Tuesday 25 October 2022

'Broken in All Things Save of God': Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy


THE high Alps, snow-covered, take on, at sunset in Autumn time, such colours and blends as are to be conveyed only in music, or stored in the secret heart. Pathos and longing in the deep blue auras, magic in the silver slides passing in and out of the lanterns of moon and stars, peace and rest in the purple flowing down like a shawl to cover the beloved breasts of hills; until in the dark from the folded world rise, like breathings of children, turnings in sleep, little sighs and cries, the springs and streams of the lower levels, un-frozen as yet and running on to the Mediterranean with word of the hills and how beautiful they are in their sleep, and how holy this work is of handmaiden to them. So poetry steals out of every thought, such poetry as must have touched his heart. For look at him there, a pilgrim dragging himself on to the Italian gate of the Alps. A young man, 37 or so, but broken in all things save of God. Night is falling as he reaches Ivrea and enters the cathedral. He prays for strength to persevere, for now his heart lifts with an agonising hope. There, up in the valley of Aosta, opens out the fan of snows about the great St. Bernard, from whose heights -  oh, God, if only he can reach them! -  the 19 hills will be visible rolling down to the West and Ireland that he craves for. So he is shaken and exalted by the thousand thoughts, the folly of his adventure, the anguish for home, the phantoms that begin to rise of kinsmen clustering round him at the gates of Cork. "Welcome, welcome back -"  But look! How white he turns! The night grows harder with nipping cold, his blood congeals, his skin tingles and is stung, the nails of the coffin rivetting in - so his mind wandering begins to vision it. He staggers to a gate it is a mile beyond Ivrea on the Aosta Road - the hospice of St. Antonio - they admit him; another rover; pilgrims are frequent, not always to be trusted. He flounders to a bed in the common ward ; neglected, scorned maybe. Vespers ring out. The Brothers are at prayer; the pilgrim gives a little gasp on the floor. Suddenly the mountains topple down, the torrents run living gold, lapis lazuli and silver reef across the peaks, avalanches leap and clash like cymbals. An old feeble fellow stretched near by cries out for help: "That one there - the stranger! He is all on fire!" And the bell clangs the brethren round, and they fall upon their knees, breathless and humbled, till the phosphorescence passes from the face and hair of the departed. Oh, Mary and Joseph! a saint and of noble birth! For look what is here and they searching his coarse pilgrim clothes! A bishop's ring and the scrip from the Pope himself! And the poor man, so holy and good, and he walking and begging his way from Rome! Fling wide your gates, O Cork, and bid his spirit enter. For this Thaddeus of the royal MacCarthys is such a light of humility and faith as must outshine us all !

 D. L. Kelleher, The Glamour of Cork, (Dublin and London, 1919), 18-20.

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Wednesday 12 October 2022

The Old Age of Saint Fiacc of Sletty

October 12 is the feastday of Saint Fiacc of Sletty, a bard converted by Saint Patrick and later made a Bishop. A paper detailing his life can be read at the blog here. Below is a beautiful tribute to the saint in his old age when, despite his advancing years, there was no lessening of his ascetic discipline:

...Fiacc in his old age lived a life of extraordinary austerity. At the beginning of Lent he usually left his monastery unattended, taking with him only five barley loaves, and these strewn with ashes. He forbade any of his monks to follow him, but he was seen to go to the hills to the north-west of Sletty, a wild and solitary district. In one of these, called Drum Coblai, he had a cave which sheltered him. The hill itself has been identified with the Doon of Clophook, which is just seven miles to the north-west of Sletty. Its eastern slope 'which is steep and beetling' rises abruptly to the height of 150 feet; at its base is the cave thirty-six feet deep by twelve in width. Close at hand there was an ancient church and cemetery, doubtless founded there in honour of the saint. Local tradition still remembers him; but as he was not seen coming or going to his church at Sletty, the wise people came to the conclusion that he had an underground passage through the mountains all the way to his own church. The fame of his sanctity and austerities still clings like the mists of morning to the mountain sides of Slieve Margy, where he spent his last and holiest days.

The poet-saint sleeps amid many miracles with kindred dust in his own church of Sletty, within view of the spires of Carlow. An ancient stone cross still standing is said to mark the spot on the right bank of the river where his holy relics rest. He was one of the earliest of our native prelates, he led an austere and humble life, he was deeply attached to the person and to the memory of his beloved master St. Patrick, and his influence has been felt for many ages in all the churches of Leinster. His poetic Life of St. Patrick, to which we have already referred, is beyond doubt an authentic poem; and if so it is the earliest and most authentic of all the Lives of the Saint. In any case it is an invaluable monument of the history, the language, and the learning of the ancient Church of Ireland....

Most Rev. Dr. J. Healy, The Life and Writings of Saint Patrick (Dublin, 1905), 399-400.


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Monday 3 October 2022

The Nativity of Saint Colmán Elo, October 3

On October 3, some of the Irish calendars record the feast of the nativity of Saint Colmán Elo. The marking of the birth of this saint as a separate feast is perhaps a reflection of his importance as a scholar and monastic founder. He lived c.560–611 and the most important work ascribed to his authorship is the ascetical poem the Apgitir chrábaid (the alphabet of piety). Some modern scholars have also suggested that Saint Colmán may have been the author of the hymn in praise of Saint Patrick, traditionally attributed to Secundinus (Sechnall). I have written about this hymn, Audite omnes amantes, and reproduced a translation of it at my blog dedicated to the three patrons here. Interestingly, genealogical sources record that Colmán Elo of the moccu Béognae was a relative of Saint Colum Cille of Iona, who also has the feast of his nativity listed on the calendars at December 7. Indeed, Saint Colmán features in the Life of Columba by Adamnan and left Iona after the death of its founder in 597 to establish his own monastery at Lann Elo, modern Lynally, County Offaly. The primary feast of Saint Colmán Elo is on September 26 and a post on his life can be read at the blog here

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Sunday 2 October 2022

Saint Erc, the Bishop, October 2

On October 2 the Irish calendars list a Saint Erc but without any further details as to when or where he flourished. His name is absent from the Martyrology of Oengus but the Martyrology of Tallaght records Herci episcopi at this date. The later twelfth-century Martyrology of Gorman records his name as does the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal. There are a number of Irish saints named Erc (Earc, Erk, Ercus, Herc), the most well-known of whom is Saint Erc of Slane, an important figure in the hagiography of Saint Patrick. Another is Saint Erc of Alltraighe, who features in the hagiography of Saint Brendan of Clonfert and then there is the Erc recorded in the Life of Saint Seanán as one of three bishops left behind by Seanán on Scattery Island. In addition to these saints known from hagiogaphical sources, there is also Saint Erc of Donaghmore in County Kildare whose feast also falls in the month of October, on the 27th. Pádraig Ó Riain in his Dictionary of Irish Saints suggests that since the Donaghmore saint's feast day is within the octave of the feast of the famous Erc of Slane on November 2, they may well be the same person. Is it significant too that Erc of Slane's feast falls exactly one month to the day after that recorded for Erc the Bishop?  Dean Anthony Cogan on page 61 of the first volume of his diocesan history of Meath noted that 

Colgan says that, in the old calendars, Ercus is treated of on 2nd of October and 2nd of November.
Saint Erc, therefore, provides a very good illustration of the complexities involved in trying to disentangle the feast days and individual careers of Irish saints who share the same name!

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