Sunday 12 June 2022

The Three Scoto-Irish Hermits of Griesstetten

On June 12, 1689 the relics of three reputedly twelfth-century Irish hermits, Marinus, Vimius and Zimius, were translated to a new chapel at Griesstetten in Bavaria, where they continue to be held in reverence to this day. The trio may have been connected with the Irish monastery network of Ratisbon (Regensburg), the history of which can be read in a paper at the blog here. These monasteries, originally founded by and staffed by Irishmen, are known as Schottenklöster, literally 'Scottish monasteries' and it is here that the confusion begins. For in the Middle Ages Ireland was described in Latin sources as Scotia and it was not until later that this label was applied to the country we now know as Scotland. As the memory of this distinction faded the Irish were written out of the history of the foundations they had made in Germany and both the credit for their achievements and the compensation granted for their closure went to Scottish churchmen. The memory of our three hermits also appears to have been lost along the way as Irish Benedictine Dom Patrick Nolan, O.S.B. explains:  



IN the following pages an attempt is made to rescue from oblivion the memory of three Scotic, i.e., Irish or Scoto-Irish, hermits who lived and died some eight hundred years ago in an obscure corner of Bavaria. Like so many of their countrymen, to use the words of an ancient Irish monk of Ratisbon, they 'left behind dear friends and possessions, and, spurning temporal things for things eternal, they passed over so many seas, so many trackless wastes, to follow Christ.' It had been their wish to pass their lives unknown to the outer world, wrapt up in God and heavenly contemplation, and, if their wishes had been consulted, their very names would have been forgotten. But it was the will of God that the light of their saintly lives, which they would have hidden under a bushel, should be raised aloft, and exposed to the admiring gaze of men. 

 So obscure, indeed, was the memory of these holy men for many centuries, that it even escaped the observation of the all-scrutinizing gaze of the Bollandists, who, from their hagiological observatory in Brussels, pass in review the lives of holy men and holy women throughout the whole Catholic world. And, if we may be permitted to push our astronomical metaphor a little farther, it was only when their bodies, long at rest, were set in motion that their existence was once more revealed to the world just as the presence of some obscure planetoid or comet becomes known when its motion has made a faint streak on the sensitive film of the photographer. 

 In other words, the bodies of our three saints were solemnly translated on the 12th of June, 1689, by the Right Rev. Coadjutor-Bishop of Ratisbon, Albert Ernest Count von Wartenberg, who drew up a narrative of the translation and sent it to the Bollandists. The latter have printed it in their bulky tomes, under the date mentioned, and preface it with the remark that they had never before heard of the saints, and that they had even escaped the observation of the learned Matthaeus Raderus, who has written a monumental work on the Saints of Bavaria. 

What little information I have been able to put before the reader in the following pages, I have obtained chiefly from four sources: (1) From the above-mentioned documents, published by the Bollandists. (2) From a historical sketch of the lives and cultus of the hermits, drawn up in the year 1850 by Dom Anselm Robertson, O.S.B., from documents in the archives of the Scotic monastery at Ratisbon, and published in the Spicilegium Benedictinum (Dec., 1899), from an authenticated copy in the archives of the monastery of St. Paul's, Rome. (3) From a petition drawn up in 1848 by the then Bishop of Ratisbon (J. B. Weigl), concerning the cultus of the hermits. This document is to be found likewise in the Spicilegium (March, 1900). (4) From a little German brochure, Die drei Elenden Heiligen zu Griesstetten, by a Franciscan, published at Ingolstadt, 1906. 

As Dom Anselm's sketch gives a concise and connected account of the lives of the three hermits, as far as the facts can be ascertained, I shall give a translation, from the original Latin, of the principal portions merely premising that all his statements are not to be accepted as historically accurate. I need hardly remark that he and his Scottish brethren were not of the same nationality as the 'Scoti ' or Irish, who originally founded the monastery of Ratisbon. The latter were pure Celts from ancient ' Scotia ' or Ireland, with perhaps a sprinkling of members from the Irish colony in Scotland. Dom Anselm Robertson and his brethren were modern Scots, by which we mean a nationality which had its origin somewhere about the time of the Norman Conquest and in which a predominant element was Saxon. 

And here it may not be out of place to say a few words as to the proper signification, in medieval Latin, of the words 'Scotia' and 'Scoti,' which are still frequently misunderstood by foreigners, and even by many of us nearer home. Most of my readers are aware that the latinized name 'Scoti' was originally applied to the last of the ancient colonizers of Ireland, in other words, to the progenitors of the Irish race. It seems to be derived from the Celtic 'Scotraide,' which was the name of the predominant tribe. From them Ireland was called 'Scotia ' (by Latin writers) from about the sixth till the thirteenth centuries. 

These Scoti or Irish made a permanent settlement in the north of Britain about the year 500 A.D., when Fergus Mac Ere, chief of the Dalriads of Antrim, with Lome and Angus, led a colony into the modern Argyle and the Isles, and thus began the long line of Irish kings who held sway in Scotland from the reign of Aedhan Mac Gabhran (crowned by St. Columba in the year 574) till that of Donald Bain, who was deprived of his kingdom, and of his eyes, by the Saxon, Edgar Atheling, in the year 1097. From these Irish, or ' Scoti,' the north of Britain began to be called Scotia, somewhere about the end of the tenth or the beginning of the eleventh century. Ireland, the home of the Scots, was for some two centuries longer still called Scotia, and by some writers Scotia Major, or Greater Scotia, to distinguish it from the new Scotia, which the Irish were building up in the north of Britain. 

It cannot be too clearly realized [says Mr. Plummer, in his scholarly edition of St. Bede] that at the time when Bede wrote [his Ecclesiastical History, about the year 781], and for more than two centuries after, the term 'Scottia ' refers to Ireland, and to Ireland alone. It was only towards the end of the tenth century that it began to be used of any part of Britain; and even then it was applied to a very limited district, and only gradually during two more centuries was the application extended to the whole of the northern kingdom. ... Of course the tribe name 'Scotti ' would apply to any member of the Irish race, whether living in Ireland or in Britain. 

The same author quotes the following passage from The Chronicles of the Picts and Scots (ed. Skene): 'Scotois . . . lour propre pays est Ireland, lour coustoum et patoys acordaunt, qi puis furount mellez od Pices,' i.e., 'The Scots . . . their proper country is Ireland, their customs and language agreeing thereto, though they afterwards became mingled with the Picts.' 'It is not safe to count,' says Burton,  'that the word Scot must mean a native of present Scotland, when the period dealt with is earlier than the middle of the twelfth century.' 

And now that my readers have got a clearer idea of the meaning of the expressions 'Scotia' and 'Scoti,' I shall venture to quote some passages from the Bollandists, which will leave no doubt as to the nationality of the founders of the Scotic Benedictine congregation in Germany, and will at the same time settle the question as to the nationality of our three hermits, who, we are told, were fellow-countrymen of the monks at Ratisbon. 

 To begin with, the charter granted to the Scotic monks of Ratisbon by the Emperor Frederick II, in the year 1212, states that 'Scots only and none others dwelt in these monasteries.' This is further explained by the confirmatory charter of the Emperor Sigismund, where we read the following words: 'A humble petition on behalf of the Abbot, Prior, and community of Scots and Irish from greater Scotland' etc. And Matthaeus Raderus, in his work on the Saints of Bavaria, speaking of the hermit Murchertach (who was the first of the Irish pilgrims to settle at Ratisbon), says: 'Muricherodachus, an Irishman from ancient Scotia, preceded his countryman Marianus, and was the first of all those who came from that country to Ratisbon.' And of Marianus, the founder of the Scotic monastery at Ratisbon, he says : 'Marianus, therefore, was a born Scot or Irishman, for ancient Scotia is the same as Ireland . . . the other [Scotia] of which we do not speak here is a corner of Britain.' 

From this we may gather that our three hermits were, like the founders of the famous Scotic Benedictine congregation of Germany, Scots or Irish from ancient Scotia or Ireland. It is very probable, at the same time, that these Irish monks were joined, later on, by numbers of their fellow-countrymen across the Channel, the Celtic Scots or Irish of North Britain, with whom, owing to their near relationship and close proximity, they had always been on the most intimate terms. This is rendered still more probable by the fact that about the time that the Irish monks were founding their congregation in Germany, momentous changes were taking place in the ancient Irish kingdom of Scotland, which would make it a less desirable place of residence for its Scoto-Irish inhabitants. 

 I allude to the rapid anglicization of the country, which began with the reign of Malcolm Canmore (1058-1093), who, himself only half a Celt, was married to the Saxon Queen Margaret, better known as St. Margaret. Malcolm had been brought up at the Court of Edward the Confessor, where he would probably have been imbued with Saxon and Norman ideas. Moreover, it was during his reign that the Norman Conquest took place, which drove many Saxon refugees to the Court of Scotland, among them Edgar Atheling, whose sister Margaret became Malcolm's consort. During the brief reign of his brother and successor Donald Bane (1093-1097) a Celtic reaction took place, but the Saxon and Norman influence, which first began to make itself felt in the reigns of Malcolm and Margaret, made rapid headway under their three sons, Edgar, Alexander, and David, who successively ascended the throne of Scotland. 

In the reign of Edgar (1097-1107) the seat of government was removed from Scone (the ancient Celtic capital) to Edinburgh a Saxon city. His brother Alexander I (1107- 1124) continued the process of anglicization. He founded a monastery for Canons of St. Augustine at Scone, while Fothad, the last Celtic Bishop of St. Andrews, was succeeded in turn by a monk of Durham and a monk of Canterbury. His protection was asked by Anselm of Canterbury for monks sent to Scotland at the request of his brother Edgar. 

 In the reign of his brother David I (1124-1153) the Celtic Culdees at St. Andrews and Dunkeld were ejected and bishoprics established in their places, while at Melrose and elsewhere Cistercian monks were introduced. It was in this reign that the feudal system took firm root in opposition to the Celtic clan system, at least in the still limited territory which submitted to the new Scottish dynasty. And thus, as the Irish monks had been obliged to retire from their foundations in the north of England from Ripon and Lindisfarne and many other spots, so now their monastic strongholds north of the Tweed were invaded. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that numbers of the Scoto-Irish of North Britain, both monks and laymen, should have preferred to quit the country, and we may reasonably suppose that many of them joined their Irish or Scotic brethren, who flocked to the Continent in such numbers in this and succeeding centuries. 

Having premised this much, let us now hear Dom Anselm's account of the three Scoto-Irish hermits, after we have first given the reader a few biographical notes about this, the last, monk of the Scoto-Irish monastery of Ratisbon. Dom Anselm Robertson was born in Fochabers, Scotland, in 1824, was professed in the monastery of St. James, Ratisbon, in 1845, and was ordained priest in 1851.

When the Bavarian religious houses were suppressed by Napoleon in 1806, Ratisbon was allowed to linger on and die a natural death, no novice being allowed to be received. This, however, did not prevent the profession of Dom Anselm, but in 1850 the monastery was finally suppressed. As he was the only monk left he sought admission into the English congregation of St. Benedict's Order, and in 1878 was aggregated to the community of Fort Augustus, which had been founded by Lord Lovat in that year. Thither Dom Anselm brought with him some chalices and other belongings of Ratisbon, and eventually died in retirement at Fochabers. It is interesting to note that the late octogenarian Scottish baronet, Sir Everard Gordon, who gave the country house of Buckie in Banff to the Fort Augustus monks, was once a student or novice at Ratisbon. 

Nobody will deny [says Dom Anselm Robertson] that Scotic monks acquired, in times past, very great renown for holiness, and that they rendered illustrious by their sanctity the diocese of Ratisbon. This is acknowledged by all the hagiographers who have written the Lives of Blessed Marinus, Abbot of St. Peter's [Ratisbon], and of Blessed Murecherodachi,  a hermit in the Upper Monastery, as we are informed by Matthaeus Raderus in his Bavaria Sancta

Wherefore, being inspired thereto by the spotless lives of these good monks, the most distinguished members of the first nobility in Ratisbon erected two monasteries, one being dedicated to St. Peter, chief of the Apostles, the other to the Apostle St. James the Greater, wherein Scotic monks for many years served God, in strict monastic discipline, according to the rule of St. Benedict. 

Although the first mentioned monastery has been reduced to ashes, the second one, dedicated to St. James, is still, after many eventful changes, occupied to this day by Benedictine monks of the same nationality, to the great edification of the neighbourhood. From out of it came the Blessed Marinus, or Martinus,  distinguished for the sanctity of his life and for his observance of the strict monastic discipline, on account of which he was made Prior of the monastery instead of the Blessed Macharius, who was appointed as first Abbot of Wiirzburg. For, about the year 1186, Blessed Macharius, the Prior of Ratisbon, was sent with twelve companions to Wiirzburg to occupy the monastery erected for the Scotic monks by Bishop Embricho, as Trithemius declares. 

 Now, it happened that while the Blessed Marinus was faithfully fulfilling his duties as Prior, two holy pilgrims of the Scotic race, having visited the shrines of the Holy Apostles, and other celebrated places of pilgrimage, arrived at Bavaria on their journey homewards. But while they were passing the night in a wood close to a certain unoccupied farm, at that time called Wide, not far from the river Altmil, they were inspired by Heaven, during their sleep, to lead a solitary life in that spot, and consecrate the rest of their days to divine contemplation. So when they awoke and began to look about for a spot suitable for their retreat, they decided to settle down in that very solitude, especially when they learned that the place belonged to the Scotic monks of Ratisbon. 

Accordingly they hasten to their fellow-countrymen at Ratisbon, by whom they were hospitably received, and from whom they easily obtained not only permission to settle down there, but also all the assistance necessary to enable them to lead the eremitical life. Moreover, Blessed Marinus, at that time Prior of the monastery, being greatly impressed by the holiness of our pilgrims, obtained his Abbot's permission to join them; and so the perfect number of three was made up, and there issued forth the triad of Scotic saints, afterwards renowned at Gristett, Marinus above-mentioned being the leader of the band." 

Now, Blessed Zimius was already a professed monk and priest of the celebrated monastery of Dunfermline of the Order of St. Benedict, in modern Scotland; and as he was about to make a pilgrimage to the shrines of the Apostles, he took along with him as his companion the Blessed Vimius (at that time a layman), of the noble house of the Vimii, and a true Benedictine monk by his holiness of life. 

These three most holy men, one in heart and one in soul in their desire to serve God perfectly, entered upon the solitary life in the aforesaid place, the Abbot of Ratisbon being Dermitius (second), whom Hundius wrongly calls Mauritius, and makes him the first abbot. For, about the year 1150,  a most holy man named Christianus was elected third abbot of the said monastery, and it was during his term of office that these three holy hermits were called to their heavenly reward. Their remains were placed in the parish church of Gristett, and the place was thenceforward called, from the hermits, 'Einsidl' in the vernacular, Le., Hermitage. It is now a rural property inhabited by two farmers, and it belongs still to the above-mentioned monastery by prescriptive right, as is witnessed by the charter of the Emperor Frederick II, confirming the possessions of the monastery, which expressly names the place Einsidl, or Hermitage. 

 Our annals assign the year 1154 as the date of the erection of the church of Gristett, which the aforesaid Abbot Christian caused to be built in honour of St. Martin, Bishop, and he had the holy bodies of the three saints translated there, one after the other, for they did not pay the debt of nature in one and the same year. The obit of Blessed Marinus is assigned to the year 1153, and he was consequently buried in the little oratory of the hermitage until the church of Griestet was roofed in. I have found the following reasons for building the church mentioned in an ancient register: firstly, that the original burial-place in the hermitage was too narrow and inconvenient for the reception of the crowds who flocked every day to visit the sacred relics; and secondly it was desirable that the heavenly quiet and retirement of the two remaining companions should not suffer from such frequent visits of the faithful. 

The deaths of Blessed Zimius and Vimius are assigned to the year 1150,  but the exact date cannot be fixed on which Blessed Marinus or the other two saints ended their earthly course and entered upon their eternal reward. As, however, for many centuries past the faithful have been wont to flock to the holy tomb of the three saints, early in the month of November, we may fairly presume that it was about that time of the year that Blessed Marinus went to Heaven, especially as it was in honour of his relics that the church was built, and dedicated to the great St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, whose feast is celebrated on the 11th of that month. And, in fact, I have seen it stated in an ancient register that it was on the very feast of St. Martin that the body of Blessed Marinus was translated, with great solemnity, from the little chapel of the hermitage to the hew church it being the anniversary of his death. The record adds, moreover, that,  from the very first day on which the church of Griestett was roofed in and the relics of Blessed Marinus translated thither, the daily concourse of the faithful was so great that even the church was not sufficiently large to receive the people coming from the neighbourhood.'

Our author then goes on to mention the manner in which they were buried, as described in the same register. 

Blessed Marinus was buried before the high altar on the Gospel side; BB. Zimius and Vimius on the Epistle side, at the steps of the choir, being placed next under each other, but in separate coffins. . . . The first two were buried in sacerdotal vestments and Benedictine habit while B. Vimius, not being in orders, was buried in the habit of a Hermit of St. Benedict. Blessed Marinus spent thirteen years in all in the hermitage (1140-1153), the other two fifteen (1140-1155). 

He then describes the situation of Griesstetten, and alludes to the solemn translation of the relics, made by order of the Ordinary of Ratisbon,  on the 12th day of June, 1689, when the holy bodies were transferred to a more suitable position behind the high altar. 

The reader will find in the Bollandists, under date 12th June, a full account of this last translation, in a document drawn up by the Coadjutor-Bishop of Ratisbon, and transmitted by him to the Bollandists. This document is interesting, as it contains a brief notice of the history of the three hermits. The same Right Rev. Prelate also drew up a narrative of two miracles worked through the intercession of our saints, not long after the solemn translation. He also drew up a prayer and antiphon in their honour. Both these documents he transmitted likewise to the Bollandists, where they may be seen, so that it is not necessary to give them here. The third document dealing with our saints, to which I have alluded in the beginning of this article, consists of an instant supplication to the Holy See, by the Bishop of Ratisbon, for advice as to what attitude he should observe with regard to the cultus of the three hermits. It was drawn up at Ratisbon in the year 1848, and may be summarized as follows: 

 He begins by remarking that the veneration and cultus of the three Scotic saints (whom the people call die elenden drei Heiligen, i.e., the three foreign saints) increases among the faithful daily, and that he has seen two books compiled in German containing narratives of the miracles worked by the intercession of these saints. He has accordingly been asked by the priest and people of Griesstetten to approve of their placing the bodies in costly shrines under separate altars for the veneration of the faithful a pious couple having volunteered to pay all the expenses. To this pious request he was about to accede, had not his attention been drawn to the decree of Urban VIII, 1634, forbidding the public veneration of saints not canonized by the Holy See, unless such cultus had been practised already before the year 1534. He was consequently advised to consult the Apostolic See, especially as the people desire to have Masses said in honour of these saints, as has been done from time immemorial, if we are to trust the books containing their miracles, but no authentic documents exist concerning their cultus before 1534. 

While awaiting the decision of Rome he begs to add the following remarks to what the Bollandists have published. It is not surprising that these saints should have escaped the notice of Matthaeus Raderus, as he would not be likely to suspect that an out-of-the-way hamlet in Bavaria, not even marked on the map, should possess such a great treasure. Moreover, the disorders consequent on the so-called Reformation are largely responsible for the oblivion into which their memory had fallen. Not to mention the Bohemian disturbances and the Thirty Years' War, the town of Ratisbon was occupied by the Swedes in 1635, when priests and religious were obliged to fly for their lives, while the Lutherans ruthlessly destroyed all the most valuable books and documents in the archives, especially those dealing with lives of the saints. In Bavaria alone 3,000 villages are said to have been devastated by the Swedes, and Griesstetten did not escape their ravages. 

The Bishop then gives, from the archives of the Scotic monastery of St. James and of the city of Ratisbon, a resume of the history of Marianus, and of the foundation of the monastery at Ratisbon and of the hermitage of Griesstetten. It does not add many new details to what we already know, but differs in a few particulars. He begins by stating that Marianus, with some of his countrymen, came to Ratisbon in the year 1064, during the pontificate of Alexander II. He was at first supported by the bounty of the abbesses of the Upper and Lower monasteries, and later occupied a little monastery, which a certain Sebastian Beer erected for him near the chapel of St. Peter outside the walls. But as Marianus and his companions rendered great educational services, especially by learnedly expounding the Holy Scriptures for the benefit of young clerics, and as his community was increased by new arrivals from Scotia, some of the first citizens of Ratisbon erected the large monastery of St. James of the Scots, together with its celebrated church, which was dedicated by Hartwic, Bishop of Ratisbon. 

Among the principal benefactors was Otto von Ricthenburg, Burgrave of Ratisbon, who endowed the monastery richly with money and lands, including the property of Grienstett, where the hermits settled down. This probably took place under the first abbot, Domnellus,  who is stated in the necrology of the monastery to have died in the year 1121. The year of their death cannot be fixed with certainty, but their translation to the chapel in Griesstetten was carried out by Christian, the third abbot, who died in 1172, having ruled as abbot for twenty-three years.

 Bishop Weigl concludes by giving a sketch of the modern history of Griesstetten, which may have interest for some readers. Its church and presbytery were all but burned to the ground by the Swedes in the year 1633, the parish priest being obliged to flee for his life. It was, as far as possible, restored by Placid Fleming, who was elected Abbot in 1672, and received the abbatial blessing in 1692,  from the Coadjutor of Ratisbon [the same who carried out the translation of the relics in 1689]. 

 From 1651 to 1714 the parish was administered by the parish priests of Mulbach, Dietfurt, or Zell, as the case might be. In the year 1714 Abbot Placid Fleming exercised jurisdiction there through his vicar, Father Maurus Stuart, and established a small seminary for Scotch youths, which was placed under the direction of Father Bernard Baillie. It was afterwards removed to Ratisbon. 

 The church which at present exists at Griesstetten is circular in form, and adorned with frescoes. It was built, or rather transformed, by the aforesaid Bernard Baillie (at that time abbot) and his successor Bernard Stuart, and consecrated by Bishop Schwabl in 1836. At the present day the parish is administered by the Franciscans of Dietfurt, in the name of the parish priest of Altmuhlmunster, to whom the ordinary jurisdiction has been assigned since 1806. 


  The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol XVI, July to December 1920, 441-452.

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Finola Finlay said...

What a curious history. I've been to the Scottiskirke (sp) at Ratisbon/Ragensburg - it's well known locally that it was an Irish not a Scottish foundation. It has the most amazing Romanesque entry.

Marcella said...

The late Cardinal Ó Fiaich recorded his frustration at finding Irish saints like Kilian and Fursey described as 'aus Schottland' or 'moine écossais' at continental shrines. It is amazing to see how the original Irish founders of these monasteries were airbrushed out of the picture. This terminology really did muddy the waters, although once the Germans began to research these things for themselves they did indeed see the truth of the 'Scottish' monasteries.