Wednesday 15 February 2017

A Festival of Holy Martyrs in the Félire Oengusso, February 15

I was interested to see this entry in Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints for February 15:
Festival of Holy Martyrs. At the 15th of February, the following stanza, transcribed from the " Feilire" of St. Oengus, as found in the " Leabhar Breac," is thus translated by Professor O'Looney:—

Chant the Sunday's celebration
On the morrow at night
With the passion of a powerful host
The victory of the son of God they obtain."

This stanza seems to have reference, to various holy martyrs, venerated in the Church, at this date, as may be seen by consulting the " Acta Sanctorum" of the Bollandists. Regarding the "Sunday's celebration," and "the morrow at night," I feel unable further to present any illustration, other than what is contained in a comment to the Irish word, can:

"To this we find appended a note (a) Chant i.e., it is chanted because of the nobleness of the festival, even though it should fall on Sunday, or on the- Feast of Barrach the triumphant, i.e., Barrach, son of Nemnand, son of Nemangen, son of Fintan, son of Mai, son of Dublha, son of Oengus, son of Erc Uerg, son of Brian, son of Echu Muidhmeadon. And it is a fortnight [i.e., at the end of fourteen nights] in Spring his festival is, and, it is in the wilderness of Cinel Dobtha, in Connaught, he is, namely, in Cluain Cairpti, ut dixit angelus :—

"Berrach and Mochoem
Delightful was their custom
Whomsoever they prayed for at the gasp of death
Should not suffer death, i.e Hell."

The Berrach commemorated on this day is Saint Berrach of Kilbarry about whom a post can be found here. In the translation of the Martyrology of Oengus published by Whitley Stokes, the passage is translated:
Sing a Sunday's celebration on the feast of warlike Berach,
with the passion of a vigorous host the Son of
God's victory over His enemy.
and the notes add:
Sing a Sunday's celebration, i.e. not superfluous is the Sunday's celebration on this feast always, for there is always a Sunday's celebration on each chief festival in the year.
I next checked an online version of the Roman Martyrology and sure enough the entries for February 15 begin with a litany of martyrs:
At Brescia, in the time of Emperor Adrian, the birthday of the holy martyrs Faustinus and Jovita, who received the triumphant crown of martyrdom after many glorious combats for the faith of Christ.

At Rome, St. Craton, martyr. A short time after being baptized with his wife and all his household by the holy bishop Valentine, he was put to death with them.

At Teramo, the birthday of the holy martyrs Saturninus, Castulus, Magnus, and Lucius.

In the same place, St. Agape, virgin and martyr.

Reading this reminded me of a passage in Thomas O'Loughlin's book 'Journeys on the Edges' where he discusses the annual cycles of worship which shaped the lives of Christians in Ireland:
Then there was the annual round of saints' days. This brought into the life of each day Christians from every period and place - strange names of people and far away places such as we find in the calendar of feasts written in verse near Dublin in the early ninth century, the Félire Oengusso. Here is a sample for 27 July:

The day of the bed-death of Simeon the monk,
he was a great sun to the earth;
with the suffering of a loveable host in Antioch high and vast.

All they knew about this Simeon was his name, and that he was a monk. They also knew that 27 July was the anniversary of the martyrdom of a group of Christians at Antioch - which Antioch they did not know. But Simeon and those martyrs were brothers and sisters in the communion of saints and so their memory was recorded and their intercession requested.

I will close with another Irish appreciation of martyrs, this time from the eighth-century poems of Blathmac:
254. If I am to tell the true fundamental account that I had of the death of martyrs, all the servants of Christ who suffered martyrdom on their principal feasts,

255. it passes reckoning to count it. Since ancestral Adam held counsel there has been with perverse kings a multitude of the pure dear ones of Christ.

256. For what those men have suffered in the torturing of their bodies they shall have keenest vengeance; they are not clients of (a lord of) bad oaths.

257. For splendid Christ has risen; he is eternally safe in the eternal kingdom; the leader with great hosts, the triumphant one, victorious in battle, will avenge them.


Rev. John O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume II (Dublin, 1875), 565.

Whitley Stokes, ed. and trans.,The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee: Félire Óengusso Céli dé (London, 1905), 60, 75.

Thomas O'Loughlin, Journeys on the Edges - The Celtic Tradition (DLT, 2000, 144-45.)

James Carney, ed. and trans., The Poems of Blathmac Son of Cú Brettan, together with the Irish Gospel of Thomas and a Poem on the Virgin Mary (London 1964), 87.

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