Friday 14 April 2023

Saint Tassach of Raholp, April 14

St Tassach's Church

April 14 is the feast of Saint Tassach of Raholp, an early saint in the Lecale district of County Down. He features in the hagiography of Saint Patrick where he is credited with bringing the Viaticum to Saint Patrick on his deathbed but is also depicted as Saint Patrick's artisan. In this role as a skilled metalworker Tassach's most famous commission was perhaps the making of 'a case for the staff of Jesus', the most celebrated of Saint Patrick's relics. In 2018 I made a short series of posts on this fascinating relic at my Trias Thaumaturga site and published a summary last month here. Although he has always been firmly associated with the Lecale district of County Down, Saint Tassach later becomes confounded with Saint Assicus, the diocesan patron of Elphin, whose feast also falls this month on April 27th.  I have previously posted Canon O'Hanlon's account of Saint Tassach here but below is a reminder of his career taken from Father James O'Laverty's monumental work on The Diocese of Down and Connor, the final volume of which looks at the Bishops of the diocese:


Tassach,  who  gave  communion  to  St.  Patrick,  immediately before  his  death,  in  Saul,  is  styled  Bishop  of  Rath-Colpa  in the  ancient  documents,  commemorating  that  event. The Hymn  of  St.  Fiech,  Bishop  of  Sletty,  a  contemporary  poet, thus notices it : —

"Tassach  remained  after  him,  when  he  had  given  the  communion to  him.  He  said  that  would  soon  go:  Tassach's word  was  not  false."  Dr.  Whitley  Stokes  translates  the following  ancient  note  on  this  passage,  written  in  the  margin of  the  Franciscan  copy  of  the  Liber  Hymnorum,

Tassach— Patrick's  artisan.  "He  is  the  first  that  made  a  case  for Jesus'  staff *,  and  Raholp,  to  the  east  of  Down,  is  his  church."

St.  Aengus,  in  his  Calendar,  treating  of  the  14th  of  April,
St.  Tassach's  festival,  gives  the  following  stanza: —

The  royal  bishop  Tassach
Gave  when  he  came
The  body  of  Christ,  the  truly strong  King,
By  the  communion  to  Patrick.

On  this  passage,  the  Leabhar  Breacc  enters  the  note: —
Tassach,  to  wit,  in  Raholp,  in  Lecale,  in  Ulster— that  is  Tassach, Patrick's  artisan  and  bishop.     And  this  is  the  festival  of  his  decease.

From  these  ancient  documents  we  see  that  the  glorious privilege  of  having  given  the  Viaticum  to  our  national apostle  forms  the  distinguishing  trait  in  the  notice  of St.  Tassach.  The  Martyrology  of  Donegal  at  the  14th  of April,  says: — "Tassach  of  Raholp,  in  Ulidia  i.e.  Lecale. This  is  the  Tassach  who  gave  the  body  of  Christ  to St.  Patrick  before  his  death  in  the  monastery of Saul."  

In a  sub-denomination  of  the  townland  of  Raholp,  called Banaghan,  or  Banagh,  are  the  ruins  of  the  ancient  church of  Raholp,  locally  called  Church-Moyley.  The  church  was 33  feet  4  inches  in  length  and  21  feet  4  inches  in  width.

Dr.  Reeves  writes  of  it — " The  south  wall  is  overturned; the  east  and  west  walls  are  about  12  feet  high;  the  east window  is  4  feet  6  inches  high  and  10  inches  wide,  splayed inside  to  the  width  of  3  feet  2  inches,  and  ends  not in  an  arch,  but  in  a  large  flag.  In  building  the  walls  yellow clay  has  been  used  instead  of  mortar.  The  plot  of  ground which  the  ruins  and  cemetery  occupy  is  about  half  a  rood  in extent,  and  seems  from  its  elevation  above  surrounding  field to  have  been  a  rath."  Dr.  Todd,  in  the  Obits  and  Martyrology  of  Christ  Church,  surmises  that  Tassach  may  have become  first  bishop  Elphin— "  In  part  II.,  c.  39,  Vit.  Trip. Assicus,  first  Bishop  of  Elphin,  is  called  "faber  aeris  S. Patricii."  One  can  hardly  help  suspecting  that  Assicus  and Thassicus  were  one  and  the  same:  especially  as  the  former is  not  mentioned  in  the  ancient  Martyrology  of  Aengus."

St. Tassach  seems  to  have  been  the  only  bishop  of  Raholp; at  least  our  early  annals  do  not  record  any  succession,  the lands  of  the  ancient  church,  however,  merged  into  the see lands  of  the  diocese  of  Down,  and  even  after  the  change  in religion,  remained  in  possession  of  the  protestant  bishop until  the  disestablishment...

* Baculus  Jesu  was  a  celebrated  crozier,  brought  to  Ireland  by St.  Patrick.  St.  Bernard  mentions  it  in  his  Life  of  St.  Malachy,  as one  of  those  insignia,  which  were  supposed  to  confer  on  the  possessor a  title,  to  be  considered  the  successor  of  St.  Patrick.  It  was  carried off  from  Armagh,  A.D.  1180,  by  the  English,  and  deposited  in  Christ Church,  Dublin,  where  it  remained  to  the  year  1538,  when  Browne, the  first  Protestant  Archbishop,  caused  it  to  be  publicly  burned  by the  common  hangman,  as  an  instrument  of  superstition.

Rev. James O'Laverty, An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, Ancient and Modern, Vol. V (Dublin, 1895), 23-24.

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