Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Kells, Saint Colum Cille and the Prophecy of Bec Mac Dé

October 12 is the commemoration of Saint Bec Mac Dé, an Irish saint, who like Saint Colum Cille, was renowned for his gift of prophecy. Last year we looked at the part played by both prophecy and by Saint Colum Cille at the time of the death of Saint Bec, the post can be read here. Now we look at another prophetic encounter between the two in which Bec comes down on the side of the Church regarding the County Meath site of Kells. It is a commonplace of hagiography to depict a saint being treated disrespectfully by a ruler, only for the king to get his comeuppance. Modern scholars see these episodes as the hagiographer's way of alluding to what were in reality rather more complex encounters between secular and spiritual authorities. Needless to say, when it comes to the claims of Colum Cille and those of King Diarmaid over this place, there can be only one winner...

98. After that Columcille went to the place that is called Kells today, that was the stead of the King of Erin in that time, to wit, Diarmaid mac Cerbaill. And Columcille was kept without the door of the palace in front of that place. Then did Columcille betake him to making prophecies touching that stead, and he said it would not be for long that the household therewithin should hold it. And there chanced to come upon him Bec mac De, the which was druid to Diarmaid mac Cerbaill, and a good prophet. Columcille said to him : "Bec mac De, make a prophecy touching this place. How shall it be? Shall it be kings or clerics that shall dwell therein?" ''Of a sooth it shall be clerics," saith Bec, ''henceforward; and thou shalt be head of those clerics, and never again! shall it be the place of a king." The King was not there at that time. He came thither after, and he gave the whole place to Columcille as compensation, because he had been kept outside, and Aed Slaine son of Diarmaid consented thereto.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Colum Cille: 'A Prince by Descent, A Priest by Choice and a Saint by Grace'

We conclude the Octave of the Feast of Saint Colum Cille with this tribute from Henry P. Swan's collection of Donegal folklore:
Saint Colmcille or Columba, has been called the greatest of the Sons of Ireland. Donegal, his native county, honours him and is honoured by him.
A prince by descent, a priest by choice and a saint by grace, he continued the work commenced by Saint Patrick - for only some sixty years divided his birth from Saint Patrick's death.
Describing his personal characteristics, Neil M. Gunn  wrote of him: "Altogether he was a remarkable man. Tall, well-featured with long hair falling to each shoulder from the temples, he had a commanding presence, and was, in fact, full of restless energy, passionate and impetuous. He had that quality of voice which does not appear to be raised when speaking to those at hand, yet can be heard clearly at a distance. A statesman, an organiser, he was almost continuously on the move over land and sea, daring any peril, unsparing of himself, teaching, converting,  founding, succeeding."

H. P. Swan, Romantic Stories and Legends of Donegal, (Belfast, 1965), 75-76.

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Thursday, 16 June 2016

Saint Colum Cille's Blessing of Assaroe

Yesterday we saw how the curse of Colum Cille impacted upon the fishermen of Mulroy Bay, today, by contrast, we see the effect of his blessing on the fish stocks at County Donegal's Assaroe Falls. Assaroe, Eas-Aedha-Ruaidh, the Waterfall of Red Hugh, owed its name to a local king who came to a watery end while attempting to cross by one of the fords. Victorian traveller William Allingham (1824-1889), gave a vivid description of the fishermen and their boats at work on the Falls and of the rich bounty to be gained:
The total take may probably be averaged at 500 salmon a day, during the latter half of the season (which closes in August); but as many as 2,000 have been taken in a day, and above 400 in a single haul.

In the Life of Colum Cille by sixteenth-century Donegal chieftain Manus O'Donnell, these aquatic riches owed their origin to the blessing of our saint:

134. Then Columcille fared onward to Assaroe. And him seemed it great damage to all in general and to his own dear kinsman in especial to the which he bare great love, to wit, the clan of Conall Gulban, that there should not be abundance [of fish] in the waterfall [of Assaroe] and the whole Erne. And he saw there could be none such abundance except the fish be free to go and come across the waterfall from the river to the great sea. And it was by reason of all this that Columcille blessed the waterfall. And he bound the stones and the rocks of the northern side to abase them that the fish might pass, as we have said afore. And these dumb things did obeissance to Columcille and did abase them, as is manifest to those that visit the waterfall [of Assaroe] today, for the south side is high and rugged, and the north side thereof is low. And by reason of that blessing of Columcille's it is the best river for fish in Erin today. And every feast day of Columcille from then till now, his successor hath the fishing of Assaroe in remembrance of that great miracle.

Sadly, the river found itself the subject of a mid-twentieth century hydro-electric scheme but a campaign has been launched to restore the historic salmon leap, so far without success. Read more on that here. Perhaps it too needs Saint Colum Cille's blessing?
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Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Saint Colum Cille and the Mulroy Fishermen

One thing that I have learnt since I started researching the holy men of Ireland is that it really does not do to cross the saints or fail to be anything other than completely open with them. In the story below, taken from Henry P. Swan's Romantic Stories and Legends of Donegal, we see what happens to the fishermen of Mulroy bay when they begrudge Saint Colum Cille a share of their catch:

A Legend of Mulroy Bay

While fish abound in the waters of Lough Swilly on the right hand and Sheephaven on the left, they are exceedingly scarce in Mulroy Bay. This is the story explaining it.

It happened on his travels through Donegal that Saint Columcille came to Mulroy. Now the fishermen saw him coming and as they had only caught two salmon they grudged a gift to the saint. So one of them said "Hide the fish. We have none to spare if he does be asking us."

When Columcille came to them, he blessed them and their work and asked, "Did you catch any?" The replied that they hadn't but the saint knew that it was a lie, so he said to them, "if you didn't catch anything may you catch now; and if you did catch, may you never catch again."

From that day to this, scarcely a trout or salmon has been caught in the waters of Mulroy Bay.

H. P. Swan, Romantic Stories and Legends of Donegal, (Belfast, 1965), 157-158.

Today, however, Mulroy Bay is a centre for aquaculture, particularly salmon farming!

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Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Colm Cille agus Na Mic Ó gCorra

Another story of Saint Colum Cille with a Tory connection - the curious tale of the Mic Ó gCorra. Here we see the saint turning those who opposed him to stone. There are some photographs of the rocks, which seem to be known a whole lot less colourfully in English as the Stag Rocks, here.  Linking natural physical features in the landscape with tales of the saints is found all over Ireland. This particular story was collected as part of a project on the devil in Donegal tradition and published in Béaloideas, the Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, at the end of the 1980s. A summary in English was included by the authors. It looks like the Mic Ó gCorra live on for another generation in the children's book by Donegal author Proinsias Mac a'Bhaird (see cover on the left):

20. Na Mic Ó gCorra

Bhí triúr deartháireacha orthu seo a dhíbir Colm Cille san am sin a dtugadh siad na Mic Ó gCorra orthu agus rinn sé trí chreag daofasan agus tá siad le feiceáil ansin ina seasmah go dtí an lá inniu. Deirtear go rabh oiread feirge orthusan le Colm Cille agus go dtógann siad a gcuid seoltaí uair achan bhliain le pilleadh ar Thoraigh le muintir Cholm Cille a bhruith agus a dhódh ach comh luath agus a títhear iad, caithfidh siad a gcuid seoltaí a ísliú arís agus tá siad ansin ó am  Cholm Cille. Tá muid uilig ag dréim nach bhfaghann siad bogadh choíche nó dá mbaineadh siad Toraigh amach bhéarfadh siad drochbhail air agus ar a bhfuil fágtha ann.

20. The Mic Ó gCorra
Colmcille turns three brothers called the Mic Ó gCorra into three rocks. They are said to hoist sails once a year to return to Tory and kill all its inhabitants, but as soon as they are seen they must lower them again and turn to stone once more.

S. Ó hEochaidh agus L. Ó Laoire,  'An Diabhal i Seanchas Thír Chonaill',  Béaloideas Iml. 57 (1989), 37, 86.

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Monday, 13 June 2016

Colum Cille Banishes Rats from Tory

Yesterday we were told in the account of Saint Colum Cille's winning of Tory Island that he decreed that no dog should be brought there. Dogs are not the only animals he banished and below is an an account of the reputation the island developed as being free from rats. It doesn't seem to have had a monopoly though, as the island of Inishmurray claimed the same status:

Rats banished from Tory

When Columcille arrived on Tory, he met with some opposition in his efforts to convert the people. The first man to stand by him was a dark man, and to him he gave the name of Dugan.

Then the saint banished all the rats from Tory and conferred the same miraculous power on Dugan. To this day, in spite of the many ships that have been wrecked on the island through the centuries, there are no rats on Tory.

It is said that a sceptical atheist from Derry once brought a box of rats to the island, but they all dropped dead a few minutes after landing. Inishmurray was also freed of rats by the saint, according to an old story.

People often journeyed many miles from different parts of the mainland to these two islands to obtain some clay. This they used to get rid of rats when they were bothered with them in their own home.

H. P Swan, Romantic Stories and Legends of Donegal (Belfast, 1965), 155.

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Sunday, 12 June 2016

Saint Colum Cille Wins Tory Island

Yesterday we looked at an account derived from oral tradition preserved in the archives of the Irish Folklore Commission on how Saint Colum Cille came to bring Christianity to Tory Island. Below is another account derived from the Life of the saint written in the sixteenth century by Donegal chieftain Manus O'Donnell. The essentials of the story remain the same in that Saint Colum Cille wins the territory by imitating the miracle of saint Brigid's cloak, but here he has some opposition from other holy men:

E.Getty, U.J.A. Vol. 1 (1853)

It is generally understood that Saint Columba, influenced, most probably, by a desire of securing a safe and calm retreat in his own part of Ireland, first introduced Christianity into this remote island of the ocean.  Colgan, in the Trias Thaumaturga, introduces what he denominates " the fifth life of the holy Columba, briefly extracted from the one that Magnus O'Donnell, chief of Tirconnell, wrote out from the original volume in Irish : — translated into Latin and divided into three books."  From this work it may be interesting to extract the account of the dedication of this island. "This servant of Christ," says the legend,  departed thence, [Gartan,] into the part of the country commonly designated Tuatha, (the territories,) in the northern plain on the sea coast of Tirconnell. Being there admonished by an angel of the Lord to cross into Tory, an island in the open sea of those parts, stretching northward from the mainland; and, having consecrated it, to erect a magnificient church; he proceeded towards it accompanied by several other holy men. On reaching, however, Belach-an-adhraidh, "the way of adoration, — a high precipitous hill that lay in his course, whence Tory is ob- scurely visible in the distance,— there arose dissension amongst these holy men, with respect to the individual who. should consecrate the island, and thereby acquire a right to it for the future: — each renouncing, from humility and a love of poverty, the office of consecrator and right of territory. After discussing the question in its several bearings, they all assented to the opinion of Columba, that such a difference was best settled by lot; and they determined on his recommendation to throw their staves in the direction of the island, with the understanding that he, whose staff reached it nearest, should perform the office of consecration, and acquire authority over Tory. Each throw his staff, but that of Columbkille, at the moment of issuing from his hand, assumed the form of a dart or missile, and was born to the island by supernatural agency. The saint immediately called before him Alidus, the son of Baedain, toparch of the island, who refused to permit its consecration, or the erection of any building. He then requested him, at least, to grant as much land as his outspread cloak would cover. Alidus readily assented, conceiving the loss very trivial; hut he had soon reason to change his opinion, for the saint's cloak, when spread upon the ground, dilated and stretched so mueh; by its divine energy, as to include, within its border, the entire island. Alidus was roused to frenzy by this circumstance, and incited or hunted upon the holy man a savage, ferocious dog, unchained for the purpose, which the latter immediately destroyed by making the sign of the cross. The religious feelings of Alidus were awakened by this second miracle, — he threw himself at the saint's feet  asked pardon, and resigned to him the entire island. No further opposition being made, the blessed father consecrated Tory, and built a magnificent church, which he placed under the control of Ernanus, one of his disciples, surnamed, from this circumstance, Torracensis. Amongst other things, the saint commanded that no dog should ever again be introduced into the island.

E. Getty, The Island of Tory; Its History and Antiquities, Part III. Ecclesiastical Period, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Volume I (1853), 149-150. 

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Saturday, 11 June 2016

How Colum Cille Converted Tory Island

Ulster Journal of Archaeology (1853)

Saint Colum Cille is still vividly remembered in Gaelic speaking parts of both Ireland and Scotland, a connection which has been explored in recent years by organisations such as Slí Cholmcille.  He features prominently in the folk tradition of his home county, Donegal, and below is a story of how he converted the people of Tory Island/Oileán Thoraí off the Donegal coast. It comes from the archives of the National Folklore Collection of Ireland and was a collected in the 1930s from a 76 year old man living in County Mayo. It is interesting to see here echoes of the well-known story about Saint Brigid's cloak which similarly expanded miraculously to encompass enough land for the saint's needs when she was looking for a site on which to build her monastery at Kildare:
Columcille often tried to convert Tory island but the chief of the island would not let him. Then Columcille thought of a good plan and asked the chief to let him convert as much as his handkerchief could cover. The chief thought that wasn't much ground so he granted the request. Columcille put his handkerchief under his feet and it began to spread until it covered the whole island. The chief had to keep his word so in that way Columcille converted Tory island.
We will explore some more of the Colum Cille traditions of Tory Island as we continue with the series of posts to celebrate the octave of the feast.

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Friday, 10 June 2016

The Common Father and Patron of the Poor and Needy

We begin a series of posts to honour the octave of the feast of Saint Colum Cille with this vignette illustrating his charity, from a nineteenth-century biography by the minister of Campbeltown:

In one of the accounts of his life, published by Colgan, we are told, that after he had erected the monastery of Durrough, he ordered a hundred poor persons to be served with victuals every day at a certain hour, and appointed an almoner for that purpose. One day a mendicant came to apply for a share of this charity, but was told by the almoner that he could have nothing, as the appointed number had been already served. He came the second day, and was told in like manner that he was come too late, and that for the future he must come earlier, if he expected his share of the charity. The third day, however, he came as late as before, and when the almoner gave him the same reply as formerly, he bade him go and tell from him to the abbot that he ought not to limit his charity by any precise rules which God had not prescribed, but always to give while he had, in whatever number, time, or manner, the poor should apply to him. Columba, upon receiving this message, ran hastily after the mendicant, who had then assumed a heavenly form; which gave him to understand to whom he was indebted for the counsel. From that day forward he laid aside his rules, and gave to all objects, at all times, provided he had any thing to bestow. If at any time he had not, his tears would flow, till God enabled him to relieve their wants. Hence, adds the writer, he was esteemed, what he really was, the common father and patron of the poor and needy.

Rev. J. Smith,  The Life of Saint Columba, The Apostle of the Highlands (Glasgow 1824), 129-130.

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Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Dove Ascends Beyond the Sky: A Hymn for the Feast of Saint Colum Cille

I was interested to see in an appendix to a biography of Saint Colum Cille by an eighteenth-century Scottish minister, the Rev. John Smith, Minister of Campbeltown, a translation of a hymn from the office for the feast. The 1620 date cited was a clue that this was most likely from the Office published by the seventeenth-century hagiologist Thomas Messingham and so indeed it proved to be. Although I was somewhat surprised to see a Scottish Presbyterian make use of the work of an Irish Catholic hagiologist who would have held a very different view of the saints, I can see that references to Saint Colum Cille entrusting his flock to the guidance of Christ by his gracious word would have been very congenial to our Campbeltown cleric. I would not though share his conviction that this is a hymn written soon after the death of the saint by his immediate successor(s). Its origins more likely lie in the texts composed for the 12th-century Translation of the Relics of the Three Patrons, also initially commemorated on June 9, on which you can read more here.

T. Messingham, Florilegium (1620)

From its connection with the subject, it may not be improper to add the following translation of a hymn used in the Office for the Festival of St. Columba, and published in Paris, in the year 1620, from an ancient MS. It was probably composed by Baithen, or some other of Columba's disciples, soon after his death. 


 WITH snowy pinions soaring high, 
 The Dove* ascends beyond the sky; 
 He scorns the earth, he leaves its clay,
 And perches in the realms of day. 

There his refulgent colours shine, 
 Reflecting back the light divine. 
 But here his tender brood he left, 
 Of their dear parent now bereft. 

 Yet, ere he mounted to the skies, 
 With many prayers, tears and cries, 
 Their charge he gave to Christ his Lord, 
 To guide them by his gracious word, 
 And bring them to the same abode 
 In which their father lives with God. 

 O God ! who didst our father hear, 
 Be to his children ever near; 
 And grace vouchsafe to lead us on, 
 Until we meet him at thy throne.
* Alluding to his name, which means "a Dove."

Rev. J. Smith,  The Life of Saint Columba, The Apostle of the Highlands (Glasgow 1824), 178-179.

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Friday, 25 March 2016

Jocelin and his Vita Patricii: 'undervalued for far too long'

We conclude the octave of posts in honour of the feast of Saint Patrick with a final tribute to Jocelin of Furness and his Life of Patrick by one of the current generation of scholars who are reassessing the author and his work. I was only recently able to find an affordable copy of Helen Birkett's study of Jocelin and his Vitae and am finding it a fascinating read. In the extracts below, Birkett lays out her conclusions, first on the Life of Patrick and then more generally. Her initial thoughts reminded me that one of the basic rules of the modern approach to hagiography laid down by Pére Delehaye is 'that whatever a vita tells us, it tells us more about the time of its composition - its theology, spirituality, politics - than of the time of the saint, and more about the mind of the hagiographer than of the mind of the saint':
The Vita Patricii was not commissioned to document the life of a fifth-century missionary but to record the legend of a twelfth-century saint. It offered a carefully crafted version of Patrick as a figure who was recognizable in both word and deed but also as one who was clothed in contemporary fashions and values and .... whose face was turned firmly towards a twelfth century present... 
...The Vitae can now be recognised for the complex, carefully constructed and communicative texts that they are. Jocelin too, must be reconsidered. As an author whose movements and patronage have been shown to straddle various geo-political, ecclesiastical and cultural boundaries, he emerges from this study as a potentially significant figure for our understanding of wider British history during this period, a time which saw the increasing permeability of these borders. This is not to make an extravagant claim about Jocelin's importance but merely to bring greater attention to the work of a writer who has been undervalued for far too long.

Helen Birkett, The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness: Hagiography, Patronage and Ecclesiastical Politics ( York Medieval Press, 2010), 51-2, 285.

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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Saint Patrick's Aunt

We have seen that Jocelin's Life of Saint Patrick provided our patron with an extended family, with an emphasis not on the line of the father and grandfather named in Saint Patrick's own writings but on the matrilineal. In the opening chapter of his Life, Jocelin introduces not only the French mother of Saint Patrick but her unnamed sister who is to play a part in the saint's childhood. Both of these women are depicted as having been brought to Britain as slaves, but Conchessa rises above this station to marry Patrick's father:
THERE was once a man named Calphurnius, the son of Potitus, a presbyter, by nation a Briton, living in the village Taburnia (that is, the field of the tents, for that the Roman army had there pitched their tents), near the town of Empthor, and his habitation was nigh unto the Irish Sea. This man married a French damsel named Conchessa, niece of the blessed Martin, Archbishop of Tours; and the damsel was elegant in her form and in her manners, for, having been brought from France with her elder sister into the northern parts of Britain, and there sold at the command of her father, Calphurnius, being pleased with her manners, charmed with her attentions, and attracted with her beauty, very much loved her, and, from the state of a serving-maid in his household, raised her to be his companion in wedlock. And her sister, having been delivered unto another man, lived in the aforementioned town of Empthor. (Chapter I, p.135)
As we saw yesterday, the anonymous aunt is actively involved in the care of her nephew Patrick and his sister Lupita:
And Patrick, the child of the Lord, was then nursed in the town of Empthor, in the house of his mother's sister, with his own sister Lupita. (Chapter IV, p.138)
Auntie is also depicted as being involved in agriculture and in the episode below she falsely accuses her nephew of being negligent in his duties as a shepherd. In true hagiographical style our saint patiently bears the injustice and by his faith is able to vindicate himself:
WHILE Saint Patrick was a little boy, his aunt entrusted him with the care of the sheep, and to these he diligently attended with his aforementioned sister. ...But as the boy Patrick was one day in the fields with his flock, a wolf, rushing from the neighboring wood, caught up a ewe-lamb, and carried it away. Returning home at evening from the fold, his aunt chided the boy for negligence or for sloth; yet he, though blushing at the reproof, patiently bore all her anger, and poured forth his prayers for the restoration of the ewe-lamb. In the next morning, when he brought the flock to the pasture, the wolf ran up, carrying the lamb in his mouth, laid it at Patrick's feet, and instantly returned to the wood. And the boy gave thanks to the Lord, who, as he preserved Daniel from the hungry lions, so now for his comfort had saved his lamb uninjured from the jaws of the wolf. (Chapter VIII, p.142-143)
In a second episode involving the young Patrick and his aunt's livestock, she is presumably rather happier that he is on hand to deal with an outbreak of mad cow disease:
THE aunt who had nursed Saint Patrick had many cows, one of which was tormented with an evil spirit; and immediately the cow became mad, and tore with her feet, and butted with her horns, and wounded five other cows, and dispersed the rest of the herd. And the owners of the herd lamented the mishap, and the cattle fled from her fury as from the face of a lion. But the boy Patrick, being armed with faith, went forward, and, making the sign of the cross, freed the cow from the vexation of the evil spirit; then drawing near to the wounded and prostrate cows, having first prayed, he blessed them and restored them all even to their former health. And the cow, being released from the evil spirit, well knowing her deliverer, approached with bended head, licking the feet and the hands of the boy, and turned every beholder to the praise of God and the veneration of Patrick. (Chapter IX, p.143-144).
Overall, I am left with the impression that although the aunt remains anonymous she is nonetheless an important part of the extended family supplied by Jocelin for Saint Patrick. And with her 'many' cows she also appears to have been of some means. It leaves me wondering therefore, why the writer was unable to furnish a name for her.

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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Saint Patrick Heals His Sister Lupita

As we have already seen, Jocelin's Life of Saint Patrick supplies our patron with a trio of sisters and goes on to name their offspring as his willing cooperators in the mission to Ireland. Jocelin features one of the sisters, Lupita, in the earlier section of the Life dealing with Patrick's childhood, where he presents the pair as having been raised together in the home of their maternal aunt:
And Patrick, the child of the Lord, was then nursed in the town of Empthor, in the house of his mother's sister, with his own sister Lupita. (Chapter IV, p.138)
Lupita then features in her own miracle story in Chapter VI when she suffers a bad fall. Although other family and friends rush to offer assistance, needless to say there is really only one person able to heal her - her brother Patrick:

 How the Sister of St. Patrick was healed. 
 ON a certain day the sister of Saint Patrick, the aforementioned Lupita, being then of good stature, had run about the field, at the command of her aunt, to separate the lambs from the ewes, for it was then weaning time, when her foot slipped, and she fell down and smote her head against a sharp flint, and her forehead was struck with a grievous wound, and she lay even as dead; and many of the household ran up, and her kindred and her friends gathered together to comfort the maiden wounded and afflicted; and her brother came with the rest, compassionating his sister, but confiding in the divine medicine; for, drawing near, he raised her, and, touching with his spittle the thumb of his right hand, he imprinted on her forehead, stained with blood, the sign of the cross, and forthwith he healed her; yet the scar of the wound remained as a sign, I think, of the miracle that was performed, and a proof of the holiness of him who, by his faith in the cross of Christ, had done this thing. (Chapter VI, p.141)

Tomorrow I will look a bit more at the figure of the aunt in Jocelin's Life of Patrick.

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Tuesday, 22 March 2016

How Saint Lumanus Sailed against the Wind and the Stream

Yesterday we were introduced to the extended family of Saint Patrick as recorded by Jocelin of Furness in his Life of the saint. Today we look at the account of a miraculous voyage by one of the reputed nephews of Saint Patrick, Lumanus, in the service of his uncle's Irish mission:


How Saint Lumanus Sailed against the Wind and the Stream. 

AND Saint Patrick, having sailed over from Ulidia, came unto the territory of Midia, at the mouth of the river Boinn, among barbarians and idolaters; and he committed his vessel and its tackle unto his nephew, Saint Lumanus, enjoining him that he should abide there at the least forty days, the while he himself would go forward to preach in the interior parts of the country. But Lumanus, abiding there the messenger of light, and being made obedient through the hope of obtaining martyrdom, doubled the space of time that was enjoined unto him, which no one of his companions, even through the fear of their lives, dared to do. Yet was not this child of obedience disappointed of his reward. For while he received the seed of obedience, he brought forth unto himself the fruit of patience, and deserved to fertilize strange lands, even with the seed of the divine Word, to the flourishing of the flowers of faith and the fruits of justice; and the more devotedly he obeyed his spiritual father, the more marvellously did the elements obey him. And having fulfilled there twice forty days, and being wearied with the continual expectation of the saint's return, on a certain day, the wind blowing strongly against him, he hoisted the sails, and, trusting in the merits of Saint Patrick, even by the guidance of the vessel alone passed he over unto the place where he was appointed to meet him. O miracle till then unheard and unknown! The ship, without any pilot, sailed against the wind and against the stream, at the bidding of the man of God, and bore him with a prosperous course from the mouth of the Boinn even to Athtrym; and He who formerly turned back the stream of Jordan unto its fountain did, for the merits of Patrick, guide the vessel against the wind and against the stream.

Rev. James O'Leary, The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick including the Life by Jocelin, (New York, 1904), 191.

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Monday, 21 March 2016

Extending Saint Patrick's Family

The Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin of Furness added to the stock of stories surrounding our patron saint. This included the development of an extended family for Saint Patrick, who in his own writings had mentioned only the names of his father and grandfather. As we will see in the extract below, Jocelin supplies a trio of sisters for our patron and their offspring in turn become Uncle Patrick's willing helpers in his Irish mission:
Of the Sisters and the Nephews of St. Patrick.  
AND the saint had three sisters, memorable for their holiness and for their justice, and they were pleasing unto the Lord; and of these the names were Lupita, Tygridia, and Darercha. And Tygridia was blessed with a happy fruitfulness, for she brought forth seventeen sons and five daughters. And all her sons became most wise and holy monks, and priests, and prelates; and all her daughters became nuns, and ended their days as holy virgins; and the names of the bishops were Brochadius, Brochanus, Mogenochus, and Lumanus, who, with their uncle, Saint Patrick, going from Britain into Ireland, earnestly laboring together in the field of the Lord, they collected an abundant harvest into the granary of heaven. And Darercha, the youngest sister, was the mother of the pious bishops, Mel, Moch, and Munis, and their father was named Conis. And these also accompanied Saint Patrick in his preaching and in his travel, and in divers places obtained the episcopal dignity. Truly did their generation appear blessed, and the nephews of Saint Patrick were a holy heritage. 
In his 1985 study of medieval households, which includes a chapter on Ireland, scholar David Herlihy puts Jocelin's account of Patrick's family into context:
The Irish lives make frequent mention of the avunculate tie, and of other relationships running though women. In the life of St Patrick written by the English Cistercian Jocelin of Furness (after about 1180), Patrick is represented as the great-nephew of St Martin of Tours; his mother Conquessa is Martin's niece.  Jocelin is the first to claim that the two saints were related, and significantly, he runs their blood tie through two women.  Still according to Jocelin, to his cognatus Patrick, Martin gives  the monastic habit and his rule. As a boy, Patrick had been reared in his aunt's house in a town called Nemphtor (presumably Clyde) in northern Britain. The aunt was his mother's sister. Patrick himself had three sisters, one of whom, Lupita, had seventeen sons and five daughters. They all become priests and nuns, and all come to help Patrick on his mission; so also did his other nephews, sons of sisters. "Truly the offspring of these [sisters] appears blessed... and a holy inheritance was the nephews of St Patrick". The embellishments, which Jocelin added to the ancient legends of Patrick, are extraordinarily rich in matrilineal allusions.
David Herlihy, Medieval Households (Harvard and London, 1985), 41.

Tomorrow we will look at a miracle recorded in Jocelin's Life which involved one of these reputed nephews, Bishop Lumanus.

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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Saint Patrick: An Acceptable Saint in 12th-century England

As we have just witnessed the annual and ever-growing phenomenon of Saint Patrick's Day being celebrated all over the world (and not just by people of the Irish diaspora), I found it interesting to reflect that his cult had already spread beyond these shores in medieval times. Jocelin of Furness was one of three English writers who wrote a Life of Patrick in the twelfth century. I have already made a post on the conclusions of Professor Robert Bartlett on this subject here. The conclusion of another recent scholar is also worth considering in trying to put Jocelin's work into context:
In the 12th century the British Isles were free from hagiographical barriers: cults of Irish saints, notably Patrick and Brigid, were perfectly acceptable in England. No reader of the twelfth-century Life of Patrick by Jocelin of Furness, which was dedicated to the Ulster conquistador John de Courcy, as well as to northern Irish bishops, could avoid the message that Patrick the Briton's career belonged to Britain and Europe as well as to Ireland.
R. Frame, 'Exporting state and nation: being English in medieval Ireland' in L. Scales and O. Zimmer, eds., Power and the Nation in European History (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005), 155.

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Saturday, 19 March 2016

Jocelin's Secular Patron: John de Courcy

We continue the series of posts on the Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin of Furness with a look at the secular authority who commissioned its writing - the Anglo-Norman adventurer, John de Courcy. In 2012 I attended a conference on the theme of John de Courcy and the Normans in Downpatrick at which I was privileged to hear several leading scholars in the field talk about this compelling yet still enigmatic figure in our history. The term adventurer is a particularly apt one for de Courcy as he was a man who seems to have made his own luck. He was the son of a younger son of the de Courcy family and thus whilst he had the family name he had no prospect of inheriting the family land. John arrived in Ireland in the autumn of 1176, landing in Dublin with a small group of 22 knights and 300 other soldiers. He left the garrison without permission and led his band northwards, passing peaceably through two Irish kingdoms and possibly even recruiting Irish auxiliaries en route. He appears to have exploited the rivalries between native rulers and arrived unannounced in Downpatrick, taking the town the following summer after two bloody battles. The entire enterprise was undertaken without the consent of King Henry II and as his newly-conquered Ulster territory did not adjoin any other Anglo-Norman lands, de Courcy was free to run it as his personal possession. This independence eventually caused him to fall foul of King Henry's successor, King John, and by 1204 John de Courcy drops out of the historical record, with even the date and circumstances of his death uncertain.

So where does the commissioning of a Life of Saint Patrick fit into all of this? Well, for one thing John de Courcy may well have been aware of the cult of Saint Patrick before he ever set foot in Ireland. Steve Flanders has established in his research that a network of family ties stretching from the de Courcy family seat in Somerset through to Cumbria and back to their original homeland in Normandy was of vital importance to John. The cult of Patrick was known in Normandy, it was also known in Somerset at Glastonbury, near the family seat of Stogursey (Stoke Courcy) and it is also reflected in the place names of northern Britain, in Gospatrick in Cumbria, for example. Jocelin himself alludes to de Courcy's reputation as an admirer of Saint Patrick as he lays out the reasons behind the writing of his work saying that he has been 'enjoined by the commands of the most reverend Thomas, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, and of Malachy, the Bishop of Down; and to these are added the request of John de Courcy, the most illustrious Prince of Ulidia, who is known to be the most especial admirer and honorer of St. Patrick, and whom we think it most becoming to obey' (Proeme, p.133).

Certainly the commissioning of the Life was but one example of John de Courcy's promotion of the cult of Saint Patrick in Down. Another tangible expression was the issuing of a coin bearing the inscription Patricius, which is today used as the logo of the Down Museum, as their website explains:
The Down County Museum logo is based on a coin minted by John de Courcy, about 1190, probably in Downpatrick. It has the name of Patrick, with a crozier, on one side and of de Courcy on the other. It was a symbolic linking of the religious and political associations of the area and because it did not bear the head of Prince John, Lord of Ireland, it was a declaration of independence by de Courcy.
The other main evidence for de Courcy's adoption of Saint Patrick is the role which he played in the discovery of the bodies of the three patrons at Down in 1185. His fellow Norman, the chronicler Gerald of Wales, placed John at the centre of the action writing in his Expugnatio Hibernica:
John de Courcy having discovered a precious treasure, the bodies of three Saints, Patrick, Bridget and Columba, at Down, these relics were by his care translated. (Chap. XXXIV, p. 77).    
Scholar Helen Birkett, however, feels that the primary role in this great discovery was played by Malachy, bishop of Down,  but to examine that will require a separate post.

I find John de Courcy's relationship with Saint Patrick and with Saints Brigid and Colum Cille a fascinating one. Obviously there seems to be more than a touch of self-interest involved in his desire to talk up and appropriate the Patrician associations with Down, the territory he conquered. He was doubtless spurred on by what seems to have been a genuine belief  that he was the 'white knight on the white horse' who would be the first to conquer Ulster, spoken about in a book of prophecies attributed to Saint Colum Cille and which Gerald of Wales tells us de Courcy was supposed to carry on his person as one of his prized possessions.  He remains for me one of the more interesting historical characters to have had a relationship with Ireland's patron saints.

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Friday, 18 March 2016

The Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin of Furness

We begin the octave of posts in honour of the feast of Saint Patrick with a look at the late twelfth-century Life composed by the English monk Jocelin of Furness. Jocelin was commissioned by the Norman conqueror of Ulster, John de Courcy, to write a Life of the Irish patron in connection with the 1185 finding and later translation of the relics of not just Patrick but those of his two co-patrons, Brigid and Colum Cille. Inevitably, this later work has never enjoyed the same status as the earlier Lives by Muirchú and Tírechán, the nineteenth-century English hagiologist, Sabine Baring Gould, for example dismissed it as "of little historical value compared with the earlier and more authentic sources of information, which it not unfrequently contradicts on the authority of some idle legend." But understanding of hagiography has developed since Baring Gould's day and in the last decade a scholarly reappraisal of Jocelin's work has begun. A project at Liverpool University has sought to bring out a new edition of Jocelin's Life of Patrick and to better establish the cultural context in which he was working. It is perhaps worth remembering that despite any sniffiness about this Norman upstart, Jocelin's Life was for centuries a much-used source in both English and Irish language biographies of the saint, as a scholar has recently reminded us:
The Life of Patrick written by Jocelin of Furness in the twelfth century experienced continual popularity among both language communities throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First popularised for an Irish audience in Thomas Messingham's Florilegium Insulae Sanctorum (1624), Jocelin's Life subsequently could be found in an English translation by the Franciscan Robert Rochford as The Life of the Glorious Bishop S. Patricke, Apostle and Primate of Ireland (1625); another English translation was published by Edmund Swift in Dublin in 1809. In Rockford's publication, Patrick's life was also paired with a life of Bridget...Indeed, these two lives - that of Jocelin and Cogitosus - dominated the hagiography in circulation among eighteenth and nineteenth century scribes. In particular Jocelin's Life of Patrick - who as a subject was in turn the most often cited in these Irish language texts, about twice as often as Bridget- made up approximately half of the surviving lives of this saint in this time period.

N.M. Wolf, An Irish-Speaking Island: State, Religion, Community and the Linguistic Landscape in Ireland, 1770-1870 (Univ. Wisconsin Press, 2014), 200.

Jocelin's Life was also a source for the seventeenth-century Trias Thaumaturga compiled by this blog's hero, Friar John Colgan, where it formed the Vita Sexta or Sixth Life the great hagiologist used.

Over the coming days of the octave of the Feast of Saint Patrick I will bring some more selections and commentary on Jocelin's Life.

Further Resources:

In the absence of a modern, scholarly edition of Jocelin's Life, that of Father James O'Leary contained in his collection The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick is the most accessible. Read it at the Internet Archive here.

One of the scholars involved with the Jocelin project, Dr Clare Downham, has made an article on Jocelin available to read through the academia site here.

Boydell and Brewer have published a 2010 study by Helen Birkett on The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness. Details here.

Proceedings of the Liverpool University's Project 2011 Conference on Jocelin have also been published. Details here

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

On the Feast of Saint Patrick - 'a Precious Vessel of Election and Model of Christian Perfection'

To celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick below is a homily for the occasion delivered by Irish Augustinian Father William Gahan (1732-1804). At the time of his death Catholic Emancipation was still a quarter of a century away, so it is no surprise to see the emphasis on Saint Patrick as someone who bore suffering with resignation. The main theme of the homily is the necessity to hold fast to the original teachings of the Catholic faith and to reject other 'various, strange doctrines'.  Father Gahan ends with a warning of the dangers of 'the odious and destructive vice of drunkenness' and his approach to the celebration of the feast of Saint Patrick is an entirely spiritual one, with an emphasis on prayer, repentance and temperance.  Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!


 Mementote praepositorum Vestrorum, qui vobis locuti sunt Verbum Dei— imitamini fidem— doctrinis variis et peregrinis nolite abduci. 

 Heb. c. xiii. v, 7 et 9. 

 Remember your Prelates who have spoken to you the Word of God — whose faith follow — and be not led away by various and strange doctrines.

 Heb. c. xiii. v. 7, v 9. 

 WHEN the Almighty singles out men to be the extraordinary messengers of his councils, oracles of his wisdom, instruments of his grace and channels of his boundless mercies, he confers on them those wonderful gifts, talents and virtues, that are requisite to qualify them for the execution of his orders, and for the accomplishment of the grand designs of his all-ruling providence. Thus he qualified Moses, Aaron and the Prophets in the old Law, and the twelve Apostles in the new Law, for the solemn embassy and the heavenly commission on which he was pleased to send them. He invested them with every power they stood in need of, in order to discharge the duties of their ministry with success; he communicated to them all the eminent gifts and talents that were necessary, to enable them to encounter the difficulties and surmount all the obstacles which stood in their way, and which attended the due execution of the high commission they were charged with. Among many other renowned characters and remarkable instances of this truth, we may justly rank St. Patrick, the glorious Apostle and Patron of Ireland, whose feast the Church solemnizes this day, and honours with the privilege of a plenary indulgence, extended to the faithful of the whole kingdom on every day of the ensuing octave. When the Lord in his great goodness singled him out, for the grand work of the conversion of this remote corner of the then known world to the Christian and Catholic religion, when he sent him as an instrument of his divine mercy to announce the mystery of the cross to our ancestors, and to enlighten a people, who, as the Scripture phrase expresses it, were sitting in darkness and in the gloomy shades of death, he qualified him in every respect for the arduous enterprise, and made him at once a most zealous Apostle and an illustrious Saint, that he might diffuse the light of the Gospel all over this island by his indefatigable zeal, and establish the spirit of the Gospel by his eminent sanctity. It is under these two considerations that I intend to represent St. Patrick to you at present, as a precious vessel of election and model of Christian perfection. He rooted up infidelity, and planted catholicity in this country; he banished vice and immorality, and promoted the practice of true piety and solid virtue both by his word and example. Behold the plan of the following discourse and the subject of your favourable attention. Let us previously invoke the aid of the Holy Ghost, through the intercession of the blessed Virgin, greeting her with the words of the Angel, &c. Ave Maria

 The Scripture informs us, that the Saviour of the world retired into a desert, and prepared himself by prayer, and by a rigorous fast of forty days and forty nights, before he entered upon his mission of preaching the Gospel and reclaiming sinners from their evil ways. In like manner, the most authentic histories of St. Patrick's life informs us, that this faithful disciple and follower of Christ our Lord, spent several years in preparing himself by fasting and praying, before he entered upon the sacred functions of the apostolic ministry. That he might preach the Gospel with fruit to others, and draw their souls more effectually to the love and service of God, he first began to preach to himself, to regulate his interior, to cultivate the vineyard of his own soul, and to treasure up lessons of solid piety and true virtue in his mind. Such was the delicacy and tenderness of his conscience, that he accuses himself in his own writings, which are called his Confession, that he was rather tardy and remiss in not having begun at an earlier period to love the Lord his God above all things, and with his whole heart, from the very first instant that the use of reason rendered him capable of paying his Creator this tribute, which is so justly due to his Sovereign Majesty on a thousand titles. Hence he tells us, that he could not refrain from weeping for his past neglect, whenever he recollected that his heart had been, even for a single moment, insensible and void of divine love. Herein our saint imitated the piety of the penitent Augustine, who thought that he could never sufficiently bewail and regret every day, every hour, every minute of his past life, which had not been filled up with acts of divine love, and who, in order to clear off the long arrears of love, which, on account of his former neglect, appeared to be still due by him, made it his constant study, ever after, to redouble his love for God all the days of his life, and laboured with indefatigable zeal to kindle flames of divine love in the heart of every Christian, crying out for this reason in the fervour of his soul, O Beauty, ever ancient, and ever new! O Sovereign Good! O inexhaustible Source of all Sweetness and Perfection! Too late, too late, alas! have I begun to love thee. O that I could begin my course over again, that every moment of my life might be filled with tokens and proofs of my love for thee, my God and my All! Behold here an excellent lesson of edification for all, both young and old. Learn, my brethren, from your glorious patron St. Patrick, that the great precept of charity begins to bind you all at an earlier period than perhaps you imagine. Beware of misplacing your affections on the empty bubbles and painted toys of this transitory life. Look up to Heaven, your native country and happy inheritance, which your dear Redeemer has purchased for you with bis precious blood; let your hearts be where God your treasure is, and where he shews his glorious and beautiful Majesty to the Angels, and Saints. Begin from this instant, if you have not already begun, to love him above all things, not by word of mouth only; but in reality and truth from the very bottom of your hearts and souls, and endeavour to increase every day in this divine virtue, which is to be the crown, the joy and the happiness of the blessed for a never ending eternity. But to return to St. Patrick. Whilst he was, on a certain day, in the sixteenth year of his age, putting up his fervent prayers to Heaven in a retired place, situated near the borders of the sea, be was surprised by a set of barbarian pirates, who then infested the British coasts, and was suddenly carried off from his family and native country, and brought captive into Ireland, the very land which he was afterwards to deliver from the darkness of infidelity, and from the dismal captivity of Satan. Admire here, my brethren, the wonderful ways of divine Providence! We read in the book of Genesis, that the Patriarch Joseph, by a disposition of Providence, was carried off in his youthful days from his native country, and sold as a slave in Egypt, that he might be the means of relieving the Egyptians afterwards in the hour of distress, and supplying both them and his own father's household with the necessaries of life, during the continuance of a dreadful famine that raged over that land for the space of seven years. By a similar disposition of the same divine Providence, about the decline of the fourth century, the virtuous and pious youth Patrick was stolen away from his parents, carried off and sold as a common slave to a petty prince in the county of Antrim that by being inured to hardships, and by being well acquainted with the language and manners of the natives of Ireland, he might be fetter qualified to undertake the great work of their conversion at a future period, and become the happy means of supplying both them and the Churches of his own native country with a sufficient number of zealous clergymen and able missionaries, who would break the heavenly bread of the word of God to the little ones, and nourish their souls with the food of eternal life in the day of their spiritual famine and distress.

Thus it happened that Patrick, whom Heaven had destined to become one day a great pastor of souls in this island, was previously employed in the low and painful servitude of feeding cattle on mountains, and in forests, where he was for a considerable time constantly exposed to the inclemency of the weather, and to all the rigours of poverty, hunger, and nakedness. Far, however, from repining at his despicable situation, far from murmuring, or complaining of the dispensations of Providence, far from flying in the face of God, as numbers of the distressed and suffering poor of our times unhappily do, whereby they not only lose the merit and reward of their trials find afflictions, but likewise expose themselves to the manifest danger of becoming slaves to Satan hereafter in hell, after having been drudges and slaves to sin in this world, Patrick, I say, far from pursuing so criminal a line of conduct, made a virtue of necessity, and carried his cross, and bore his severe trials with patience and resignation, for the love of his blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ. His sufferings of course were to him a source of heavenly benedictions, and served only to furnish him with daily opportunities of practising the virtues of humility, meekness, obedience and submission to the holy will of God. Whilst he thus discharged every exterior duty belonging to his state with cheerfulness, and attended the cattle of his earthly master with the vigilance, assiduity and activity of a faithful servant, his conversation was mostly in Heaven, for he united contemplation with action, and in the midst of his daily employments he took care to elevate his heart frequently to God, by pious aspirations, and short, but devout and fervent prayers. It is related in his life, that he was accustomed to adore God on his bended knees no less than an hundred times in the day and in the night, by which means the love of God continually inflamed his tender heart more and more, and acquired every day new strength in his affectionate soul. It were to be wished, my brethren, that this pious method of attending constantly to the divine presence in the course of the day, and raising up the heart often to God, by some ejaculatory prayer, whilst the hands are employed at daily labour, were more generally adopted by all laborious and industrious Christians in the midst of their ordinary occupations and temporal actions. It is highly recommended by the Saints, and was one of the principal exercises whereby they gradually arrived at the height of perfection. St. Francis of Sales advises us to cast ourselves, in spirit, at the feet of Jesus, like Mary Magdalen, and to give our souls to God a thousand times in the day. To breathe forth some pious ejaculations now and then costs no great trouble, nor does it require much time, or interrupt our external duties; it is short and easy, and does not distract or fatigue the mind; a little practice would render it familiar and habitual, and it has this peculiar advantage, that it can be practised at all times, and on all occasions, without being exposed to the danger of vainglory, as it may be secretly performed in the closet of the heart.

We have already heard what signal advantages St. Patrick derived from fervent and frequent ejaculations of this kind. No sooner was he released from his bondage but the designs of Providence began to be brought about; for he felt the strongest impressions from Heaven to set about the glorious work of converting the Irish nation without any further delay. Any other motive than the greater honour and glory of God, could never have induced him to undertake so arduous an enterprise, and so difficult a work as the general conversion of an entire nation, where vice was authorized by practice, and impiety strengthened by custom. Palladius, indeed, had preceded him, and was the first who formed the plan of converting this nation to Christianity; but having met with violent, opposition, he converted but few, and departed in a short time. The general conversion of Ireland was reserved for St. Patrick, who having travelled into Gaul and Italy for the purpose of acquiring a competent stock of sacred learning, chiefly under the tuition of his uncle, St. Martin, the renowned Bishop of Tours, was promoted to holy orders, and received his episcopal consecration and lawful mission from the successor of St. Peter the Apostle, Pope Celestine, in the year of our Lord 431. He did not intrude himself into the ministry without a true vocation. He did not presume to exercise the sacred functions of the priesthood without being regularly ordained. He did not attempt of his own accord, to dogmatize or turn preacher and teacher without a proper mission, like unto the false prophets in the old Law, who as the Scripture complains, came without being sent, or like unto the new gospellers, and fanatics of these latter ages, who are called by our Saviour wolves in the clothing of sheep, and who force themselves into the sheepfold without any mission, either extraordinary from God, like that of the Apostles mentioned in c. xvi. of St. Mark, v. 15, or ordinary from the pastors of the Church, by the imposition of hands, like that spoken of in c. xiv. of the Acts, and x Tim. c. v. v. 22. and 2 Tim. c. i. v. 6. No, my brethren, St. Patrick came to this part of the world duly called, sent and authorized to preach the ancient faith, originally taught by the Apostles, to plant the catholic religion, and to open the fountains of salvation, grace, and mercy to sinners. No sooner did he land at Wicklow, with about twenty fellow labourers, and zealous assistants, but he began to weed, to plant, to water and cultivate the new vineyard of Christ. But how did he compleat his design? He placed his confidence in God, and as he was a man of piety, recollection and prayer, he possessed the art of converting sinners, of softening their hearts, of subduing all the powers of their souls, and of infusing more virtue into them than a more learned man, with all his empty science, and pompous oratory would be able to do; for though a man of extensive knowledge, may argue, convince, and charm others with his eloquence, yet if the spirit of piety be extinguished in his heart, he is no better than a sounding trumpet, though, as St. Paul expresses it, he should speak the language of men and  angels. These maxims were the plan of St. Patrick's conduct, and by these means he had the happiness to gain over innumerable proselytes. He appeared with undaunted courage at the general assembly of the Kings and states of Ireland, which was held every year at Tarah, the residence of the chief King, who was stiled the Monarch of the whole nation. Here our saint met a great number of the Druids, or Heathen priests, and confounded and converted many of them. The shining virtues of his exemplary life were more powerful and more persuasive arguments, than the most elegant discourses. It would be an endless task to enumerate all the labours and fatigues he underwent, in the course of sixty-one years, for the glory of God, and the salvation of souls. He travelled through all the provinces of Ireland, rooting up vice, and planting virtue wherever he went. Like another Elias, he burnt with zeal for the Lord God of Hosts, 3 Kings, c. xix. v. 10. so that he might truly say with the royal Prophet, ps. lxviii. The zeal of thy house has eaten me up, and has made me pine away. Nothing gave him more pain than to see the great God offended; nothing gave him more pleasure than to see him loved, praised and adored. He bewailed the gross errors of idolatry and superstition in which he found thousands of the inhabitants of this country enveloped at the time of his arrival; but glory be to God, his sorrow was soon changed into inexpressible joy. The most obdurate hearts were mollified by his instructions; the greatest sinners cast themselves at his feet, and began to deplore their past crimes with tears of bitterness, and numberless multitudes cried out for Baptism, and embraced the Roman Catholic and Apostolic faith. In short, he dispersed the darkness of infidelity by the brilliant rays of his sanctity, and by the ardour of zeal and piety he made truth and virtue triump over error and immorality. It is recorded of him that he founded above three hundred churches, ordained near three thousand priests, consecrated a great number of bishops, and established seven hundred religious houses, wherein thousands of the faithful devoted themselves entirely to the divine service, and aspired to the summit of Christian perfection by a regular observance of the three evangelical counsels, insomuch that this islands was deservedly stiled the Island of Saints, when St. Patrick finished his glorious career in the hundred and twentieth year of his age and in the four hundred and ninety-third year of our Lord. Nay, during the three succeeding centuries, whilst the greater part of Europe was overspread with inundations of pagan Goths and Vandals, this island was deemed a nursery of piety, a school of virtue, a seminary of learning, and abounded with a long train of illustrious saints, who derived the streams of their sanctity from their great Apostle St. Patrick, and illumined several parts of the, continent with the light of the Gospel and the splendor of their virtues. It is true, indeed, that in the ninth century Ireland was in its turn infested by successive swarms of heathen barbarians, who made it feel the grievances that followed the invasion of the sanctuary, and the demolition of the Roman empire in other countries; but notwithstanding all the various revolutions of nature, the self-same holy Catholic religion, which was planted here by St. Patrick above thirteen hundred years ago, and which was uniformly professed by our pious ancestors ever since, has been carefully transmitted down to us, whole and entire, unchanged and uncorrupted, and is still professed here to this very day in its primitive purity.

 Are we not, then, my brethren, highly indebted to the goodness of God for having, in his great mercy, called our ancestors from the darkness of infidelity to the wonderful light of faith, by the ministry of St. Patrick, and for having extended the same heavenly gift to us by the ministry of his successors and descendants, in preference to so many thousands, in other countries, from whom the true faith of Christ has been withdrawn by a just judgment, and transplanted elsewhere. Have we not reason to thank, praise and glorify the holy name of the Lord for this particular blessing, this singular favour, this special protection, and visible interference of his divine providence? Should we not, as the Apostle recommends in the words of my text, gratefully remember our prelates, who have spoken the word of God to us? Should we not be steadfast in following their faiths and taking care not to be led away by, various and strange doctrines? Should we not be armed against all novelty in religion, and guard against the baneful influence  of those dangerous principles which the new philosophers and unbelievers of this age are spreading in these and other neighbouring countries? Remove not the ancient landmark, which your fathers have set, says the Holy Ghost, Prov. xxii. Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls, Jerem. c. vi. v. 16. Ask thy father and he will shew thee, thy elders and they will tell thee, Deut. xxxii. for there is a way that seems to a man to be right, but its end leads to death and perdition, Prov. c. xiv. v. 12. ; and again, Christ cautions us in the Gospel, to beware of false prophets who make their appearance in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly are ravenous wolves, that come, not to feed, but only to fleece and destroy the flock ; nay, St. Paul does not hesitate to say, Galat. c. 1. v. 8. that although an Angel should descend from Heaven to preach up any new doctrine contrary to the ancient faith once delivered to the saints, we ought to look upon him as an anathema.

 Away, then with those irreligious discourses, pernicious maxims, unchristian ideas, unsanctified notions and noxious tares, which the enemy is endeavouring to sow over the good seed. Let us live up to the dictates and duties of our holy religion, and shew the purity of our faith by the purity of our morals, and by a strict observance of the commandments of God and his Church. Let us not forget the example of our holy Patron, but endeavour to render ourselves worthy of his patronage and intercession, by an imitation of his humility, charity, piety and zeal. Let us enter into the spirit of this holy quarantine, and go through it in a manner becoming good Christians and Catholics. Let us not pervert those days of grace and salvation into days of wrath and perdition. Let us not resemble pagans and bacchanalians in the celebration of our festivals, by criminal excesses and intemperance in drinking. Nothing is more opposite to the spirit of the Gospel, and to the sanctity of this present season and time of mercy, than the odious and destructive vice of drunkenness, by which this day in particular, above all days in the year, is most shamefully profaned. There is no vice that debases or degrades man more from the honour of human nature, or that reduces him nearer to the low rank, condition and similitude of the beasts of the field. It robs him of his reason, which is the greatest prero- gative of man, and the most excellent of the gifts of nature. It besots his spirits, clouds his understanding, confuses his judgment, and stupifies his mind in such a manner as not to be able to make one serious reflection, or to distinguish a plain from a precipice, or a friend from an enemy. It renders him a reproach to religion, a disgrace to Christianity, unfit for every spiritual duty, and fit for nothing but for the drudgery of Satan. It should, therefore, be carefully avoided at all times as a brutish vice, but more particularly at present, when the Gospel is crying out loudly to us to watch and pray, to live soberly, justly and quietly, to crucify the flesh with its lusts, to exhibit our bodies, an immaculate and pleasing host to the Lord, and to look well to ourselves, lest perhaps our hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness. Luke, c. xxi. O merciful Jesus, grant us all the grace of a true conversion. Open the eyes of those who are blindly straying away from the path of salvation, and conduct them into the right way that leads to life everlasting. Grant to the just the great gift of final perseverance, that being rescued from the dangers of this sinful Babylon, they may see and enjoy thee for a never-ending eternity, in the sacred mansions of heavenly Jerusalem. Which is the felicity that I wish ye all, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Rev. W. Gahan O.S.A., Sermons and Moral Discourses, Volume I (Dublin, 1825), 198-205.

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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

A Novena to Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland.

A Novena to St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland.

O BLESSED St. Patrick, glorious Apostle of Ireland, who didst become a friend and father to me for ages before my birth, hear my prayer, and accept for God the sentiments of gratitude and veneration with which my heart is filled. Through thee I have inherited that faith which is dearer than life. I now make thee the representative of my thanks, and the mediator of my homage to Almighty God. Most holy father and patron of my country, despise not my weakness: remember that the cries of little children were the sounds that rose, like a mysterious voice from heaven, and invited thee to come amongst us. Listen, then, to my humble supplication: may my prayer ascend to the throne of God, with the praises and blessings which shall ever sanctify thy name and thy memory in the Irish Church. May my hope be animated by the patronage and intercession of our forefathers, who now enjoy eternal bliss, and owe their salvation, under God, to thy courage and charity. Obtain for me grace to love God with my whole heart, to serve Him with my whole strength, and to persevere in good purposes to the end. O faithful shepherd of the Irish flock, who wouldst have laid down a thousand lives to save one soul, take my soul, and the souls of my countrymen, under thy especial care. Be a father to the Church of Ireland and her faithful people. Grant that all hearts may share the blessed fruits of that Gospel you planted and watered. Grant that, as our ancestors of old had learned, under thy guidance, to unite science with virtue, we, too, may learn, under thy patronage, to consecrate all Christian duty to the glory of God. I commend to thee my native land, which was so dear to thee while on earth. Protect it still, and, above all, direct its chief pastors, particularly those who teach us. Give them grace to walk in thy footsteps, to nurture the flock with the word of life and the bread of salvation, and to lead the heirs of the saints thou hast formed to the possession of that glory which they with you enjoy in the kingdom of the blessed: through Christ Jesus, our Lord.


V. Pray for us, O glorious St. Patrick.

R. And obtain for us the intention of this Novena.

The Augustinian Manual (Dublin,1885), 208-209.

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Friday, 19 February 2016

'Proto-martyr of the Irish Church': Saint Odhran, Charioteer of Saint Patrick

February 19 is the feast of Saint Odhran who is remembered in hagiographical tradition as the charioteer of Saint Patrick. He is more importantly remembered as having laid down his life for his saintly master and is described below as 'the proto-martyr of the Irish Church' by a nineteenth-century female writer on early missionaries to Europe: 

After his [Saint Patrick's] departure from Munster, as he passed through the territory of the Hyfailge in Kildare, and parts of the King's and Queen's Counties, he escaped even a more imminent danger through the fidelity of Odran, his charioteer. One Foilge Berrard, a Pagan, had boasted that if he met Patrick he would kill him, in revenge for the overthrow of the idol Cenn Cruagh, which had been Foilge's god. His boast was kept back from Patrick by his people, but it was known to Odran, his charioteer. Accordingly, when they came into Foilge's district Odran said to the saint, "Since I have been a long time driving for you, Patrick, let me take the chief seat for this day, and be you the charioteer, Father." Patrick consented, and changed seats. After this Foilge came up and dealt a thrust through Odran, believing him to be Patrick. Odran at the moment of death forgave his murderer, and became the proto-martyr of the Irish Church, as well as the only martyr in S. Patrick's time.

Mrs Anne Fulton Hope, The Conversion of the Teutonic Race, 2nd edition ed. Rev J.B. Dalgairns (London, 1887), 212.

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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

'A matter of holiness with wheels under it '

Photo credit:
Yesterday we were posed a question by Daphne Pochin Mould: 'Can we, in fact, sum up the essential characteristics of the real Brigid and her life?' and we will bring this octave of posts in honour of our national patroness to a close with her answer:

To some extent, we can. Brigid is, in a sense, a democratic saint, a woman who made good in spite of the handicap of birth and breeding. She was, quite obviously, a girl of great determination and the ability to get her own way, she made up her mind to give herself wholly to God and overcame all the obstacles in her path. She was a woman of God and of prayer,  but if the legends mean anything at all, she was also a woman of the people. She did not cut herself off from the world inside the Kildare rath; she went out from it to help people, spiritually and materially, to bring aid wherever it was needed. This combination of total dedication to God, of the life of prayer with practical ability, knowledge and common sense, is still as much needed in modern life as in the Ireland of St. Brigid. The statues showing Brigid standing still are all wrong; they give an impression of a static saint; whereas the reality would seem to have been a matter of holiness with wheels under it, Brigid in her chariot with horses at the trot. The modern Irish woman can move a great deal faster, but the direction in which to steer remains a good one, and for which there is still a need.

D.D.C. Pochin Mould, Saint Brigid (Dublin and London, 1964), 74.

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Monday, 8 February 2016

Saint Brigid - an Outdated Patron Saint?

As the Octave of the Feast of Saint Brigid draws to a close we return to the 1964 study of Saint Brigid by Daphne Pochin Mould. In her final chapter, 'Saint Brigid and Modern Ireland'  the author makes the point that the traditional way of life with which Saint Brigid was so intimately connected has now disappeared:
...Times have changed. Modern life leaves little leisure for the gracious round of folk custom, modern discoveries have replaced prayer and traditional skill with surer methods. The modern hospital, the ambulance plane, the vet with a whole litany of modern drugs at his disposal; these are the things to which mainlander and islander now turn for help in trouble. There is no need today to use any of the ancient prayers to Brigid for help, when we look for it rather at the end of a telephone line! Even the way of country life is so changed that the old prayers cease to have point or place. The fire is no longer smoored but switched off! 
Thus one may say that a whole section, and a very large section, of the cult of Brigid is linked to a way of life that is no more.  
On the other hand, should one go on to claim that Brigid herself is irrelevant to modern Ireland; that the country should change to some more contemporary patron? Does Brigid still set a headline for Irishwomen, and Irishmen for that matter? Can we, in fact, sum up the essential characteristics of the real Brigid and her life?
D.D.C. Pochin Mould, Saint Brigid (Dublin and London, 1964), 73-74.

Answer tomorrow!

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Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Most Beautiful Star in the Sky of Ireland

Such are the accounts of the legendaries. And while some gathered these fantastic stories, others related the daily wonders of her life and the benefits which her solicitous mercy unceasingly scattered over the little and the poor. She had passed everywhere, everywhere her charity had left ineffaceable traces, and the country of Kildare had not a rivulet, a house, or a stone, which did not relate a virtue or a miracle of Bridget.* Can we wonder that so alluring a history charmed the imagination and the heart of a poetic race, and that the sweet form of the heroine shines radiantly amid the saints of the legend as the most beautiful star in the sky of Ireland?

* Topog. Hiberniae. 

L. Tachet de Barneval, 'The Saints of Erin' -  Legendary History of Ireland (Boston, 1857), p.73.

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Saturday, 6 February 2016

Saint Brigid 'the most generous heart'

In the stories which nourished the easy faith of the Irish people, and which enlivened their misery; in the inexhaustible, yet simple, story of charity, one name returns more frequently than others; it is the name of St. Bridget. Bridget was the most generous heart, the tenderest and most feeling soul among all these holy souls, all these benevolent hearts that loved and succored poor Ireland; but it seems, too, as though the popular imagination took pleasure in portraying, in the form of a woman,  the sweetest of powers, the dearest of virtues.

L. Tachet de Barneval, 'The Saints of Erin' -  Legendary History of Ireland (Boston, 1857), p.67

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Friday, 5 February 2016

Saint Brigid the Peacemaker

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Brigid the Peacemaker

She was also gifted with an extraordinary power of reconciling disputes between neighbors. She was often appealed to in cases of this sort, and she scarcely ever failed in arranging matters amicably. Sometimes she adjusted the dispute by her good sound sense, sometimes by her miraculous power. On one occasion, she was met by two brothers of the O'Neill family, who were contending at the time for the supreme authority. Clonald, on meeting Saint Bridget, asked her blessing, as he was pursued by his brother Corpreus, who was anxious to take away his life, in order that he might enjoy his father's kingdom. Saint Bridget blessed him, and they had not advanced many steps, when Corpreus was seen advancing with his men. Saint Bridget's companions became dreadfully alarmed, but she told them not to fear, that there would be no encounter between the hostile bands. Clonald stands still, and Corpreus embraces him at the request of Saint Bridget. After a short stop, they both took their respective courses, each quite unconscious of having embraced the enemy whom he intended to despatch in the first warlike encounter.

The Life of Saint Bridget, "The Mary of Erin" by an Irish Priest (New York, 1861),

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Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Mary of Erin

...The Irish always had a most tender love for the Blessed Virgin, and Saint Bridget was called by the Irish saints "the second Mary," "the Mary of Erin." Nothing could give us a more exalted idea of her sanctity, nothing could express their love more forcibly. To place her near the mother of God would be a great honor; to place her next her is the greatest mark of respect they could pay her. Mary was their refuge in every danger, and to honor both by the same act, they called them by the same name.

But this did not satisfy the piety of these holy men. They wished to extol her still more. She is called the "Mother of Christ" partly on account of her great resemblance to the Blessed Virgin, and partly on account of her perfection; for Christ himself has said," that he, who does my will, is my father and my mother." In this sense she deserved this title, for the will of God was "her meat and her drink;" she was never so happy as when she was carrying out the designs of His mercy.

The Life of Saint Bridget, "The Mary of Erin" by an Irish Priest (New York, 1861), 169-170.

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