In the concluding part to his 1907 paper on 'Irish Teachers in the Carolingian Revival of Letters', Bishop William Turner brings together a further selection of interesting Irish scholars active in continental Europe. He deals with the famous John Scotus Eriugena in this section but some of the lesser-known figures are also quite intriguing. Whilst I was aware that the Irish took Latin names, this paper made me aware of how many aliases were also scripturally-based. I had no idea, for example, that there was at least one Irish scholar called Israel. Bishop Turner's writing perhaps shows its age in its ready acceptance of stereotypical imaginative Celts versus stolid Anglo-Saxons, but he has brought many overlooked and neglected figures to our attention here, some of whom I hope to follow up on in future posts.
IRISH TEACHERS IN THE CAROLINGIAN REVIVAL OF LETTERS.
Nocte dieque gemo quia sum peregrinus et egens.
(Poet. Aevi Carol, III, 688.)
At Bobbio, on the Trebia, among the wildest, but most picturesque, of the Ligurian Appenines, Columban had made his monastic home, and there, after all his missionary labors, he found a final resting place. To this shrine of the greatest of Ireland's missionary saints pious scholars from Erin frequently found their way, bent on honoring the relics of their monastic founder. There Cummian, the aged bishop, found a haven of rest (about 750); there, by his piety and devotion, he earned the esteem of Luitprand, king of the Lombards. His epitaph was written by John, whom we judge from the title magister to have been the head of the school at Bobbio. It was to Bobbio that, as we have seen, Dungal, the poet and astronomer, retired from the field of active work as a teacher, and it was to the library of Bobbio that he bequeathed his books, as a gift to St. Columban. Fortunately, we are as well informed about the library of Bobbio as we are about the school of St. Gall. We have a catalogue made in the tenth century showing the titles of the books it contained at that time. In it we find many interesting entries; for example,"Also the books which Dungal, the chief scholar among the Irish, gave to St. Columban ... a book in Latin on the Irish language." As is well known, the Muratorian Fragment, which contains the oldest extant list of the Books of the New Testament, now in the Ambrosian Library, formerly belonged to the library of Bobbio. Finally, students of the history of mathematics will remember that it was while Abbot of Bobbio (982) that Gerbert, afterwards Pope Sylvester II, wrote his work on geometry, making use of the manuscripts which he found in the library of the monastery, especially of the works of the Roman surveyors.
Those Irish teachers must have been dimly conscious of the sublimity of their aims and the magnitude of their mission. For, in all their trials and amid all the clamor of race hatred and professional jealousy they preserved their ideals and were sustained in their devotion to learning. One can see in their writings that, though their mission called them to far distant lands, where their lot was that of an alien and an exile (peregrinus and exul occur very frequently in their descriptions of themselves), their heart yearned for Eire of their birth and the peaceful monastic homes from which they had been driven by the invader. What was said of Columkille might be said of each of his exiled brethren: "In his native land everything was dear to him, its mountains and valleys, its rivers and lakes, the song of its birds, the gentleness of its youth, the wisdom of its aged. He loved to steer his bark round its coast and to see the waves break on its shore. He even envied the driftwood which floated out from the shore of Iona, because it was free to land on the coast of Erin. He thought that death in Ireland was to be preferred to life in any other land, and when an Irishman was leaving Iona, he would say pathetically, "You are returning to the country which you love."
Catholic University Bulletin Vol 13 (1907), 562-581.
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