Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Saint Acobran of Kilrush, January 28

January 28 is the feast of Saint Acobran of Kilrush, about whom not a great deal appears to be known. We have already met this saint, for in a post on a trio of saintly brothers commemorated on 28 November, I mentioned the contention of the English writer, Sabine Baring-Gould, that one of these brothers, also called Acobran, was to be identified with today's saint. If our Acobran did indeed go off to Cornwall and later on to France as Baring-Gould claims, Canon O'Hanlon knows nothing of it, and it would not be like the good Canon to fail to claim such a career for an otherwise obscure Irish saint. On the contrary, in the Lives of the Irish Saints Acobran is depicted as a shadowy figure whose very location is the subject of doubt, with the Martyrology of Donegal initially identifying him with Kilrush, County Clare but then suggesting in the table appended to the Martyrology that this particular Kilrush is to be found in County Kildare. In the late 1830s when O'Donovan and his co-workers were carrying out their Ordnance Survey work in the parish of Kilrush, County Clare a letter noted 'According to the Irish Calendar the Saints Mellan and Occobran were venerated at Cill Rois in the Termon of Inis Cathaigh on the 28th of January, but neither of them is now remembered in the Parish'. It may be that the cult of the most famous saint of Inis Cathaigh, Saint Senan, overshadowed and eventually displaced that of Saint Acobran. Canon O'Hanlon, as he often does when there is not much to say about a saint, goes into a description of church ruins associated with Saint Senan, but below are the essentials of what he has to tell us of Saint Acobran:

St. Acobran of Kilrush, Probably in the County of Clare.

...Without any other distinction, he is mentioned in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 28th of January, But we are not left in doubt regarding his locality, if we depend on the succeeding statement. According to the Martyrology of Donegal, we find Accobhran, of Cill-Ruis, in the Termon of Inis-Cathaigh, as having a festival celebrated on this day. In a table postfixed to this Martyrology, his place is thought to have been Kilrush, in the county of Kildare. He is said to have been otherwise called Occobhran, whence Ocobrus, Ocoras [Desiderius). The place usually designated for this saint is the present Kilrush, a parish in the barony of Moyarta and county of Clare. The present saint, to whatever place he belonged, appears to have lived in or before the eighth century. This is proved from the "Feilire" of St. Aengus the Culdee. With its English translation, Professor O'Looney has furnished the following stanza from the Leabhar Breac copy in the R. I. A.

G. u. kl. With Acobran we celebrate
The passion of eight noble virgins;
They gained a triumph of righteousness,
The great Miserian host.

These latter seem to have been martyrs in Africa, and to have been part of a band, commemorated in St. Jerome's ancient Martyrology....

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Saint Croine, January 27

January 27 is the feastday of an early female saint, Croine, one of many Irish saints to have been recorded on the Irish calendars, but who has left no Vita to give further details of her life. As Canon O'Hanlon explains, there is even no certainty as to the locality in which she may have flourished, the Martyrology of Tallaght identifying her with Inuse Lochacrone which may suggest a County Sligo location, and the 19th-century scholar John O'Donovan placing her at Kilcroney, County Wicklow. The latest work on the Irish saints, Pádraig Ó Riain's 2011 Dictionary of Irish Saints, places her instead at the County Carlow location of Ardnehue (Ceall Inghean nAodha) and sees her as one of three daughters of Aodh. Ó Riain acknowledges the confusion of this holy lady with others of the same name, including Cróine of Inis Cróine, who may be one of a number of possible doubles.

St. Croine, Virgin, of Kill-Crony, in the County of Wicklow, or at Inishcrone, County of Sligo.

A festival in honour of Croni of Inuse Lochacrone is entered in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 27th of January. The locality named is possibly identical with the present Inishcrone, near the River Moy, in Tireragh barony, county of Sligo. A strong castle of Eiscir-Abhann, stood here. Inishcrone town, with the ruined church and graveyard, is in the parish of Kilglass, and near the rocky shore, at Killala Bay. Again, there was a Cill-Cruain, now Kilcrone, an old church, giving name to a townland and parish in the barony of Ballymoe, in the county of Galway. We find that Croine, virgin, of Cill Croine, is recorded, likewise, in the Martyrology of Donegal, on this day. She is of the race of Máine, son of Niall. Her place has been identified with Kill-crony, in the county of Wicklow, and as giving no name to a modern parochial district, it may have been denominated from the establishment of a cell or nunnery here, by the present saint, while possibly clerical ministrations had been supplied by the religious community or pastor, living at Kilmacanoge, in remote times. More we cannot glean regarding this holy woman yet, we may conjecture, she must have flourished at a very early period.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Meeting of Paul and Brendan

In 2013 I looked at an Irish Saint Paul, assigned January 25 as a feast day by Colgan because this date was the commemoration of the baptism of Saint Paul the apostle. This Irish Paul was said to have been a disciple of Saint Patrick who later pursued the eremitical life on a lonely island. There the intrepid voyager, Saint Brendan, discovers him, an encounter related in chapter twenty-six of the Navigatio. The episode appears to be a retelling of the famous ‘meeting of Paul and Anthony’ from the Life of Saint Paul of Thebes. I remain fascinated by the translation of the eastern Saint Paul the Hermit into an Irish context, and have been enjoying a paper on the subject by scholar Éamonn Ó Carragáin. He begins by discussing the place of honour held by the two saints in the Irish church:
When the saints are mentioned in the Irish sources, it is primarily as the exemplars and prototypes of the eremitic life, and hence of monasticism. Thus the Life of St Columcille in the Book of Lismore gives the monastic life as the first way by which men are summoned to knowledge of God; and the monastic vocation is described as ‘the urging and kindling of men by the divine grace to serve the Lord after the manner of Paul, and of Anthony the monk, and of the other faithful monks who used to serve God in Egypt.’ In the Stowe Missal, likewise, Paul and Anthony are named as the exemplars of the eremitic life.
Ó Carragáin goes on to contrast this appreciation for the pair among the Irish with the attitude of the Anglo-Saxons:
Saints Paul and Anthony seem to have been popular in Celtic lands because the Irish, and their Scottish settlements, revered them as prototypes of monasticism. For Anglo-Saxon monks, St Benedict of Nursia would usually have occupied this position of pre-eminent reverence. Wandering anchorites who met, however providentially, in the desert could not be honoured with unqualified reverence by communities founded on a vow of ‘stabilitas loci’. For later Anglo-Saxon homilists, ‘instability of place and wandering from place to place’ was a product of sleacnes (sloth), one of the eight capital sins.
Saint Brendan finds ‘Paul the Spiritual Hermit’ living on a small circular-shaped island. For thirty years he has been fed by an otter, which brings him a fish and firewood for cooking every three days. When Saint Brendan arrives, however, the hermit has moved to occupy ‘two caves, the entrance of one facing the entrance of the other, on the side of the island facing east’. The otter no longer brings food, as the hermit now subsists entirely on the waters of ‘ a miniscule spring, round like a plate, flowing from the rock before the entrance to the cave…when this spring overflowed, the rock immediately absorbed the water’.

Ó Carragáin comments:
We clearly have here, not another version of the life of Saint Paul the First Hermit, but a different figure, set in a new landscape which develops in an original way the themes of the desert scene in the Vita Sancti Pauli. This Irish Spiritual Hermit inhabits a landscape which is entirely symbolic; and its symbolism is primarily eucharistic. We have already seen the eucharistic significance of the symbol ‘fish’. The eucharistic significance of water that is miraculously given from a rock is equally central to Christian tradition. St. Paul’s gloss on the ‘wandering rock’ which accompanied the Israelites in the desert [1 Corinthians 10:1-4] is relevant to the island-rock which sustains this Spiritual Hermit. [In a footnote the author also says: in his use of the spring as an image for Christ’s giving of himself as drink, the author of the Navigatio is probably thinking also of such texts such as John 7:37-8 and John 19:34.]
The writer argues that the point of all this eucharistic imagery is revealed at the end of the chapter when the hermit gives Brendan and his crew a supply of water from the spring to act as the sole sustenance for their next forty-day voyage. The symbolism is further brought into focus when we note that Saint Brendan’s voyage comes to an end on Holy Saturday and thus the meeting with the hermit must have taken place on or close to the first Sunday of Lent.

Ó Carragáin has many more interesting points to make on the meeting of Paul and Brendan, but for now I will conclude with his tribute to the writer of the Navigatio and his use of the Vita Sancti Pauli:
The wit of the Navigatio depends on an unobtrusive mastery of paradox: the author demonstrates that the famous scene of the meeting of Saints Paul and Anthony can be re-enacted, not with bread alone, but with other images of how man is fed by God’s word. He transforms the famous scene in the Vita in such a way as to suggest that fasting gives sustenance to the spirit, and that the contemplative vocation (the vita theorica) can provide fulfillment even on stony ground.

The details of chapter xxvi of the Navigatio can thus be seen to interact, as it were in a form of counterpoint, with the corresponding details in the Vita Sancti Pauli; and it can be seen that to appreciate the sophisticated virtuosity of the Navigatio it is necessary to have some recollection of the Vita. No doubt the author of the Navigatio felt he could depend on his monastic readership for such a recollection. In the scene in which St Brendan meets St Paul the Spiritual Hermit, the author clearly was just as preoccupied with the eucharistic themes of the recognition of and union with Christ as Jerome had been in the Vita Sancti Pauli. The Navigatio therefore provides strong confirmatory evidence that for Irish audiences the meeting of St Paul and St Anthony had primarily a eucharistic significance. The way in which the Spiritual Hermit is made to greet St Brendan with the verse ‘ecce quam bonum et quam iocundum habitare fratres in unum’ suggests that the author of the Navigatio is making explicit another theme which he saw Jerome’s account of the meeting of Paul and Anthony to imply: that friendship and community could, miraculously, be found even in the desert. This theme may also be relevant to the ‘Paul and Anthony’ panels on the high crosses, those monastic scenes of courteous friendship which the sculptors consistently placed in eucharistic contexts.

Éamonn Ó Carragáin ‘The Meeting of Saint Paul and Saint Anthony: visual uses of a Eucharistic motif’ in G. Mac Niocaill and P.F. Wallace, eds. Keimelia – studies in medieval archaeology and history in memory of Tom Delaney (Galway University Press, 1988), 1-58.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

A Seminar on the Shrine of Saint Manchan



24 January is the feast of Saint Manchan of Lemanaghan, a saint whose memory still flourishes today and whose name is most famously associated with the splendid shine preserved for veneration at the parish church in Boher, County Offaly. Below is an account of a 2003 Irish Studies Seminar held at Columbia University when Professor Karen Overbey spoke on the topic of Saint Manchan's shrine. She helps to place this relic into an historical context, particularly interesting is the political dimension and the relationship between the monastery of Lemanghan and its much more famous neighbour at Clonmacnoise.

Speaker: Professor Karen Overbey
Title: “Holy Ground: Politics, Patronage, and Iconography of St Manchan’s Shrine”

Prof. Overbey presented a talk with slides. St Manchan’s Shrine, which is kept in the parish church in Boher, Co. Offaly, very near to the site of St Manchan’s medieval monastry at Lemanaghan, is the largest surviving Irish reliquary—the richly decorated, containers for the remains of a saint. Holy relics, and even their reliquaries, were the prized possessions of medieval monasteries; the presence of the saint guaranteed the sanctity of the monastic space, and allowed a connection between the earthly inhabitants and the world of the divine.

Many of the shrines features mark it as exceptional. Professor Overbey noted, however, that the oddities of the shrine—its size, its form, its decoration, its figures—rather than spurring exploration, has spurred categorization. Prof. Overbey suggested that through a re-evaluation of the literary, folkloric, political and geographic contexts, St Manchan’s shrine would become less “bewildering.”

St Manchan’s shrine was clearly intended to be carried and displayed—at each junction of base and leg there is a stout brass ring through which a pole could be slid, allowing the shrine to be hoisted and carried. St Manchan’s shrine is approximately five times larger than the tomb-shaped shrines, and its display, on the shoulders of four monks presumably in a procession—would have been public and communal. The small tomb-shaped shrines in contrast were designed to be carried individually, and perhaps somewhat privately or protectively, as on a journey.

St Manchan himself was a founder of monastry approximately twelve miles east of the community of Clonmacnois; the site was called Lemanaghan. Despite its small size, Lemanaghan appears to have had a close relationship with the nearby prominent monastery of Clonmacnois. While the story does not survive in any medieval hagiography, a legend, recorded in the early twentieth century by a local historian, suggests a folkloric “sibling rivalry” between Sts Ciaran (the founder of Clonmacnois) and Manchan, in the tale of a dispute about the boundaries of the respective territories. This may well have some historical basis. In the early eleventh century, King Maelsechnaill donated several more parcels of land in the parish of Lemanaghan to the community of St. Ciaran, specifically as a payment for rights of royal burial in the Clonmacnois graveyard. Seen in this context, the form of St Manchan’s shrine takes on a new possible resonance, which may help to explain the differences from the earlier tradition of tomb-shaped reliquaries. Instead of a fixed burial site located in a bounded graveyard or at the side of a church, St Manchan’s tomb was moveable. It could travel around the boundaries not only of the church, but of the territory, allowing an extension of the sacred and protected space of the monastic graveyard. Prof. Overbey suggested that the burial space of St Manchan’s Shrine functioned to dilate the boundary of the Clonmacnois graveyard, extending the sacred space to the edges of Clonmacnois’s territory.

Prof. Overbey also suggested that the form of St Manchan’s Shrine, coupled with its historical context, imply a strategic political function for the reliquary. In its fusion of divine protection and political expansion, St Manchan’s Shrine proclaims that it was the destiny of Ua Conchobair, Clonmacnois’ patron in the twelfth century, to occupy the province of Meath forever, and that the saint and the king would be dual guardians of the territory and its people.

The Annals of the Four Masters tells us that, in 1166, “The shrine of Manchan…was covered by Ruaidhri Ua Conchobair, a prime contender for high-kingship of the whole island. Ruaidhri’s bid for military and political dominance in Ireland was contested. So it wouldn’t be unusual for Ruaidhri to become an ecclesiastical patron, enchancing his position with grants and gold. We might therefore view the figures on St Manchan’s shrine as having not religious, but military significance. The figures might represent a particularly valuable type of warrior: one with experience, prowess, and identifiable status. Yet, these warriors are not poised to strike. This symbolic troop may function as a kind of visual reminder, or even visual surrogate, of a military exchange of vassals and soldiers between Ruaidhri and his Connacht and Breffney rivals. St Manchan’s shrine is both the site and visualization of the political contract that allowed these rivals to join forces under the protection and assurance of St Manchan, their co-patron. Prof. Overbey answered questions from the floor. A sampling follows.

Q: What are the figures wearing around their necks?
A: They don’t have anything on their necks. That’s actually the nail pole. Those rings were used for carrying the shrine.

Q: How is Jesus depicted? Is Jesus depicted as a warrior?
A: He wears similar clothing: he wears a loin cloth but he has insized ribs.

Q: Was the touching of relics and bones common?
A: It appears that early on they were readily touchable, but they regularly get stolen and traded. For instance, St Manchan’s is sealed. This starts happening in the tenth century. Viewing crystals appear in the fourteenth century.

Q: Is there a change in making reliquaries after the arrival of the Normans?
A: Unfortunately, we don’t have enough evidence to say. There does appear to be subtle changes in the representation of saints. There are only three or four examples of post-Norman shrines.

Q: Is the bone house in Clare identified?
A: No, I actually had to go and track it down in the Burren.

Q: You say that these figures are mature warriors but they’re not dressed for battle and they’re shirtless. Might they not just be peasants?
A: I guess I’d want to know why they have axes and sticks. This depiction of beard tugging is a common attribute of warriors. It might be just enough to indicate that they are warriors.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Saint Guaire Mór of Aghadowy, January 22

January 22 is the commemoration of a northern saint, Guaire Mór of Aghadowy, County Derry. Canon O'Hanlon has this to tell us:

St. Goar, Guarius, or Guaire Mór, of Aghadowy, County of Londonderry. [Probably in the Seventh or Eighth Century.]

In the days of early youth, most probably this holy man had fought his way into the sanctuary of God as a young priest, and had arrived at distinction in the Church. We read in the Martyrology of Donegal, as having been venerated on this day, Guaire Mór, of Achadh Dubhthaigh, now the parish of Aghadowy or Aghadoey, county of Londonderry, on the banks of the Lower Banna, or River Bann. He was the son of Colman, son to Fuactage, son to Ferguss, son to Leogaire, son to Fiachre, son to Colla Uais, who was Monarch of Ireland. He is styled abbot of the foregoing place, in the plain of Li. The Martyrology of Tallaght records him on the 22nd of January, under the simple designation of Guaire. It does not seem probable this saint was the original founder of the monastery at this place, nor does his epithet of Mór, "great," seem equivalent to "elder." He was first cousin, yet removed by a later generation, to the saint, bearing this same name, whose feast occurs on the 9th of this month; and our present Guaire Mór probably succeeded the other in order of time. Perhaps, indeed, notwithstanding such a probability, and his apparently junior age, this Guaire Mór may have founded Aghadowey Church singly, or in conjunction with his cousin; and the term applied to the present saint might indicate superiority, celebrity, or position. Perhaps simply a difference of stature may have caused the distinction in names between Guaire Mór and Guaire Beg.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Saint Flann of Finglas, January 21

January 21 is the commemoration of a County Dublin saint, Flann, Bishop of Finglas. Canon O'Hanlon tells us what is known of him:

Flann Mac Laich, or Mac Lughdach, Bishop of Finglas, County of Dublin

A considerable share of misunderstanding has prevailed—while even distinguished Irish historians and topographers appear to have fallen into errors —in reference to the special Patron Saint of Finglas. The original name of this village seems to have been derived from the small, rapid, and tortuous "bright stream" that runs through a sort of ravine, beside the present cemetery. Towards the close of the eighth, or in the beginning of the ninth century—as we find in the "Feilire Aengusa" — this place had been denominated Finnghlais-Cainnigh, after some earlier patron, called Cainnigh or Canice. He is generally thought to have been the patron saint of Ossory, as no other one bearing such a name can be found in connection with this spot. Whether or not a monastery had been founded by Cainneach, while under the tuition of Mobhi Clairenech, abbot, of Glasnevin, and who died in 544, can scarcely be determined. It seems probable, at least, that a cell, or monastic institute, had been here erected by St. Canice before the close of the sixth century. Archdall evidently confounds this saint with a Kenicus or Keny, whose feast is assumed to have been on the 12th of October. The life of this saint had been preserved in the church of Finglas. How long after his time the present holy man lived does not appear to be known. However, a monastic institution, and an ancient bishop's see, seem to have distinguished Finglas, in the early part of the eighth century. We read in the Martyrology of Donegal how Flann, bishop, of Finnghlais, had a festival on this day. In the table superadded to this work, the commentator interprets his name Flann, as meaning "red" or "crimson." He is entered in the published Martyrology of Tallaght on the 21st of January, under the designation of Flann mac Lughdach, abbot, of Finnglaise. The Franciscan copy, however, calls him "the son of Laich." The present village of Finglas, near Dublin city, and to the north of it, has the ruins of an ancient—but not its oldest—church, within an enclosed graveyard of very great antiquity. The parish of Finglas is situated partly in the barony of Castleknock and partly in that of Nethercross. Under the head of Finnglais, Duald Mac Firbis enters Flann, bishop, of Finnglais. January the 21st is also set down for his feast.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Saint Fechin of Fore, January 20



January 20 is the feast of Saint Fechin of Fore. An earlier post on his life, taken from the work of Archdeacon O'Rorke, can be found here.  This year we can look at the account of Saint Fechin's life given by Father John Lanigan, as quoted by Father Cogan in his diocesan history of County Meath:

FORE is a parish in the barony of Demifore, county of Westmeath. A monastery was founded here in the seventh century by St. Fechin, which in process of time became the centre of an episcopal see. The life of the distinguished founder is thus given by Dr. Lanigan:

St. Fechin, who is the first named among the priests of the third class of Irish saints, was a native of the territory in which St. Athracta had her nunnery, that is, of Lugne. Bile, or afterwards called Bile-Fechin, in the barony of Leney, is stated to have been the place of his birth. His father was Coelcharna, a descendant of Eochad Fionn, brother to the famous King Con of the Hundred Battles, and his mother Lassair, of the royal blood of Munster. When fit to be sent to school, Fechin was placed under St. Nathy of Achonry, in whose monastery he remained until he made a considerable progress in learning and piety. How long he continued there we are not correctly informed. According to one account, he staid with Nathy until he was ordained priest; but according to another, which appears more consistent, he left that school several years before he was ordained, and went to that of some other holy man. Having finished his studies, and being raised to the priesthood, he left his own country for the purpose of leading a retired life, and arriving at Fobhar, now Fore, in the county of Westmeath, stopped there, being very kindly received by the proprietors of that place. Here he erected a monastery, to which such numbers of persons were attracted by his reputation, that after some time his community consisted of about three hundred monks, who, as well as their holy abbot, subsisted on their own labour, and were sometimes reduced to great penury. Some other monasteries or churches are attributed to St. Fechin, but, with the exception of one or two of them, I greatly doubt whether they were of his foundation. That he established a religious house in the island of Immagh, near the coast of Galway, cannot be questioned. The inhabitants were still pagans when Fechin, taking with him some of his monks of Fore, undertook their conversion. At first he met with great opposition, and the people were so obstinate that they refused to supply him and his companions with even the necessaries of life, so that two of them died of want of food, whom, however, the Almighty was pleased, through the saint's intercession, to bring again to life. But Guaire, King of Connaught, being apprised of their distress, sent them abundance of provisions. When setting about the construction of a monastery, the islanders threw their implements and utensils into the sea, which, it is said, were driven back on land. At length Fechin succeeded in bringing all of them over to the Christian faith, and baptized them. Their zeal became so fervent that they consigned themselves and their island to him as their master and superior.

Among the many transactions in which Fechin is said to have been engaged, it is related that, on occasion of Donald the Second, King of all Ireland, having marched with a great army into the country of the Southern or Meath Nialls, for the purpose of fixing the boundaries of their principality, they applied for protection to the saint, who happened to be then at a place called Tibrada, where, perhaps he had some small establishment. Fechin complied with their request, and acted so powerfully on the king's mind as to induce him to desist from any further proceeding against the Southern Nialls, between whom and the king he procured a perfect reconciliation. His influence was very great with the kings and princes of his time. An instance of this is given in the case of a young man named Erlomhan, whom Moenach, King of Munster, immediately discharged from prison on perceiving that Fechin wished for this act of grace. Erlomhan afterwards embraced the monastic state under Fechin. In like manner he obtained from the joint kings of Ireland, Diermit the Second and Blaithmac, the liberation of one Aedus or Aedan, a brave military man, who, on being dismissed from prison and given up to Fechin, went with him to Fore, where he became a monk. Several holy men are mentioned as united in friendship with Fechin, for instance, Coeman or Comain Breac, abbot of Roseach, in Meath, Ultan of Ardbraccan, Fintan Munnu, Ronan, son Berach, and particularly Mochua, Abbot of Ardslaine. Fechin's life was one continued course of austerity, and he was so fond of solitude that he often used to retire from his monastery, either of Fore or Immagh, to lonesome situations, passing his time in prayer, fasting, and other mortifications, and taking no food except now and then a little bread and water. Many miracles have been attributed to him. This great saint died on the 20th of January, A.D. 665, of the dreadful pestilence that raged all over Ireland. His memory has been most highly respected, and the monastery of Fore, which continued down to the time of the general suppression, was greatly celebrated, and in the course of ages became very splendid and wealthy.