Monday 23 January 2017

Companions of Saint Ursula, January 23

At January 23 Canon O'Hanlon has the first of a number of entries in his Lives of the Irish Saints relating to Saint Ursula and her companions. The story of the martyrdom of Saint Ursula was enormously popular during the later Middle Ages and it seems that Canon O'Hanlon believes there is an Irish connection, not to the saint herself, who is said to have been a British princess, but to the maidens who accompanied her and shared her fate. This particular date of commemoration is found at the city most closely associated with the martyrs, Cologne, itself the site of an Irish monastery. That said I would be far from convinced that there is any Irish link with Saint Ursula and her martyred maidens at all.  A vague claim of 'Scottish' origin does not seem a firm basis on which to proceed, given that the idea of having a link to Ireland and its saints carried a certain cachet in medieval continental Europe, where many were pleased to claim that their monastery or mission was originally founded by natives of this country. In the heat of their enthusiasm for reclaiming Ireland's glorious religious past, writers of Canon O'Hanlon's generation were also keen to press claims of Irish origins for the holy men and women associated with other countries on the basis of such 'tradition' that they were Irish or 'Scottish'. In the Middle Ages Ireland was often referred to as Scotia and its natives as Scotti, just to complicate matters even further.  O'Hanlon has noted at least eight separate commemorations associated with Saint Ursula in various volumes of his Lives of the Irish Saints so he certainly ran with this idea, but trying to disentangle what, if any, historical basis, lies behind the legend of Saint Ursula and her maidens is no easy task:

Reputed Festival of St. Ursula and of her Companions, Martyrs. [Fifth Century]

As many of these holy virgins are believed to have been Scottish or Irish, we should feel an interest in learning that their memory is said to have been celebrated at the Church of St. Cunibert, at Cologne, on this day. To their chief festival, however, we shall refer the reader for more detailed particulars regarding them.

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Friday 20 January 2017

Saint Fechin at Poulaphouca Waterfall

It was the afternoon of Sunday when Fechin and his monks arrived at Poulaphouca Falls, and the glorious Twenty-Eighth Psalm was part of the Lauds for Monday, which they were reciting that evening, and no other Psalm could so voice the feelings of the enraptured hearts of those "sons of God" in the midst of "the many waters" and "the thunders of the Lord" and "the cedars."

"Afferte Domino, filii Dei, gloriam et honorem : afferte Domino gloriam nomini Ejus : adorate Dominum in atrio sancto Ejus ! 

Vox Domini super aquas, Deus majestatis intonuit : Dominus super aquas multas ! 

Vox Domini in virtute : Vox Domini in magnificentia. 

Vox Domini confringentis cedros. . . . 

Dominus virtutem populo suo dabit : Dominus benedicet populo suo in pace." 

" Bring to the Lord, O ye sons of God, . . . glory and honour ! bring to the Lord glory to His name ! Adore ye the Lord in His holy Church !

The voice of the Lord upon the waters : the God of majesty hath thundered ! The Lord upon many waters !

The voice of the Lord in power, the voice of the Lord in magnificence !

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars ! . . . The Lord will give strength to His people ; the Lord will bless His people with peace." (Ps. xxviii).

Not for a few minutes only but for hours did holy Fechin and his disciples pray here and sing their Psalms and hymns. At last some of the monks completely tired and physically exhausted said to Fechin that it was time for all to rest. "No," answered the Saint, " I cannot cease. The Falls never cease, but are continually offering the sublime melody of their music to their Creator. I must not be a debtor to my God." Behold then God wrought a great wonder to reward His devout servant. The waters of the Falls ceased to flow down, and, piling themselves above, seemed to listen to the chanting of the Psalms of Fechin and his choir, a heavenlier music than their own! This prodigy lasted till the third hour. Then the Saint was given to understand that he and his tired brethren might themselves take a little rest and refresh their exhausted bodies, and so they ceased their psalmody.

The Life of St Fechin of Fore: The Apostle of Connemara by Father J.B. Coyle (Dublin, 1915).

Note: January 20 is the feast day of Saint Fechin of Fore and previous posts on his life can be found here and here.

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