Sunday, 22 May 2016

Teach me, O Trinity

E. Hull Poem, Book of the Gael (1913)

To mark Trinity Sunday, below is a poem taken from a 1913 collection of texts and translations by the Anglican writer Eleanor Hull (1860-1935). She is perhaps best known for her English versification of the hymn 'Be Thou My Vision'. Miss Hull contributed translations from Old Irish to many of the scholarly journals of her day and published various books on early Irish history and mythology. The poem below, by the 12th/13th-century writer Muireadhach Albanach Ó Dálaigh, is a beautiful plea to the Holy Trinity:


By Murdoch O'Daly, called Murdoch "the Scotchman" (Muredach Albanach), on account of his affection for that country; born in Connaught towards the close of the twelfth century.

TEACH me, O Trinity,
All men sing praise to Thee, 
Let me not backward be, 
Teach me, O Trinity. 

Come Thou and dwell with me, 
Lord of the holy race; 
Make here thy resting-place, 
Hear me, O Trinity. 

That I Thy love may prove. 
Teach Thou my heart and hand. 
Ever at Thy command 
Swiftly to move. 

Like to a rotting tree 
Is this vile heart of me; 
Let me Thy healing see, 
Help me, O Trinity. 

Sinful, beholding Thee; 
Yet clean from theft and blood My hands; 
O Son of God, 
For Mary's love, answer me. 

In my adversity 
No great man stooped to me, 
No good man pitied me, 
God ope'd His heart to me. 

Lied I, as others lie. 
They deceived, so have I, 
On others' lie I built my lie — Will my God pass this by? 

Truth art Thou, truth I crave, 
If on a lie I rest, I'm lost ; 
My vow demands my uttermost; 
Save, Trinity, O save!

Eleanor Hull, ed. Poem Book of the Gael,  Translations from Irish Gaelic Poetry into English Prose and Verse, (London 1912), 156-157.

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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Saint Dubhlitir of Finglas, May 15

May 15 is the commemoration of an eighth-century County Dublin saint, Dubhlitir of Finglas. In common with other monastics from this foundation his passing was recorded in the Irish Annals, as Canon O'Hanlon explains:

St. Dubhlitir, Abbot of Finglas, County of Dublin.

[Eighth Century.]

The death of Faelchu, of Finnghlais, is noticed at A.D. 758. He is supposed to have been identical with a saint similarly designated [feastday September 24]. Again, Caencomhrac, bishop of this place, died a.d. 786 [according to the Annals of the Four Masters]. Contemporaneously with this bishop, and possibly ruling over a monastery during his term of incumbency, Dublitir lived. When he began to govern the monks there has not been ascertained; or what age he had reached, at the date assigned for his death, must yet remain an open question. St. Dubhlitir appears to have lived as a contemporary with St. Aengus the Culdee. Tallagh and Finglas were not very distantly separated, and both of these holy men may have enjoyed the privilege and happiness of a personal acquaintance. As St. Aengus survived, however, it seems pretty certain, he must have known perfectly well the character of this deceased guardian over Finglas Monastery. In the "Felire of Aengus," as preserved in the "Leabhar Breac," and in that copy formerly belonging to St. Isidore's convent, at Rome, a special eulogy has been pronounced, in reference to this holy Abbot, in common with other saints, mentioned in the stanza. The original Irish rann has been obligingly copied and collated, while the English translation has been supplied, by William M. Hennessy, Esq., M.R.I.A.:-

"The grace of the seven-fold Spirit
Poured on great-bright clerics,
Timothy, the rich Saran,
On the festival of renowned Dubhlitir."

However fanciful etymological derivations of Irish names may be regarded, the present holy man's name can literally be Anglicized "black-letter." This term is usually applied to students, who closely apply themselves to books; and, in a double sense, it was most probably appropriate to St. Dubhlitir, whose feast has been assigned for the 15th May. This Dubhlittir, no doubt, was the person referred to in the following entry, in the "Annals of Ulster," at A.D. 779 (780): "An assembly of the synods of the Ui-Neill and the Leinstermen, where there were many anchorites and scribes, over whom Dubhlitter was President". He is briefly alluded to by Colgan, in the Bollandist collection, and also in Manuscript Book of "Extracts," among the Records for Dublin County, at present kept in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy. On this day, likewise, the commentator on St. Aengus, and also the Martyrology of Donegal, register Dubhlitir, Abbot of Finnglais-Cainnigh, near Ath-cliath. It must be regarded as the correct date for his death. The present saint's name occurs, at the 15th of May, in the published Martyrology of Tallagh. The year when his demise took place is set down, in the Annals of the Four Masters, as 791. The Annals of Ulster write it, at A.D. 795. His remains were deposited, probably, within the old church walls, or under some now unnoticed sod of the present cemetery, which rises high over the "bright stream," that rushes onward to join the classic Tolka River. The present holy man was also venerated in Scotland, at the 15th of May, as we find from the entry in the Kalendar of Drummond. 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 of 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 connexion 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, and before the close of the sixth century...

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Rule of Saint Comgall

Saint Comgall, founder of the monastery of Bangor, had a reputation for upholding a strict monastic rule. In 1904 scholar John Strachan published the text of an Old Irish Metrical Rule associated with the saint but argued that the text dated from the late eighth century, two centuries after the time of Saint Comgall. Saint Adamnan's writings mention a Rule of Comgall, but it is not possible to determine if this is the text  to which he refers. A more recent translation appears in the 1996 anthology by Uinseann Ó Maidín OCR, The Celtic Monk - Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks. As the Internet Archive have placed Strachan's translation in the public domain I reproduce it below, but for access to the footnotes and the Old Irish text please consult the original volume. As with all monastic texts there is much for Christians in all states of life to profitably reflect on:


1 Preserve the Rule of the Lord; therein thou runnest no risk. It is better that thou transgress it not, as long as thy life lasts.

2 This is the essence [lit. what is best] of the Rule: love Christ, hate wealth; piety to thee towards the King of the sun and smoothness towards men.

3 Continuance in penitence — wonderful the road — keenness, persistence therein; heed of death everyday; good will to every man.

3a. A hundred prostrations to Him at the Beati morning and evening, if it be accomplished, the reward which he will have therefor in the Kingdom of Heaven will not be paltry.

3b. Every morning at the time let him bow down promptly thrice. Over his breast, over his face, let him put the sign of Christ's cross.

4 Aim not at a ... . devotion. Eat thy due portion of food. The short gross devotion, it is the Devil who has devised(?)it.

5 Make not a fire of fern ; then its extinction is nigh. Be not a sedge against a stream, that thy devotion may be lasting.

6 If the battles overtake thee, it is better for thee that thou shouldst not be slack : a battle against many vices, a battle against the body, a battle against the Devil.

7 These are thy three rules — have thou naught else dearer — patience, humility, and the love of the Lord in thy heart.

8 Through fear is the love of the King who healeth every misery. It is from love of Him that His will and His commandment are cared for.

9 Love of God .... the earth, fetters thoughts speedily. Fear hath power over repentance. Love determines piety.

10 Whether in fear or in hurt let us pray to Christ that we may escape (?). The manner of the penance our patron shall determine.

11 The eight chiefs of the vices which slay the soul of every man, I know virtues which extinguish them all.

12 This is the virtue which works long consolation, that in every desire which thou desirest thou shouldst exercise patience.

12a. My own soul said to my .... body (?) if it might be moved upon this earth after being for a time in blasphemy.

13 To sing the three fifties from tierce to tierce, if it be possible, by the ordinances of the ancients, there will be a day that it will be a help.

13a. Three hundred prostrations every day, and three at every canonical hour, thy soul will not be at the judgment of the King on the Day of Doom.

13b.Two hundred prostrations every day to the Lord with a diligent booklet, they shall be performed without any defect always save on the Lord's day.

13c. Two hundred blows on the hands in every Lent, it will be a help. From every pride that they shall be guilty of they sain (?) every guilt upon them.]

14 Light, wonderful, and mild is the yoke of the Lord. To go to a devout sage is good to direct one's path.

15 A devout sage to guide thee, 'tis good to avoid punishment. Though great thou deem thy firmness, be not under thine own guidance.

16 It is better for thee to avoid those whom thou mayest expect to slay thee, a fool pious but ignorant, a sage impenitent and ....

16a. Practise the liberty (?) of the elders. Be not foolish like .... Before afterwards (?) in every place [to be] in obedience to Jesus will be better (?),

16b. Practise deliverance from captivity for God's folk — 'tis no shame — that thou mayest not unawares play I alone, you alone, before the Devil.

17 Though great injuries come to thee, lament not thereat ; because they are not more abundant than those of the King who sends them.

18 Though thou deem the guests many, if thou renderest [them] their service due, beg of the king with whom thou art, buy not aught for them.

19 Go not thyself to solicit; let no one go from thee to beg. Remain at home in prayer ; ever endure thy poverty.

20 Be not hard and niggardly. Be not deaf to prayer to thee. Refuse not, solicit not. Love not a man's wealth.

21 Thou shalt not sell, thou shalt not buy God's mercy, thou shalt not hide it. What thou earnest off over and above thy sufficiency, thou shalt give to the poor.

22 Be not given to buying and trafficking. Let thy piety to Christ be great. Beg not of a king in Ireland, if thou be a vassal of Mary's Son.

23 Repentance with sluggishness (?) after being in great sin, small is its reward in heaven, its trial in fire will be great.

24 If there should be anyone who should take the path of repentance, advance a step every day, practise not the ways of a charioteer.

25 If thou shouldst part from the world, thou hast taken the path of sufferings. Flee from it, look not, as [though it were] a pursuit wherewith thou wert pursued.

26 If thou shouldst have a son or householdry that thou hast determined to part from, thou shalt not seek them, thou shalt not think of them, as though thou wert in the earth.

27 If thou practise repentance, if thy heart is meek, this way is straight to the King of the Kingdom of Heaven.

27a. A hundred blows on thy hands, in every Lent it will be a help. For every pride that they [the hands] have practised, miss not a single time [lit without want upon them] (?).

28 If it be thy desire that thy soul be as white as the swan, no other can strive after aught for thy soul in thy stead.

28a. If thou art a shepherd to church-tenants, it is fitting that thou compassionate them and love them ....

28b. If tenant service come to thee, if thy frequent trial be pleasant (?), preserve thou three words till thou art carried to thy graveyard.

28c. These are thy three words — it is neither shorter nor longer — Arco fuin imandairi thou shalt say every day.

29 This is the Rule of the Lord. Thou mayest prove it. No imperfect one understands how to be under the rule of my.....

J. Strachan, An Old Irish Metrical Rule,  Eriu Vol 1, (1904), 191-208

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

A Ninth-Century Antiphon and its Composer

Although he is not actually an Irish saint, I cannot resist marking the feastday of the blessed Notker Balbulus of the Irish abbey of Saint Gall, which falls on April 6. Below is an extract from an 1884 paper on his life and authorship of the beautiful antiphon Media Vita, even though modern scholarship seems to question this.

Media vita in morte sumus ; quem quaerimus adjutorem, nisi te Domine, qui pro peccatis nostris juste irasceris? Sancte Deus, sancte fortis, sancte et misericors Salvator, amarae morti ne tradas nos.

In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succor, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

St. Gall, an Irish monk and disciple of St. Columbanus of Bangor, who had declined to follow his apostolic countryman into Italy, founded near Lake Constance, in Switzerland, the celebrated monastery which bore his name. A few humble huts, constructed on the confines of vast forests haunted by bears and wolves, at first sheltered the little community from the inclemency of the seasons, but in time they disappeared, and in their stead arose the walls of that magnificent monastic school, destined to live in history among the great abbeys of the middle ages, with Bobbio and Fulda, with Monte Cassino and Cluni, which conferred such incomparable benefits on literature and civilization..

Mediaeval history has preserved the fame and grandeur of its early name, around which are gathered associations, traditions, and legends whose diverse and complex interests are full of fascination for the antiquary and of affection and awe for the hagiologist. Before the death of its saintly founder, in the early part of the seventh century, St. Gall had become a centre of Christian life and thought in the Germanic world. No less than five monks named Notker are numbered among its illustrious scholars. Some writers have so confounded one or other of these with the author of Media Vita, who was canonized by Pope Innocent III., that it is important to give a list of the four who also bear the name of Notker, in order to guard against the mistakes which others have made. They are Notker, surnamed Physicus, who was both painter and musician, and for a time physician at the court of Otho I.; another, of whom little is known, is said to have been abbot of St. Gall; a third, Notker Provost, or Notger, who flourished about the year A.D. 1000, was bishop of Liege and author of a Life of St. Remains; a fourth, called Notker Labeo, or Teutonius, who died about A.D. 1002, was the most celebrated of all these, save the author of Media Vita. He excelled in many branches of learning- and enjoyed great repute as painter, poet, astronomer, and mathematician. Possessing the diligence and industry of the cloister, he made many translations of the sacred and profane writers. The manuscript of his translation of the Psalms into High German is still extant, and is regarded by bibliographers as one of the most valuable monuments of the oldest German prose....

St. Notker, author of the antiphon Media Vita, one of the most interesting characters in the history of the old abbey of St. Gall, whose figure is seen high among the lights which shone above the intellectual horizon towards the sunset of the ninth century. .. The exact date of his birth is uncertain, but the majority of writers whose opinions on mediaeval subjects are worthy of consideration represent him as the senior in age by some months of his friend and patron, Charles le Gros, the last emperor of the Carlovingian dynasty. They agree in dating his birth about the year A.D. 830. His native village was situated in the old province of Thurgovia, in Helvetia, which, at the disruption of the vast empire founded and held intact by the splendid genius of Charlemagne, was divided, and the present canton of Thurgau became a part of the dominion of Louis of Bavaria, So St. Notker was, in the parlance of our day, a German Switzer. His lineage was both ancient and noble. Following the custom of his age and country, St. Notker was trained from youth in a monastic school. Dedicated to the service of God from childhood, the neighboring monastery of St. Gall, but a short distance from his ancestral estate, was his home from the period at which he left the paternal roof until called, at the advanced age of eighty-two, to sleep in everlasting rest with the soft tranquillity of an innocent child. Divers were the out door occupations which filled up the hours of recreation among the monks of St. Gall. Fruit-trees were to be planted or pruned, gardens to be seeded or worked, and nets to be woven or tended when spread for fish or birds. In these various pursuits the monastic disciples assisted their masters, who combined, as in our industrial and agricultural schools, both mental and manual labor. ..Gray-headed monks too old for work, who crept with infirm step about the cloisters of St. Gall, noticed the demure little boy of quiet manners and studious ways, whom they surnamed Balbulus the stammerer from an impediment in his speech. Some, of larger insight into human character than their aged brothers whose faculties were dimmed by weight of years, discovered in the sensitive boy a poetic fervor, supplemented by a humility of spirit almost preternatural in one so young. Under the direction of Ison and Marcellus, his instructors, and in communion with pure souls bound to each other by that most enduring and ennobling of all ties, the profession of a higher theory of life than that which prevailed in the world, St. Notker advanced in the sphere of human knowledge and in the wisdom of the saints. Among his fellow-disciples, who always held him in tender affection, was Salomon, afterwards bishop of Constance. When the period had arrived for the fulfilment of the special purposes of his monastic training he made his religious vows, and from that time forward we find him pursuing with ardor and devotion the every-day duties in the life of a monk of the ninth century. Possessing talents of a high order, which claimed greater scope for development than that afforded in the mere routine of transcribing sacred or profane writers, he spent much of the time usually given to that kind of labor in original composition, and became distinguished as a scholar, poet, and musician.

But although so richly endowed with mental gifts differing from, or superior to, those of his associates, St. Notker was never neglectful in the performance of his full share of work, both in the garden and in the scriptorium. Like the true monk as well as the true poet, he loved nature and understood the tranquillizing power which lives in her majestic symbols. Her book, wherein he read the mystical meaning in which things earthly prefigure things heavenly, lay open to his mind and heart. After the manner of St. Ephrem, who saw the sign of the cross in the outstretched wings of the tiniest bird, or of St. Dunstan, who heard the melody of the antiphon Gaudete in Caelis when the wind swept the strings of his harp suspended on the wall, St. Notker, moved by the sound of the slow revolutions of a millwheel in midsummer when the water was low, wrote the words and music of his hymn, Sancti Spiritus adsit nobis gratia. When a messenger of his friend and admirer, Charles le Gros affectionately called "our Charles" by the monks arrived at St. Gall on a spiritual mission in behalf of the emperor, he found St. Notker weeding and watering the herbs in the garden. The interview was brief and the lesson taught suggested by the lowly occupation in which he was engaged. "Tell the emperor to do what I am now doing," was the saint's reply. Hearing the advice, Charles at once caught its import and said: "Ah! yes, that is the sum of all: destroy the weeds of vice and water the herbs of grace." On another occasion during a visit of Charles le Gros, who delighted in the companionship of the monks, the evidence of confidence and love shown towards St. Notker excited the envy of the chaplain who attended the emperor, and he determined to revenge himself by jeering at the stammering speech of the saint and by perplexing him with knotty questions. Approaching St. Notker, who was composing sacred melodies on his psaltery, the chaplain of Charles addressed him : "Master! solve for us a point in theology, we pray you. What is God doing now?" The attendants of the jealous and conceited inquirer, knowing the secret purpose of the question, were astonished at the promptness and wisdom of the reply : "God is doing now," said the saint," what he has done in all past ages, and what he will continue to do as long as the world lasts: he is setting down the proud and exalting the humble."

St. Notker was a central figure among the transcribers and illuminators of manuscripts in the spacious scriptorium of St. Gall, in which quiet reigned because all the busy monks were intent upon their special work... As a collator St. Notker was zealous and accurate, and his services were of incalculable value to the library of St. Gall. Through intercourse with the learned men of his times he became acquainted with the character and contents of other libraries than that of his own community, and by such knowledge he was enabled to procure copies of scarce manuscripts or to borrow them for transcription. From Liutward, Bishop of Vercelli a Ghibelline city of northern Italy, whose episcopal see dates back to the fourth century, and whose cathedral library is rich in ancient manuscripts he received a copy of the Canonical Letters in Greek, which he copied with his own hand.

It is painful to think that such a man as St. Notker, whose simplicity of character and sweetness of disposition are the themes of panegyric with the historians of the abbey of St. Gall, did not escape the envious promptings which stirred the bosom of Sindolphe, a brother of the same community. Allowing for the natural glow of enthusiasm which would animate the portraiture drawn by a monk of St. Gall three centuries after the close of the earthly career of the saint, other evidence is not wanting in confirmation of the testimony of Eckehard, who says that "no one ever saw him unless either reading, writing, or praying; he wrote many spiritual songs; he was the most humble and meek of men, and most holy." We sometimes find in the cloister, as in secular life, that men of dissimilar tastes and talents are often attracted to each other by the very dissimilitude which at first sight appears incompatible with the ordinary notions of gravitation in the moral and intellectual world. Associated with St. Notker from the date of his novitiate were Ratpert and Tutilon, two monks wholly unlike the saint in temper and character, yet among them there had grown an affectionate regard for each other which had never been chilled by open strife or secret distrust. Common aims and common dangers shared together seem to have softened those little asperities, frequently united with quick feelings, which are yet not inconsistent with holiness of life. But this union of confidence and affection awakened in Sindolphe a suspicion that it had some other motives than those which appeared on the surface. In his ignorance and jealousy he attempted to poison the mind of the abbot against them, but the latter had sounded the shallowness of Sindolphe's undisciplined will, and took no heed of his insinuations. Tutilon, learning of these wayward acts, was watchful of his foolish brother, and soon found means to administer a wholesome lesson. St. Notker and the two monks had repaired together on one occasion to the scriptorium for study, and Sindolphe, believing that he might overhear something which would convince the abbot of their unworthiness, secreted himself under the window outside and placed his ear close to listen to their conversation. Tutilon, keen-eyed and alert, observed the action, and, sending the sweet-tempered Notker into the chapel, persuaded Ratpert to take a whip, and, coming up softly to the unsuspecting Sindolphe, to beat him severely; while Tutilon, opening the window, seized him by the head, calling for lights that he might see the face of Satanas, who had come hither with evil intent. Besides his bodily chastisement, which amused even the grave abbot, the unamiable monk had to endure a still further penance in the well-merited raillery of the community of St. Gall. But whatever may have been the peculiar trials to which the conduct of Sindolphe subjected St. Notker, it is pleasant to believe that they were unable to destroy his high serenity or to tarnish his purity of soul, as in later times the advocatus dioboli was unable to present evidence which in any way interfered with his being a saint. In his long career many honors commensurate with his talents and vocation came to him, but in meekness of spirit he turned away from them all, even the episcopal dignity more than once pressed upon him, to pursue the humble path of a simple monk. As an author his fame spread abroad, and he was remarkable for the variety and extent of his erudition.

On this account certain writings continue to this day to be wrongly attributed to him, notably among these the Gesta Caroli Magni. He compiled a life of St. Gall in verse, and wrote a martyrology "which he chiefly collected," says Butler, "from Ado and Rabanus Maurus, and which was for a long time made use of in most of the German churches." His skill in music found expression in many sequences and proses which established his reputation as a master of ecclesiastical chant, and his small treatise on the value of letters in music is still extant in the Scriptores of Gerbert. Ruodbert, Archbishop of Metz, requested him to compose a hymn in honor of St. Stephen to be used at the opening of a church dedicated to the proto-martyr. He complied, and accompanied it with these words: " Sick and stammering, and full of evil, I Notker, unworthy, have sung the triumph of Stephen with my polluted mouth, at the desire of the prelate. May Ruodbert, who has in a young body the prudent heart of a venerable man, see a long life full of merits!"

The voice of the thoughtful monk, who had chastened his soul in solitude and turned a deaf ear to human applause, has gone out into all the earth and his words unto the ends of the world. The antiphon Media Vita in morte sumus, which commemorates the insecurity of life and the certainty of death, has preserved the name of the severe ascetic in the literature of the church and among those who have ceased to be partakers of the lot of the saints. It was sung for centuries at St. Gall, and formed part of the solemn supplications every year in Rogation week during a religious procession to an awe-inspiring region situated between two mountains and spanned by a bridge beneath which the roaring torrent dashed over the sullen rocks. Peak to peak reverberated the penitential song of the monks, until its last echoes died away among the lofty summits, of Alpine solitudes. The antiphon soon spread over Europe and thrilled the hearts of pilgrims from the stern regions of the inhospitable north and from the vine-clad shores of the blue Mediterranean. Sung by Crusaders, it stirred the most listless and apathetic on the eve of conflict, and at the close of day it was a prayer for protection through the awful perils of the night. So profoundly had it moved the mediaeval world that it was heard in the ranks of opposing armies going to battle. But by and by the imagination of the ignorant began to invest it with a sort of superstitious charm, which led the Synod of Cologne, in 1316, to inhibit its use except by express permission of a bishop. Two accounts of its origin, slightly differing in detail, have been given by monastic annalists..

The monks of St. Gall made frequent excursions into the neighboring country, some for recreation, some on missions of mercy, and others for herbs and flowers which clung about rocky projections or grew in mountain recesses perilous of ascent. Their circuit of ordinary travel, hedged in by a snowy palisade of Alps, abounded in scenery of infinite variety and grandeur. The earliest version of the origin of the antiphon is that, during one of these rambles in the wild region of the chasm of Martistoble, St. Notker was drawn thither by the sound of the hammers of workmen engaged in the construction of a bridge across the yawning abyss. The spectacle of the masons suspended over this awful gulf on movable scaffolding, adjusted by means of ropes which swayed to and fro by the very motion of their bodies, presented to the mind of the saint a realistic picture of the uncertainty of life, and suggested the train of pious thought elaborated in his great antiphon.

The flora of the mountain ranges and the outstretching valleys was pretty well understood by the monastic herbalists, who had traversed the whole region on foot and given to some of the plants and flowers the names which they retain, although in a corrupted form. Between the pages of well-used manuscripts preserved in the libraries of religious houses are still traceable the dim, faint outlines of the rare flowers gathered, perhaps, from rocks and ravines seldom touched by human foot save that of the monk, and in this way the delicate petals and stems were dried for the hortus siccus of the monastery. The monks were physicians of both body and soul. They made many discoveries in the medicinal properties of herbs which entered largely into the practice of the healing art.

The sampetra, or samphire plant, well known in Great Britain, was highly esteemed for its aromatic and curative qualities. It grows on rocky cliffs and promontories the sight of which almost confuses the vision and makes the brain reel... The second account of the composition of Media Vita relates that the clinging form of an adventurous gatherer of the plant, hugging, as it were between life and death, a precipitous rock which juts over the very edge of the torrent below, his body at one moment wrapt in a violet mist, then apparently within -the full sweep of the foaming spray, so pierced the imagination of St. Notker that not only the words but even the measured movement of the original melody of the antiphon sprang spontaneously from his awe-struck soul.

Of the career of its composer but little more remains to be told. St. Notker was now an octogenarian and the weariness of years weighed heavily upon him. The animation that had lighted up his face in the flush of manhood was gone, his eyes were hollow, and his flesh was wasted with the long conflict of life. His body, frail and shrunken, was scarcely equal to its functions, and the intellectual fibre, once so strong and vigorous, was worn out. The candle was burnt to the end and its dying light fluttered in the socket. In his own person was fulfilled the prophecy of old:

" The days of our age are threescore years and ten; though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is their strength then but labor and sorrow." The verdure of spring, so grateful to the languid eyes of the sick man, had now begun to clothe valley and hill with its richness. Winter was relaxing its icy hold, and nature, like a young giant refreshed with sleep, was putting forth the strength and fulness of life. Even the coldness of the snow-crowned Alps seemed to decrease under the lustre and warmth of a vernal sun. The quickening influences of reawakened nature, which touched all visible forms with the glory of resurrection, made no impression on the attenuated frame of the saintly ascetic stretched on his narrow couch. His mission was nearly accomplished, and only the feeble pulsations showed that life was not quite extinct. The morning of the 6th of April, A.D. 912, wore away as usual in the cloisters of St. Gall, and no change was apparent in the face of the dying monk; but when silence and night settled over the sorrow-stricken community the joy of eternal day had dawned on the vision of the saint. So quietly and peacefully came his release from the earthly tenement that none knew the moment when he ceased to breathe. ..

Catholic World, Volume 38, (1884), 13-28.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Incredulity of Thomas

John, son of Zebedee, the beloved disciple of Jesus, the heir of the Virgin, the twelfth apostle in the order of the apostolate, the fourth Evangelist who wrote the Lord's Gospel, recounts the great and noble deed preached on this day, telling how the apostles and disciples of Jesus were in one apartment with closed doors, and Thomas with them, on the eighth day after Christ's resurrection, and how Christ came to them, though the doors were closed, to strengthen their belief in the resurrection, and how He stood in the midst among them, and blessed them. 

Sermon XXXI 'On The Incredulity of Thomas' - The Passions and the Homilies from Leabhar Breac - Text, Translation and Glossary by Robert Atkinson (Dublin, 1887), 465-466.

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Thursday, 31 March 2016

Saint Machabeo of Armagh, March 31

Canon O'Hanlon brings us details of a twelfth century abbot of Armagh commemorated on March 31 - Saint Machabeo. The notes to the Martyrology of Gorman provide him with this eulogy:

Gilla mo-Chaidbeo, abbot of the monastery of Paul and Peter in Armagh. The tower of piety and firmness, wisdom and knowledge, labour and prudence of his time.

Details of our saint are also to be found in the Irish Annals which give the year of his death:


Gilla Mochaibeo, Abbot of the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul at Armagh, a diligent and faithful servant of the Lord, died on the 31st day of March, in the seventieth year of his age.

As Canon O'Hanlon remarks in his account below, this makes Machabeo one of the latest saints to be recorded in the martyrologies of our country:

St. Machabeo, or Gilda Machai-beo, Abbot of  Armagh. [Twelfth Century] 

Although the oak-tree's trunk cease for a time to put forth branches and leaves, its roots do not fail to grow vigorously, while they extend in the earth. So when religious life appears diminished to the gaze of men, its hidden workings do not present less effective results, in the sight of God. St. Machabeo, or, as he is sometimes called, Gilda Machai-beo, means, "servant of the living Mochai;" and, Colgan, who has given an account of him, at the 31st day of March, supposes the name to have been imposed, in honour of St. Mochai, Abbot of Nendrum, who is related to have lived one hundred and fifty years, in Heaven, and in a state of repose. The present saint was born, in the year 1104, as we collect from the Irish Annals. He embraced the monastic profession, in the city of Armagh, and, in its former monastery, consecrated to St. Peter and St. Paul. He was probably a student, with the great St. Malachy O'Morgair, and under the tuition of that holy Abbot, Imar O'Aedhacan. It is also probable, that our saint succeeded this latter, by governing the monastery, after his death, in the year 1134. The office of Abbot he exercised—if this opinion be well grounded —during forty years, with the greatest sanctity. According to our ancient Martyrologies, he was the tower of Devotion and of Mildness in his time, the Ark of Wisdom and of Science, of Labour and of Prudence. He is also one of the latest saints, recorded in the Martyrologies of our country. He died, on the 31st of March, in 1174, having attained the seventieth year of his age. We find mentioned, on this day, in the Martyrology of Donegal, Machabeus,  i.e. Gilla Mochaidhbeo, Abbot of the Monastery of Peter and Paul at Ardmacha. The Bollandists briefly notice him, at this date, but they print, incorrectly, MCXXXIV., as the year for his death.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Saint Colman, March 30

On March 30 we have yet another Saint Colman commemorated on the Irish calendars. Indeed, it seems we have more than one for there is a Saint Colman of Linns also commemorated today. Canon O'Hanlon's account below deals with a Saint Colman who is named as the 'Son of Ronan', but about whom little other information has survived:

St. Colman, Son of Ronan. 

The Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 30th of March, records the entry of a St. Colman. The name of this saint appears twice repeated, in the published version. This is not the case, in the Franciscan copy, preserved at the Convent, Merchant's-quay, Dublin. According to the Martyrology of Donegal, likewise, on this day was venerated, Colman, son of Ronan, son to Loarn. He descended from the race of Conall Gulban, son to Niall. We know little more regarding him.

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