Sunday 31 July 2022

Saint Papán of Santry, July 31


July 31 is the feast of a County Dublin saint, Papán of Santry. As Canon O'Hanlon's entry for this saint in Volume VII of his Lives of the Irish Saints explains, a seventeenth-century hagiologist, Meredith Hanmer, whilst he  preserved the memory of the saint's annual patron at Santry, confused  him with a Belgian  saint, Poppon of Stavelot. Actual details of our Irish saint's life are hard to come by but his memory lives on in Saint Pappin's holy well and also in the name of the townland of Poppintree or Pappan's tree. His name also occurs in connection with the feast of the Sons of Nadfraech, although it is not certain that he is one of this group. Canon O'Hanlon contents himself by giving us an historical sketch of the later medieval foundation which stood at Santry and ends by citing the evidence for the saint's feast day from the Irish calendars:

Article IV. — St. Papan, of Santry, County of Dublin. 

[Supposed to be of the Fifth and Sixth Centuries.] 

The Martyrology of Tallagh  mentions, that veneration was given, at the 31st of July, to Papan, of Sentribh, now Santry, near the Irish metropolis. Here was one of the ancient sanctuaries of Ireland, with an old church or a monastery, long since gone, yet tradition preserves the memorial of this saint. Already, at the 25th of January, we have alluded to a St. Poppo, Pappan, or Poppon, supposed to have been Abbot of Stabuletum, who had a festival at that date; but, it is probable, the present St. Papan, of Santry, was a distinct person. Much obscurity, however, surrounds his history. According to what we find recorded, the father of this saint must have been Nathfriach— or more correctly Aengus. From this parentage, it must be inferred, that Papan was born in the fifth, and he probably lived on to the sixth, century. If we are to believe Dr. Meredith Hanmer, he was a native of Santry. In the townland of Poppintree, or Papan's Tree, so late as the beginning of the present century, the Patron of St. Papan, used to be held annually, on the 31st day of July. It may be supposed, that the former parish church of this pretty village stands on the site of the present Protestant church, which is surrounded by an ancient burying-ground. Whether, at this spot, an older ecclesiastical structure, than that erected in the latter part of the twelfth century, existed, we have now no means left for ascertaining; but, it seems very probable, since in the year 827, we find recorded in our ancient annals the death of Cormac, son of Muirgheas, Abbot of Seantrabh, interpreted Santry. After the Anglo Norman Invasion, however, King Henry II. of England, in granting the kingdom of Meath to Hugh De Lacy, included this neighbourhood within that charter. The latter feudal lord regranted the manors of Skryne and Santry to Adam de Feipo or Phepoe. Afterwards, this proprietor erected a church, consisting of a chancel and nave, separated or connected by a choir-arch. This he conveyed by deed to the Cistercian Abbey of St. Mary, in Dublin. It seems to us, that the Anglo-Norman Baron intended to dedicate the church of his foundation to St. Poppo or Poppon, Abbot of Stavelot, in the Low Countries, rather than to the more ancient Irish Saint bearing a nearly similar name. Wherefore, it is very probable, that both have been confounded in local popular tradition. In the family of De Feipo or Phepoe the manor of Santry continued until about 1375, when Johanna, daughter and heiress to Francis de Feipo or Phepoe, married Thomas Mareward, who was afterwards created Baron of Skryne. The village here seems to have grown up about the church, and it is mentioned in a Chancery Roll, which is dated 1379. In the year 1435, it is recorded as belonging to the Phepoe family; the manor at that time extending over the lands of Ballymun, Shillok, Little Ballycurry, Ballystrawan, &c. In many documents of the period, it gives its own name to the surrounding barony. In 1539, on the 28th of October, William Landey, the last Abbot of St. Mary's, Dublin, surrendered to King Henry VIII. all the estates of his Abbey, including those belonging to this parish, at that time when the dissolution of religious establishments took place. Then, the rectory, with a manse and a glebe, was of the annual value of £14 12s.; and in the sixteenth century, the manor of Santry passed from the Marewards, who had previously acquired the fee, to William Nugent, eighth Baron of Delvin, who had married Janet, the daughter and heiress of Walter Mareward, Baron of Serine. Afterwards, it was transmitted to the family of the Barrys, and later still to that of the Domviles. In 1609, the church of Santry was rebuilt, and it became the burial place for the latter  families; while, in 1615, we learn, that the church was in good repair, but that the chancel was ruined. The present edifice was erected in 1709, on the ruins of the former one. At this same date, July 31st, the Martyrology of Donegal, has the simple entry, Papan. Marianus O'Gorman and the Martyrology of Tamlacht appear to be cited for confirmation of this insertion.

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Saturday 30 July 2022

St.Cobthach of Iona, July 30


On July 30 Canon O'Hanlon has a short account of Saint Cobthach, kinsman of Saint Colum Cille of Iona, whom he claims has a feast on this day, at least according to the two nineteenth-century scholars John O'Donovan and George Petrie. Unfortunately I have not been able to access the work referenced to see on what basis this claim was made. Bishop William Reeves, who published a scholarly edition of The Life of Saint Columba in 1857, noted that the seventeenth-century Scottish martyrologist, David Camerarius, had ascribed August 7 to the feast of Cobthach, but without any supporting authority. In the hagiography of Iona's founder, Cobthach features as the son of Colum Cille's father's brother which would make them first cousins. Cobthach, along with his brother Baithene, were among the original twelve disciples of Saint Colum Cille who accompanied him on the voyage from Ireland to Iona, as Canon O'Hanlon explains:  

Article IV.—St. Cobthach, Disciple of Columkille. 
This devoted follower of the great Abbot of Iona, was the son of Brendan, and brother of St. Baithene, who immediately succeeded St. Columkille in the monastery at Iona. He was one of the twelve first disciples, who sailed from Ireland to that island with the founder. We find a commemoration for him at the 30th of July, on the authority of George Petrie, LL.D., and John O'Donovan, LL.D. The Rev. Dr. Reeves,when alluding to the early companions of St. Columkille, remarks, that Camerarius gives him a day, at the 7th of August, in the Calendar, but without any authority.

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Friday 29 July 2022

Saint Bití of Inis Cumscraigh, July 29

A County Down monastic saint, Bití (Bitus, Bite) of Inis Cumscraigh, is commemorated on the Irish calendars on July 29. Inis Cumscraigh is today known as Inch, which as the name suggests was once an island on the River Quoile but is now on land close to the town of Downpatrick.  It boasts some very impressive and extensive Cistercian monastic ruins. Inch Abbey was founded in the 1180s by the self-styled 'Prince of Ulster', John de Courcy, following his conquest of the area. It was a daughter-house of the Cistercian foundation at Furness in Lancashire, from whom de Courcy commissioned the hagiographer Jocelyn to write a Life of Saint Patrick. I have written about de Courcy, Jocelyn and Saint Patrick in a post at my blog dedicated to the Irish patrons here. But today's native Irish saint pre-dates both the Normans and the Cistercians. In a 1977 paper archaeologist Dr Ann Hamlin, drawing on the evidence from the Irish calendars and Annals,  provided a useful sketch of the history of the pre-Norman monastery at Inch:

An earlier name for the island was Inis Cumhscraigh, and it was the site of a pre-Norman monastery. 'MoBíu of Inis Cúscraid' is listed at 22 July in the main text of the Martyrology of Oengus, and the entry is glossed 'i.e. beside Dún dá lethglas', whilst in the Martyrology of Tallaght 'Dobí of Inis Causcraid' appears at 29 July. The Martyrology of Oengus was written between 797 and 805 and the Martyrology of Tallaght  a little earlier, so these references provide firm evidence for a pre-Viking church on the island. Several annal entries refer to the site in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In 1001 'Sitric, son of Amhlaeibh, set out on a predatory excursion into Ulidia, in his ships, and he plundered Cill-Cleithe [Kilclief] and Inis-Cumhscraigh, and carried off many prisoners from both (Annals of the Four Masters, also Annals of Tigernach). The Annals of Ulster record the death of 'Ocan Ua Cormacain, herenagh of Inis Cumscraigh' in 1061, and in 1149 Inis-Cumscraidh was plundered together with other churches in the area (AFM). The erenagh of Insecumscray was among the witnesses to the foundation charter of Newry abbey in about 1153. These references collectively suggest that a church and perhaps some form of monastic life did continue on the island into the twelfth century.
Ann Hamlin, A Recently Discovered Enclosure at Inch Abbey, County Down, Ulster Journal of Archaeology Third Series, Vol. 40 (1977), 85-86.

Saint Bití is the second saint named in connection with this monastery with a feast falling just seven days (and thus within the octave) of that of Saint MoBíu commemorated on July 22. Canon O'Hanlon, in his entry for July 29 in Volume VII of his Lives of the Irish Saints feels that they are probably the same person:

Festival of St. Bitus or Bite, of Inis Cumscraigh, now Inch, or Inniscumhscray, Strangford Lough, County of Down. 

According to the Martyrology of Tallagh, veneration was given, at the 29th of July, to Bitus or Bite, of Innsi Caumscridh. This holy man is called Bute, or perhaps Byte, by Marianus O'Gorman. That island or rather peninsula is beautifully situated in Strangford Lough, and nearly opposite to Downpatrick, county of Down. Some interesting ruins are yet seen in this place. An abbey or a monastery stood here - as has been already observed - before the erection of one, which has been founded by the Anglo-Norman warrior, John de Courcey. When the present saint flourished has not been ascertained. In the Martyrology of Donegal, we find an entry of Bite of Inis Cumhscraigh, at the 29th of July. We are inclined to think, that the present holy man is not distinct from the Abbot so called, and who is celebrated on the 22nd day of this month, where an account of him has been already given.

Canon O'Hanlon's account of Saint MoBíu can be read at the blog here.

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Sunday 24 July 2022

Saint Davog of Lough Derg, July 24

July 24 is one of the three feast days assigned to Saint Davog (Dabheoc) of Lough Derg, County Donegal, home to the medieval pilgrimage site of Saint Patrick's Purgatory. As this day falls within the pilgrimage season it is the one on which the memory of this early saint is marked on the island itself. As you can see from the photograph above (taken on my last visit) Saint Davog gives his name to one of the boats which ferries pilgrims to the island. You can also see the beautiful marble statue of the saint in the basilica and hear the current Prior recite a prayer to Saint Davog by clicking on this link. I have already posted a full account of Saint Davog on his January 1 feast day here, but below we have a reminder of his career from Irish Anglican writer St. John Drelincourt Seymour (1880-1950), who penned a number of interesting historical studies including Saint Patrick's Purgatory: a Medieval Pilgrimage in Ireland:

At one time Station Island was known as St. Dabheoc's Island, from which the cave and surrounding district took the name of Termon-Dabheoc. This saint, whose name sometimes appears under such forms as Beoc and Mobheoc, following a recognised method of treating Irish saints' names, and is latinized Dabeocus, Abogus, Arvogus, and perhaps Beanus, is held to be the patron saint of Lough Derg. Three festivals were annually held in his honour viz., January 1st, July 24th, and December 16th. In the Martyrology of Tallaght occurs the following allusion to him: 

"Aedh, Lochagerg, alias Daibheog." 

Lochagerg, or Loch Gerg, being other forms of Lough Derg. St. Cummian of Connor, in his poem on the characteristic virtues of Irish Saints, credits him with performing the following austerities, which were also practised by other persons eminent for sanctity in Ireland and the East: 

"Mobheoc the gifted, loved, 
According to the synod of the learned, 
That often in bowing his head 
He plunged it under water." 

His memory is still perpetuated in the townland-denomination of Seeavoc on the southern extremity of the lake. This name means "St. Dabheoc's Seat," and this curious structure may still be seen in the vicinity, though it is not now reckoned as on the above townland. 

 It is certain that at some remote date a saint named Dabheoc lived at Lough Derg, and was very probably the original founder of the monastery there. Beyond this all is mere conjecture. There exists some uncertainty as to whether there were not two saints of the same name connected with the spot, the one a Welshman, son of a king named Brecan, who ruled over a district now represented by Brecknock, the other an Irishman, descended from Dichu, St. Patrick's convert. But that an important Celtic monastery flourished here at an early date is made certain by the irrefragable arguments of stone. On Saints' Island are the remains of an ancient oratory and cemetery, while the large lis, or circular earthen enclosure there, probably marks the site of the original monastic establishment. On Station Island are the remains of the "penal beds," which so great an authority as Wakeman, after a careful examination, considered to be the ruins of what were originally bee-hive oratories, probably of the ninth century, of which examples are to be found along the west coast of Ireland. It seems probable that the two islands were held as one by the Celtic monks, forming together the monastery of Lough Derg. Add to the above the remains of carved stones, inscribed monuments, and fragments of crosses, and some small conception may be formed of its erstwhile importance. 

But, as unfortunately happens so often in Ireland, the mists settle down very speedily, and the history of the site is blotted out. Under the year 721 the Four Masters record the death of Cillene of Lough Derg, who was probably an inmate, or perhaps abbot, of the establishment. It is quite probable that at some unrecorded date the monastery was wiped out by the Danish invaders in their terrible forays.

Rev. St. John D. Seymour, Saint Patrick's Purgatory: a Medieval Pilgrimage in Ireland (Dundalk, n.d. 1918?) 11-13.

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Wednesday 20 July 2022

Beatha Mhairghréad- An Irish Life of Saint Margaret


Although this site is dedicated to the saints of Ireland, I also enjoy seeing how devotion to saints of the universal Church manifests in an Irish context. July 20 is the feast of Saint Margaret of Antioch, one of the Great Martyrs of the east who, although she enjoyed a widespread cult in the west during the Middle Ages, is now largely forgotten. In the western setting she was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints whose intercession was sought to aid in the difficult and dangerous realities of medieval life. The account of Margaret's martyrdom included an episode where she was swallowed by a dragon but managed to irritate the creature's insides by making the sign of the cross and was expelled from its body. Thus she came to be viewed as a saint to whom women in childbirth, an extremely hazardous time for the medieval female, could turn. Lives of Margaret survive not only in Latin but also in many medieval European languages, and in Irish alone there are reputed to be at least ninety manuscripts containing accounts of her [1].  These Irish accounts remain largely unpublished but one interesting later manuscript, taken to America by an emigrant family, has been described by the late Dr Kenneth Nilsen [2]. He was invited to view the Irish Collection of the Boston College Library and was intrigued to find a small book with a leather and cardboard cover with the title "Margaret O'Brien's Book, Dated November 23rd 1822". It comprised a manuscript of one hundred and four pages, eighty-seven of which had a Beaha Mairgréad and the rest a Himin Phadruig, a prayer to Saint Patrick. The name of the scribe, Soan Breanach, appears on page 88, along with the date 1819.  At the end of the Saint Patrick prayer he dedicated the work with a prayer for divine protection for Murcha Ó Briain, his wife, Margaret McCarthy and their children. 

What is fascinating to me about this early nineteenth-century manuscript is how it carried on the traditions of medieval hagiography into the modern era. The book measures only 3 inches by 4 inches and Dr Nilsen concludes that it was probably designed as a portable type of talisman, carried or possibly even worn as protection. This is borne out by the last words of Saint Margaret, a petition to God which she was allowed to make immediately before her execution and which may account for the continuing popularity of The Life of Saint Margaret.  Here is a flavour of the protective powers the saint claims attend the hearing or reading of the account of her Passion:

"...Any house in which my Passion or Life is read may no defective, deaf, blind, dumb, lame or maimed child be born there. And any house in which it is chanted, may it be free from all diseases and from the power of fire, water and enemies. If it is read to a man before he goes to battle, he will return safely and victoriously with pure faith.

Then there is another petition which affirms Saint Margaret's role as the protectress of women in labour:

"If it is recited to a woman in the throes of childbirth, she will come through that difficulty unharmed and with faith and hope in the One True God and in the aid to the angelic court to pray to God to ask Him to show her a sign.

There are also others for travellers, which presumably had a direct application to an Irish family crossing the Atlantic: 

"Whoever listens to it as he travels overseas will return safely to the same country if his intention is pure.

"If it is read to someone going on board ship, he will return safe from that journey with proper faith and hope in the one true God...."

Having repeated her petitions in verse, Saint Margaret is beheaded and her persecutor himself falls down dead beside her. Hosts of angels then descend and lead Margaret's soul into heaven.

This manuscript Life of Saint Margaret, copied by a trained scribe in the second decade of the nineteenth century, is thus a fascinating survival of the medieval hagiographic tradition which along with the enduring power of talismanic prayer continued to find an outlet in Irish popular religious expression.


[1] Salvador Ryan, ‘“I, too, am a Christian”: early martyrs and their lives in the late medieval and early modern Irish manuscript tradition’, in Peter Clarke and Tony Claydon (eds), Saints and Sanctity: Studies in Church History 47. Abingdon: Boydell Press, (2011), footnote 34, p. 204.

[2]  Kenneth E. Nilsen,  An Irish Life of St. Margaret, Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, Vol. 4 (1984), pp. 82-104.

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Friday 8 July 2022

Saint Killian of Würzburg, July 8

8 July is the feastday of Killian of Würzburg, an Irish missionary saint and martyr, whose memory is still very much alive today. I have previously published an account from Abbé McGeoghegan here and now bring a reminder of the martyrdom of Saint Killian and his companions from the English translation of another French work, Irlande Ile des Saints, by G and B Cerebelaud-Salagnac:

Let us now set out for Thuringia, in the footsteps of Killian (or Cilian). He would have been born about the year 640 in County Cavan. When he became a monk, and was first moved by the missionary grace, he went to the Continent with eleven companions (always the number twelve, clearly regarded as perfect). Passing through northern Gaul they reached the Rhine which they crossed and came to the castle of Würzburg, where lived Gozbert, Duke of Thuringia. Gozbert heard Killian readily, even when the monk pointed out to him that his union with Geilana, his brother's widow, was incestuous (this was the commonly accepted view at that time). He renounced Geilana. This woman conceived a deep resentment against the monk and from then on she only lived to revenge herself. About the year 689 she brought about the murder of the Bishop, along with two of his companions, Colman and Totnan.

"A custom, similar to that which was to be found among the Jews, had been in common practice among the people of Würzburg, and it had just been adopted by Prince Gozbert himself. He had taken as his wife his brother's widow, whose name was Geilana (or Geila). The prince had feelings of love and affection for her. It soon became Saint Killian's duty to explain to him the Church's ruling on this matter.... He did this gently and in the most persuasive way ... the first time he approached this subject, the king showed great aversion to this idea of separation, but when he became aware that this was necessary, if he wished to live according to his profession of faith, he consented, in a Christian spirit of sacrifice. The king's resolution came to the knowledge of Geilana. She was not prepared to bow to the royal decision. Her arguments and her cunning were, however, without effect, for the prince's will was unshakeable. She then began to burn with unquenchable rage against the servants of Jesus Christ, and decided to seize the first opportunity for taking a terrible revenge; this was not long in appearing.

"The prince was called to a long distance on a military expedition in the year 689; his cruel wife was able to find some hardened criminals, whom she hired to carry out her plan of vengeance, Although miraculous warnings had been given, it is said, to Saint Killian and his companions about this plot, they did not wish to save their lives by flight, nor even by seeking the protection which they would have easily found among the people of Würzburg. Saint Killian exhorted his companions to be steadfast, assuring them that their souls could not be injured by the assaults of their enemies. The holy missionaries began to prepare themselves, by prayer and by fasting, to face the danger by which they were threatened. On July 8th, 689 (according to certain authors 688), while Saint Killian and his companions, among whom were Colman and Totnan, were meeting together, these murderers, armed with swords, entered the room where they were. St. Killian offered himself the first to the executioners, and was immediately struck down at their feet. His companions fell in the same fashion. In order to conceal the marks of this slaughter, the bodies of the martyrs were taken away by night and buried secretly. The cross, the book of the Gospels with their other books and belongings, were thrown into the same grave....
G and B Cerebelaud-Salagnac, Ireland Isle of Saints (Dublin, 1966), 107-8.

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