Wednesday 29 December 2021

Saint Ailerán on the Genealogy of Christ

December 29 is the feast of Saint Ailerán, one of the foremost scholars associated with the monastery of Clonard, County Meath.  Sadly, in the year 665 he was one of the victims of the Buidhe Chonaill plague which claimed the lives of many Irish saints.  He was credited with the authorship of a variety of now mostly lost works ranging from a prayer in praise of the Trinity to hagiographical writings on Saint Féchín of Fore and the Irish patrons Saints Patrick and Brigid. I have already posted a translation of the prayer attributed to Saint Ailerán here. But it is as a biblical scholar that Saint Ailerán is more famous and the Interpretatio Mystica et Moralis Progenitorum Domini Iesu Christi is his best-known surviving work. It is an exposition of the genealogy of Christ as given in the opening verses of Saint Matthew's Gospel which is divided into two sections. In the first, the mystical, he expounds the names of Christ's ancestors as they prefigured and foretold His birth, mission, passion, death, resurrection and second coming. In the second, the moral, the names are related to some aspect of the Christian life. In 1995 Four Courts Press published a scholarly edition and translation of the Interpretatio by Dr Aidan Breen and to celebrate the feast of Saint Ailerán, below is a small selection taken from the conclusion to the work. This is his exposition on Saint Joseph, the final name in Saint Matthew's genealogy of Christ:  

 Part One - Mystical Exposition

In Joseph, increased or adding to, as he says: I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly'. And elsewhere: 'And I have other sheep which are not of this fold, and these also I must bring, that there may be one fold and one shepherd.'

Part Two - Moral Exposition

In Joseph, that if the outer man of ours fall into decay, the inner man may be renewed day by day, and advance in steps of spiritual growth, until it may be said of each one of us, in a spiritual sense, that we are "a son growing". Let us therefore grow in love, until we come to the perfect man and to the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ, that passing from virtue to virtue, and from the fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom, by steps of perfection rising to the love which is the end and purpose of the whole commandment, we may thereafter be able to behold the God of gods in Sion. 

Aidan Breen, ed. and trans., Ailerani Interpretatio Mystica et Moralis Progenitorum Domini Iesu Christi (Dublin, 1995), 49, 57.

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Thursday 25 November 2021

Saint Noe, November 25


In previous years I have written about Irish devotion to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, as November 25 is her feast day. It is time now to take a long overdue look at some of our native saints who share this day with her. One in particular, Fionnchú of Brigown, is well-known but I was intrigued by the mention of a Saint Noe. Alas, he seems to be one of the many whose names are recorded on the Irish calendars but who have left no other trace. His name is not found on the Martyrology of Oengus but at November 25 he is listed simply as Noe on both the later martyrologies of Gorman and of Donegal. I find his name an interesting one but it is not unique as there is also a Saint Noe of Finglas, whose feast is on January 27.

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Monday 22 November 2021

Saint Medhbh of Ardachadh, November 22

November 22 is the feast of Saint Caecilia, the martyr now regarded as the patroness of music and honoured throughout the universal Church. Indeed the Martyrology of Oengus devotes its entire entry for the day to her with this lyrical tribute, as translated by Whitley Stokes:

22. After suffering in martyrdom, O Mary! a shining light, Caecilia beautiful, radiant, ran to the angelic Prince.

But other Irish calendars record the feast of a native holy woman at this date, Medhbh (Medb, Maeve) of Ardachadh. The late twelfth-century Martyrology of Gorman notes:

Medb of Ard-achad

whilst at November 22 the early seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal lists:

Medhbh of Ardachadh

Stokes identifies the locality Ard-achad, 'high field' with Ardagh, County Longford. Much has been recorded of the patron of the Diocese, Saint Mel (feast day February 6), but alas, nothing more is recorded of Saint Medhbh. The most famous bearer of this ancient Irish name is the legendary queen of Connacht, but sadly the saint is one of many Irish holy women who remain shrouded in obscurity.

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Monday 15 November 2021

Saints Marinus and Anianus, November 15

 At August 16 I noted that Canon O'Hanlon had found evidence from the manuscripts of the Irish Franciscan seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, that he intended to write about two little-known Irish missionaries to Bavaria on that date. The two are Saints Marinus and Anianus, the former described as a bishop and the latter an archdeacon, both of them were unknown to O'Hanlon. On February 23, 1863, his contemporary, the scholarly Anglican Bishop, William Reeves, delivered a paper on these two little-known saints to a meeting of the Royal Irish Academy. In it he discusses the evidence for their lives, martyrdom and translation of their relics, plus some speculations on the Irish names which may lie behind the Latinizations Marinus and Anianus. November 15 is the date of the martyrdom of Saint Marinus and the accepted feast day for the pair in Germany:

The Rev. William Reeves, D.D., read the following paper: —

On SS. Marinus and Anianus, two Irish Missionaries of the Seventh Century.

The Academy owes to the vigilance of its excellent Librarian the recent acquisition of a volume which, independently of the value arising from its great rarity, possesses the merit of introducing to notice in this country two Irish Missionaries, whose names have escaped our ecclesiastical writers, and who, notwithstanding the deficiency of detail in their history, have yet a sufficient reality to render them a welcome accession to our recorded list of Irish worthies.
The volume comprises three tracts. The first bears the title — “Das leben der Heiligen S.S. Marini Bischoues Martyrers, und Aniani Archidiaconns, Bekkeners die aus Irland in Bayrn kommen des Gotshauaes Rodt Patronm wordenseind. Durch Johan á Via der H. Schrifft Doctorn beschrieben". The lower half of the title-page is occupied by an engraved plate, having in the middle a shield, which bears quarterly the arms of the monastery of Rot, and of Christopher the abbot, supported by two ecclesiastics, the dexter one vested in an episcopal, the sinister one in a sacerdotal habit. Between them is the inscription, “Christophorus.  S. Abbas. S. Marinvs. S. Anianvs. Patro. in Rot. 1579." This German life, with the dedication, occupies nineteen leaves.
The second tract is a Latin version of the same life, and bears the title — " Vita S. S. Marini Episcopi Hybernobavari, Martyris, et Aniani Archidiaconi Confessoris, Patronorum Celebris Monasterii in Rota. Per Johan a Via Doct. Theol. conscripta, Monachii excudebat Adamus Berg. Anno M.D. LXXIX." It has the same frontispiece as the former, except that it omits the date. To this tract is appended (fol 12 b) a "Sermo brevis cujusdam pii patris in Monasterio Rott ad Fratres ibidem pronunciatus.” The verso of the concluding folio (15) contains the enactment of the Council of Trent, Session 25, "De Invocatione, etc, Sanctorum."
The third tract is intituled, "Officium de Sanctis Marino Episcpo et Martyro et Aniano Archidiacono Confessore Celebris Monasterii in Rott Patronis. Jussu Reverendi in Christo Patris ac Domini, D. Christophori ejusdem Monasterii Abbatis vigilantissimi in ordinem redactum, et jam primum in lucem editum. Monachii excudebat Adamus Berg. Anno D.M. LXXXVIII.” On the title-page is an engraving of a circular seal, having on the field two shields, charged respectively with the arms of Rott and the abbot Christopher, with the legend + CHRISTOFF. ABBT. ZV. ROTT. Ao. 1588. This tract contains twenty six folios.
The author, in his dedication to the abbot Christopher, expresses his regret that the notices of the patrons of this monastery which were scattered through the ancient annals belonging to the institution had not been put together in any regular order, and that they who had been set upon a candlestick to give light to all that were in the house, should, through the neglect of past generations, have been kept hidden under a bushel. He states that the acts of SS. Marinus and Anianus were preserved in three very ancient manuscripts, together with a sermon on the same subject by a learned and pious member of the fraternity, which he has annexed as a separate chapter to the Latin life. Munich, 6th of April, 1579.
The following abstract of the Life contains the principal particulars of their history. Having alluded to the banishment and death of Pope Martin in 653, the narrative proceeds to say: 

"Florebant tunc in Hybernia Scholae ac nunquam satis laudata literarum studia, adeo ut ex Scotia atque Britannia multi se pii viri eo conferrent, ad capessendam  pietatis disciplinam. In iis quoque in omni doctrinarum genere excellenter eruditi fuerunt duo hi sanctissimi viri, genere nobiles, ac professione Ecclesiastici, Sanctus Marinus cum S. Aniano, nepote suo ex suore: ille sacerdos et Episcopus, hic Archidiaconus: qui ambo ad modum Abrahae patriam cognatosque post se relinquentes, voluntario exilio, et mundum sibi, et se mundo crucifixerunt. Transfretantes enim mare quod Hiberniam secernit a Germania, venerunt peregrinantes in urbem Romanam, vel ut propriae saluti consulentes, devotionis suae, limina beatorum Apostolorum, Petri ac Pauli frequentando, satisfacerent desiderio: vel at Apostolicae Sedis, si quem forte Deus pastorem in eam reponeret, authoritate confirmati, praedicando errorum zizania authoritative evellerent et bonum verbi Dei semen in cordibus audientium insererent… Nam ubi Romam venerunt, non alta regum palatia, non porphyreticas statuas, non arces triumphales mirabantur, sed salutato eo qui tunc a Domino in eam sedem constitutus erat Pontifice, SS. Apostolorum limina frequentare, specus ac templa reliquorum Sanctorum visitare, votaque sua Deo offerenda ipsis commendare, unica illis voluptas erat. Et D. Laurentii memoria adeo delectabatur Marinus, ut ab eo tempore, quo ejus reliquias veneratus erat, simile sibi mortis genus pro Christi nominis gloria semper optaverit, atque a Deo ardentibus votis, si ejus voluntas esset, expetierit. Accepta autem ab Eugenio Summo Pontifice benedictione, cum authoritate ubilibet praedicandi verbum Dei, via qua venerant, revertebantur. An vero in societate D. Iodoci ipsi quoque fuerint, incertum est: qui cum esset filius regis Britanniae opulentissimus, amore Christi, regnum et omnem gloriam ejus circa idem tempus reliquit, et eremum intravit, ubi soli Deo serviens, miraculis claruit. Superatis igitur Alpium montibus, mox in vasta quadam eremo Boioariae, Noricae provinciae subsidentes, pedem figunt ad ipsas radices Alpium. Erat locus ille in quo consederant, ad quietem et contemplationem aptus, sed hominibus non prorsus impervius, omnis generis lignorum copia ac pascuis uberrimis pecundum gregibus valde accommodus. Quae res occasionem dedit, ut diu latere non possent, sicut nec ipsi optabant." 

Finding their labours among the pastoral inhabitants of the neighbourhood successful, they resolved upon settling in this region for the rest of their days, and erected huts for themselves over two caves about two Italian miles asunder. Here they led a life of solitude and self-mortification, meeting only on Lord's days and festivals, when they joined in the services of the altar. And thus they continued, teaching both by precept and example, and crowned with success in their endeavours to convert the surrounding people, until at length a horde of barbarians, driven from the Roman provinces on the south, entered this territory, and proceeded to lay it waste. In their wanderings they arrived at the cell of S. Marinus, and the life thus relates the cruel treatment which he experienced at their hands : — 

"Primum enim sancti viri supellectilem licet exiguam diripuerunt postes corpus verberibus afflixerunt, et jam tertio animam, meliorem hominis partem, tollere cupientes, ut Christum negare velit, solicitant. Sed cum in omnibus laqueos ante oculos pennati frustra tenderent, ne quicquam ad summam truculentiam immanitatemque reliqui facerent equlleo suspensum corpus flagris et aduncis ungulis diu saevissimeque lacerando usque ad denudationem costarum excarnificant. . . . Desperantes igitur victoriam, sententiam mortis super eam pronunciant, igni adjudicant. Continuo ergo, celeri manu ligna congerunt, struem componunt maximam, igni succendunt, et S. Martyrem, aridis ruderibus dorso alligatis (quo facilius totus in cineres solveretur) supra truculenter injiciunt."

 It happened that at the same time S. Anianus, who had escaped the notice of the barbarians, was released by a natural death from the trials of this life; and thus both master and disciple on the same day— namely, the 17th of the Calends of December, that is, the 15th of November, which afterwards became the day of their commemoration — passed to a happy immortality, while their remains were consigned to a common tomb, where they rested for above a hundred years. At the end of this period, the circumstances of their death and interment were made known to an eminent and devout priest named Priam, who resided in a neighbouring village. He, it is stated, communicated the matter to a bishop called Tollusius, who repaired to the spot, and having ordered a solemn fast, on the third day exhumed the remains with due solemnity, and conveyed them to the village of Aurisium, now known as Ros, where they were deposited in a sarcophagus of white polished marble, within the church of that place. This invention is loosely stated to have occurred in the time of Pepin and Caroloman, kings of the Franks, when Egilolph was in Italy; and it is added — " Priamus praesbyter, jussus a domino Episcopo Tollusio, vidi omnia et scripsi: et testimonium his gestis perhibeo, et testimonium meum verum est, quod ipse scit, qui benedictus est in saecula, Amen."  

From this place the reliques of the two saints were subsequently transferred to a spot near the river Aenus (now the Inn), which obtained the name of Rota from a little stream that flowed past it into the Inn, and here they were to be seen beneath the high altar of the choir.
A Benedictine Monastery was founded at Rot, in 1073, by Chuno or Conon, Count of Wasserburg and his charter, of that date, makes mention of the “altare SS. Marini et Aniani."
In a bull of confirmation granted by Pope Innocent II., in 1142, Rot is styled " praefatum SS. Marini et Aniani monasterium." Mabillon, who states that he visited this monastery in one of his journeys, describes it as the Benedictine Monastery of SS. Marinns and Anianus, but he takes no notice of the patron saints themselves in the earlier part of his “Annals.” Baderos, however, gives a short memoir of them, which he illustrates by two engravings, ' representing respectively the martyrdom of S. Marinus, and the angelic vision of S. Anianus, to which he assigns the date 697.
Under the year 784, this author makes mention of another Marianus, who also was an Irishman. He came to Bavaria in company with St. Virgil of Saltzburg, and was one of the two companions who were sent by him with Declan to Frisingen. The festival of this Marinus was the 1st of December, and his ashes were believed to be efficacious in curing certain diseases.
As regards the names, it is not clear what is the Irish equivalent for Anianus; but Marinus is beyond all question a Latin translation of Muiredhach, which is derived from muir (mare), and signifies "belonging to the sea." The name is of very early occurrence: thus, Muiredhach, the first bishop and patron of Killala, who is commemorated at August 12, is mentioned under the form of Muirethacus in the early part of the eighth century. In like manner, the name of the celebrated Briton, Pelagius, is understood to be a Greek form of the British Morgan, which is equivalent to Marigena. We have in the Irish calendar a name closely allied to Morgan, in the form Muirgein, which means “sea-born,” and is of conmion gender, for it is applied in one instance to an abbot of Gleann hUissen, now Killeshin; and in another to the celebrated Mermaid, in whose case it is interpreted liban, that is, "sea-woman."
The name Marinus is to be distinguished from Marianus, as the latter is derived from the name Maria, and represents, in a Latin form, the Irish Mael-Muire, "servant of Mary.”

Rev. W. Reeves, 'Two Irish Missionaries of the Seventh Century', PRIA, Volume 8, (1861-64), 295-301.


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Sunday 14 November 2021

The Death of Saint Laurence O'Toole


"...Having embarked from England, St Laurence landed on the coast of Normandy, at a creek which at the present time derives its name "St. Laurent' from him. Shortly afterwards he was seized with the illness which proved fatal to him; and as he found himself unable to proceed on his journey, his progress was arrested at an elevated spot in the neighbourhood of the abbey of Eu. Seeing the towers of this abbey arise in the distance, he made inquiry from some shepherds on the road-side, to what religious order the community belonged. He was told that the abbey was occupied by monks regular, of the order of St. Victor. "Here then", said the archbishop, "shall my labours terminate". He approached the abbey gate, and knocked for admission. He was joyfully embraced on entering by the Abbot Osbert, and by his community. But, feeble as was the health of the good archbishop, he must needs repair immediately to the church, where he offered his thanksgivings to God, for having favoured him with a safe voyage, and for having preserved him from the dangers of the sea.

He began to sink into such a state of exhaustion, that in a short time he was confined to bed, and became unable to rise from it, through excessive weakness. Yet, even in this state, he was not unmindful of the duties he owed his country. At his request, a venerable and prudent man named David, the tutor of his royal companion, was despatched to Henry, charged with the recommendations of the dying archbishop, and as the bearer of an earnest suit in behalf of the Irish subjects of the king. The latter, touched with commiseration on learning the condition of the patriotic prelate, or convinced of the justice of his demand, sent the messenger back, after four days' delay, with cheering assurances, to soothe the last hours of the dying saint. When his sorrowing attendants discovered the hopelessness of his recovery, they deemed it expedient to remind him of the necessity of making a testamentary disposal of his effects. "God knows", he replied, "out of all my revenues, I have not a single coin to bequeath". With sentiments of extraordinary fervour, he prepared for the reception of the holy Eucharist and extreme unction. He frequently cried out in the words of the Psalmist: "have mercy on me, O my God, have mercy on me, since my soul hath trusted in thee", so long as he felt able to articulate. Shortly before his death his attendants heard him exclaim, in the Irish language: "Ah! foolish and insensible people, what now shall become of you? Who will relieve your miseries? Who will heal you?" Probably at the moment, his thoughts reverted to the paupers his charity had supported during his life-time, and especially during the three years of famine, when, according to his biographer, he gave alms to 500 people each day, besides furnishing clothes, provisions, and necessaries to 300 others, in various parts of his diocese, and being at the expense of maintaining and protecting 200 children, who were left at his door by their destitute parents.

St. Laurence O'Toole ended his mortal captivity on the 14th day of November, 1180. His biographer tells us that he died on the feria sexta , or Friday, at the close of the midnight hour.....

Rev. John O'Hanlon, The Life of St. Laurence O'Toole, (Dublin, 1877) , 93-97.

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Saturday 13 November 2021

Celebrating Saint Caillín's Pattern Day

November 13 is the feast of Saint Caillín of Fenagh whom I have introduced in a previous post here. In the article below we are given a fascinating glimpse into the celebration of his feast or 'pattern' day at Ballyconneely in Connemara in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Pattern or 'patron' days, (Irish patrún) were popular expressions of devotion to a locally important holy man or woman. They usually took place at a site associated with the saint, most often a holy well, around which a set ritual or 'station' would be performed. Although in this case Saint Caillín was firmly linked to Fenagh, County Leitrim, the good people of Ballyconneely, County Galway clung to a tradition that he was the son of the King of Leinster and claimed him for their own. Writer Father William Ganly paints a vivid picture of the transformation of their quiet village on the pattern day as 'tents, booths, and gaily covered marquees' are set up and the crowds flock in, dressed in their finery for the occasion. He describes the local lore about the saint, his healing miracles and the sites traditionally associated with him in the vicinity. Although based around the feast day of a saint, pattern days had a distinctly less spiritual aspect to them too. They were occasions when rural people let their hair down and frequently involved an overindulgence in alcohol. Whilst outside the tents and booths some people were praying and performing rituals, inside others were more interested in getting drunk and dancing or fighting. This mixture of the sacred and the profane was extremely shocking to many who witnessed pattern days from outside the communities who cherished them. For the Protestant gentleman or clergyman they confirmed the worst stereotype of the Irish Catholic peasant, and for Victorian priests these occasions were something of an embarrassment which illustrated the dangers of allowing folk religion its head. Father Ganly does not spend much time here on describing the actual events of the day, but instead merely notes 'the long rows of bottles, and casks piled one over another', before swiftly moving on to the more congenial task of siting Saint Caillín within the 'golden era of the history of our country'. Along the way he brings in a huge cast of characters which includes everyone from mythical races, kings and prophesying druids to Saint Colum Cille, not forgetting Queen Maedh 'the Cleopatra of Ireland!' :


LIKE a fringe of fantastic embroidery set along the coast of Connaught, washed by the Atlantic waves which have hollowed its shores into countless creeks, bays and inlets, traversed by huge ranges of mountain, dotted with sparkling lakes and watered by almost innumerable rivers, is the district, famed in song and story as Connemara. To most people this territory bears the same relation to Ireland as Boeotia did to ancient Greece— a land of barrenness, barbarism and desolation. And yet Connemara is a much maligned country. If here nature has been, in some respects, less prodigal of her gifts than to other parts of Ireland, she has in other ways, more than compensated for her parsimony.

In the boldness and beauty of its natural scenery, in the richness of its botanical and geological treasures, Connemara stands unrivalled. But more than this, it is the very paradise of the archaeologist. Within a radius of twenty miles of the town of Clifden, the picturesque and interesting capital of Connemara, is to be met with the largest number of Pagan, early Christian, and mediaeval monuments, to be found in an equal area in the world.

About five Irish miles from Clifden, on the way to Slyne Head, is the village of Ballyconneely. Not many years ago, this place was one of the great strongholds of proselytism in the west, but the only relics of the vile system which now remain are a few white-washed rookeries occupied by degraded looking creatures, whose scared faces remind one of the inmates of pauper houses.

Beyond a fine view of the Twelve Pins which present the appearance of a huge wall raised by giant hands, here and there gapped by the artillery of invading armies, the hamlet itself is remarkable for nothing except dreariness. Solitude and desolation reign supreme. The querulous shriek of some startled snipe roused from his perch in a swamp, the whistling of the ubiquitous curlew, and the solemn roar of the ocean, never ceasing its plaintive moan, are the only sounds which break the monotony of the scene.

On one day of the year, however — the 13th of November — the place becomes a veritable bee-hive of activity. Crowds of peasantry clad in white flannels, Scotch caps and fantastic shawls, are met trudging along cheerfully in the direction of Slyne Head. They are on their way to a holy well. The morning of the 13th, finds Ballyconneely completely transformed. The streets are covered with tents, booths, and gaily covered marquees, well stored with tempting cakes and sweets in abundance for the children; nor are the grown people forgotten; for the long rows of bottles, and casks, piled one over another show that the thoughtful caterer has not forgotten to make provision for their tastes. Men and boys are shouting; half a dozen pipers are filling the air with asthmatic groans, while in the meantime a living tide of human beings is flowing from all directions.

The stranger asks in astonishment what is the cause of all this commotion, and he is told in reply that it is St Caillin's day. On making further enquiries he finds that this saint is the patron of the district, that his holy well, much frequented, is a few miles off, and that the church in which he fasted, prayed, and worked miracles, may be seen on a little island, inside the light-house, known in modern times as “Duck Island.” You are, moreover, told in confidence, that the “pathern ” was originally held near St. Caillin’s well, on a sandy beach which looks like a veritable Sahara. When it was resolved to change the place of meeting, as if in disapprobation of such a profanation, a bell on the church of St Caillin kept ringing the whole night. Finally, you are apprised of a miracle which recently took place at the well of Caillin. A cripple had come there to perform a station. Unable to cross over a wall which obstructed his progress he cried out: — “Súd cugat mé, a Caillin, aird-mic righ Laigin; tá mé mo clairineac agus ni saruigim an cloide:" — which, translated into English, means “behold me, O Caillin, great son of the King of Leinster. I am a cripple, and cannot climb over the wall.” The result of this implicit petition was, we are told, the complete restoration of the cripple, who walked home joyfully without the aid of his crutches.

The tradition prevalent in this district, expressed in the cripple's prayer, viz.: that Caillin was son of the King of Leinster, seems without foundation. He belonged to a Connaught family, in which province he was born probably towards the end of the fifth century. Colgan tells us that he and St. Jarlath of Tuam were disciples of St. Benignus, and under the year 464, the Annals of the Four Masters chronicle the burial of Conal Gulban by St. Caillin, in his church of Fenagh.

Like many of the Irish saints of the early ages, Caillin was a scion of one of these great Milesian families which, trace their origin back to the very cradle of history. His father, Niata, was descended in a direct line from Rudraige Mor, a great warrior who ruled as Ard Righ of Erin about thirty years before the Christian era. This monarch was grandson of the famous Fergus Mac Roy, who through feelings of hostility to Conor Mac Nessa, King of Ulster, came to Connaught as a voluntary exile, and having become the husband or paramour of Queen Maedh, the Cleopatra of Ireland, was the progenitor of the great Conmaicne family, from whom St. Caillin was descended.

The ancient authors or compilers of the lives of the Irish saints, in endeavouring to exalt the virtues and merits of their heroes have so mixed facts with fables, that an effort to arrive at the truth is sometimes very difficult if not altogether impossible. This is particularly true of St. Caillin. In the Book of Fenagh, said to have been originally compiled by the saint himself, but which bears manifest traces of a more recent origin, he is represented as having arrived at the patriachal age of five-hundred years. The place of his birth is not mentioned, but the annalist takes care to tell us that when the saint had reached the modest age of one-hundred, he was commanded by a certain Fintain to proceed to Rome in order to learn wisdom and knowledge, that he might afterwards be a precious gem, and a key for unlocking ignorance. This Fintain, if we believe the ancient records, must have been a very wonderful personage indeed. Mathusalem falls into the shade in comparison with him. Having originally come to Ireland in the train of the renowned Cesair, said to have been the grand-daughter of Noah, he out-slept the flood, and having witnessed the arrival of Partholan the Greek, of the Nemedians, Fomorians, Firbolgs, Tuatha de Dananns, and Milesians, he turns up hale and hearty to volunteer his valuable services and rich experience as guardian and tutor of St Caillin.

The latter, we are told, remained two hundred years in Rome, where he was promoted to the various degrees of Holy Orders and was consecrated bishop. Twelve years after the advent of St. Patrick, St Caillin returned from Rome. On his arrival, St. Patrick appointed him arch-legate of Ireland, which office he continued to discharge for a period of one hundred years. The occasion of St Caillin’s return to his native land was an invitation sent him by his kinsmen the Conmaicne, who occupied the western portion of the province of Connaught. Their lands becoming too thickly populated, one section of the tribe plotted the destruction of the other, and were about carrying their evil designs into execution until warned by an angel, who advised them to send to Rome for their father Caillin, who would settle the difficulty.

Having arrived in his native land, Caillin went straight to the Conmaicne and said to them:

“That which you purposed is not right. Do what I tell you.” “We shall do truly, O arch-legate!” they replied, “whatever in the world thou commandest us.”

“My advice to you then, sons of Conmac,” said he, “is to remain on the lands on which you at present are. I will go to seek possessions for you.”

With this object in view he made a tour of Connaught, visiting among other places Ard-Carva, now Ardcarn, and Cruachanai, now Croghan, both in the county Roscommon, and Dunmore, county Galway. The Cinel-Faghertaigh, a fierce tribe from whom the modern name Faherty is derived, had possession of the latter district. St. Caillin, however, seems to have learned the secret of the Blarney stone, for he not alone prevailed on this clan to comply with his demands, but was also successful in all the places he had visited.

Having succeeded in his purpose, and cursed a few lakes and rivers on the way for not producing fish, he directed his steps towards Magh Rein, now Fenagh, in the county Leitrim. A famous druid named Cathbad, who had lived in the time of Conor MacNessa, had foretold that Caillin would found a church there. When he had arrived at the place he was encountered by Fergna the King, who endeavoured to resist him by violent means. He sent his son Aedh Dubh, at the head of a great host to expel Caillin and his followers from the district But when the army and its leader saw the heavenly appearance of the monks, and heard their prayers and psalmody, their hearts were touched, they believed in the God of St. Caillin, and received baptism. Fenagh was presented to the saint by the son of Fergna. When the latter heard of the unexpected conversion of his son and whole army, he raged like a wild beast. He sent for his druids and commanded them forthwith to summon all their supernatural powers for the expulsion of the invaders. The latter commenced to fulminate against the holy men a series of incantations so foul, coarse and indecent, that the indignation of Aedh Dubh was aroused, and he commanded his army to destroy the pagan priests “No,” said Caillin, “we will not employ human power against them, but it is my will, if it be the Will of God, that the druids may be changed into stones.”

The words were no sooner spoken than the howling priests were changed into huge boulders, which remain to this day as a testimony of the truth of this narrative.

Fergna instead of being converted by this miracle only grew more obstinate in his infidelity. But his punishment was near at hand. Filled with fury he turned away from the scene of his discomfiture swearing vengeance against Caillin, when lo! a vast chasm opened under his feet and he was swallowed up alive into the earth.

These miracles were followed by another, performed in favour of Aedh Dubh, the friend of our saint. That prince was so-called because his personal appearance was dark and unprepossessing. He besought the saint to transform his visage, and give him the form and appearance of Rioce of Innisbofinde, son of Darerca, sister of St. Patrick, and the handsomest man in Ireland. Caillin and his monks fasted and prayed for the desired change in the appearance of the king. On the following day the transformation had been so complete that there was no distinction between the two, except the tonsure on the head of Rioce who was a monk. From thenceforth Aedh Dubh was known as Aedh Find or the Fair.

In gratitude for this favour the king loaded St Caillin with gifts, and placed himself, his territory and descendants under perpetual tribute to the church and monastery of Fenagh.

Another wonderful miracle recorded of St Caillin was the raising of the famous Conal Gulban to life. This prince was killed by a flying spear flung from the hand of one of the Tuatha-Slecht, a tribe inhabiting the district adjoining Fenagh. Conal was five years and a-half dead when St Caillin came to his grave. He was sorely grieved when the manner of his death was related to him, and more so when he learned from supernatural sources that the king was suffering torments in the other world. The saints of Ireland were assembled, and they prayed and fasted for the resuscitation of Conal. God heard their petitions, and the king was restored to life, and baptised in the famous bell of Clog-na Righ, which still exists in the church of Foxfield, near Fenagh, county Leitrim.

St. Columcille now appears on the scene. In the life of this saint, written by O’Donnell, we are informed that it was to St. Molaise of Devenish that Columba came for absolution after the Battle of Cul-Dremne. The Book of Fenagh, however, states categorically that St. Caillin was the person to whom the Dove of the Cells had recourse in his troubles, and that on this occasion the great penitent made his confessor a present of the Cether-lebor, or “Book of the Four Gospels,” and the Cathac, or “Book of the Psalms,” transcribed by St. Columba, and which is said to have been the cause of all his misfortunes.

As the departure of St. Columba for Iona took place about the year 563, St. Caillin, according to this account, lived to a much later date than is generally believed. Adamnan, the biographer of the great Abbot of Iona, is also introduced into this narrative as a contemporary of St. Caillin. The latter had a vision in which he saw Fenagh swarmed with monsters; the wolves of the forest roving through it; the sea inundating it; a bright torch flaming round it; furious lions contending against himself and Fenagh. He fancied himself extinguishing the torch with his breath, fighting the lions, and exhausting the sea.

The interpretation of this dream was given by St. Adamnan, who is represented as having been then at Fenagh. The portion of the manuscript containing it has, however, been lost.

The so-called prophecies of St. Caillin are also found recorded in the Book of Fenagh. An angel appears to the saint, and dramatically describes the various colonisations of Erin from the landing of the great Lady Cesair to the arrival of Heremon and Heber. The line of the Milesian monarchs is given in detail down to the reign of Diarmiad Mac Fergus Cerrbheoil, during whose time Caillin lived. Then follows a catalogue of the kings who were to rule over Erin until the year 1172; Ruaidhri O’Conchobhair occupying the last place. The most remarkable portion of this prophecy is, however, the enumeration of the monarchs — eleven in number — who, from the death of Roderic O’Conor, would rule over Ireland until doom’s-day. The names are given, but are merely fanciful descriptions of the supposed qualities of the personages indicated. They are: Derg-donn (brown-red); Aedh of the long hair; Lam-fada (long-hand); Cliab-glas (grey-chest); Crissalach (dirty-girdle); Sraptive; Brown-faced Osgamuin; Osnadach (the sigher); Jartru of Ailech; Foltgarb and Flann Cittiach (the slender), the last Arch-king of Ireland. Next follow the O’Ruaircs, Lords of Breifni, down to the year 1430. The other prophecies contained in this book relate to the family of Conal Gulban, the abbots of Fidnachta, and other matters of minor importance.

Among the disciples of St. Caillin is said to have been St. Manchan of Maethail, or Mohill, Co. Leitrim. To him were confided the custody of the relics which St. Caillin had brought from Rome; and to him also fell the duty of fulfilling his sainted master’s last wishes, and of administering to him the last Sacraments of the Church. St. Caillin had directed that his remains should be interred in Relig-Mochoemhog, or the “Cemetery of St Mochoemhog,” now Lemokevoge, Co. Tipperary.

When the time of the holy man’s death approached, he came, in company with St. Manchan, to the Church of St. Mochoemhog. Here he made many revelations to his companion, who afterwards anointed him.

“I grieve, O Caillin,” said Manchan, “that it is not in thine own Cahir and fair church thy relics and thy resurrection should be — i.e ., in Fidnacha of Magh Rein.”

“When my bones and relics shall be bare,” said Caillin, “do thou thyself come, O Manchan, and my congregation from Fidnacha, and bear my relics to my own church,”

“We will come truly,” said Manchan, “and the Twelve Apostles of Ireland will come with us, and we will convey thy relics to thy church.”

“My blessing on thee, O Manchan,” said Caillin, “ and whosoever destroys both our churches shall not obtain territory or tribe.”

After this St. Caillin went to receive the reward of his labours. His body, as he desired, was laid to rest with great veneration in Relig-Mochoemhog. His relics were afterwards brought to Fenagh, where they were interred with great pomp.

In an eloquent panegyric his biographer speaks of him as a man of truth, with purity of nature, like the patriarchs; a pilgrim, like Abraham; gentle and forgiving, like Moses; a psalmist, like David; a treasury of wisdom, like Solomon; and a vessel of election, like Paul.

Nor should we doubt the truth of this eulogium. Legendary and fanciful as many of the acts recorded of St. Caillin undoubtedly are, it is beyond question that he was one of the galaxy of saints who have made the golden era of the history of our country; that he was endowed with true wisdom, the wisdom of the saints; that he was a vessel of election to our pagan forefathers, who have handed down from son to son the fame of his sanctity. Nearly fifteen centuries of change have taken place since he lived; kings and conquerors are forgotten, or only mentioned with execration, but a memorial of gratitude to St. Caillin still remains — a monument, not, indeed, raised in stone or brass, but inscribed on more enduring tablets — the hearts and minds of a loving posterity.

William Ganly, C.C.

The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 3rd ser, Vol X (1889), 432-440.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2021. All rights reserved.

Saturday 6 November 2021

"Ireland, though fruitful in soil, is much more celebrated for saints"

November 6 is the Feast of All the Saints of Ireland and below is a reflection from Father William P. Treacy (1850–1906) on the legacy of those Irish saints who carried the Gospel outside these shores. Father Treacy was a native of Tipperary who was ordained at Louvain and subsequently ministered in the United States, a background which perhaps explains his affinity for those Irishmen who studied and laboured abroad. In the excerpt below from his 1889 work Irish Scholars of the Penal Days, he reflects the mainstream Victorian romantic approach to the early medieval Irish church and its saints, as he recalls a lost Golden Age when the Faith was pure and laments those 'mists and clouds' which prevent this 'angelic vision of Ireland's beauty' from being appreciated properly today. This blog will, le cuidiú Dé, continue to honour the saints of Ireland and I wish everyone the blessings of their feast!

...Our noble hagiologists watched with streaming eyes the holy missionaries marching out from Ireland in glorious succession to bring light, and peace, and joy, and life to the peoples who sat in the darkness of error and in the shadow of death. They saw St Arden preaching to the Northumbrians in England; they saw St Colman among the Northern Saxons; they beheld St. Arbogart seated and ruling in the Episcopal Chair of Strasbourg. Sts. Maildulphus, Cuthbert, Killian, Virgilius, Finden and Columba rose up before their entranced vision, and they blessed and glorified the land that bore such flowers. They deeply felt the truth of the words of St Adelnus to Elfride, “that Ireland is no less stored with learned men than are the heavens with glittering stars.” With Egiwold, they agreed “that Ireland, though fruitful in soil, is much more celebrated for saints.” With Henry of Huntingdon they knew “that the Almighty enriched Ireland with several blessings, and appointed a multitude of saints for its defence.” They delighted in old, holy Ireland. Ireland of the Cell, and the Church, and the Monastery, and the Convent, and the Well, and the Celtic Cross, claimed the deep devotion of their hearts. No wonder that the names of our hagiologists are loved and cherished by every true child of Ireland. Would that we could inherit some of their love for our forefathers in the Faith! I can think of few blessings greater than the grace of devotion to the dear servants of God. To love the saints who prayed, and watched, and fasted, and bled, and died to transmit the Faith pure and bright to us ought to be our great aim. Sons of Ireland, do you always remember that the chief and lasting glory of your country is Christian? Do you always remember that the brightest halos that shine upon your country are those that surround the heads of your saints? Alas! I fear not. To many the angelic vision of Ireland’s beauty during the days when St Columb preached in Scotland; when Columban taught in France; when St Clement spoke in Germany; when St Buan bore the light into Iceland; when St Killian prayed in Franconia, and St Buiwan in the Orcades, when St Gallus stood amid the snows of Switzerland, and St Brendan shone upon the Fortunate Isles, is covered with mists and clouds.....

Rev. William P. Treacy, Irish Scholars of the Penal Days: Glimpses of their Labours on the Continent of Europe (New York, 1889), 67-68.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2021. All rights reserved.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Saint Malachy of Armagh, November 3

Saint Malachy's Vision of his Dead Sister

November 3 is the feast of Saint Malachy of Armagh (c.1094-1148), who is also the diocesan patron of Down and Connor. He is an important saint with a European-wide reputation and one who enjoyed the friendship of the great Saint Bernard of  Clairvaux. As regular readers of the blog will know, the overwhelming majority of the Irish saints found in our calendars were never formally canonized as the official process we have today only began to develop in the twelfth century. Indeed, it is Saint Malachy who has the distinction of being the very first Irishman to be formally canonized, an event which took place within fifty years of his death. The account below of his career has been taken from an unattributed and undated collection of three Irish saints' lives, drawing heavily of course upon Saint Bernard's own hagiographical tribute The Life and Death of Saint Malachy, the Irishman:




In the fifth century Ireland was converted from heathenism to Christianity. Through the three succeeding ages it became the principal seat of learning in Christendom. So happy a distinction was owing to the labours and apostolic lives of the native ecclesiastics, who were never known to abuse the great immunities and secular endowments conferred on them by the Irish princes. This change from idolatry to the gospel was brought about in a period when the Roman empire in the West was torn to pieces, and when inundations of pagan nations seized on the greater part of Europe. In that state, providence, ever watchful over the Church, erected an asylum in this remote island for its repose and extension. For three hundred years the Christian youth of the continent flocked hither to be instructed in the science of the saints, and in the literature which leads to it. In the ninth century Ireland began to feel the grievances which followed the invasion of the sanctuary in other countries. It was infested in its turn by heathen barbarians, who under the general name of Normans, ravaged at the same time the maritime districts of France, England, and Scotland, and finally, made establishments in all. Nothing sacred had escaped their depredations; wherever their power prevailed they massacred the ecclesiastics, demolished the monasteries, and committed their libraries to the flames. In these confusions the civil power was weakened; and kings contending with a foreign enemy, and with vassals often equally dangerous, lost much of their authority. The national assemblies, the guardians and framers of law, were seldom convened ; and when convened they wanted the powder, perhaps the wisdom, to restore the old constitution, or establish a better on its ruins. Through a long and unavoidable intercourse between the natives and the oppressors of religion and law, a great relaxation of piety and morals gradually took place. Vice and ignorance succeeded to the Christian virtues and to knowledge. Factions among the governors of provinces ended in a dissolution of the Irish monarchy on the demise of Malachy II. in 1022; and, through the accumulation of so many evils, the nation was, in a great degree, sunk in barbarism. 

It was in this state of the nation that the glorious saint, whose life we are writing, was born. Malachy, called in Irish Maol-Maodhog O' Morgair, was a native of Armagh; his parents were persons of the first rank, and very virtuous, especially his mother, who was most solicitous to train him up in the fear of God. When he was of age to go to school, not content to procure him pious tutors whilst he studied grammar at Armagh, she never ceased at home to instil into his tender mind the most perfect sentiments and maxims of piety; which were deeply imprinted in his heart by that interior master in whose school he was from his infancy a great proficient. He was meek, humble, obedient, modest, obliging to all, and very diligent in his studies; he was temperate in diet, vanquished sleep, and had no inclination to childish sports and diversions, so that he far outstripped his fellow-students in learning, and his very masters in virtue. In his studies, devotions, and little practices of penance he was very cautious and circumspect to shun as much as possible the eyes of others, and all danger of vain-glory, the most baneful poison of virtues. For this reason he spent not so much time in churches as he desired to do, but prayed much in retired places, and at all times frequently lifted up his pure hands and heart to heaven in such a manner as not to be taken notice of. When his master took a walk to a neighbouring village without any other company but his beloved scholar, the pious youth often remained a little behind to send up with more liberty, as it were by stealth, short inflamed ejaculations from the bow of his heart, which was always bent, says St. Bernard.

To learn more perfectly the art of dying to himself, and living wholly to God and his love, Malachy put himself under the discipline of a holy recluse named Imar or Imarius, who led a most austere life in continual prayer, in a cell near the great church of Armagh. This step in one of his age and quality astonished the whole city, and many severely censured and laughed at him for it; many ascribed this undertaking to melancholy, fickleness, or the rash heat of youth; and his friends grieved and reproached him, not being able to bear the thought that one of so delicate a constitution and so fine accomplishments and dispositions for the world, should embrace a state of such rigour, and, in their eyes, so mean and contemptible. The saint valued not their censures, and learned by despising them with humility and meekness to vanquish both the world and himself. To attain to the true love of God he condemned himself whilst alive, as it were, to the grave, says St. Bernard, and submitted himself to the rule of man; not being like those who undertake to teach what they have never learned, and by seeking to gather and multiply scholars without having ever been at school, become blind guides of the blind. The simplicity of the disciple’s obedience, his love of silence, and his fervour in mortification and prayer, were both the means and the marks of his spiritual progress, which infinitely endeared him to his master, and edified even those who at first had condemned his choice. Their railleries were soon converted into praises, and their contempt into admiration: and many, moved by the example of his virtue, desired to be his imitators and companions in that manner of life. Malachy prevailed upon Imar to admit the most fervent among these petitioners, and they soon formed a considerable community. Malachy was by his eminent virtues a model to all the rest, though he always looked upon himself as the last and most unworthy of that religious society. A disciple so meek, so humble, so obedient, so mortified, and devout, could not fail, by the assiduous exercises of penance and prayer, to advance apace to the summit of evangelical perfection. 

Imar, his superior, and Celsus or Ceallach, Archbishop of Armagh, judged him worthy of Holy Orders, and this prelate obliged him, notwithstanding all the resistance he could make, to receive at his hands the order of deacon, and some time after, the priesthood, when he was twenty-five years old, though the age which the canons then required for priestly orders was thirty years, as St. Bernard testifies; but his extraordinary merit was just reason for dispensing with that rule. At the same time, the Archbishop made him his vicar, to preach the word of God to the rude people, and to extirpate evil customs, which were many, grievous, and inveterate, and most horribly disfigured the face of that Church. Wonderful was the zeal with which St. Malachy discharged this commission; abuses and vices were quite defeated and dispersed before his face; barbarous customs were abolished; diabolical charms and superstitions were banished; and whatever squared not with the rule of the gospel could not stand before him. He seemed to be a flame amidst the forests or a hook extirpating noxious plants: with a giant's heart he appeared at work on every side. He made several regulations in ecclesiastical discipline, which were authorized by the bishops, and settled the regular solemn rehearsal of the canonical hours in all the churches of the diocese, which, since the Danish invasions, had been omitted even in cities: in which it was of service to him, that from his youth he had applied himself to the Church music. What was yet of much greater importance, he renewed the use of the sacraments, especially of confession or penance, of confirmation, and regular matrimony. St. Malachy, fearing lest he was not sufficiently skilled in the canons of the church to carry on a thorough reformation of discipline, and often labouring under great anxieties of mind on this account, resolved, with the approbation of his prelate, to repair for some time to Malchus, bishop of Lismore, who had been educated in England where he became a monk of Winchester, and was then for his learning and sanctity reputed the oracle of all Ireland. Being courteously received by this good old man, he was diligently instructed by him in all things belonging to the divine service, and to the care of souls, and at the same time, he employed his ministry in that church.

Ireland (like so many other countries in those ages) being at that time divided into several little kingdoms, it happened that Cormac, king of Munster, was dethroned by his wicked brother, and, in his misfortunes, had recourse to Bishop Malchus, not to recover his crown, but to save his soul; fearing Him who takes away the spirit of princes, and being averse from shedding more blood for temporal interests. At the news of the arrival of such a guest, Malchus made preparations to receive him with due honour; but the king would by no means consent to his desires, declaring it was his intention to think no more of worldly pomp but to live among his canons, to put on sackcloth, and labour by penance to secure to himself the possession of an eternal kingdom. Malchus made him a suitable exhortation on the conditions of his sacrifice, and of a contrite heart, and assigned him a little house to lodge in, and appointed St. Malachy his master, with bread and water for his sustenance. Through our saints exhortations the king began to relish the sweetness of the incorruptible heavenly food of the soul, his heart was softened to compunction; and whilst he subdued his flesh by austerities, he washed his soul with penitential tears, like another David, never ceasing to cry out with him to God: Behold my baseness and my misery, and pardon me all my offences. The sovereign judge was not deaf to his prayer, but (according to his infinite goodness) heard it not only in the sense in which it was uttered, purely for spiritual benefits, but also with regard to the greatest temporal favours, granting him his holy grace which he asked, and in addition, restoring him to his earthly kingdom. For a neighbouring king, moved with indignation at the injury done to the majesty of kings in his expulsion, sought out the penitent in his cell, and finding him insensible to all worldly motives of interest, pressed him with those of piety, and the justice which he owed to his own subjects; and not being able yet to succeed, engaged both Malchus the bishop, and St. Malachy to employ their authority and command, and to represent to him that justice to his people, and the divine honour, obliged him not to oppose the design. Therefore, with the succours of this king and the activity of many loyal subjects, he was easily forced again upon the throne; and he ever after loved and honoured St Malachy as his father. Our saint was soon after called back by Celsus and Imar, both by letters and messages to Armagh.

The great abbey of Benchor, now in the county of Down, lay at that time in a desolate condition, and its revenues were possessed by an uncle of St. Malachy, till it should be re-established. This uncle resigned it to his holy nephew that he might settle in it regular observance, and became himself a monk under his direction in this house, which, by the care of tho saint, became a flourishing seminary of learning and piety, though not so numerous as it had formerly been. St. Malachy governed this house some time,and, to use St. Bernard’s words, was in his deportment a living rule, and a bright glass, or, as it were, a book laid open in which all might learn the true precepts of religious conversation. He not only always went before his little flock, and in all monastic observances, but also did particular penances, and other actions of perfection, which no man was able to equal; and he worked with his brethren in hewing timber, and in the like manual labour. Several miraculous cures of sick persons, some of which St. Bernard recounts, added to his reputation. But the whole tenour of his life, says the saint, was the greatest of his miracles; and the composure of his mind, and the inward sanctity of his soul, appeared in his countenance, which was always modestly cheerful. A sister of our saint, who had led a worldly life, died, and he recommended her soul to God for a long time in the sacrifice of the altar. Having intermitted this for thirty days, he seemed one night to be advertised in his sleep that his sister waited with sorrow in the church-yard, and had been there thirty days without food. This he understood of spiritual food; and having resumed the custom of saying Mass, or causing one to be said for her every day, saw her after some time admitted to the door of the church, then within the church, and some days after to the altar, where she appeared in joy, in the midst of a troop of happy spirits; which vision gave him great comfort.

St. Malachy, in the thirtieth year of his age, was chosen bishop of Connor (now in the county of Down), and as he peremptorily refused to acquiesce in the election, he was at length obliged by the command of Imar, and the archbishop Celsus, to submit. Upon beginning the exercise of his functions he found that his flock were Christians in name only, but in their manners savage, vicious, and worse than pagans. However, he would not run away like a hireling, but resolved to spare no pains to turn these wolves into sheep. He preached in public with an apostolical vigour, mingling tenderness with a wholesome severity; and when they would not come to the church to hear him, he sought them in the streets and in their houses, exhorted them with tenderness, and often shed tears over them. He offered to God for them the sacrifice of a contrite and humble heart, and sometimes passed whole nights weeping and with his hands stretched forth to heaven in their behalf. The remotest villages and cottages of his diocese he visited, going always on foot, and he received all manner of affronts and sufferings with invincible patience. The most savage hearts were at length softened into humanity and a sense of religion, and the saint restored the frequent use of the sacraments among the people: and whereas, he found amongst them very few priests, and those both slothful and ignorant, he filled the diocese with zealous pastors, by whose assistance he banished ignorance and superstition, and established all religious observances, and the practice of piety. In the whole comportment of this holy man, nothing was more admirable than his invincible patience and meekness. All his actions breathed this spirit in such a manner as often to infuse the tame into others. Amongst his miracles St. Bernard mentions, that a certain passionate woman, who was before intolerable to all that approached her, was converted into the mildest of women by the saint commanding her in the name of Christ never to be angry more, hearing her confession, and enjoining her a suitable penance; from which time no injuries or tribulations could disturb her.

After some years the city of Connor was taken and sacked by the King of Ulster; upon which St. Malachy, with a hundred and twenty disciples, retired into Munster, and there, with the assistance of King Cormac, built the monastery of Ibrac, which some suppose to have been near Cork, others to be in the isle of Beg-erin, where St. Imar formerly resided. Whilst our saint governed this holy family in the strictest monastic discipline, humbling himself even to the meanest offices of the community, and, in point of holy poverty and penance, going beyond all his brethren, the archbishop Celsus was taken with that illness of which he died. In his infirmity he appointed St. Malachy to be his successor, conjuring all persons concerned, in the name of St. Patrick, the founder of that see, to concur to that promotion, and oppose the intrusion of any other person. This he not only most earnestly declared by word of mouth, but also recommended by letters to persons of the greatest interest and power in the country, particularly to the two kings of Upper and Lower Munster. This he did out of a zealous desire to abolish a most scandalous abuse which had been the source of all other disorders in the churches of Ireland. For two hundred years past, the family out of which Celsus had been assumed, and which was the most powerful in the country, had, during fifteen generations, usurped the archbishopric as an inheritance; insomuch, that when there was no clergyman of their kindred, they intruded some married man and laymen of their family, who, without any holy orders, had the administration and enjoyed the revenues of that see, and even exercised a despotical tyranny over the other bishops of the island. Notwithstanding the precaution taken by Celsus, who was a good man, after his death, though Malachy was canonically elected, pursuant to his desire, Maurice, one of the above-mentioned family, got possession. Malachy declined the promotion, and alleged the dangers of a tumult and bloodshed. Thus, three years passed till Malchus bishop of Lismore, and Gillebert, bishop of Limerick, who was the pope’s legate in Ireland, assembled the bishops and great men of the island, and threatened Malachy with excommunication if he refused to accept the archbishopric. Hereupon he submitted, but said: “You drag me to death. I obey in hopes of martyrdom; but, on this condition, that if the business succeed according to your desires, when all things are settled, you shall permit me to return to my former spouse, and my beloved poverty.” They promised he should have the liberty so to do, and he took upon him that charge, and exercised his functions with great zeal through the whole province, except in the city of Armagh, which he did not enter for fear of bloodshed, so long as Maurice lived, which was two years more. 

At the end of five years, after the demise of Celsus, Maurice died, and, to complete his iniquities and increase his damnation, named his kinsman Nigellus for his successor. But King Cormac, and the bishops, resolved to instal St. Malachy in that see, and he was acknowledged the only lawful metropolitan in the year 1133, and thirty-eighth of his age. Nigellus was obliged to leave Armagh, but carried with him two relics held by the Irish in great veneration; and the common people were foolishly persuaded that he was archbishop who had them in his possession. These were a book of the gospels which had belonged to St. Patrick, and a crosier called the staff of Jesus, which was covered with gold, and ornamented with rich jewels. By this fallacy some still adhered to him, and his kindred violently persecuted St. Malachy. One of the chief amongst them invited him to a conference at his house with a secret design to murder him. The saint, against the advice of all his friends, went thither, offering himself to martyrdom for the sake of peace; he was accompanied only by three disciples, who were ready to die with him. But the courage and heavenly mildness of his countenance disarmed his enemies as soon as he appeared amongst them: and he who had designed to murder him, rose up to do him honour, and a peace was concluded on all sides. Nigellus not long after surrendered the sacred book and crosier into his hands; and several of the saint’s enemies were cut off by visible judgments. A raging pestilence, which broke out at Armagh, was suddenly averted by his prayers, and he wrought many other miracles. Having rescued that church from oppression, and restored discipline and peace, he insisted upon resigning 'the archiepiscopal dignity, according to covenant, and ordained Gelasius, a worthy ecclesiastic, in his place. He then returned to his former see: but whereas the two sees of Connor and Down had been long united, he again divided them, consecrated another bishop for Connor, and reserved to himself only that of Down, which was the smaller and poorer. Here he established a community of regular canons, with whom he attended to prayer and meditation, as much as the external duties of his charge would permit him. He regulated every thing, and formed great designs for the divine honour.

To obtain the confirmation of many things which he had done, he undertook a journey to Rome: in which one of his motives was to procure palls for two archbishops; namely, for the see of Armagh, which had long wanted that honour through the neglect and abuses of the late usurpers, and for another metro-political see which Celsus had formed a project of, but which had not been confirmed by the Pope. St Malachy left Ireland in 1139; conversed some time at York with a holy priest named Sycar, an eminent servant of God, and in his way through France visited Clairvaux, where St. Bernard first became acquainted with him and conceived the greatest affection and veneration for him on account of his sanctity. St. Malachy was so edified with the wonderful spirit of piety which he discovered in St. Bernard and his monks, that he most earnestly desired to join them in their holy exercises of penance and contemplation, and to end his days in their company; but he was never able to gain the pope’s consent to leave his bishopric. Proceeding on his journey, at Yvree in Piedmont he restored to health the child of the host with whom he lodged, who was at the point of death. Pope Innocent II. received him with great honour; but would not hear of his petition for spending the remainder of his life at CLairvaux. He confirmed all he had done in Ireland, made him his legate in that island, and promised him the pall. The saint in his return called again at Clairvaux, where, says St. Bernard, he gave us a second time his blessing. Not being able to remain himself with those servants of God, he left his heart there, and four of his companions, who, taking the Cistercian habit, afterwards came over into Ireland, and instituted the abbey of Mellifont, of that Order, and the parent of many others in those parts. St. Malachy went home through Scotland, where king David earnestly entreated him to restore to health his son Henry, who lay dangerously ill. The saint said to the sick prince: “Be of good courage; you will not die this time.” Then sprinkled him with holy water, and the next day the prince was perfectly recovered.

St. Malachy was received in Ireland with the greatest joy, and discharged his office of legate with wonderful zeal and fruit, preaching every where, holding synods, making excellent regulations, abolishing abuses, and working many miracles. One of these St. Charles Borromeo used to repeat to his priests, when he exhorted them not to fail being watchful and diligent in administering in due time the sacrament of extreme unction to the sick. It is related by St. Bernard as follows. The lady of a certain knight who dwelt near Benchor, being at the article of death, St. Malachy was sent for; and after suitable exhortations, he prepared to give her extreme unction. It seemed to all her friends better to postpone that sacrament till the next morning, when she might be better disposed to receive it. St. Malachy yielded to their earnest entreaties, though with great unwillingness. The holy man having made the sign of the cross upon the sick woman, retired to his chamber; but was disturbed in the beginning of the night with an uproar through the whole house, and lamentations and cries, that their mistress was dead. The bishop ran to her chamber, and found her departed ; whereupon, lifting up his hands to heaven, he said with bitter grief and remorse: “It is I myself who have sinned by this delay, not this poor creature.” Desiring earnestly to render to the dead what he accused himself that he by his neglect had robbed her of, he continued standing over the corpse, praying with many bitter tears and sighs; and from time to time turning towards the company, he said to them: "Watch and pray.” They passed the whole night in sighs and reciting the psalter, and other devout prayers; when, at break of day, the deceased lady opened her eyes, sat up, and knowing St. Malachy, with devout bow saluted him: at which sight all present were exceedingly amazed, and their sadness was turned into joy. St. Malachy would anoint her without delay, knowing well that by this sacrament sins are remitted, and the body receives help as is most expedient. The lady, to the greater glory of God, recovered and lived some time to perform the penance imposed on her by St. Malachy; then relapsed, and with the usual succours of the church happily departed. 

St. Malachy built a church of stone at Benchor, on a new plan, such as he had seen in other countries : at which unusual edifice the people of the country were struck with great admiration. He likewise rebuilt or repaired the cathedral church at Down, famous for the tomb of St. Patrick; whither also the bodies of St. Columba and St. Bridget were afterwards removed. St Malachy’s zeal for the re-establishment of the Irish church in its splendour moved him to meditate a second journey into France, in order to meet Pope Eugenius III. who was come into that kingdom. Innocent II. died before the two palls which he had promised could be prepared and sent. Celestine II. and Lucius II. died in less than a year and a half. This affair having been so long delayed, St. Malachy convened the bishops of Ireland, and received from them a deputation to make fresh application to the apostolic see. In his journey through England, whilst he lodged with the holy canons at Gisburn, a woman was brought to him, who had a loathsome cancer in her breast; whom he sprinkled with water which he had blessed, and the next day she was perfectly healed. Before he reached France the Pope was returned to Rome: but St. Malachy determined not to Cross the Alps without first visiting his beloved Clairvaux. He arrived there in October, 1148, and was received with great joy by St. Bernard and his holy monks, in whose happy company he was soon to end his mortal pilgrimage. Having celebrated Mass with his usual devotion on the feast of St. Luke, he was seized with a fever,which obliged him to take to his bed. The good monks were very active in assisting him; but he assured them that all the pain they took about him was to no purpose, because he should not recover. St. Bernard doubts not but he had a foreknowledge of the day of his departure. How sick and weak soever he was, he would needs rise and crawl down stairs into the church, that he might there receive the extreme-unction and the viaticum, which he did lying on ashes strewed on the floor. He earnestly begged that all persons would continue their prayers for him after his death, promising to remember them before God; he tenderly commended also to their prayers all the souls which had been committed to his charge; and sweetly reposed in our Lord on All Souls’-day, the second of November, in the year 1148, of his age fifty-four; and was interred in the chapel of our Lady at Clairvaux, and carried to the grave on the shoulders of abbots. At his burial was present a youth, one of whose arms was struck with a dead palsy, so that it hung useless and without life by his side. Him St. Bernard called, and taking up the dead arm applied it to the hand of the deceased Saint, and it was wonderfully restored to itself, as this venerable author himself assures us. St. Bernard, in his second discourse on this saint, says to his monks: “May he protect us by his merits, whom he has instructed by his example, and confirmed by his miracles.” At his funeral, having sung a Mass of requiem for his soul, he added to the Mass a collect to implore the divine grace through his intercession; having been assured of his glory by a revelation at the altar, as his disciple Geoffroy relates in the fourth book of his life. St. Malachy was canonized by a bull of Pope Clement (either the third or fourth), addressed to the general chapter of the Cistercians, in the third year of his pontificate.

Two things, says St. Bernard, made Malachy a saint, perfect meekness (which is always founded in sincere profound humility) and a lively faith: by the first, he was dead to himself; by the second, his soul was closely united to God in the exercises of assiduous prayer and contemplation. He sanctified him in faith and mildness. It is only by the same means we can become saints. How perfectly Malachy was dead to himself, appeared by his holding the metro-political dignity so long as it was attended with extraordinary dangers and tribulations, and by his quitting it as soon as he could enjoy it in peace: how entirely he was dead to the world, he showed by his love of sufferings and poverty, and by the state of voluntary privations and self-denial, in which he lived in the midst of prosperity, being always poor to himself, and rich to the poor, as he is styled by St. Bernard. In him this father draws the true character of a good pastor, when he tells us, that self-love and the world were crucified in his heart, and that he joined the closest interior solitude with the most diligent application to all the exterior functions of his ministry. “ He seemed to live wholly to himself, yet so devoted to the service of his neighbour, as if he lived wholly for them. So perfectly did neither charity withdraw him from the strictest watchfulness over himself, nor the care of his own soul hinder him in any thing from attending to the service of others. If you saw him amidst the cares and functions of his pastoral charge, you would say he was born for others, not for himself. Yet if you considered him in his retirement, or observed his constant recollection, you would think that he lived only to God and himself.”

Lives of Saint Malachy, St. Laurence O'Toole and St. Kevin: with a brief notice of some Irish shrines and reliquaries (Dublin, n.d.), 1-22. 

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Monday 1 November 2021

'A Seasoning to our Earthly Life': A Thought for the Feast of All Saints


November 1 is the Feast of All Saints and below is a reflection on the importance of recording the lives of the saints from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux's Life of Saint Malachy the Irishman. We will be marking the Feast of Saint Malachy on November 3 and the Feast of All the Saints of Ireland on November 6, but this thought from the Preface to Saint Bernard's work relates to the significance of all of the saints we commemorate on this day, November 1:

To describe the lives of the saints has ever been a precious task, since they serve as an example, or as it were, a seasoning to our earthly life. Thus, in a certain way, though dead, they live again among us, and many of those living in spiritual death are brought to the truth and recalled to eternal life. And now, verily, the rarity of sanctity makes this so much the more necessary; since it is plain that our times are lacking in men.

Stanley S. Morrison, “Saint Malachy of Armagh (1095-1148).” The Irish Monthly, vol. 76, no. 906, (1948), p. 558.

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Monday 25 October 2021

An Irish Bishop Saint: Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy

October 25 is the feast of Blessed Thaddeus [Tadhg] McCarthy,  a fifteenth-century Irish Bishop who, having been unjustly deprived of his see, set off to obtain redress in Rome only to die alone on his return journey. Yet although he belongs to a very different world than that of the early medieval period saints this blog usually features, I am nevertheless aware of a thread of continuity which links him to them. In his popular title 'The White Martyr of Munster', Blessed Thaddeus reflects the Irish understanding of martyrdom as preserved in the Cambrai Homily

The white martyrdom for someone is when they part for the sake of God from everything that they love, although they may suffer fasting and hard work thereby.
Furthermore, as an Irishman who died and was buried in Italy, he is following in the footsteps of those peregrini of the Golden Age of the Irish mission to Europe, from the great Saint Columbanus to Cathadulus of Taranto, Donatus of Fiesole or Ursus of Aosta.  This was a link acknowledged by Fra Anselmo Tommassini, in his 1937 study Irish Saints in Italy:
Our pious pilgrimage throughout the various provinces of Italy in search of traces of Irish sanctity comes to an end with a strangely pathetic figure whose humility is equalled only by his dignity. Our last Irish saint [Blessed Thaddeus] links up in the most curious fashion with the first one encountered on this side of the Alps, with that St. Ursus, the apostle of the Valle d'Aosta, who gave his name to so many churches and hospitals...

For it was in one of these hospitals, the Hospice of the XXI, where twenty-one beds were reserved for the use of poor pilgrims and an institution served by the Canons of Saint Ursus of Aosta, that Blessed Thaddeus died on October 24/25, 1492. Interestingly, Saint Ursus of Aosta's feast is February 1, the same day as that of Ireland's national patroness Saint Brigid.

Four centuries years later the people of Blessed Tadhg's homeland rejoiced in the rediscovery of his memory, in the official confirmation of his cultus and in the translation of his relics from Ivrea to Cork. Below is a Pastoral letter from someone very much involved in these celebrations, the then Bishop of Cork, Thomas (Alphonse) O’Callaghan, O.P. detailing the life of Blessed Thaddeus and commending him as an intercessor to his flock:
An Irish Bishop Saint 
In his Pastoral, the Bishop of Cork  says: — 'With feelings of heartfelt  joy we announce to you that it has  pleased His Holiness Leo XIII. to confirm, by his apostolic authority, the veneration that has been paid since the close of the fifteenth century to the Servant of God, Thaddeus McCarthy, Bishop of Cork and Cloyne. Henceforth he will be revered by us with the title of Blessed. His feast will be celebrated in the diocese each year throughout all future time, and Mass will be offered in his honour. 
He was of the princely house of McCarthy, and was born in the year 1455, at a time when his family was just regaining its former power in Munster. Numerous buildings and castles, the ruins of which are scattered through the diocese, and with which we are familiar, were erected by his kinsmen and contemporaries, Cormac McCarthy Laider, who was appointed his protector in Cork by the Sovereign Pontiff, Innocent VIII., built Blarney Castle, and many churches in the neighbourhood of our city. He founded Kilcrea Abbey and the Abbey of Ballymacadane. Gifted with a rare natural disposition, and trained from his childhood in the practice of virtue, Thaddeus had hardly completed his studies when, despising all worldly allurements, he hastened to enrol himself in the ranks of the clergy. The fame of his learning, of his piety, and of his other virtues, spreading and increasing from day to day, he was, while yet in the flower of his youth, and already effulgent with sanctity, appointed by the Sovereign Pontiff, Sixtus IV., to govern the See of Ross; and he received episcopal consecration in the Church of St. Stephen (del Caeo), in Rome, on the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, A.D. 1482. Having become in very soul the model of his flock, he ruled the Church committed to his care with prudence and diligence. By his devotion to religion, and his zeal for souls, he merited to be praised as the best of pastors. Like our Divine Lord, whose life he imitated, he carried a heavy cross; and in the exercise of his episcopal duties he was opposed, and calumniated, and denounced as a mercenary pastor, and as a steward of iniquity. The intrigues of his enemies went so far that the mind of the Sovereign Pontiff, Innocent VIII., was turned against him, and he was visited with severe ecclesiastical penalties. He bore his humiliation in perfect patience, without a word of complaint, and his virtue, tried on the touchstone of tribulation, attained in a short time the arduous summit of perfection. The innocence of Thaddeus was soon after proved, and his sanctity was made so evident that the same Pontiff, Innocent VIII., resolved not only to restore him, but to call him to still greater honours. He appointed him to the united Sees of Cork and Cloyne, regarding him rather as an angel than a man, and deeming him worthy of the greatest favours. When, by the bitter persecution of powerful enemies, and by the laws that then excluded the native Irish from ecclesiastical benefices, he was again forced into exile, he left Cork clad in the meanest attire in the garb of a pilgrim, and proceeded to Rome. Having worshipped at the Tomb of the Apostles, he laid his cause before the Vicar of Christ, who received him with affectionate cordiality, furnished him with strong-worded letters, and denounced in the severest terms the trespass on the liberty of the Church. In returning on foot he stopped to rest at Ivrea, in Piedmont, where, poor and unknown, he was received into the Hospital for Pilgrims. There, broken down from privations and toil, wearied by long travelling, and already ripe for Heaven, he delivered up his soul to God on October 24, 1492, in the thirty-seventh year of his age. 
His death was announced by a light from Heaven shining in a marvellous manner, and the strangeness of the event attracted many to the bedside on which were laid his mortals remains. The Bishop of Ivrea, Nicholas Garigliatti, accompanied by his clergy, hastened to the spot, and discovered that the poor pilgrim was the Bishop of Cork and Cloyne. His body, attended by a great multitude of the faithful, the clergy, and civil magistrates, was carried to the Cathedral in solemn procession, which the accounts of the time say was rather a triumph than a funeral. It was placed under the High Altar, in the same sepulchre with St. Eusebius, patron of the Diocese of Ivrea, where it has since been venerated, and God willed the remarkable sanctity of His servant should be attested by many miracles. 
It remains for us, dearly beloved brethren, to pay due honour to his memory, and to have recourse to his intercession, that by his prayers we may obtain what we stand in need of. Though forgotten during the centuries in which it was sought to blot out all traces of our religious history and our traditions, we may trust that he has not ceased to plead for us at the Throne of God, and that he has ever been, as the Prophet Jeremiah was to the Jewish nation, a lover of his brethren, who prays much for the people."  Catholic Press, (Sydney, NSW), Saturday 4 April 1896, page 21
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Thursday 21 October 2021

Saint Maelaithgen of Clonenagh, October 21

October 21 is the feast of Saint Maelaithgen of Clonenagh,  whose death, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, occurred in the eighth century: 

The Age of Christ, 767. Maelaithgen, Abbot of Cluain-Eidhneach [died].

John O'Donovan, ed. and trans, The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, Vol. I, (Dublin, 1856), p.371.

Cluain-Eidhneach, modern Cloneagh, County Laois was an important monastic foundation established, possibly in the sixth century, by Saint Fintan (feast February 17). The feast of his eighth-century successor Maelaithgen is recorded on the Irish calendars at October 21. On this day the late eighth/early ninth-century Martyrology of Tallaght lists 'Moelanaigh (Maelathgein)', the late twelfth-century Martyrology of Gorman 'Mael-Aithcen without folly' and the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal  simply 'Maelaithghein'. There is, however, a link between our abbot and another of the historic Irish calendars, The Martyrology of Oengus, for the Life of Oengus the Martyrologist (feast March 11) records that he began his career at Clonenagh under the tutelage of Saint Maelaithgen. The great seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, noted this link when writing of Oengus in his Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae

Inspired from his earliest infancy with an ardent desire of Christian perfection, he  embraced the religious life in the monastery of Cluain-edhneoch ... where, under the care of the holy Abbot Malathgenius, he made so rapid a progress in learning and in the science of the saints that in a short time no name in Ireland ranked higher, both for profound and sacred erudition, and for all the virtues of the religious state.

Rev. Matthew Kelly, Dissertations Chiefly on Irish Church History, (Dublin, 1864) p.209-210.

The date of his feast at October 21 and his reputation for holiness and learning are all that seems to have been preserved of the memory of Saint Maelaithgen of Clonenagh.

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