Sunday, 31 August 2014

Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne, August 31

August 31 is the feast of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne and below is an account of his life taken from a work by a nineteenth-century Anglican writer on the Bishops of Lindisfarne and other northern sees. The Rev. George Miles is generous in his appreciation of the Irish, at one point describing Ireland as 'one grand seminary'. He is at some pains to contrast the 'Celtic' mission of Aidan with the 'Roman' mission of Augustine, a common theme in works of this era. A point of interest is his quotation from a sermon of Saint Gall, describing the type of preaching undertaken by Irish missionaries. Unfortunately, he does not link to a source for this. A further curiosity is the mention of one of the first Icelandic Christians, who, after a visit to Jerusalem, entered a Russian monastery. Thus for all its romantic tone and dated view of the 'Celtic Church' this is still an account worth reading:


S. AIDAN, a man of saintly, zealous, prudent, and heroic life, was the first and greatest Bishop of Lindisfarne. Little is known of his childhood. A glimpse of his youth or early manhood is found in the Life of S. Columba, which refers to Aidan's reception into the community of Hy (Iona), the mother of Lindisfarne. On a certain Wednesday, we are told, a young man of comely appearance and gentle manners reached the Island of Saints, after a stormy and perilous voyage, and at once sought the presence of Columba, the chief of that little colony of monks, prostrated himself, craved the good man's blessing, and humbly desired to be admitted into the community, and he was duly received.

At Iona a friendship sprang up between Aidan and Oswald, son of Ethelfrid, the late King of Bernicia and Deira, who had been sent by Donald IV., King of the Picts, to whose court he and his brothers fled after the victory of Redwald, King of the South Saxons to be baptised and brought up in the Christian Faith.

Fergna was Abbot of Hy when Oswald arrived, and he placed him under the care of Aidan, who acted as his instructor, not only in faith and morals, but also in secular studies. Aidan soon discovered Oswald's aspirations after the recovery of his kingdom his elder brother, Eanfrid the apostate, had been slain by Cadwallon, and he (Aidan) laboured assiduously to make him a good soldier of Christ, so that if, in God's good providence, he ever attained his hopes and rights he might be serviceable in the propagation of the Faith amongst his subjects.

The time came at length. Oswald, grown to manhood, marched with a small force into Bernicia to meet Cadwallon, the Welsh pagan, who was encamped on the heights overlooking the Tyne in the neighbourhood of Hexham. Oswald had entered Bernicia trusting in the help of God. He received an assurance of this in a dream in which the blessed Columba appeared to him and promised him victory. Oswald on his part made a vow that if he gained his father's throne he would do his utmost for the conversion of the people.

Before the battle a cross was erected on the field, and Oswald called upon his followers to bend their knees, and with one voice beseech the Lord Almighty, the Living and the True, to defend them by His mercy from their fierce and proud enemy, for He knew that they had undertaken a just war. After prayer, as the day dawned, they joined battle with their enemies.

Cadwallon had an immense force, which he boasted to be irresistible. He was at a disadvantage so far as the ground was concerned, whereas Oswald and his small army had chosen a good position, protected on the north and west by steep, rocky banks, and on the south by a barrier left by the Romans. Cadwallon was utterly routed and fled southwards, followed by Oswald's victorious soldiers, who caught him and slew him at Deniseburn (Rowley Burn), a tributary of the Devil's Water.

This important battle (635) was called the Battle of Heavenfelth (Heaven's Field), and in later times the field became a place of devotion. S. Oswald's chapel was built upon the spot where the banner-cross had been erected by the King, and the monks of Hexham used to go on the day before the anniversary of Oswald's death, to spend the night in prayer, and to recite the office with many psalms, "pro salute animae ejus." The next day they offered the holy oblation. The monks of Durham kept his memory green by their processions three times a year, in which they carried a figure of the King in silver gilt, and on one side of their conventual seal was a representation of the King's head.

To return. Oswald, having gained his kingdom, and driven out or subdued the pagans, remembered his vow and sent to his old home, Iona, for missionaries to teach his subjects the Christian Faith. Iona cheerfully responded to his appeal, and sent Gorman, who found the people so stubborn, independent, and indifferent, that he lost heart and returned to Iona in despair.

When Gorman related his failure to the brethren S. Aidan was amongst them, and gently rebuked him:"It seems to me, brother, that you have been harder than was meet with your ignorant hearers, and have not, according to the teaching of the Apostles, offered them first the milk of gentle teaching, till, being gradually nourished by the Divine Word, they had become capable of receiving more perfect instruction, and of fulfilling the higher precepts of God." Aidan's speech decided the future. The brethren knew that he was the best man for the work, and it was quickly agreed that the mission should not be abandoned, but that Aidan should be ordained for the work. Undoubtedly there were many difficulties, yet few missions had better auspices, for the King was ready to help and to further the work by every possible means. A patient, persevering and prudent evangelist, who would not look for immediate results, but be content to sow that others might reap, was needed for the undertaking, and S. Aidan was unquestionably the right man for the work. His discretion, tact, patience, and resoluteness proved that the choice was a wise one. Gorman's retreat, therefore, proved to be a good thing for the Church.

The conduct of the Community of Iona with regard to Gorman is a great contrast with that of S. Gregory with respect to Augustine of Canterbury, who lost heart when he heard of the savage manners of the Saxons, and returned to Rome to be released from his enterprise. The Blessed Gregory was not the man to accept excuses or to send substitutes, for being of noble and heroic spirit himself, he desired his disciples and followers to be the same. Through his firmness the Roman mission to Kent was not abandoned. Still, amongst many who have turned back from arduous duties and perils may be found the names of great and earnest men. S. Mark the Evangelist left S. Paul at Perga in Pamphilia and returned to Jerusalem; Theonus, the last British Bishop (erroneously called Archbishop) of London, lost heart and fled ; Mellitus also fled from London, and Justus from Rochester,believing that it was better to return to their own country,where they could serve God in peace and quietness, rather than remain amongst apostate barbarians ; S. Palladius conducted an apparently un-successful mission to Ireland, was unable to remain in the country, and died on his way back to Rome ; S. Willebrord quitted Heligoland in despair; S. Milles, Bishop of Susa, found the people of the city so incorrigible, and his presence the cause of so much dissension that he left and denounced Divine vengeance upon it; the holy Wigbert left Friesland after working there two years without any prospect of success; Friedrich, a Saxon prelate, after five years' opposition by the Scalds (pagan minstrels) gave up his work in Iceland in despair ; and the great Francis Xavier, thinking it impossible to make converts in India, left the country in disgust. Time would fail to tell of others. Yet men love to dwell upon the work of those who amid many discouragements have toiled on, like James the Deacon, who remained amongst the Northumbrians after Paulinus had hurried away with the Church treasures and Queen Ethelburga and her children into Kent.

To return to S. Aidan. He received a hearty welcome on his arrival in Bernicia from his old friend and pupil, King Oswald. The Bishop began his work in down-right earnest. Close by the King's residence was a small island, which the King gladly assigned to Aidan and his community.

The Celtic monks preferred islands over which, if possible, they had exclusive rights, and large enough to provide them with food for themselves, pasturage for their cattle, and were close to the mainland. Monks became deeply attached to their island homes, and memories fondly clustered around those sacred spots where their golden days were spent. The sons of Iona, of Lindisfarne, of Lerins, and of a thousand other seagirt "cities" tell the same story. To leave them was a severe trial to many, though they bravely responded to the call of duty and the commands of their superiors to start new missions or to undertake special work in the Church, or in their last hours when taking farewell of the brethren. The apostrophe of S. Caesarius to Lerins typically expresses their feelings and emotions:

" happy isle, blessed solitude, in which the majesty of our Redeemer makes every day new conquests and where such victories are won over Satan ! Thrice happy isle, which little as she is produces so numerous an offspring for heaven ! It is she who nourishes all those illustrious monks who are sent into all the provinces as bishops. When they arrive they are children, when they go out they are fathers. She receives them in the condition of recruits, she makes them kings. She teaches all her happy inhabitants to fly towards the sublime heights of Christ upon the wings of humility and charity. That tender and noble mother, that nurse of good men, opened her arms to one love : but while so many others owe heaven to her teaching, the hardness of my heart has prevented her from accomplishing her task in me" (quoted in Montalembert's Monks of the West).

S. Aidan's first work on taking possession of Lindisfarne would be to build a "city," i. e. a monastery. This "city" would most probably be built after the style of Iona, for the Celtic monks were very conservative, and "swore" by Columba and Iona. It may not be out of place to give a short description of a Celtic monastery, which represented a village consisting of huts of wicker-work and clay. The abbot's cell was built on an eminence as a mark of respect. Apart from this were the cells of the brethren, and close by the church with its  "side-house" or sacristy, the refectory, the library ; then guest chambers, and outside the enclosure, cow-byre, mill, granary and outhouses. The ecclesiastical cities were surrounded by ramparts which served as boundary lines, and also for protection against enemies and wild beasts. In this they followed an old custom of surrounding the home of every chieftain's family with a similar defence (cf. Insula SS. et D. p. 94). Harbour provision was also made for craft.

Aidan formed a "school" in his monastery, and received lads to be educated, some of whom he had redeemed from slavery. He was wise and far-seeing in adopting a custom long practised in the Church in different parts of the world. From the days of schools in the provinces, especially by bishops like Anschar, who founded the first Christian school on the barbarian shores of Schleswig in order that he might train Danish lads purchased from the savage population, and Gregory the Great, who is recorded to have directed a priest named Candidus, manager of the papal patrimony in Gaul, to buy English lads of seventeen or eighteen to be educated as missionaries to work amongst their own countrymen. The number of lads in these schools was sometimes restricted to twelve, as at Lindisfarne. It must have been a source of great happiness to the devoted monks to watch the growth and development of spiritual power in their young disciples as it is to watch the opening of some choice bud in the beautiful spring-time. Some of Aidan's scholars became famous in the Church, especially Chad, Cedda, Eata, and Boisil. Heieu received her habit from Aidan.

It is customary to speak of S. Aidan as "the True Apostle of England." If contrasted with Augustine of Canterbury, this may be correct, for the work of the Celtic mission was more enduring, more wide-spreading, than the Roman. But neither S. Augustine nor S. Aidan worked on virgin soil, missionaries preceded them, though the records of their work are meagre, and to some extent fabulous: in Northumbria S. Paulinus and the faithful and courageous James the Deacon; and in Kent the mysterious Luidhard, and wandering Galilean bishops. It was the same in the case of S. Columba others had worked before him in that part of "Scotland," and amongst them S. Ninian, S. Palladius (with his fellow-labourers, S. Ternan and S. Serf), S. Mungo (or Kentigern), and others, many of whom fled to Mona and Albania (the Isle of Man and the southern part of Scotland) during the Diocletian persecution ; but Columba and his monks did the greatest work. In like manner S. Patrick is called the Apostle of Ireland although others laboured there long before his birth.

S. Aidan's work at Lindisfarne would most probably be moulded on the discipline and practice of the mother-house of Iona a round of work, study, and prayer, with frequent journeys to the mainland for the purpose of evangelisation.

A pleasing picture is that of S. Aidan in his white tunic, over which was thrown a rough mantle and hood of wool of the natural colour, preaching to the Northumbrians in the presence of the King who acted as interpreter a good picture for an artist "Church and State." The Venerable Bede tells us that

"The King listened gladly and humbly to the admonitions of the Bishop in all things, and with great diligence took measures for building up and extending the Church of Christ in his kingdom ; and the fair sight might often be seen of the prelate, who had but an imperfect knowledge of English, preaching in his own tongue, and the King, who in his long exile had perfectly learned the language of the Scots, explaining the heavenly Word to his officers and servants. Thenceforward every day numbers of the Scots began to come into Britain, and to preach the word of faith with great devotion, and, as many as were graced with the priestly function, to minister the grace of baptism in the provinces over which King Oswald ruled. Churches were everywhere built, and multitudes gladly flocked to hear the word : endowments were granted by the munificence of the King ; and the children of the English, along with their elders, were instructed by their Scottish teachers in the precepts and observances of monastic discipline."

The story of King Oswald and Aidan in this work has a parallel in the life of one of the first of Icelandic Christians, Thorwald Kodransson, who after travelling in Saxony and making friends with the Bishop, Friedrich, was baptised by him ; and whom he persuaded to return to Iceland in order to preach to his people. The Bishop preached in German, and Thorwald turned all his words into Icelandic. Their labours, however, were not very successful, and the Bishop, like Gorman, Aidan's predecessor, returned home dispirited, and Thorwald, after making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, entered a Russian monastery, where he died.

When Aidan had mastered the language, to which he was at first a stranger, he visited the houses and hamlets on the mainland, teaching the people the truths of religion. Some idea of the teaching of the Irish clergy in these early times may be gathered from a sermon of S. Gall, still extant:

" He set forth before his hearers the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the expulsion of our first parents from Paradise, adding many exhortations to seek a heavenly inheritance. He recounted the righteousness of Noah, the faith of Abraham, the examples of the patriarchs, and the miracles of Moses, applying them all with a view to the welfare of souls. He drew a comparison between the fortitude of kings and that of the champions of Christian warfare who, clothed in the armour of Christ, wage an unceasing contest with vice. He showed how the visions of the prophets were applied by them to the correction of morals and the confirming of faith. Passing on to the mysteries of the Old Testament he came to the joyful tidings of the mercy of Christ, his language rising in sublimity as he felt the greatness of his theme. As he then descanted on the miracles of the Gospel and the mysteries of the Passion and Resurrection, his glowing eloquence overcame his hearers ; they burst into tears, and an eager longing for heaven filled their hearts."

Although S. Aidan failed not in his duty towards the King and his people he was always ready to serve them he loved retirement and solitude. A frequent guest at court and a staunch friend of the King, yet he knew that retirement was more suitable to progress in the spiritual life. Like S. Columbanus, who had a loving friend in Clotaire, with whom he sometimes resided amid the pomp of the Merovingian palace, he loved solitude best. Aidan, after dining at court, would hasten back to study and prayer. In these duties Aidan was most systematic. At times he would separate himself altogether from his brethren and visit Fame island, about two miles from the royal city of Bamburgh, a spot more especially associated with the names of SS. Cuthbert, Felgeld, Bartholomew, Elwin, and other anchorites, for devotional exercises.

The proximity of Lindisfarne to Bamburgh, the frequent visits of the brethren to the court and their influence with the King, were important and advantageous in Church work generally. The Druids had for long resided at the residences of kings, and exercised great power in national affairs. They "taught the youth astronomy, and much about the nature of things and the immortal gods." Why should not Christian priests supplant them? and having obtained the favour and support of princes, convert them? It is remarkable that the recorded "collisions" between Druidism and Christianity are very few. The Christians at times displayed great tact in dealing with the Druids, for instead of totally demolishing their " sacred " places they pursued the far more prudent course of taking possession of them. This practice had been recommended by many wise and prudent Churchmen. S. Gregory directed the attention of Augustine of Canterbury to the same principle with respect to the temples of the Roman deities which had been most successful in the city of Rome itself.

Another advantage of being connected with the court was the influence to be gained over the people. The Irish monks generally endeavoured to convert the clan or sept through the example of the chief. The conversion of Ireland and the growth of monasticism was due in a great measure to the reorganisation of the clan or sept on a religious footing ("Ireland," Story of the Nations, 39-41). The same course seems to have been adopted by pagan missionaries. The Mahometans also tried to convert princes before the people. The Bulgarian Mahometans were the first to send ambassadors to Vladimir with the offer of their Faith (Muravieff, Hist. Russian Ch. p. 11).

S. Aidan was " fruitful in good works." His whole life was a sweet oblation to God. His disciples and biographers have loved to dwell upon his loving deeds and wise words. God was glorified in His saint. " It was the highest commendation of his doctrine," says Bede (Eccl. Hist. iii. 5), "with all men, that he taught no otherwise than he and his followers had lived ; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately among the poor whatsoever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world. He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback unless compelled by some urgent necessity ; and wherever in his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if infidels, to embrace the mystery of the Faith ; or if they were believers to strengthen them in the Faith, and to stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works. His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times, that all those who bore him company, whether they were shorn monks or laymen, were employed in meditation, that is, either in reading the Scriptures or learning psalms. This was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him wheresoever they went ; and if it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to eat with the King, he went with one or two clerks, and having taken a small repast, made haste to be gone with them, either to read or write. At that time many religious men and women, stirred up by his example, adopted the custom of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays till the ninth hour throughout the year, except during the fifty days after Easter. He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, but only meat, if he happened to entertain them ; and, on the contrary, whatsoever gifts of money he received from the rich, he either distributed them, as has been said, to the use of the poor, or bestowed them in ransoming such as had been wrongfully sold for slaves. Moreover he afterwards made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and after having taught and instructed them, advanced them to the order of priesthood."

Bede also gives a portrait of the people after their conversion :

" Whenever a clergyman or monk came, he was received by all with joy as a servant of God ; and when any one was travelling on his way they would run up to him and bowing down would be glad to be signed by his hand or blessed by his prayer. They gave diligent attention to the words of exhortation which they heard from him, and on Sundays flocked with great eagerness to the churches or monasteries to hear the Word of God. If any priest happened to come into a village, the inhabitants presently gathering together were solicitous to hear from him the words of life ; nor did the priests or other ecclesiastics frequent the villages on any other account than to preach, visit the sick, and take care of souls ; and so free were they from any degree of the bane of avarice, that no one would receive lands or possessions for building monasteries unless compelled to it by the secular power" (Bede, E. H. iii. c. 26).

King Oswald caught the spirit of S. Aidan, and his faith was demonstrated in good works. On a certain Easter Day, when a rich repast was set before the King, and which had just been blessed by Aidan, his almoner announced a crowd of beggars from all parts who were asking alms. Oswald immediately commanded them to carry out to the poor the meat that had been set before him, and cut in pieces the silver dish and divide it among them. Aidan seized the King's hand with joy, and exclaimed, "May this hand never grow old!" Nor did it see corruption, for after being severed from his body by his cruel vanquisher, it was placed in a silver shrine in the church at Bamburgh. This right hand of Oswald was known to the Celts as "Oswald Fairhand" (Llanguryn, or Lamngwyn = Whitehand), because it had been specially blessed by Bishop Aidan.

There is a similar story told in the Life of S. Benedict respecting a hermit at Sublacus on the feast of Easter, 427. Nor is it improbable that the practice of the Emperor Constantine the Great as regards Easter Day was known to Oswald and to Aidan. Indeed, as one reads of the planting of Oswald's Cross at Heavenfield, of his vow, and his princely chanties, the thought of Constantine is frequently suggested. There is another link, for the first reputed Christian Emperor was born and saluted as imperator at York (Eboracum), the land over which Oswald then ruled.

Celtic zeal generally displayed itself in the building of churches and monasteries as centres of religious teaching and evangelisation. S. Aidan was not a whit behind others. Besides Lindisfarne other houses owe their origin or foundation to S. Aidan and his monks, amongst them being Coldingham, Melrose, Gateshead, and Hartlepool.

Whilst Aidan and his community were gaining converts in Bernicia, other men reared on the same holy ground, with the same examples of zeal and holiness, were working in other parts. Ireland was spreading light in many dark places. Her missionaries were to be found not only near " home," but over the seas amongst the Swiss, the Burgundians, the Italians, the Franconians, and the Frieslanders. Ireland was one grand seminary, and sent forth hundreds of fervent and zealous men to plant the Cross in heathen lands. A holy emulation existed amongst her sons for this grand work. They were earnest, self-sacrificing, and dreaded not the perils of unknown lands. They penetrated where Caesar's legions had not. Although the pages of history unfold a long roll of these illustrious, self-sacrificing heralds of the Cross, glisten with their noble deeds, and glow with their heroic charity, hundreds of these spiritual heroes have no earthly record, their names will be found in the Book of Life !

To return to King Oswald. During a visit to the Court of Cynegils, King of Wessex, for the purpose of asking the hand of his daughter in marriage, he, together with Bishop Birinus, led him to the laver of Regeneration.

Oswald reigned only eight years. The old enemy of the Northumbrians, the heathen Penda, an ally of Cadwallon, who had lost territory during Oswald's reign, determined to strike for its recovery, and he was successful. Oswald, the Bretwalda, was overcome and slain at Maserfield, August 5, 642, in the thirty-eighth year of his age. Thus died the wise and sagacious king fighting for God and country truly king and martyr. As he had lived a life of prayer and communion with God, so at his death, for then he prayed for his soldiers who fell in battle with him : " God be merciful to the souls of those who are giving up their lives around me."

The savage Penda caused the head and arms of Oswald to be cut off and fixed upon stakes. The body and dismembered parts were afterwards recovered and reverently cared for. In S. Peter's Church in Bamburgh they found a temporary resting-place ; subsequently the trunk was removed to Bardney by Oswald's niece, Osthryd ; the head was removed to Lindisfarne, and later it was placed in S. Cuthbert's coffin ; the right hand was stolen from the silver reliquary at Bamburgh and taken to Peterborough ; Colman also carried some into Ireland when he left Lindisfarne. Miracles are said to have been performed on the spot where Oswald fell whilst the stakes and splinters of them were reputed to possess virtuous powers.

Great indeed must have been Aldan's sorrow when he heard that his friend and benefactor had been slain and his body so outraged.

Oswald's brother, Oswy, succeeded to the throne of Bernicia. He had been a refugee amongst the Picts and had also been cared for by the brethren of Iona. He was a man of humble and pious manners, and showed every kindness to Aidan and his community. Moreover he was zealous in the propagation of the Faith, though in later days his life was marred by the great crime below mentioned. Penda, who had slain at least five Christian kings, marched into Bernicia against Oswy, and attempted to destroy Batnburgh. Having demolished the wooden buildings in the vicinity of the royal fortress he piled planks, reeds, and such combustible material against the gates of the castle and set them on fire. S. Aidan beheld the smoke and flames from Fame, and prayed that Penda's efforts might be futile "Behold, Lord, how great mischief Penda does!" then the wind changed, and drove back the flames upon those who kindled them, some of whom were hurt and the rest so frightened that they abandoned their attempt, and soon afterwards retired south.

In Oswy's reign Bernicia was separated from Deira which was ruled by Oswin, the son of Osric. The two princes lived amiably and peaceably for some time, but disputes arising they prepared for war. As Oswy's army far outnumbered Oswin's he resolved to disband his men and await a more favourable time. With only one attendant (Tondhere) he retired to Ingetlingum (Gilling) near Richmond, and dwelt with the treacherous Hunwald, who betrayed him and his faithful attendant. Both were murdered by Ethelwin, Oswy's steward, acting under his master's orders, August 20, 651.

S. Aidan survived the death of King Oswin only twelve days. The blessed bishop was staying at the King's country house near Bamburgh, and was so suddenly seized with an attack of sickness that a tent had to be hastily stretched against the western wall of the little timber church. With his head leaning upon a log which formed one of the buttresses he fell asleep, August 31, 651.

This event was made known to Cuthbert afterwards to be monk of Melrose, and in later times a successor of S. Aidan in a vision, when he was a shepherd on the Lammermuir hills. Whilst others were sleeping Cuthbert was watching and praying. He beheld a bright light, and a company of angels bearing a spirit of surpassing brightness. He awoke his companions, and told them what he had seen. Next morning it was found that the beloved Aidan had passed from the scene of his arduous labours into the paradise of God there to learn more of His Love, to increase in holiness, to intercede for the Church on earth, and especially for the mission at Lindisfarne.

The body of S. Aidan was temporarily buried in the cemetery at Lindisfarne, but was afterwards translated to the new church of S. Peter at Bamburgh.

Dr. Johnson, when beholding the ruins of Iona, the mother of Lindisfarne, and probably thinking of the last words of the Founder (S. Columba), to the effect that Iona would be held in honour far and near, exclaimed : " Illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, when savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion. . . . That man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force on the plains of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer amid the ruins of Iona ! " May not these words be repeated when gazing upon the ruins of Lindisfarne ? Oh to God that someone would come forward and rebuild them, that once again they may send forth labourers, filled with the holy enthusiasm of S. Aidan, into the wide mission field !

Rev. George Miles, The Bishops of Lindisfarne, Hexham, Chester-le-Street and Durham, A.D. 635 - 1020- Being an Introduction to the Ecclesiastical History of Northumbria (London, 1898), 13-36.

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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Saint Cronan of Cluain-an-dobhair, August 30

On August 30 the earliest of the surviving Irish calendars, the Martyrology of Tallaght, commemorates a County Offaly saint, Cronan of Cluain-an-dobhair. No other details of the saint or the locality where he flourished seem to have survived. Canon O'Hanlon, following the authority of the Ordnance Survey scholar John O'Donovan, believes that he should be located in County Offaly, or King's County as it was known before Irish independence:

St. Cronan of Cluain-an-dobhair, King's County.

It is recorded in the published Martyrology of Tallagh, that at the 30th of August, veneration was given to Cronan, of Cluain-an-dobhair, or as it is written, Cluana andobhair. In that copy contained in the Book of Leinster, the entry is nearly similar. Cluain-an-dobhair, or Cluain-in-dibhair, is situated somewhere in the present King's County, says that eminent Irish topographer, Dr. John O'Donovan; but, it has not yet been identified. It may be, that the topographical designation has now become obsolete; or, if not, it should probably be sought for in the neighbourhood of Birr. The festival of this saint is entered, likewise, in the Martyrology of Donegal, as that of Cronan, Cluana an dobair. His humble grave bears no monument, but he requires no memorials beyond those which exist in survival lessons he taught to bring many others to be wise unto salvation.

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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Saint Auxilius of Killashee, August 27

August 27 is one of the feastdays ascribed to Auxilius, one of a trio of bishops who is said, along with Secundinus and Isserninus, to have assisted the mission of Saint Patrick to Ireland. Canon O'Hanlon's generation accepted the basic historicity of the various Lives of Saint Patrick and of the elaborate family tree which the hagiographers constructed for our national apostle. Modern scholars, however, cast a much more critical eye over the entire gamut of Patrician studies, some would argue that the memory of these three bishops was taken from the Acts of his predecessor, Palladius. In the later Patrician hagiography Auxilius is depicted as Patrick's nephew, son of his sister Liemania and her husband Restitutus the Lombard. He is associated with a church in County Kildare at Killashee but is also claimed to have a link with a County Donegal church. The 17th-century Martyrology of Donegal records his feast at August 27, but the earliest of the Irish calendars, the Martyrology of Tallaght records two separate feastdays of saint Auxilius, one at 19 March and one at 16 September. Although Canon O'Hanlon believes that today's date represents the true natalis of Saint Auxilius and has an account of him as his lead article for this day, I have chosen to reprint the account by one of his clerical contemporaries, the Rev. Francis Shearman. Father Shearman produced a detailed compendium of the places associated with Saint Patrick, the Loca Patriciana, and usefully summarizes the main details from the traditions associated with Auxilius of Killashee:

AUXILIUS, the son of Restitutus the Lombard and Liemania, the sister of St. Patrick, was with the future apostle of Ireland at Ebmoria, or Ivrea, in Lombardy, when Augustine and Benedict came there on their way to Rome, with intelligence of the decease of Palladius in North Britain, and of his unsuccessful essay in Ireland. When St. Patrick heard this unexpected turn of events, he and his companions went out of their way to a man of wondrous sanctity, a chief bishop named Amator, dwelling in a neighbouring place, and by him St. Patrick was consecrated a bishop, "Lib. Arm.", fol.2, a, b. Another account, "Tr. Th.", p.9, states that this consecration took place in the presence of the Emperor Theodosius and Pope Celestine; on that same occasion Auxilius was ordained a priest, and Isserninus, who was also in the company, received Holy Orders, and was subsequently raised to the the priesthood (Vita 4ta, "Tr. Th.," cap. 31, p.39). They did not come immediately with St. Patrick to Ireland; their arrival in 438 is recorded in the "Chronicon Scottorum". The Annals of Innisfallen record "Secundinus Auxilius et Esserninus mittuntur in auxilium Patricii; nec tamen tenuerunt apostolatum nisi solus Patricius." As Isserninus was sent to Ireland by St. Germanus, Auxilius came also, it may be supposed, through the same agency, both being probably inder his care and instruction. Some years after the arrival of Auxilius, on the occasion of the conversion of the family of Dunlang, king of North Leinster, and the baptism of his sons, Auxilius was consecrated a bishop, and placed over a church near Naas, called from him Cill Ausaille, "Ecclesia Auxilii" in Magh Liffé, and now corruptly Killosy, pronounced "Killóshee". The Scholiast on the "Martyrology of Tamlaght", at March 19, thus writes: "Decimo quarto Calendas Aprilis Auxilinus Episcopus et Coepiscopus, et frater Patricii Episcopi; vel Auxilius nomen ejus. Patricius dixit; Auxilium nomen tuum apud nos; ordinatus es meus Comorbanus et amicus, filius sororis et Episcopus et spiritualis Pter. Septem filii Restituti de Longobardis, Secundinus Nectanus Dabonna, Mogornanus Dariochus Auxilius et Lugnath." The address of St. Patrick to his suffragan on the occasion of his consecration is perhaps the most valuable part of this record, as it tallies with what has been said of him in the "Annals of Innisfallen"... St. Auxilius was also connected with a church in Tir Conail in Ulster; its name was Cill O-m-Bard, and the compilers of the "Martyrology of Donegal", p.447, identify this church with him. He died, according to the "Annals of Ulster", in 460. The "Four Masters" and the "Annals of Clonmacnoise" refer that event to 454. Archbishop Ussher adopts the former date.

The natale of Auxilius is also a matter of uncertainty. The "Martyrology of Donegal" gives it at August 27, that of Tamlaght at March 19, and again at July 30; the former has "Cobuir, son of Goll," and Marianus O'Gorman "Cobair Mac Guill german", which a marginal note in the Brussels MSS. of the "Martyrology of Donegal" thus explains: "Cobair, son of Goll, a German". Cobair, as there suggested, is the Celtic for Auxilium, help or aid; Goll or Guill may be an equivalent for Gaul, the country of Restitutus; and German evidently refers to Morgornan, or Gorman his son, who became the first bishop of the Isle of Man. There are extant "Acts" of a synod held by Patrick and his bishops Auxilius and Isserninus; but as to their being genuine documents of this period, there is much controversy. The church of St. Auxilius us now a parish church in the diocese of Kildare; it became a celebrated monastic institution in subsequent ages, and the native annals make frequent records of its abbots, and its devastation both by the Irish as well as by the Danes.

Rev. J. F. Shearman, Loca Patriciana - An Identification of Localities, Chiefly in Leinster, visited by Saint Patrick and his Assistant Missionaries (Dublin, 1879), 145-146.

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Saint Comgall Ua Sarain, August 26

Another saint shrouded in obscurity is commemorated on August 26. Canon O'Hanlon is able only to recount the recording of the name of Saint Comgall Ua Sarain at this date:

St. Comgall Ua Sarain.

The Book of Leinster and the published Martyrologies of Tallagh record a festival in honour of Comgall U. Sarain, at the 26th of August. His place and period are unknown. At the same date, in the Martyrology of Donegal, is the entry of Comhgall Ua Sarain.

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Monday, 25 August 2014

Saint Broccan of Maighin, August 25

August 25 is the feast of a saint Brocccan, commemorated in the earliest calendar, The Martyrology of Tallaght. He is one of the many saints of whom no other details can be found, although Canon O'Hanlon attempts to locate the placename associated with his calendar entry, which appears with two variants in different manuscripts of the Martyrology, with north County Mayo:

St. Broccan of Maighin, or Brogan of Iomdan.

St. Brocan of Maighin occurs in the published Martyrology of Tallagh, as having a festival on this day. Somewhat divergent is the entry of his festival, on the viii. of the September Kalends, in that copy contained in the Book of Leinster. The form of name Maighin or Moyne is very common in Irish topographical designations; and it is often compounded with other terms. The present Maighin is probably identical with Moyne, near the mouth of the River Moy, and in the northern part of Mayo County. The name Brogan of Iomdan is set down in the Martyrology of Donegal as having been venerated at the 25th of August.

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Sunday, 24 August 2014

Saint Abban, August 24

The earliest of the Irish calendars, the Martyrology of Tallaght, records the commemoration of  Saint Abban on August 24. There are at least two other saints of this name, one with a feastday on March 16 is said to be the nephew of the pre-Patrician saint, Ibar. Whether the entry in the Martyrology of Tallaght is a secondary feast of this Abban or refers to an entirely different individual is unknown. Canon O'Hanlon is unable to make much in the way of comment:

St. Abban.

A festival in honor of Abban, is met with in the published Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 24th of August. The same entry is to be found in the Book of Leinster copy.

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Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Seven Bishops of Aelmagh, August 23

August 23 is the commemoration of a group of bishops on the earliest of the surviving Irish calendars, the Martyrology of Tallaght. It is one of a number of entries which group individuals in this way, in his account below Canon O'Hanlon believes it reflects the use of sacred numbers in a Christian context. We do not know much about these particular bishops, Canon O'Hanlon wonders if they are also mentioned in the Litany of Aengus which can be read on the blog here.

The Seven Bishops of Aelmhagh, i.e. at Donihnachmor, probably in the County of Leitrim.

The mystic number seven marked some of the most important events and regulations among the Jews. Thus, the seventh day was the Sabbath; the seventh year was the sabbath of the land, in which the people were commanded not to sow the land, nor to prune the vineyards. And again, when seven weeks of years—(i.e. forty-nine years)—were past, the people were ordered to hold the jubilee on the fiftieth year, when "remission was to be proclaimed to all the inhabitants of the land." But, it is needless to multiply examples from the Old Testament, where the word occurs nearly one hundred times, as a sacred and peculiar mode of enumeration. So are we struck with the use of the word seven, in our old Litanies and Calendars. It is entered in the published Martyrology of Tallagh, that veneration was given at the 23rd of August, to Sect— Septem—nesp. Domnaighmoir, Elmaighi. Somewhat differently is this entered in the Book of Leinster copy of the Martyrology, at the same date. This place, or its equivalent, Aelmhagh, signifying "Plain of the Lime," was in Calraighe; but, we are not told, in which of the many districts thus called in Ireland it had been situated. There were several tribes called Calraidhe or Calry, and so noticed as being descended from Lewy Cal. The names of the places so called serve to perpetuate the memory of those clans. Thus, one of them settled in the ancient Tenia, and the denomination is locally preserved in Slievegolry, near Ardagh, in the County of Longford. Moreover, Calry, in the County of Sligo, and it is thought Calary in Wicklow, still preserve the names of those tribes. Although in the notice of Aelmhagh, at A.M. 3790, Dr. O'Donovan does not attempt to identify Aelmhagh, in Calraighe; yet, when he meets an account of the Calraighe of Aelmhagh, at A.D. 781, he says, this Sept was probably one, otherwise called Calraighe-an-Chala, and seated in the barony of Clonlonan, in the County of Westmeath.

Under the heading of Domhnach-mor-Aolmaighe, Duald Mac Firbis records the seven bishops of Domhnach-mor-Aolmaighe, at August, 23rd. In that old Irish Litany, ascribed to St. Aengus, there is an invocation of the seven bishops of Domnach Calliraigi—most probably referring to those of Aelmaighe, although the latter denomination has not been introduced. The history of those bishops we are unable to unfold; nor is it possible for us to state when they lived, or if all had been contemporaries. It seems most probable, however, that they were commemorated, as having passed out of this world, in successive periods, and as having been buried subsequently in the place which has been mentioned. We are assured by Duald Mac Firbis, and by his learned Irish topographical commentator, that Domhnach-mor-Aelmhagh or Aolmaighe is in Breifne-O'Ruiarc; and consequently, that it is now known as Donaghmore, in the barony of Dromahire, and County of Leitrim. We find recorded, likewise, in the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same date, The Seven Bishops, of Aelmhagh, i.e., at Domhnach-mor.

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Saint Beoghna of Bangor, August 22


On August 22  we commemorate an Abbot of Bangor, Beoghna, whose repose is recorded in the Irish annals in the early seventh century. The Annals allow us to reconstruct the list of succession of the abbots of Bangor, and they place Beoghna as the immediate successor to this County Down monastery's founder, the great Saint Comgall. This is further borne out by a hymn entitled "Commemoration of our Abbots" in the Bangor Antiphonary which lauds the first fifteen of Bangor's abbots, and here the name of Beogna immediately follows that of Saint Comgall:

The holy, valiant deeds
Of sacred Fathers,
Based on the matchless
Church of Benchor;
The noble deeds of abbots
Their number, times, and names,
Of never-ending lustre,
Hear, brothers; great their deserts,
Whom the Lord hath gathered
To the mansions of his heavenly kingdom.
Christ loved Comgill,
Well too did he, the Lord;
He held Beogna dear;

The evidence from the Annals, however, suggests that our saint did not enjoy a long rule as Saint Comgall's successor, as Canon O'Hanlon explains:

St. Beoghna, Abbot of Bangor, County of Down.
[Sixth and Seventh Centuries.]

Doubtless where he had so long, as student, priest, and high official, discharged his duties with honour to himself and with benefit to all who came within the sphere of his influence, the memory of this holy abbot must have been held in benediction. In a misplaced manner, the published Martyrology of Tallagh enters this saint, as Beogaes, Abb. Bennchoir. Another entry is evidently allowed to intervene, between the first and the last of these denominations. In that copy contained in the Book of Leinster, his name and that of his father are given. The name of the latter, according to that record was Daigre. His record and feast are set down by Marianus O'Gorman, at the 22nd of August. The present holy man was born, probably in the early half of the sixth century. It seems quite likely, that his religious profession must have been made under St. Comgall, the first founder of Bangor, and who was called away from this life, on the 10th of May, A.D. 601. Soon after his decease, it would appear, that St. Beoghna was elected to succeed him. However, he did not long survive his illustrious predecessor. The age of Christ, when the holy man resigned his spirit to heaven, was 605, according to the Annals of the Four Masters. At this date of August 22nd, in the Martyrology of Donegal, we likewise find a festival recorded, in honour of Beoghna, Abbot of Bennchor, after Comhgall. In that carefully compiled Calendar, referring to the Diocese of Down, Connor, and Dromore, his feast has been registered for this day.

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Saint Celba of Kilbeg, August 21

Last year on August 21 we looked at the commemoration of Saint Senach, a bishop associated with the famous monastery of Clonard in County Meath. We are staying in the royal county to look at another saint also commemorated today on the Irish calendars, Celba or Caelbadh. Canon O'Hanlon summarizes the little that is known of him:

St. Celba, or Caelbadh, of Cill-Caelbadh, probably Kilbeg or Kilmainhambeg, County of Meath.

The published Martyrology of Tallagh, registers Celba, at the 21st of August. In that copy, contained in the Book of Leinster, this name is united with that of another saint, at the present date. From the following account of his locality, lying on the north side of Ceananus, now Kells, in the County of Meath, it may be possible to identify his church. The Martyrology of Donegal mentions Caelbadh, of Cill Caelbaidh, on the north side of Ceananus, as having been venerated, at this same date. Kilbeg or Kilmainham-beg,a parish in the barony of Lower Kells, and in the County of Meath, seems to be the most probable identification for the site of this saint's former church. It appears also to have given name to that place.

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Saint Enan of Drumrath, August 19

August 19 is the commemoration of Saint Enan of Drumrath.  Canon O'Hanlon's account below presents this County Westmeath holy man as a friend to Saint Áed Mac Bricc of Killaire, an associate of Saint Brigid who exercised his famed prowess at curing headaches on her. The friendship between Saints Áed and Enan is understandable since both were neighbours.  It seems that Saint Enan also had a second feast day on September 18:

St. Enan, Patron of Drumrath, County of Westmeath.
[Sixth Century.]

The present holy servant of God flourished so early as the sixth century. In the “Feilire" of St. Oengus, the festival for Enan of Droma Raithne is to be found entered, at the 19th of August. In a comment, we find an explanation, that Droma Raithne is the same as Druim Fota Talman, in the West of Meath, while he is said to have been Enan, son of Ernin, son of Cael, son of Aed, son of Artchorp, son of Niacorp. The published Martyrology of Tallagh registers a festival in honour of Enan, of Druimraithe, in Westmeath. A similar entry is to be found in the copy of that Martyrology contained in the Book of Leinster, at the xiv. of the September kalends. At the 19th of August, the Martyrology of Donegal also enters the festival for St. Enan of Druimrath. Postfixed to this Martyrology, there is a similar entry, in which the Martyrologium Genealogicum is quoted as authority, by the compiler of an alphabetical table. But, in a note, added by Dr. Todd to such statement, he says, in the copy of that treatise, as found in the Book of Lecan, there is nothing concerning Enan of Druimraithe, in Westmeath. Our saint is called Henan, in the Life of St. Aidus, of Killare, and there are different readings, for the name of this hermit, in the Codex Insulensis, and in the Salamancan Manuscript. The Bollandists allude merely to the present St. Henan or Enan, at the 19th of August; promising if further information were to be procured, that allusion should more fully be made to him, at the 18th of September, when, according to some Irish Calendars, he had another festival. It is stated, that he belonged to the race of Eochaidh Finnfua-thairt, from whom Brigid descends. If so, he was son of Ernin, son to Calius, son of Aid, son to Sanius, son of Arturus Corb. We are informed from other sources, how this saint lived the life of a hermit, and at a place, called Drumrath. Here he was visited by St. Aidus, or Aedh, surnamed MacBricc, a remarkable and holy prelate of the ancient Irish Church. He resided at Killare, or Killair, now a village, not far from the celebrated Hill of Uisneach, and supposed by Camden to have been the ancient Laberus, noted by Ptolemy.

The place in which St. Enan or Henan dwelt is now known as Drumrath, or Drumraney. The Irish denomination of this locality means in English, the Ridge-Rath. It belonged to the Meath diocese, and it is situated in that part of Westmeath, formerly called Cuircne. According to Archdall's statement, the place of this saint is identical with Drumraney, which lies about six miles north-eastwards from Athlone, in the Barony of Kilkenny West, County of Westmeath. Others locate it, in the adjoining barony, called Brawney. From Killare to Drumrath or Drumrany, the distance is not very considerable; and, from all we can learn, it is extremely probable, that a holy friendship and an intercourse had been kept up by St. Aid with his neighbour, St. Enan. Moreover, it seems not unlikely, that our saint had a small community under his charge, at the latter place. We are told, there is a holy well in this parish, near the churchyard, which is extensive. This well had been dedicated to St. Enan. When St. Aidus, Bishop of Killare, paid a visit to our saint, at Druimrath, he had nothing for the prelate's refreshment but herbs and water. Seeing this condition of affairs, Aidus smiled, and said to the servant of Enan, “Go, brother, and bring us more palatable food." Returning to a place indicated, the servant found it filled with all varieties of meat. On seeing and hearing these events, those who were present, at that time, cried out,"Wonderful is the Lord in His Saints." Our national Hagiologist [i.e. Colgan] informs us, that the entertainer of St. Aidus was no other than the present St. Enan, also called Henan. It seems probable, that St. Aedh, surnamed Mac Bric, lived at Rahugh or Rathugh, a parish in the barony of Moycashel, and County of Westmeath, at that time; or he may have lived at Killare, in the barony of Rathconrath, in the same county. A famous monastery existed at Drumrath, when the ancient biographer of St. Aidus wrote, and it was built in honour of our saint; but, Archdall had no authority for assigning its erection, to the year 588. A monastery is said to have been founded here in honour of St. Enan, and sometime in the sixth century.

In the Irish Annals, there is an account regarding the death of an Abbot of Druim-ratha; and, he flourished in the eighth century. But, as there was another Druim-ratha, in the district of Legny, in the province of Connaught, it cannot be asserted positively, that the individual noticed belonged to Drumrath, in Westmeath. We are told, that the festival of St. Enan used to be celebrated at Drumrany, on the Sunday after the 18th of September. Nevertheless, according to St. Oengus and Marianus O'Gorman, our saint's festival was celebrated at Drumrath, on the 19th of August; although the same St. Oengus and the Tallagh Martyrology state, that his natal day was kept, on the 18th of September. There is no mention of our saint, however, at this latter day, in the copy of the Irish Calendar, formerly belonging to the Ordnance Survey Office, Phoenix Park, and now deposited in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy. However, the patron saint of Drumrany is said to have been St. Winoc, whose memory was celebrated there, on the 18th September. His day fell on that date, and his pattern was held on the Sunday following. His well is called Tober-Enain, and it lay in the townland of Drumrany, near the old church. It was "smothered up," according to the phraseology of the country people, about the year 1817. The Oratory of Drumraithe was burned by the Ostmen, about the middle of the tenth century; while seven score and ten persons perished in it.This happened in the year 943; when, as the Annals of Clonmacnoise state, the Danes brought a great prey from Dromrahie. The churchyard solely remains, and now undistinguished by monastic ruins; however, the memory of St. Enan, even after such a lapse of time, is still reverenced by the faithful inhabitants of that vicinity.

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Saint Ernan of Tory Island, August 17

August 17 is the feast of Saint Ernan, patron of Tory Island, County Donegal. As is so often the case, we have very little information on the actual life of the saint, so in his account below Canon O'Hanlon describes Saint Ernan's island home and the peculiarities of its local customs. He mentions the researches of a contemporary antiquarian, Edmund Getty, for a direct link to his paper on Tory in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, click hereSaint Ernan shares his name with at least two dozen others and so it is possible that he may also appear in some other sources, although not specifically identified.  One source which does name Saint Ernan is the sixteenth-century vernacular Life of Saint Colum Cille by Manus O'Donnell. Section 111 describes a visit to Tory Island by the great Donegal saint and concludes with the appointment of Ernan as his successor:
Then Colum cille blessed the island and built a noble church there, and left a good church there, and left a good cleric of his household to succeed him in that place, to wit, Ernan of Tory.
A. O'Kelleher and G. Schoepperle, eds. and trans., Betha Coluimb Chille (Illinois, 1918), p. 105.




St. Ernan, of Torach, now Tory Island, County of Donegal.

A festival to honour Ernan is inserted in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 17th of August. He is called the son of Colman, in the Sanctilogium Genealogicum. According to the O'Clerys, he sprung from the race of Eoghan, son to Niall. From Eoghan he was the fifth in regular descent. He was born, most probably, in the beginning of the sixth century, and in the northern part of Ireland. He became a disciple of St. Columkille. Isolated, as Tory lies out in the ocean, it seems to have a history, and dating from a remote period. In the beginning of the sixth century, it was occupied by the pagans, and it belonged to a chief, named Alild. This Island is in the parish of Tullaghobegly, and barony of Kilmacrenan, being about nine miles from the nearest part of the Donegal coast. On the way, a vessel passes three smaller islands, named Innisbofinn, Innisdooey—on which there is a cemetery—and Innisbeg. There are two villages on the Island ofTory; one called the East Town, and the other the West Town. This latter is the principal one, containing the Round Tower and the Ecclesiastical ruins. Steep rocks line the shores of this remote Island, which at certain times is inaccessible from the mainland; and a yacht or boat can only touch in a small cove, romantically situated and sheltered by cliffs, at a place called Port-Doon, from its proximity to an ancient Dun or stronghold. The Island of Tory is of very irregular shape; it is about three miles in length by one mile in breadth, in its widest part; its superficial contents being about 1,200 acres, of which 200 may be considered arable or pasture land. The soil is generally held by the inhabitants on the old "rundale" tenure; each tenant having a portion of every kind of land, but no one a permanent possession of any separate part. This almost inaccessible spot is one of the earliest places mentioned in the bardic history of Ireland, and it is the first referred to as being a stronghold of the Fomorian or African pirates, who made descents on the coasts of Ireland at a period so remote, that now it seems impossible to bring chronology to bear on it. In the accounts of those pirates, it is called Torinis, or "Island of the Tower;" in other tracts, it is Torach, or the "Towery;" while the inhabitants of the adjoining coasts of Donegal think it has derived this name from the tower-like cliffs, by which it is guarded on every side. This seems to be the correct explanation of the latter name ; for there are many lofty, isolated rocks on the opposite coast, and called by the natives tors or "towers." A remarkably lofty one on the east side of this Island itself is called Tormor, or " the Great Tower." The Nemedians are also mentioned in connection with this Island, by the ancient bards and chroniclers. As we have already seen, St. Columba founded a church on Tory or Torry Island ; off the north-western coast of Donegal, about the middle of the sixth century. According to some accounts, he also founded a religious house beside it. Whether St. Ernan accompanied his master to this Island, in the first instance, does not appear ; but, he was selected to plant Christianity there, and afterwards he was recognised as the local patron. He was the first Abbot over the monastic establishment, on the Island of Tory or Torry.

Beside the village of thatched cottages are the Round Tower and a ruined church. Of these, with other antiquities, the fullest description, and with admirable illustrations, have been given by Edmund Getty, M.R.I.A. Only the fragments of two very small churches were found there by Mr. Hills. After a careful examination of the Irish churches, this writer did not find except, perhaps, in one instance, the remains of seven churches only, in any one of eight particular places which had been visited by him. He therefore concludes, that the name "Seven Churches," had no foundation in fact, and that its acceptance was only a fallacious popular opinion. The name of this saint is already recorded, in the Martyrology of Donegal, at the date, August 17th, as Ernan, of Torach. The historic memoranda of this very interesting Island is well set forth in the "Ulster Journal of Archaeology, by a gentleman of acknowledged antiquarian research.

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Thursday, 14 August 2014

Saint Echlech, Cuimmein and Coemhan, August 14

August 14 is the feast of a trio of brothers, the three sons of Daighre - Echlech, Cuimmein and Coemhan. Canon O'Hanlon suggests that they should be located within the County Kerry parish of Kilcummin and in his account provides a glimpse into the traditional pious practices of the Irish countryside. His source here is the Ordnance Survey scholar, John O'Donovan, who was writing in 1841. The letters of O'Donovan and his colleagues are an important source of information on the Irish saints as they record the existence of sites, devotional practices and traditions regarding the saints in the various places they visited. Often the dates they noted for pattern days can give a clue to the commemoration of the feast days of the saints in the local areas. In this case, however, the people seemed to have gathered at the holy well not on August 14 but on the eve of May 1, which probably reflects the agricultural rather than the ecclesiastical calendar:

Saints Echlech, Cuimmein and Coemhan, three Sons of Daighre.

In the Martyrology of Tallagh, Cummine, Caeman and Aicclig, are the names set down in separate lines and in the preceding order, but without any further designation of their parentage. In that copy, contained in the Book of Leinster, they are placed in like order. In the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, these saints are commemorated at this date... There is a parish dedicated to a saint having the name of Cummein, and which is called Kilcummin. It is situated in the barony of Magunihy, County of Kerry. The old church belonging to this parish is situated on a ridge of fertile land, within the glebe of Kilcummin. In 1841, it measured on the inside 56 feet in length, and 19 feet 6 inches in breadth. Its side walls were 3 feet 5 inches in thickness, and 10 feet in height; being built of green unequally sized stones, cemented with lime and sand mortar. The west gable was destroyed nearly down to the ground; only 3 feet of its height then remaining, but the other walls were nearly perfect. The internal portion of the east window was disfigured, but its external part was in a state of excellent preservation. The window, measuring 5 feet 2 inches in height, and 11 inches in width, was pointed and formed of cut lime stone; the sill was 4 feet 8 inches, from the outside ground level. At the distance of 8 feet from an east gable, there was a window in the south wall. This had been destroyed on both sides, with the exception of one stone left on either external side, These were chiselled lime-stones, and the distance between them was only 7 inches. A rude representation of the head and face of St. Cummin—as is believed—was carved on brown sand stone, which projected from the wall, near the northern extremity of the east gable and on the outside. There was also a large graveyard attached to this church. In the townland of Gortnagowan, in the east division of this parish, there stood a caher or circular stone fort, called Caher-Crovderg, i.e., the Fort of the Red-handed. On the eastern side of it, a holy well lay, at which stations were performed by the peasantry, on May eve. They also drove their cattle into the fort, and made them drink the water of this holy well, which was believed to possess the efficacy of preserving their animals from all contagious distempers, during the ensuing year. Colgan thinks St. Coeman, a deacon, and a disciple of St. Patrick, to be identical with one of these saints. He was set over the church of Ard-lice, commonly called Sean Domhnach. In the O'Clerys' Calendar of Donegal, we find the three sons of Daighre, Echlech, Cuimmein and Caemhan, had veneration given them at the 14th of August.

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Saint Molacca, Son of Cairthenn, August 13

The Irish calendars record the commemoration of Molacca, the son of Cairthenn on August 13. Nothing else appears to be known of him, although Canon O'Hanlon does his best by supplying the suggestions of the scholiast from the Martyrology of Donegal and of the great 17th-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan:

St. Molacca, Son of Cairthenn.

Veneration was given, at the 13th of August to Moloca mac Cairthen, as we find entered in the published Martyrology of Tallagh. In the Martyrology of Donegal, this saint is set down as Molacca, son of Cairthenn. There is a Molaga, of Saingel, adds the Calendarist, and who tells us that he belonged to the race of Conall Eachluath, who was of the posterity of Corbmac Cas, son to Oilioli Olum. There are different holy men bearing the name of Molacus or Molagius, tantamount to Molacca. Colgan supposes the present may possibly be identified with a Molocus, surnamed the Devout, of Inis-tiprad, near Limerick, and who assisted at the obsequies of St. Senan, Abbot of Iniscathy, about the middle of the sixth century. He is recorded by Marianus O'Gorman, at the same date.

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Monday, 11 August 2014

Saint Lelia of Killeely, August 11

August 11 sees the commemoration of a number of female saints, the most well-known of whom is probably Saint Attracta. We now turn to one of the other women saints remembered on this day, Saint Lelia, whose cult still persists even though not much is actually known of her individually, nor of the locality in which she flourished. Canon O'Hanlon assembles the evidence below:

St. Lelia, Virgin, Dioceses of Limerick and Kerry.

It is greatly to be lamented, that any clue to a recovery of the once well-known memorials of many an Irish saint cannot be better traced, at present. Thus, the pious Lelia, a Virgin, has been specially commemorated, in the Dioceses of Limerick, and of Kerry, from a former period. Her Acts are not discoverable, at the present time. Latterly, a Double Office, but of the Common Lessons, has been obtained, by authority of the Roman Pontiff, for her feast, at this date. An Office and a Mass have been extended, likewise, to the other Irish Dioceses. According to a local tradition, in Limerick, she was a sister to St. Munchin, Patron of the Diocese; and, it is said, her place is now known as Killeely. This parish is situated, partly within the North Liberties of Limerick City; but, chiefly does it lie, in the barony of Bunratty, and County of Clare. Near Killarney, this virgin is reputed to be the titular of an old church, which is now called Killilee. This latter local denomination is not found noted down, on the Irish Ordnance Survey Maps. Besides the foregoing places, there is a Killilagh parish, in the barony of Corcumroe, County of Clare. It seems likely enough, judging from the original compounds and the existing euphony of parts, that these places were formerly under this holy woman's patronage, especially as her memory is partially preserved so vividly in peasant traditional lore, throughout the south-western parts of Ireland. Perhaps, indeed, we may be justified in associating them with scenes in the life-actions of the devout Lelia. However, her era and her locality have not been distinctly revealed to us; but, there is good reason for supposing, that she lived at a remote period, and most probably, she led a life of strict observance, if she did not preside over some religious institution, in the province of Munster. It may be possible, her name was connected with other places in Ireland. There is a parish, denominated Killely, or Killila, in the Barony of Ballaghkeen, County of Wexford. There is another Killily, or Killeely, partly in the Barony of Loughrea, partly in that of Kiltartan, but chiefly in that of Dunkellin, County of Galway. This latter place, especially, may have derived its name from St. Lelia. Perhaps, some legends of the people might give us a little more light, regarding her; but, it is to be feared, we are not likely to ascertain anything, which could satisfactorily restore her holy manner of living to our records. In Pustet's new edition of the "Vesperale Romanum," in the Supplement, will be found St. Lelia's commemoration. It seems strange, that her name or festival does not appear, in our Irish Calendars or Martyrologies.

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Saturday, 9 August 2014

Saint Barrán, August 9

August 9 is the feast of yet another of our enigmatic Irish female saints who has left only the record of her name and her feast day, as Canon O'Hanlon explains:

St. Barrán, Virgin.

The name of Barrán, Virgin, is found in the Martyrologies of Tallagh and of Donegal, at the 9th of August. Nothing more seems to be known regarding her.

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Monday, 4 August 2014

Saint Midnat of Killucan, August 4

August 4 is the commemoration of an important Irish monastic founder, Saint Molua of Clonfert-Molua. Saint Molua shares his feastday with a rather less well-known saint, Midnat of Killucan. Canon O'Hanlon outlines some of the difficulties in identifying this saint and her (his?) locality below:

St. Midnat or Miodhnat, said to be of Killucan, County of Westmeath.

In Colgan's opinion Midgnat is the name of a woman. At the 4th of August, the Martyrologies of Tallagh and of Marianus O'Gorman register a festival in honour of Midnat, Cille Lucinne or Kill-liuchaine. This must be Anglicized Killucan. There is notice of a disciple belonging to St. Patrick, and called Midgna, whom he placed in a hermitage called Disert Phadrig, while near it was a fountain and a church, at a place called Cros Phadruig, in the western part of Ireland. A St. Midgna is found, also, among the sons of Darerca, the sister to St. Patrick. Colgan seemed to doubt if this saint might not be identical with the present, or another similarly named, at the 18th of November. There is a townland bearing the name of Killucan, in the parish of Kildress, barony of Upper Dungannon, and County of Tyrone; as also one in a parish of the same name, barony of Farbill, and County of Westmeath. There are likewise two Killukin townlands, in two distinct parishes of the same name. Both lie in the barony of Roscommon; one Killukin within the barony of Boyle, and the other within that of Roscommon barony.

The Martyrology of Donegal has the simple entry of Miodhnat, at this same date. The local historian of the Diocese of Meath state, that the present saint belonged to Killucan of Killucquin, in the barony of Farrbill, a few miles east of Mullingar, and in the County of Westmeath. Although probable enough, this identification does not appear to be absolutely certain. It seems likely, that a second festival of this saint had been observed, on the 18th of November.

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Sunday, 3 August 2014

Saint Deirbhile of Erris, August 3


August 3 brings the commemoration of some interesting early Irish female saints. Last year I looked at the northern Saint Trea of Ardtrea and this year we can journey to the western county of Mayo for the commemoration of Saint Deirbhile (Derbile, Dairbhile, Derbilia, Derbhiledh). I was pleased to see that there are a number of online local history sites which illustrate a continuing interest in popular devotion to this holy woman. You can see a stained-glass window depicting the story of Saint Deirbhile at the Heritage Centre which bears her name here and a photograph of the ruins of the pre-Norman church here. There are also a couple of videos on youtube showing both the church ruins and Saint Deirbhile's Well. I noted that like Saint Brigid, Deirbhile too received the attentions of an unwanted suitor and plucked out her eyes to discourage him. The water from her holy well is thus particularly associated with the healing of the eyes. Unlike Saint Brigid, Deirbhile has not left a written Vita, but like Saint Bronagh of Kilbroney her memory is still very much alive in the locality where she once flourished. In his account, however, Canon O'Hanlon does not allude to the popular traditions surrounding our saint but concentrates on her genealogy and the possibility that she was present at the Synod of Easdara convened by Saint Columba in the year 585:

St. Dairbhile or Derbhiledh, descendant of Eochaidh Muighmedhoin. [Sixth Century.]

It is mentioned in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, as likewise by the Commentator on Aengus, that the feast of a St. Derbile occurs on the 3rd of August. According to the Genealogies of the Irish Saints, Derbhilia was the daughter of Cormac, son to Breech, son of Eochad, son to David, son of Fiach, ancestor of the Hua Fiachrach. St. Derbilia seems to have flourished in the sixth century, and she lived a religious life, in Erris, a remote part of the County of Mayo. She was contemporaneous with the great St. Columkille; for, by allowing the usual number of thirty years to a generation, and taking her as the fourth in descent from King Dathi, she must have flourished about that period. She belonged, also, to the Second Class of Irish Saints. She appears to have sought out one of the most remote parts of Ireland for the site of her retreat; while she is supposed to have erected an oratory, within that double peninsula off the extreme north-west coast of the County of Mayo, and where connected by an isthmus with the mainland the town of Belmullet stands. This peninsula, known as the Mullet, extends from Erris Head on the north, to the entrance of Blacksod Bay on the south; it being washed on the west and north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by Broad Haven and Blacksod Bay, and on the south by the entrance to Blacksod Bay and the Sound of Achill. It is a region rarely visited by the tourist or general traveller. There, it is supposed St. Dairbhile established herself, about the middle of the sixth century; and, tradition has it, that she founded there a religious institution. Her antique church is yet to be seen within the Mullet, a district little explored, and in the extensive barony of Erris. It is remarkable for the Cyclopean character of its masonry; and it is of an oblong shape, about forty feet in length, by sixteen in breadth. It is lighted on the east end by a small, unadorned, and semicircular-headed window, splaying considerably on the inside. The walls are constructed wholly of gneiss or stratified granite, while they are two feet and seven inches in thickness. A doorway in the western wall measures about four feet ten inches in height; while it is only two feet in width, at the spring of the arch, and two feet four inches at the base. The lintel or arch-stone, now greatly time-worn, has a rude architrave in low relief, on either face. A very beautiful illustration of the circular-headed doorway of this church may be seen, in the celebrated work of Dr. Petrie. Interlaced tracery is to be found on one of the stones, within the doorway, but at present it is greatly worn.


[Illustration from George Petrie, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland, anterior to the Anglo-Norman Invasion, (2nd edn, Dublin 1845), 321.]

After the famous convention at Drumceat had been over, St. Columba travelled southwards, and at Easdara, now Ballysadare, he convened a synod, in 585, to which many of the Irish saints were drawn, as well from a sense of religious obligation, as to pay their respects to the great Apostle of the Picts and Scots. To this we have already alluded, in the notices given of St. Farannan; and, it seems to have been an event of great historic and ecclesiastical importance, at that time, when it had been convened. Ballysadare, or the Town of the Waterfall of the Oak, takes its name from the waterfall, or rather the series of waterfalls, over which the River Uncion discharges its waters into the sea, southwards from the town of Sligo. Before the rise of Ballysadare, the spot on which it stood was called simply Easdara, or the Cataract of the Oak, without the prefix Bal, meaning a town. There, a great number of bishops, abbots, priests and religious assembled, together with a vast concourse of lay persons. The names of many distinguished visitors have been recorded. Colgan seems to identify this saint with the Derbilia of Irras, who assisted at that great synod held at Easdra, towards the close of the sixth century. When she departed this life has not been ascertained, but it was probably towards the close of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century. She seems to have died in the house of her foundation, and within the Mullet. In the cemetery attached to it, she was interred. We read in the Martyrology of Donegal that veneration was given at the 3rd of August to Derbhiledh, who sprung from the race of Fiachra, son of Eochaidh Muighmedhoin. According.to some, the present saint is not different from a St. Darbile, who is venerated on the 26th of October, and if such be the case, she had a double festival.

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Saturday, 2 August 2014

Saint Feichin the Priest, August 2

On August 2 we commemorate the memory of a Saint Fechin whose name first appears on the earliest of the Irish calendars, the Martyrology of Tallaght. His name was also associated with the office of priest, as Canon O'Hanlon explains:

St. Fechine, or Feichin, a Priest.

The name of St. Fechine, Priest, appears in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 2nd of August. Marianus O'Gorman has the Natalis of a saint this same day; and, he is probably the one called Fethchu in the Irish language, and Fethchuo in Latin, according to Colgan. He is called a Presbyter, but beyond this we have no further definite information regarding him. Also in the Martyrology of Donegal, we have the festival of Feichin entered, at the 2nd of August. In another Irish Calendar this holy man is called a Sagarth, meaning "a Priest." This description probably designates the degree of Holy Orders he attained in the Irish Church.

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Friday, 1 August 2014

Saint Nathi of Cuil Saccaile, August 1

We open the month of August with the commemoration of Saint Nathi of Cuil Saccaile. As we will see in Canon O'Hanlon's account from Volume 8 of his Lives of the Irish Saints, it was suggested that this saint's locality was to be found in County Down, even though other evidence pointed to a Leinster origin for the saint. The Anglican writer, Bishop William Reeves, whilst he included the saint in his work on the Ulster dioceses of Down, Connor and Dromore, was unable to identify the place of Cuil Saccaile. Professor Pádraig Ó Riain, however, in his recent authoritative Dictionary of the Irish Saints identifies this place with Taney (Teach Nathí), formerly Sacoyle, County Dublin. He further suggests that our saint could be identical with Saint Nathi of Achonry whose feast is celebrated on August 9 and that he may also be the same Bishop Nathí who was said to have conferred religious orders on the monastics of Saint Brigid of Kildare. Thus although I have reproduced Canon O'Hanlon's  account of Saint Nathi below (including his identification of Cuil Saccaile with County Down), I think this is a case where modern scholarship has been able to offer a fresh perspective:

St. Nathi, of Cuil Saccaile, in Dalaradia, County of Down.

We find entered, at the 1st of August, in the Martyrology of Tallagh, that veneration was given to Nathi, Chule Sacaille. This place must probably be identified with Cuil Fuitheirbe, in the Dalaradian territory. However, the exact locality is not known. The History of the Saints states in the poem, that there is a Nathi, Bishop, and that he was the son of  Senach, sprung from the race of Mesincorb, of Leinster. With this coincides the statement of Roderick O'Flaherty,  and of another record to be found in the Book of Lecan, where this saint is called Nathias of Cuil-fothribh, in Dalaradia. Although placed by Rev. William Reeves in his local Calendar, the learned antiquary and topographer does not attempt to identify that spot, where he was venerated.  Under the head of Cuil Sacaille—also rendered Cill or Cluian—Duald Mac Firbis enters Nathi, bishop of Cuil Fothairbe, or Fuithirbe, or of Cuil Sacaille, at August 1st. This Nathi's name appears also in the Martyrology of Donegal  at the same date, as Nathi, Bishop of Cuil Fuitheirbe.

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