. Patrick and the saints of Ireland had handed down to them could by any possibility be wrong. They only wanted to be let alone. They did not desire to impose their usages on others. Why should others impose their usages on them? They had a right to be allowed to live in peace in their wilderness, for they injured no man, and they prayed for all. Thus it was that Columbanus reasoned, or rather remonstrated, with a synod of French bishops that objected to his practices. His letters to them and to Pope Gregory the Great on the subject of this Paschal question are still extant, and he cannot be justified in some of the expressions which he uses. He tells the bishops in effect in one place that they would be better employed in enforcing canonical discipline amongst their own clergy, than in discussing the Paschal question with him and his monks. Yet here and there he speaks not only with force and freedom, but also with true humility and genuine eloquence. He implores the prelates in the most solemn language to let him and his brethren live in peace and charity in the heart of their silent woods, beside the bones of their seventeen brothers who were dead. "Surely it is better for you," he says, "to comfort than to disturb us, poor old men, strangers, too, in your midst. Let us rather love one another in the charity of Christ, striving to fulfil his precepts, and thereby secure a place in the assembly of the just made perfect in heaven." Language of this character, used, too, in justification of practices harmless in themselves, but not in accordance with the prevalent discipline of the Church at the time, was by no means well calculated to beget affection towards the strangers in the minds of the Frankish clergy. Other troubles, too, soon arose.

Gontran, the steady friend of Columbanus, died childless in 593, and was succeeded in Burgundy by his nephew Childebert II., already King of Austrasia, the son of the infamous Queen Brunehaut. He too died three years later, leaving his kingdoms to his young sons Theodebert, who got Austrasia, and Thierry, who took Burgundy. Brunehaut, their grandmother, the daughter of the Arian King of the Visi-Goths of Spain, was in her youth handsome, generous, and pious. But her heart was soured by the murder of her sister, the Queen of Neustria; she gave her whole soul to the demon of vengeance, and she wished for power to compass her vengeance. So she took the guardianship of the young princes into her own hands (596), and in order to secure her own power she encouraged the princes to indulge in every debauchery. This was especially the case after she was driven by the nobles from Austrasia and forced to take refuge in Burgundy, where she had the young Thierry at her own bad disposal. A lawful queen might dispossess the wicked Brunehaut from the place of influence which she held over the king, and so she encouraged him in the pursuit of unlawful love, in order to secure her own power. Leuxeil was in Burgundy, and King Thierry, pious after the fashion of the Merovignians, sometimes visited Columbanus and his monks. The latter was no respecter of persons, and on these occasions he rebuked the king with apostolic zeal and courage for keeping concubines at his palace instead of a lawful queen. The king took the rebuke patiently, and promised amendment; but Brunehaut was more dangerous to touch. On one occasion when Columbanus was at Bourcheresse she brought the four children of Thierry to be blessed by the saint. "What would you have me do?" he said. "To bless the king's children," answered Brunehaut. "They will never reign," he cried out, "they are the offspring of iniquity." The woman retired wrathful and humiliated, plotting revenge. All the neighbouring people, even the religious houses, were forbidden to hold any communication with Columbanus and his monks, or to yield them any succour. But Columbanus, so far from yielding, wrote a reproachful letter to the king, in which he even threatened excommunication if he persisted in his evil courses. Here no doubt was the height of insolence-a foreign monk to threaten to excommunicate a king of the Franks. It was intolerable. Yet when Columbanus came to the royal villa at Epoisses to remonstrate with the king, he was hospitably received. He however indignantly refused to accept the hospitality of the persecutor of his poor monks, and under his withering curse the vessels containing the repast were broken to pieces. On this occasion both Thierry and Brunehaut, in terror of their lives, asked pardon, which was readily granted. But the truce only lasted for a short time. Thierry relapsed again into his crimes, and again Columbanus threatened excommunication. This time both Thierry and the queen came to Leuxeil in person, but Columbanus strictly adhering to the Irish rule excluding women from the cloister, forbade them to cross the threshold of his monastery. The king persisted, and made his way to the refectory, "Know then," said the intrepid monk, "that as you have broken our rules we will have none of your gifts, and, moreover, God will destroy your kingdom and your race." "I won't make you a martyr," said Thierry ; "I am not such a fool: but since you and your monks will have nothing to do with us, you must leave this place and go home to your own country whence you came." This was about the year 610.

For the present, however, he was only made a prisoner, and conducted to Bensancon, where he was kept under surveillance, until one day, looking with longing to his beloved Leuxeil, and seeing no one at hand to prevent him, he descended the steep cliff which overhangs the river Doubs, and returned to his monastery. When the king heard of his return, he sent imperative orders to have him and all his companions from Ireland and Britain forcibly removed from the monastery, and conveyed home to their own country. The soldiers presented themselves at Leuxeil when the holy man was in the choir with his monks. They told him their orders, and begged him to come voluntarily with them-they were unwilling to resort to force. At first he refused; but lest the soldiers might be punished for not resorting to that violence which they were unwilling to make use of, he finally yielded. He called his Irish brethren around them: "Let us go," he said, "my brothers, in the name of God." It was hard to leave the scene of their labours, their sorrows, and their joys; hard to leave behind them the graves of the seventeen brethren with whom they had hoped to rest in peace. But go they must; the soldiers would not for a moment leave them. It was a brief and sad leave-taking. Wails of sorrow were heard everywhere for the loss of their beloved father; brother was torn from brother, friend from friend, never to meet again in this world. Thus it was that Columbanus and his Irish companions left that dear monastery of Leuxeil, and were conducted by the soldiers to Nevers. There, still guarded by the soldiers, they embarked in a boat that conveyed them down the Loire to its mouth, where they would find a ship to convey them back again to Ireland.

But it was not the will of Providence that Columbanus and his companions, when driven from Leuxeil, should return to Ireland: other work was before them to do. Accordingly, when they came to the mouth of the Loire, their baggage, such as it was, was put on board, and most of the monks embarked. But the sea rose mountains high, and the ship which Columbanus intended to rejoin when under weigh, was forced to return to port. A three days' calm succeeded, and the captain, fearing to provoke a new storm, caused the monks and their baggage to be put on shore, for he feared to take them with him. Thus left to themselves, Columbanus and his companions went to Soissons to Clotaire, King of Neustria, by whom he was received with every kindness and hospitality. The king cordially hated Brunehaut and her grandson-his mother, Fredegonda, had murdered Brunehaut's sister- and he was anxious to keep Columbanus in his own kingdom, but the latter would not stay. He pushed on, with his companions, to Metz, the capital of Austrasia, where Theodebert, the brother of Thierry, then reigned. Here he was joined by several of his old monks from Leuxeil, who preferred to follow their father in his wanderings, to remaining behind in the kingdom of his persecutor.

Columbanus now resolved to preach the Gospel to the pagan populations on the right bank of the Rhine and its tributary streams. So embarking at Mayence, after many toils and dangers, they came as far as Lake Zurich, in Switzerland, and finally established themselves at Bregentz, on the Lake of Constance, where they fixed their headquarters. The tribes inhabiting these wild and beautiful regions-the Suevi and Alemanni-were idolaters, though nominal subjects of the Austrasian kingdom. Woden was their God, and they worshipped him with dark mysterious rites, under the shadow of sacred oaks, far in the depths of the forest. Discretion was not a gift of Columbanus, so he not only preached the Gospel amongst them, but, axe in hand, he had the courage to cut down their sacred trees; he burned their rude temples, and cast their fantastic idols into the lake. It was not wise; the people became enraged, and the missionaries were forced to fly. After struggling for three years to convert this savage people, Columbanus, perceiving that the work was not destined to be accomplished by him, crossed the snow-covered Alps by the pass of St. Gothard, though now more than seventy years of age, and after incredible toil, succeeded, with a few of his old companions, in making his way to the Court of the Lombard King Agilulph, whose Queen was Theodelinda, famous for beauty, for genius, and for virtue.

At this time the Lombards were Arians, and Agilulph himself was an Arian, although Queen Theodelinda was a devout Catholic. Mainly we may assume through her influence the Arian monarch received the broken down old man and his companions with the utmost kindness, and Columbanus had an ample field for the exercise of his missionary zeal amongst the rude half-Christian population. But first of all it was necessary to have a permanent home -and nowhere could he find rest except in solitude. Just at this time a certain Jucundus reminded the King that there was at a place called Bobbio a ruined church once dedicated to St. Peter; that the place round about was fertile and well watered with streams, abounding in every kind of fish. It was near the Trebbia, almost at the very spot where Hannibal first felt the rigours of that fierce winter in the snows of the Appenines, so graphically described by Livy. The King gladly gave the place to Columbanus, and the energetic old man set about repairing the ruined church and building his monastery with all that unquenchable ardour that cleared the forests of Leuxeil, and crossed the snows of the Alps. His labours were regarded by his followers as miraculous. The fir trees, cut down in the valleys of the Appenines, which his monks were unable to carry down the steep and rugged ways, when the old man himself came and took a share of the burden were found to be no weight. So, speedily and joyfully, with the visible aid of heaven, they completed the task, and built in the valley of the Appenines a monastery, whose name will never be forgotten by saints or scholars. Whilst it was building, Clotaire, King of Neustria, now monarch of all the Franks according to the prediction of Columbanus, sent a solemn embassy to Bobbio, and invited him in most courteous language to return again to France to dwell with his companions where he pleased. He declined, however, the tempting offer of the king. France had cast him out; he had now found a home; he was too old to become a wanderer any more.

The holy old man lived but one year after he had founded Bobbio. His merits were full; the work of his life was complete; he had given his rule to the new house; he left behind him some of his old companions to complete his work, and now he was ready to die. To the great grief of the brotherhood, Columbanus passed away to his reward on the eleventh day before the Kalends of December, in the year 615, probably in the seventy-third year of his age. He was buried beneath the high altar, and long afterwards the holy remains were enclosed in a stone coffin, and are still preserved in the old monastic Church of Bobbio.

It is not too much to say that Ireland never sent a greater son than Columbanus to do the work of God in foreign lands. He brought forth much fruit and his fruit has remained. For centuries his influence was dominant in France and in Northern Italy, and even in our own days, his spirit speaketh from his urn. His deeds have been described by many eloquent tongues and pens, and his writings have been carefully studied to ascertain the secret of his extraordinary influence over his own and subsequent ages. His character was not indeed faultless, but he was consumed with a restless untiring zeal in the service of his Master, which was at once the secret of his power and the source of his mistakes. He was too ardent in character, and almost too zealous in the cause of God. In this respect he is not unlike St. Jerome, but we forget their faults in our admiration for their virtues and their labours. A man more holy, more chaste, more self-denying, a man with loftier aims and purer heart than Columbanus, was never born in the Island of Saints.


The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. VI, (1885), 209-219.

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