Monday 23 March 2020

Saint Mocholla, March 23

March 23 sees the recording of a number of obscure female saints on the Irish calendars. Along with an elusive Saint Lasair and the Daughters of Feradach, we also find a Saint Mocholla.  I find this interesting because Mocholla is normally regarded as one of the forms of the name Colum, which is a male name. Even more curious is the fact that we have a female Saint Columba recorded two days hence on March 25. Canon O'Hanlon can only produce a single sentence on today's holy lady:
St. Mocholla, Virgin.

This day, the Martyrology of Donegal, as also the Bollandists,  have on record a festival, in honour of St. Mocholla, Virgin. 
 All I can add is that her name is also recorded in the lovely verse of the Martyrology of Gorman as mo Cholla chaemh chruthgel, 'my Colla, dear, white-formed' but is missing from the earlier martyrologies of Oengus and Tallaght.

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Wednesday 18 March 2020

Saint Christian O'Connarchy of Mellifont, March 18

Mellifont Abbey: A Guide and Popular History (1897)

We commemorate an Irish saint today who achieved high office within the Church and who was a pioneering leader of the Cistercian order at its original foundation of Mellifont Abbey, County Louth. As Canon O'Hanlon explains below, we really should know more about the life and career of Saint Christian O'Connarchy, but alas the accounts of him that were promised to the great seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, never did materialize. It is rather a pity as Saint Christian sounds like an interesting man living in interesting times:

St. Christianus, or Giolla Criost O'Conarchy, first Abbot of Mellifont, County of Louth. [Twelfth Century.]

The last of the Fathers, as St. Bernard is affectionately termed by the Church, infused new vitality into the decaying monastic spirit of Western Europe; and, at a time when, but for a mighty spiritual influence, the fervour of religious observance might have languished. From France, his institute extended to these islands. So early as 1128, Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, had introduced the Cistercian Order into Great Britain. It was originally instituted,by Stephen Harding, an Englishman of remarkable energy and holiness, and, it had one of the most illustrious of the mediaeval saints for its true patron.

The founder of Waverley Abbey had noble imitators. Soon, Furness Abbey,  in Lancashire, Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire, New-Minster, Kirksted, and Roche, followed. The Order went on spreading, until the work of monasticism was finished in England. Then, it was found, that there were seventy-five Cistercian houses of men, in England, and twenty-six nunneries, belonging to the same Order. Notwithstanding, however, their great influence, the English branch is singularly barren, in historical memorials. At a somewhat later period, the Cistercian Order was introduced to Ireland, and the present holy abbot presided over the first house there established. The Life of this holy man, Christianus, or Christian,—sometimes called Christianus Ua Condoirche or Giolla Criost O'Conarchy,—had been frequently promised to Colgan; yet, he was not able to procure it, when he published from various sources those Acts, which are to be found in his work. The Bollandists, at this day, only have a few brief notices regarding him, and they preferred waiting to see, if his life should turn up, and reveal to them evidence, that any ancient writer had called him Sanctus or Beatiis. The English Martyrology, Arnold Wion, Ferrarius, Vincentius, and Hugh Menard, insert his name, in their several Calendars.

According to some accounts, he was born or educated, at Bangor, in Ulster; and, if we credit Colgan, this holy man was a disciple, and also the Archdeacon, of St. Malachy O'Morgair, Archbishop of Armagh; and, afterwards, he most probably travelled with the venerable prelate, when first leaving Ireland for Rome, about the year 1138, and when he visited Clairvaux, the great house of St. Bernard, on his way. Returning by the same route, it seems probable, that Christian was one of the four disciples, who remained as postulants, under the charge of St. Bernard, and who were admitted as monks of the Cistercian Order. When St. Malachy reached Ireland, he felt a great desire to found a house, and to procure a superior and monks from that Order to inhabit it; so that soon the Abbey of Mellifont, a few miles from Drogheda, in the present county of Louth, was founded by Donough O'Carroll, and, in the year 1141, St. Bernard sent over Christian, when duly trained, as the superior of some French brothers, to plant the good seed. About the year 1142, Mellifont seems to have been occupied, and here Christian lived for some time, with his monks. It has been asserted, that Christian was subsequently elevated to the See of Lismore, and that he was the identical Papal Legate, who was present at the Council of Kells, assembled in the springtime of the year 1152,  and over which Cardinal John Paparo, Priest of St. Laurence in Damaso, presided, at the instance of Pope Eugene III. Besides, the distinction given to Christianus O'Conairche, as Bishop of Lismore, and Legate of the Sovereign Pontiff for Ireland, he is called head of the Irish monks; but, in the latter case, we must understand, probably, only those of the Cistercian Order, in Ireland.

It is untrue, as has been advanced by some, that he was bishop over Down, succeeding St. Malachy O'Morgair there, or that he presided as Archbishop over Armagh. Equally false is the account, that he departed this life, so early as A.D. 1148. It has been supposed, that Christianus presided over one or two other Synods held in Ireland, and in the capacity of Apostolic Legate. Mellifont Abbey having been completed, about the year 1157, it was consecrated, with a magnificent rite and solemnity. Then and there, a numerous Synod of bishops—the Archbishop of Armagh included, with kings, chiefs and princes attending—was assembled. Large gifts were bestowed on the Abbey, by these magnates. Again, in the year 1158, it is stated, that a Synod of the clergy of Ireland was convened, at Eri-mic-Taidhg, in Laeghaire, at which twenty-five bishops assisted, with the Legate of St. Peter's successor. Their object was to ordain rules and good morals. The Comorban of St. Patrick was present, and the assembled clergy ordered a chair, like every other bishop's in Ireland, for Flaithbheartach Ua Brolchain, the successor of St. Colum-Cille, and also they decreed the arch-abbacy of the Irish churches in general, as his due. The present holy abbot must not be confounded with Christian O'Morgair, the brother of St. Malachy, and who presided over the See of Clogher. Citing the authority of Petrus de Natalibus, and of the English Martyrology, in the list of Henry Fitzsimon, we have Christianus, Bishop, entered, at the 18th of March. In the anonymous Catalogue of National Saints, published by O'Sullivan Beare, at the same date, he is simply called Christianus. The Bishop of Lismore, Christian O'Conarchy, must either have resigned his See, or died before 1159, for even at this date, we find recorded the death of his successor, Maelmaire Ua Loingseach, Bishop of Lismore. In Harris' Ware, it is stated, that Christian O'Conarchy resigned his See, about the year 1175, and that having grown tired of all worldly pomp, this resignation happened a long time before his death. He is said to have lived to an advanced age, and to have died, in the year 1186. Again, it is related, that he was buried at Odorney, alias Kyrieleyson,—a monastery of his own Order,—in the county of Kerry. However, regarding the foregoing statements, and the present holy man's identification, in reference to them, much uncertainty remains.

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Tuesday 17 March 2020

Holiday Customs in Ireland: Saint Patrick's Day

To celebrate the feast of our national apostle, below is an extract from an 1889 paper on 'The Holiday Customs of Ireland'. Interestingly, unlike the holidays associated with the feasts of Saint Brigid and Saint Martin of Tours, which the writer also covers, he finds the popular celebrations of Saint Patrick's Day lacking in the mythological, pre-Christian overtones he felt characterized those other holy days. Thus he tries to explain the origins of the feast with a bit of stage Oirish poetry which ignores the reality that the 'birthday' of a Christian saint marks the day on which he leaves this world for heaven rather than commemorates the day on which he is born into it. Rather more interesting is his account of the croiseog in folk tradition:

Saint Patrick's Day, March 17.

Although Saint Patrick's day is pre-eminently the Irish national holiday, not much can be said of it in a descriptive way, as the observances connected with it have but little of the old ceremonial or mythologic character. Processions and speeches in the larger towns and smaller gatherings in the country villages, with the assistance of the pipers and fiddlers in the evening, fill out the day, while everyone seems bent on carrying out to the letter the spirit of the old ballad which declares that 

"Saint Patrick's day we'll be all very gay." 

The festival commemorates the apostle and patron saint of Ireland, this day, according to most writers, being the anniversary both of his landing in Ireland and of his death, the latter occurring in the year 493. That typical Irish poet, Samuel Lover, by turns so humorous and so pathetic, gives the following characteristic account of the origin of the celebration: 

The Birth of Saint Patrick. 

On the eighth day of March it was, some people say, 
That Saint Patrick at midnight first saw the day, 
While, others declare 'twas the ninth he was born, 
And 'twas all a mistake between midnight and morn; 
For mistakes will occur in a hurry and shock, 
And some blamed the baby, and some blamed the clock, 
Till with all their cross questions, sure no one could know 
If the child was too fast or the clock was too slow. 

Now the first faction fight in old Ireland, they say,
Was all on account of Saint Patrick's birthday. 
Some fought for the eighth - for the ninth more would die; 
And who wouldn't see right, sure, they blackened his eye!  
At last both the factions so positive grew 
That each had a birthday, so Pat than had two; 
Till Father Mulcahy,  ho showed them their sins,
Said, "one can have two birthdays but twins." 

Says he, " Boys, don't be fightin' for eight or for nine; 
Don't be always dividin'— but sometimes combine; 
Combine eight with nine, seventeen is the mark, 
So let that be his birthday." "Amen," says the clerk, 
"If he wasn't a twin, sure our history will show
That, at least, he's worth any two saints that we know! ' 
Then they all got blind drunk, which completed their bliss, 
And we keep up the practice from that day to this. 

It is a saying among the people that after Saint Patrick's day it is time to begin to make garden. In Connemara they say that one should have half his farm work done by this time and half his fodder still on hands, and that after this every alternate day will be clear and sunshiny. The weather on this day is proverbially fine, and of course there is an Irish reason for it. In the first days of Christianity in Ireland Saint Bridget was much hindered in her work by the rains, which are especially frequent in this country, until at last she obtained as a favour from God that every other Sunday should be a clear day, so that she might preach to the crowds which came to hear her. Not to be outdone, Saint Patrick asked that his anniversary might be a day of sunshine, which was granted, and from that time forth the 17th of March has always been a fine day. 

On this day every child throughout Ireland, excepting in Connemara and some of the northern districts, is expected to wear upon the left breast a small disk intersected by crosses upon the surface and known as a croiseog (crishoeg) or "favour." In Connemara the croiseog is worn only by the women. They are of various designs and colours, but the general pattern is everywhere the same. The disk is made of stiff paper, or of silk lined with pasteboard, and across the surface are pasted strips of paper of different colours, crossing each other at right angles, so as to form some even number of crosses having a common centre in the middle of the disk. These strips are sometimes cut so as to give the arms of the cross an elliptical shape. Around the edge of the disk, between the arms of the crosses, are drawn small arcs which are filled in with dots, shamrocks and other figures, in ink of various colours. The ends of the crosses are sometimes trimmed with ribbons. In Clare and Connemara there is usually but one cross, which is drawn upon the surface of the disk with the blood of the wearer, the blood being obtained by pricking the end of the finger. The green is usually procured from grass and the yellow from the yolk of an egg. 

At the merrymaking, in the evening, no good Irishman neglects to "drown the shamrock" in "Patrick's pot" — in other words, to dip the shamrock in a glass of whisky. After wishing the company health, wealth and every prosperity, including "long leases and low rents," he dips the sprig of shamrock into the liquor which he is about to drink and then touches it against another, which he wears in his hatband in honor of the day. It is hardly necessary to state that the shamrock is a small variety of clover and the national emblem of Ireland. According to the popular belief, its adoption as the national ensign dates from the time when Saint Patrick used it to explain to the pagan Irish the mystery of the Trinity, or three in one. In East Galway and adjacent parts, the processions on this day carry banners bearing representations of incidents in the traditional life of Saint Patrick, such as the baptism of Oisin, the banishing of the snakes, etc. Everywhere men wear the shamrock in their hatbands, while women and children fasten it in their hair or upon their breasts. 

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