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Monday 23 September 2019
Saint Adamnan of Iona, September 23
ST. ADAMNAN OR EUNAN, PATRON OF RAPHOE
WHERE two such eminent and critical historians as Dr. Lanigan and Dr. Reeves are in complete accord, and no equally competent authority can be adduced in contradiction, a strong prima facie case is at once established in favour of their concurrent opinion on mere extrinsic evidence. Newman enunciates a truth, that has been frequently brought home to all of us in the experiences of life, when he states that there are many things of which we are thoroughly and justly convinced, and yet we could not, if called upon, specify the motives that have constrained this unalterable belief. That Adamnan, the illustrious author of the Life of St. Columba, and ninth abbot of Iona, and Eunan, first bishop and patron of Raphoe, were one and the same individual, is the contention which we shall here attempt to place on a firm and satisfactory footing, and for which, as its first prop of support, we gladly avail of the joint authority of the above-named great leaders of research and acute criticism in matters appertaining to ancient Irish Church history. It is true that they do not treat the subject at any great length, and that they content themselves with the statement of their mature opinion on the point, without particularizing the grounds of their judgment. In this they have acted wisely, and with thoughtful regard for the comfort of posterity. Many a pious and patriotic Irishman has heaved a heavy sigh of sincere regret that certain details of our national apostle's early life ever saw the light, since they have led to endless controversies, and equally endless disturbances of his penates, often effected with as little ceremony as the angel employed in transferring the Prophet Habacuc. If the present brief paper departs from the sage policy we applaud in those learned authors, it is because we feel our position is secure within the impregnable fortress of well-ascertained tradition. On the identity question, where local tradition cannot be traced far back, and where, undoubtedly, there has been a divergency of opinion among writers, we shall content ourselves with stating the arguments on both sides. Nothing could be farther removed from the object of these biographical notes than to provoke controversy. St. Adamnan is an historical figure that stamped its indelible impress on the discipline of the Irish Church, and on the annals of learning in Ireland and in Scotland; and the facts of his life cannot fail to be interesting to the readers of the I.E. Record.
A second argument in favour of this alleged identity is the incontestable fact that Adamnan of Iona died on the 23rd of September, the same day on which the feast of Eunan has been celebrated time out of mind. The two oldest Scottish calendars, and all ecclesiastical historians without any noteworthy exception, fix that date for Adamnan's death; and we know the extreme care with which the records of the deaths of distinguished bishops and abbots were kept, and the scrupulous exactness with which the anniversaries of such deaths were celebrated. Nor is it easily conceivable that the coincidence of these two feasts was merely accidental. Both saints bore the same name, Eunan being the phonetic spelling of Adamnan, which latter word, in the original Irish, has d and m aspirated; both were intimately associated with Raphoe and with St. Columba; both died on the same day of the same month of September; Eunan, distinct from Adamnan, is unknown to historian or annalist. Does not the inevitable conclusion force itself on our minds that the abbot and the bishop were one and the same person? This concurrence of feasts, and perfect agreement of name and of associations, would appear to dispose of all doubt on the subject. It is perfectly intelligible that, after the Plantation under James I., the phonetic form of the word should be almost exclusively retained in the district about the town of Raphoe, which was 'planted' with a vengeance; while the Irish-speaking people in other parts of the diocese, of course, pronounced the name Eunan at all times, as they do at the present day. Drighait-Eunan, or Adamnan's bridge, a few miles from the town of Raphoe, perpetuates the memory of the saint in the locality.
Thirdly, the Bishop of Raphoe is designated, in the old annals and biographies, the Coarb of Adamnan, and occasionally the Coarb of Columba and Adamnan, a title that can hardly be accounted for on any other hypothesis than that which is here advanced and defended; namely, that the well-known abbot was also first bishop of Raphoe. No doubt, his powerful relatives on his mother's side were the proprietors of the rich district around, called Tir-Enna, or the land of Enna, son of Nial of the Nine Hostages. They would naturally hold the saint's name in great reverence; but, why should they ascribe to him special patronage over Raphoe, and spiritual headship over the Bishop of Raphoe, if he was not the first bishop and the patron of the town and see? Adamnan was not born or reared in the immediate neighbourhood; his native Drumholme belonged to Tyrconnell, and Raphoe was, at this time, included in the territory of Tyrowen; and the age at which he became Abbot of Iona, forty-two years before his death, precludes the likelihood of his having been head of the Raphoe abbey for any lengthened period, before taking up his residence in Iona. All historians agree that he returned to Ireland in or about 701, sojourning most probably at Raphoe, and that his stay in his native land extended to four years at least, as he celebrated there the Pasch in 705, and went back to Iona only immediately almost before his death.
St. Ceolfrid, the Venerable Bede, King Nayto, King Alfred of Northumbria, and other zealous champions of uniform discipline in the Church, had inspired him with a holy enthusiasm for the extirpation of the scandalous abuse regarding the Paschal celebration in Iona, and in Ireland. Failing, for the time, in his mission in Iona, he undertook to enlighten, and to bring into harmony with the rest of the Church, on that question, the Irish bishops, priests, and people at home. To invest him with increased dignity and authority, it is almost certain that the same distinguished friends in Britain, who admired so much his learning and humility, persuaded him to allow himself to be consecrated bishop, before he entered on this arduous and important mission. Bede describes him merely as a priest and abbot on the occasion of his visit to Ceolfrid, which took place, most probably, early in 701. His success in Ireland was as complete as it was rapid; bishops and abbots, kings and princes, all listened with respectful attention to his learned reasoning, and unctuous eloquence, and at once discarded the traditional usage he assailed, to which they had hitherto been tenaciously attached, chiefly out of reverence for St. Columba. Through his opportune intervention, a crisis, filled with endless possibilities of danger for the Irish Church, was happily terminated; and the saint was enabled to resume the tranquillity of monastic life in the abbey of Raphoe, on which he reflected the lustre of his world-wide fame for learning and holiness. Thus was the see of Raphoe founded by Adamnan of Iona, in 701, as soon as the Paschal controversy was effectively set at rest forever in Ireland by that great saint; unless, indeed, we chose to believe that it was a different bishop of the same name who was the founder, and about whom all history and tradition, ancient and modern, are absolutely silent.
In recent times, the opinion we advocate has been strongly maintained by the successive bishops of the diocese, and by all local scholars, many of whom have given long and assiduous attention to Irish lore, and ecclesiastical antiquities. It is upheld with cogent and convincing reasoning by the present occupant of that historic see, who has been all his life a devoted and diligent student of ancient Irish history, and an untiring collector of local traditions. And it is embodied, with due precaution, in the new Office sanctioned, at his instance, by the Holy See, for the feast of Raphoe's patron saint.
It is, of course, perfectly possible that, even though Adamnan was a bishop, when he visited the court and the monks in the north of England, Bede might be unaware of his episcopal dignity, give him the distinctive and much-honoured title of Abbot of Hy, and merely state he was a priest, either because the saint concealed the fact that he was a bishop, or to distinguish him from lay abbots like St. Benedict of Nursia. This supposition is, however, highly improbable, and quite unnecessary in order to justify our contention. All difficulty is avoided by the obvious suggestion already put forward, that it was only when the stubborn and unreasoning resistance of the Iona monks on the Paschal question, made him decide on leaving that celebrated monastery, for a time at least, that he was induced to accept episcopal orders. There was a bishop in constant residence at Iona; and, hence, the acceptance of consecration would be no bar to our saint's return among the community, at any time he might choose to terminate his stay in Ireland.
Alban Butler is largely responsible for perpetuating the story of a second Adamnan (or Eunan), of whom neither he nor any other writer can find fact or tradition. The Irish saints have received scant attention from this author, but his neglect of them has been largely repaired by the eloquent and sympathetic pen of Montalambert, and in some cases more amply still by Canon O'Hanlon.
Adamnan, like the great Columba, was a scion of the princely line of Conal Gulban, and first saw the light amid the rich and gently undulating slopes of Drumholme, mid-way between Donegal and Ballyshannon, about the year 630. Ronan, his father, was a descendant of Conal, and a kinsman of Columbkille, while his mother Ronata belonged to the house and district of Enna, as has been already explained. At an early age, the promising child was consecrated to the service of God and to the monastic life, in the Columbian foundation of Raphoe. He had received the advantages of an excellent education from the first dawn of intelligence under the parental roof and in a neighbouring monastic school. Drumholme was then, and for many long centuries after, the hallowed nursery of numerous saints and distinguished men of learning, who gave their talents and their time ungrudgingly to the cause of God's Holy Church.
St. Asicus, first bishop and patron of Elphin, was so fondly attached to the sanctified soil of his birthplace in Drumholme that, in his waning years, he laid down the burden of episcopal cares to be transferred to younger shoulders, and returned to leave his bones to mingle their dust with that of the saintly monks near his natal spot, where his grave is still pointed out to the rare visitor. The illustrious St. Ernan practised by anticipation the sage advice suggested by the author of the Following of Christ: — Qui multum peregrinantur, raro sanctificantur. He appears to have spent his whole life in prayer and edifying works of charity in Drumholme and in a neighbouring abbey that is associated with his name. St. Hugh MacBrackan abandoned even his beloved Shangleann for the sweet tranquillity and sacred surroundings of Drumholme, whither he proceeded to yield up his pure soul to its Creator, and to seek the company of other chosen friends of God in determining the resting-place of his remains. Long ages after, the renowned Marianus Scotus resurrected, for a time, the decayed glory of Drumholme. But in recent days the sweet chant of the choral office is heard no more; the cowl and the habit, the prayers and the charity of the monks, no longer spread the fragrance of sanctity around the home of Adamnan. The big drum and the orange sash bring back forcibly to the minds of the inhabitants on each recurring Twelfth of July the doleful tale of impiety and plunder. Yet the old faith glows bright and unflickering in the hearts of the peaceful and respectable Catholic community, as their beautiful church and its magnificent congregation abundantly testify.
When the flush of boyhood's blooming freshness and growing strength gave an irresistible impulse and a definite form to the longing aspirations of Adamnan's generous heart to study and labour in solitude, and at a distance from the distracting pleasures and pleasing comforts of home, the monastery of Raphoe, where he had been solemnly offered by his mother when he was a mere child, was agreed upon by his parents and himself as the most suitable place to spend the novitiate of his religious life. It had been founded by Columba, and hallowed by his residence there; it had been endowed by his mother's wealthy relations; many of the holy monks of that establishment were allied by blood with the gifted postulant; he had often visited the several churches of Raphoe, had seen the monks, had been kindly treated by them when only a child, and had conceived an affectionate reverence for that home of sanctity. The renowned Columba was the great model he proposed to himself from the beginning, and he knew that in Raphoe the memory and traditions of their beloved founder were still fresh and constantly on the lips of his devoted disciples.
It was here he collected the nucleus of his immense stock of details, which he afterwards embodied in his invaluable biography of that saint; it was here that many of Columba's miracles had been performed. His farmer-kinsmen in the neighbourhood loved to tell how the 'Dove of the Cells' had shown their fathers the construction of a new and more effective form of plough he had invented, and how he had taught them to substitute the more elaborate and rapid machinery of the mill for the old wearying quern. While, within the precincts of the monastery, the strict discipline and the rule of life had been framed by Columba, the psalms that were sung, and the other sacred writings that were read each day, were copied either by the hand or by the order of the same beloved saint; the churches were his work; the bells sounded the praises of his heaven-inspired mission; Columba's Cross and Columba's Well, the tranquil shades and rich gardens, recalled pleasing traditions of his labours and counsels; the choir, the cloisters, and the altars commemorated vividly the zeal and taste of Tyrconnell's saint for the glory of God's house.
Next to his great hero and the subject of his principal work, the Irish saint, whose name stands out in boldest relief on Adamnan's pages, is Baithen, to whose memory he pays the highest tributes of affectionate admiration. Long years before he was called to fill the important and distinguished position of Abbot of Iona, in succession to Columba and Baithen, he had heard in Raphoe ravishing and marvellous tales of the miracles and sanctity of these two great servants of God. Baithen had been the first abbot of the once famous monastery of the Laggan, another of Columba's foundations, about six miles from Raphoe. An old graveyard and some interesting ruins mark the spot, while the townland has been designated Taughboyne (Teach-Baithine), or Baithen's House, ever since those remote ages, when the beneficent works of saints were appreciated, and their memory perpetuated in local topography and in the titles of parishes and churches. The whole rich agricultural district around is now called the Laggan, and is mainly peopled by well-to-do Presbyterian farmers, who, like the present inhabitants of Iona, know little, and care less, about the interesting and widespread antiquities of that historic locality. The best known and best authenticated of Baithen's miracles, is almost an exact repetition of one performed by Moses, and familiar to our readers. The Irish immigrants and indigenous Scottish converts were being overpowered by the countless numbers and impetuous savagery of their Pictish assailants; the saint raised his hands to heaven, directing his eyes and prayers and heart towards the throne of the God of Battles; and the surging waves of terrific invaders, that threatened to sweep away, in their murderous rush, every vestige of the fast-spreading religion of Christ, rolled back harmlessly to concentrate their energies and volume for a fresh assault. Time after time did the manifest intervention of the Almighty ward off the menacing hosts at the prayer of Baithen, until at length it became necessary to send relays of willing soldiers to sustain his fatigued and drooping arms. The golden rays of the sinking sun reflected from the glittering pikes of the kilted Northmen, brandished in joyous triumph, conveyed to the retreating Picts, as by heliograph, the damping but indisputable tidings, that victory rested secure on the green banners of the Irish missionaries. Again, in the touching picture of Columba's death, Adamnan does not fail to give Baithen that prominent place, to which the esteem of the dying saint and his personal greatness clearly entitled him. It was only a few hours at most before he calmly resigned his spirit into the hands of his Eternal King and Judge, when he laid aside his pen with which he had just copied the psalm Benedicam as far as: Inquirentes autem Dominum non minuentur omni bono ('They that seek the Lord, shall not fail in every good,') and, smiling, whispered to the monks, who were around: — 'I must stop here; Baithen will do the rest.' Thus the mantle of Columba fell on the shoulders of his favourite and worthy relative, about whom Adamnan had heard so many edifying and fascinating stories in Raphoe, and, still more, in the Laggan monastery where he had lived and ruled, and was so dearly loved.
In his Life of Columba, he mentions a memorable visit of that saint to an old bishop, Brugach, who resided at Raymochy, about four miles from Raphoe in the Letterkenny direction. It is most probable that a successor of Brugach still lived and ministered at Raymochy until Raphoe was erected into a bishop's see by Adamnan, visiting the churches of Tyrconnell for confirmation and other episcopal functions, and conferring ordinations in the numerous monasteries of the Columbian and other orders in that populous territory. That self-effacement, which Bede so loudly extols in our saint, has left many regrettable lacunae in the history of ecclesiastical events, that were in any way associated with his own zeal and name.
After many years of untiring study and constant growth in holiness, our saint was ordered to Iona to assist in training young missionaries for the work of extending the dominion of the Church over souls, in Britain and in all parts of western and central Europe. He was at that time prosecuting his literary labours and combining therewith the most edifying devotional practices in the celebrated and extensive monastery that stood amid 'Derry's oaks' on the left bank of the Foyle, twelve miles from Raphoe. There his unobtrusive and genial presence had become familiar and his brilliant gifts of mind and sympathetic heart had won the deep esteem and warm love of all; but when the mandate of his superiors was conveyed to him, he hesitated not a moment to bid adieu to his dear relatives, and to all his fond brother-monks and idolising young students in the loved and lovely scenes of his happy boyhood. In the beautiful apse of the unrivalled college church of Maynooth over the arched entrance to St. Columba's chapel, a singularly fine painting represents the exiled saint embarking at Derry with his twelve companions, while the afflicted priests and brothers he is leaving, stand weeping and inconsolable on the shore. Many a time and oft since then, has the same bank of the Foyle witnessed a similar heart-rending scene; but the departure of Adamnan was, in all its surroundings and details, an almost exact reproduction of that heroic and fateful event. Voyages were then rarely undertaken, and attended with extreme peril; while the descendants of Niall, unlike their adventurous progenitor, were exceptionally warm-hearted and home-loving. D'Arcy M'Gee has most aptly and elegantly embalmed in verse the sentiment a well-known tradition ascribes to Columba, when he saw a bird winging its flight from Iona in the direction of Ireland: —
But you will see what I am banned
No more, for my youth's sins, to see.
My Derry's oaks in council stand;
By Rosapenna's silver strand —
Or by Raphoe, your course may be.
Failbé was at this time the Abbot of Iona; and, delighted as he was to receive Adamnan, a man of such celebrity and promise, at once so learned and so humble, he extended to him a warm Irish welcome, and treated him from the first day with the tender kindness of a father. His love of books, and his zeal for copying manuscripts, and for teaching; the chanting of the divine office, and the repeated visits to the Blessed Sacrament, which St. Columba's example had made a rigid and conscientious duty for all the members of that pious community, left him little leisure for revisiting, in regretful reverie, the pleasant haunts and associations of his earlier years in his dear old Donegal. The Sacred Scriptures were his favourite and ceaseless study; Bede assures us that Ceolfrid found him deeply versed in the inspired volume, and fondly regardful of its counsels as well as its precepts, its implied meaning as well as its explicit statements. Despite his unfeigned and earnest efforts to labour and pray unobserved and undistinguished amid the immense multitude of devout monks, that then filled the vast monastery of Iona, his gentle mien, his striking figure, his burning charity, and his superior knowledge, unconsciously attracted the affection and esteem of all the members of the institution, and even of the countless pilgrims and other visitors.
The aged Failbé was called to his final account in 664; and, at once, without a dissentient voice, his predilection for Adamnan during life, and his anxious wish at death to have him as successor, were ratified by the entire community. Thus our saint was, by his brother monks, exalted, notwithstanding his energetic resistance, to a position, than which few were more enviable or more responsible in the Western Church of that day; and events proved the wisdom of their choice. He continued his exercises of piety with the same devoted assiduity as before; he taught theology and Sacred Scripture; he copied books, and composed original works; he gave wise counsel to bishop and friar, to king and to peasant. But there was one work of humility and love that he took a special delight in performing whenever the chance offered — that was the washing of the pilgrims' feet as soon as they landed on the shores of Iona, after the example of our Lord at the Last Supper, before conducting them to partake of the ungrudging hospitality of the monks. It was while engaged in performing this Christ-taught office of love that he once discovered, to his amazement, that the recipient of his attention was a French bishop, by name Asculf, who had lost his bearings on his return voyage from the Holy Land, and was driven ashore on Iona by a storm, after long and perilous wanderings over unknown waters. We take it that he was re-seeking the north-east coast of France, where the Franks of that time were settled; else his mistaken course could not be easily accounted for, even on the double supposition of a great tempest and want of nautical skill and appliances. In any case, the guest of that evening supplied the learned abbot with interesting material for a book much prized in those days, and bristling with points of detailed information that throw a flood of light on the usages of the time and on some texts of Scripture.
Towards the close of the seventh century, Nayto became King of the Picts, and soon developed a sincere and practical zeal for the spread and true observance of the Catholic religion, and an affectionate esteem for the worthy ministers of Christ. These laudable qualities had, naturally, brought him into close relations with the abbot and monks of Iona and having important affairs of the nation to transact with Alfred, King of Northumbria, he selected the gifted and prudent Adamnan for the delicate office of ambassador.
Up to this time our saint had observed the Pasch according to the custom adhered to in his native country and Scotland; nor is it to be wondered at that, in matters of disciplinary usage, these islands differed from the body of the Church, seeing that communication with Rome, or even with France, was difficult and rare, and that the calculation as to the date, on which Easter should fall, was still most complicated and little known. The nineteen years' cycle of Dionysius Exiguus had only just begun to be adopted in the churches and monasteries of England, the old cycle of eighty-four years being still retained in Scotland and Ireland. Besides, the systems of computation were so unsatisfactory and inexact, that Palm Sunday was celebrated in one church, while, perhaps, in a neighbouring abbey or diocese, Easter Sunday was being solemnized on the same day. The Irish were never Quartodecimans in the strict sense, as they always kept the feast of the Pasch on Sunday, and not on the fourteenth day after the first new moon following the Vernal Equinox, unless that day happened to fall on Sunday.
In Canterbury and in York, after the example of all the great seminaries on the Continent, one of the subjects studied with special attention was the method of calculating the date of the Pasch. The labours of Cyril of Alexandria, and still more, those of Dionysius Exiguus, had simplified the old cumbrous and uncertain system a good deal; but perfect accuracy and uniformity were not everywhere secured, even in the Western Church, in the calculation of dates, until the Gregorian Calendar had been introduced and gradually recognised in the various Churches long centuries after. The Pasch was, no doubt, celebrated on the same Sunday, and at the same time, everywhere, after the beginning of the eighth century, but the date or day of the month was different. Iona was almost the last Irish foundation to discard the old and erroneous computation, to which Irish missionaries on the Continent, notably the celebrated St. Columbanus, adhered immovably till their death. It must be remembered, however, that Columbanus had written twice to the reigning Pope, and had professed his readiness to abide by the Pontiff's decision with uncomplaining docility; nor is there any reason to believe that a different spirit prevailed in Ireland or in Iona.
Soon as the falsity of their system was clearly demonstrated — for the first time, by Adamnan in this country in 701, and in 716 by St. Egbert in Iona, where Adamnan's sudden rejection of the old method at the instigation of Ceolfrid and other Englishmen, had created a sinister impression prejudicial to his influence — when the revulsion of feeling not unnaturally created by the attempt to suppress at once a cherished traditional usage in an isolated community, that had only a faulty calendar to guide them, had gradually given way to the calm spirit of reason, Adamnan's lessons and brilliant example of obedience produced their effect, nine or ten years after his death; nor did his hallowed memory suffer more than a mere passing eclipse of popularity and affectionate esteem. He had, moreover, compiled a learned treatise shortly before his death, entitled De vero tempore faciendi Pascha, which assisted materially, if it was not mainly instrumental in reconciling the Iona community to the acceptance of the reform he had so yearned and laboured to introduce among them.
A brief stay in Northumbria brought Adamnan into close contact with the learned ecclesiastics and courtiers, and, naturally, the Paschal question was fully and frequently debated, with the result that Adamnan was convinced that the Roman custom was right, and embraced it cheerfully, with the earnest determination to use all his energies to have it adopted in Iona. From the court of King Alfred he proceeded to visit Ceolfrid, the abbot of Waremouth monastery in Durhamshire, and the most distinguished monk in England, in those days. This zealous advocate of the orthodox method of calculating the date of the Paschal Feast, was most agreeably surprised to find his illustrious visitor perfectly in accord with him on this important question, on which he was specially prepared with arguments and statements of the Popes and fathers, to bring conviction home to him at any cost. Ceolfrid had already written a most useful and instructive letter to King Nayto, which had been read in an assembly of ecclesiastics convened for the discussion and final settlement of that thorny question. Incidentally he had conveyed in that communication, replying to an inquiry of Nayto, that the form of tonsure, that was censured by many in the Iona monks, was a matter of secondary importance, implying no dogmatic error and infringing no explicit canon of discipline. Seeing, however, that Adamnan had disarmed him of all his powerful arguments on the subject of the Easter celebration, he proposed to himself the task of making him adopt also the Roman form of tonsure, with a view to enforcing the same form in Iona and all other Irish foundations.
'Brother' [said he], 'why is it that you wear an imperfect crown, since that distinctive feature of clerics is intended to symbolise the eternal crown to which you aspire? It is a perfect crown you labour for, and your wisdom, modesty, and piety, furnish every ground of hope for such a reward; why then do you persist in adhering to this singular and unmeaning badge? Do you expect to meet with a favourable reception at the hands of the powerful holder of the keys of heaven, when you shall present yourself disfigured with the tonsure of the magician, whom he anathematised?'
This homely argument and realistic description suppose that Simon Magus was the inventor of the Columbian tonsure, which took the form of a crescent or semicircle extending from ear to ear; while the Roman form is a complete circle having for its centre the crown of the head, and is commonly called the corona or la couronne. No trace, however, can be discovered of any such tradition in the numberless allusions by the early writers to Simon Magus, and most probably the statement is nothing more than a pious invention, suggested by seeking a contrast with the traditional tonsure of St. Peter. 'Be assured, brother,' calmly replied Adamnan, 'that whether I wear the tonsure of Simon Magus or not, I do not yield to anyone in detesting his crimes and errors.' The Venerable Bede describes so graphically this edifying and touching scene, that his account has been almost verbally transcribed or translated by later historians. He concludes by telling us, that the Abbot of Iona, being full of every virtue and deeply read in the sacred writings and the fathers, immediately submitted to the enlightened persuasion of his brother abbot, and adopted the common practice of the Church. Looking at the context, one can hardly detect any shred of justification for the statement, not uncommonly met with in ecclesiastical histories, restricting Adamnan's compliance, even here, to the adoption of the orthodox Paschal observance.
Ceolfrid was a disciple of the illustrious Bennet, Bishop of Canterbury; and, in addition to the varied and extensive knowledge he had acquired from that gifted master, he had spent a considerable time at Rome, where he became thoroughly acquainted with all ecclesiastical institutions and practices, at the centre and source of spiritual authority. Moreover, his fame for sanctity and zeal had made his name known and beloved throughout Great Britain, it is not, therefore, a matter of surprise that King Nayto had sought and obtained from him, a little before this time, an expression of his views in writing on the merits of the Paschal controversy and on the different forms of tonsure. The scholarly and exhaustive reply was read at a Scottish synod, and there it was decreed to adopt and to enforce the Roman discipline on both subjects. But, apart from these controversial matters, Nayto had conveyed a request, that presents to us an aspect of great interest. He begged the saint to send him some builders, who could plan and erect commodious stone churches, such as existed at Rome. Obviously, no such edifice, that could serve as a model, had yet been erected in Iona or in any part of Scotland. Bee-hive cells of stone, such as we see in an excellent state of preservation in Innismurray, and small houses of that shape, like the house of Columba at Kells, were already well-known; some small churches of stone, oblong in shape and graceful in their simple architecture, had been built in Ireland; but church architecture in these countries was only in its infancy. The name Raphoe (Rath-both) signifies fort-of-cottages or huts, which probably consisted of clay walls covered with a roof of wattles. Of course, the churches were more substantial and more ornate, and probably of stone like the little chapel of Columbkille still in perfect preservation at Gartan, within a mile of the spot where that great saint was born, and generally classed, with Raphoe church, among the numerous sacred edifices he everywhere erected. The ruins in Iona represent a church of later date; no vestige remains to mark the site of many of the widespread apartments of the monastery, which were largely constructed of perishable material.
The embassy of Adamnan was a brilliant and unqualified success. He bade an affectionate good-bye to the saintly Ceolfrid and the good King Alfred, promising to use all his energies and to spend the remainder of his days in establishing uniformity of discipline, and in uniting more closely than ever, in spirit and in external form, the Churches of Scotland and Ireland with Rome, the Mother and the Mistress of all the Churches. But the bright crown that awaited him in heaven and the perpetual honour and homage which he was destined to receive from the Spouse of Christ, were not to be gained without a keen struggle and bitter sufferings. When he returned to Iona, happy in the consciousness that he had done a great work for the glory of God's Church, what was his dismay and torture of heart to find his own beloved monks turning a deaf ear to all his gentle persuasion and his cogent arguments alike; condemning most emphatically, if not by words at least by looks and conduct, his adhesion to the discipline of the Church in the matter of the Paschal celebration as well as in that of the tonsure; and obstinately determined to resist any attempt to change their old traditional usages in regard to one or other of these observances. He saw with undisguised emotion that lowering clouds were gathering around the sunset of his hitherto serene and happy life, and to prevent the storm from bursting and defeating his mission of conciliation, he cheerfully resigned the wand of office into the hands that had forced it upon his reluctant acceptance, and prepared to return to his native country.
It was at this gloomy crisis in the history of the great monastery of Iona, that, according to a well-supported belief, the humble and zealous saint yielded to the persuasion of his numberless friends and allowed himself to be consecrated bishop. He took up his permanent residence at Raphoe, but visited many other parts of Ireland, and was everywhere received and listened to with that profound and admiring respect, that was due as well to his personal piety and rare attainments, as to the praiseworthy object of his zeal.
The nineteen years' cycle and the correct calculation and observance of Easter were at once adopted by church and state; and provision was amply made to ensure the careful teaching of this subject in all colleges and monastic schools. Thus the indomitable energy, gentleness, and scholarship of our saint, strengthened and enlightened by divine grace, rescued the Irish Church from possible schism; nor were his national services limited to the spiritual order. His advice and persuasiveness healed many a gaping wound of offended jealousy among princes, and infused a pacific spirit into the enactments and administration of monarchs. In synod and in council, in monastery and in church, his voice was ever raised to preach peace and unity, charity towards all, and pardon for the repentant sinner.
In face of the most abundant evidence supplied by contemporary writers of undoubted truthfulness, that Adamnan possessed an angelic sweetness of temper, and invariably supported the cause of the weak against the strong, it is alleged that he encouraged the descendants of Ainmire, high-kings of Ireland, in their attempts to extort the oppressive Borumean tribute from the Leinstermen. No proof of the statement is anywhere discoverable, and all well-ascertained facts leave little room for doubting that the charge is utterly groundless. About 674, while Adamnan was still a young abbot, living in the tranquil seclusion of his monastery away in Iona, the high-king Finnaghta generously renounced all claim to this obnoxious tribute on his own part and on the part of his successors. Thus the doubtful right was expressly waived, and the matter lay in abeyance till 722, long after Adamnan's death, when the claim was renewed by Fergall with most disastrous results. It is, therefore, impossible that the holy abbot should have taken any part in discussing the justice or iniquity of this tribute, at all events during the last thirty years of his life. If further evidence were needed, it is abundantly supplied in the canons, which he had been carefully studying and collecting during his long residence in Iona, and which he circulated as widely as he could, in manuscript copies, before his death. Some of these canons are expressly directed against the horrors of war, forbidding women, for instance, to take the field in any circumstances, and guarding churches, ecclesiastics, and convents against desecrating assaults. St. Columba is said to have procured the enactment of the humane prohibition first alluded to, and the name of St. Adamnan himself was associated, in ancient times, with many salutary and prudent regulations.
The most important and best known of Adamnan's literary works in his famous Life of St. Columba. A careful translation has been edited, with many useful notes and comments, in a very cheap and popular form, by the late Bishop of Kerry, Dr. MacCarthy, to whom the Irish Church is indebted for many publications of deep interest and usefulness. A work of still greater research and of profound scholarship, is Dr. Reeves' edition of Adamnan's Life of Columba, where all obscure passages are elucidated, and an immense collection of miscellaneous information about the early Irish Church is appropriately interspersed. This book is invaluable, but, unfortunately, it is very rare and entirely too expensive for the ordinary student. Fowler's edition is cheap and easily procurable; but, in the preface and in some of the notes, it manifests a strong anti-Catholic bias, and is dangerously untruthful in statement and suggestion. This interesting biography is largely founded on a previous work written by Cummeneus Albus, but is much more extensive and detailed. Contemporary scholars, like Bede, pronounced it, with unanimous accord, a very learned and useful compilation, and even at the present day, critics are agreed in regarding it as one of the best specimens of Latinity belonging to the middle ages.
His Descriptio Terrae Sanctae was sought after and read with the keenest avidity everywhere throughout Great Britain and Ireland, for many ages after its first appearance. Its accomplished author brought a copy of this much-prized work for presentation to King Alfred, on the occasion of his embassy to that monarch, and it was in this way, that it came to be transcribed and circulated among all classes of educated Christians in these countries. The Venerable Bede constructed from it the whole framework of his larger treatise De Locis Sanctis, as he generously acknowledges; and together with Bede's less handy compilation, it continued to be the only accessible source of authentic information on the geography, Christian antiquities, and customs of the Holy Land, until the crusades gave England a new and more acute interest in those distant and inhospitable regions. It consists of three books, and is written in a most entertaining and story-telling style. The first book describes Jerusalem and the immediate neighbourhood, devoting much space to an enumeration of the many relics and memorials of our Lord's Passion and Death, that were preserved in or near the famous Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The chalice used at the Last Supper is stated to have been kept there in a room, and is described as a silver vessel, with two handles, and of pretty large dimensions. The sponge was also shown, that had been dipped in vinegar and gall, and offered to our Lord on the cross to alleviate the pain of His agonizing thirst. The tombs of St. Joseph and of St. Simeon were also visited by pilgrims and much reverenced, and in the Valley of Jehosaphat was pointed out the tomb of the Blessed Virgin, an object of still greater attraction and deeper reverence. It is on that same spot that the Archbishop of Metz solemnly laid on Sunday, October 7th, 1900, the foundation stone of a superb new church in the course of erection to mark the scene of the 'Dormition.' He describes with exact minuteness, the Mount of Olives, whose summit was then covered by a spacious and beautiful church, differing entirely in outline and finish, from the Basilica of Calvary.
The second book treats, in detail, of Bethlehem, and of the country about the Jordan. Here we are supplied with a most graphic description of the grotto, where the Saviour was born, and all its surroundings. The tombs of David, St. Jerome, and many other saints, were much frequented by pious pilgrims; the entire locality presented to the Christian visitor, at every step, some memorial of his redemption, or of striking events and great saints of the old and the new dispensation. The exact spot where our Lord was baptized in the Jordan, was easily recognised by the well-used passage through an untilled field leading up to it; and then, as at the present day, pilgrims often bathed in that historic stream. He further recounts the rather curious fact, that young people, and the poor frequently boiled and cooked with oil, insects called locusts that were to be met with in great abundance in the deserts near the Jordan. On certain trees, moreover, in that district were to be found large soft leaves, from which was expressed a thick substance resembling milk in colour, and tasting like honey. This is Asculf's account of the locusts and wild honey, on which the Baptist subsisted. But Adamnan was well aware that many commentators took a widely different view, explaining the locusts as fruit, and the wild honey as the casual products of bees to be found in the mountainous wastes, where bee-cultivation was unheard of. In support of Asculf's account, he assures his readers that he had compared his statements with St. Jerome's expositions and comments, and that he found them to agree perfectly throughout. This important observation occurs in connection with curious traditions about Mount Thabor and Tyre, but it manifestly proves that Adamnan was quite conversant with the writings of St. Jerome and the early fathers. Alexandria is briefly treated of, the principal object of attraction in its vicinity being the tomb of St. Mark, which was greatly reverenced.
The third book gives a lengthy and delightful account of the sights and religious ceremonies witnessed at Constantinople. There a large portion of the True Cross was enclosed in a rich case on an altar of gold, in a church called Rotunda from its circular shape, and exposed for adoration on the three last days of Holy Week. On the first day, the emperor, his generals, and nobles, and then the ordinary rank and file of the male population, having approached the altar, reverently bowed their heads in homage to the instrument of their redemption. The empress, her suite, ladies of rank, and then the ordinary women, performed the same devotional ceremony on the second day; while Holy Saturday was reserved for bishops and priests. Mount Aetna belching forth its heavy volumes of sulphurous smoke, with an occasional glint of red, burning fire, lending beauty and picturesqueness to the dark mass, and its frightful subterranean murmurings, is described in vivid and realistic language, that few modern guide-books can surpass.
We have already referred to the learned and opportune little volume, which our saint compiled, De Vero Tempore faciendi Pascha, to serve as a useful text-book for students. Its accuracy and utility were very soon recognised, and it acquired a wide-spread and lasting popularity.
The garbled citations and scattered allusions that can be traced in ancient writers, furnish only the most meagre and unsatisfactory data, on which to attempt a critical analysis or enumeration of the ecclesiastical canons collected by this zealous and devoted churchman. But we are safe in asserting that this work was the first of its kind that had appeared in these countries, and that it was compiled with that scrupulous precision that characterised all his numerous and excellent productions.
The magnificent new cathedral at Letterkenny, unrivalled in gracefulness of architecture and in symmetry of rich decoration, will be solemnly consecrated and opened for public worship in the course of the coming summer, as a suitable tribute of honour to the glorious saint — whose life and labours are here briefly, but we trust faithfully outlined — from his coarb and the priests and people of his ancient see,
Congaudet omnis civium
Nobis chorus caelestium,
Magni videns perennia
Nunc Eunani solemnia.
The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 4th series, Volume IX (1901), 113-134.
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