Saturday, 22 April 2017

A Feast of Saint Philip the Apostle on the Irish Calendars

W.S.Sparrow, The Apostles in Art (1906).
Although our Irish calendars are primarily a source for the feast days of our native saints, they also commemorate saints of the universal Church. Some of the feasts recorded in the earliest Irish calendars are interesting, there was for example a commemoration of the feast of the Transfiguration, not at August 6 but at July 26 and there were even fixed dates assigned to moveable feasts, with March 27 being noted as the feast of the Resurrection. There are also commemorations of saints and apostles at dates different to those to which we are now accustomed. Saint Mary Magdalene, for example, had a feast at March 28 and Saint Symeon at October 8. On April 22 we have another of these historical curiosities with a feast of Saint Philip the Apostle being recorded in the two earliest Irish calendars, as Canon O'Hanlon explains below. In his day the feast of Saint Philip was celebrated on May 1 but has since been moved to May 3, the Orthodox commemoration is on November 14:

Feast of Saint Philip, the Apostle.

In the Feilire of St. Aengus at the 22nd of April, the commemoration of the Apostle, St. Philip is announced. In the Martyrology of Tallagh, a similar commemoration is found. The festival of this great Apostle is more generally assigned, however, to the 1st of May, when with the other Apostle St. James, the Less, the Church celebrates a feast, in their honour.

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Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Saint Caritan of Druim-Lara, March 7

Another name to add to the list of obscure Irish saints - Caritan of Druim-Lara. Neither the man nor the place can be definitively identified. There have, however, been some suggestions made. Canon O'Hanlon, in Volume III of his Lives of the Irish Saints, cites the speculation of the seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, that our saint may be Cronaghan, a priestly mentor of Saint Colum Cille, but this is unproven. Pádraig Ó Riain, in his Dictionary of Irish Saints suggests that he may be perhaps synonymous with the patron of a County Clare church and holy well at Kilcredaun. Sadly when the nineteenth-century scholar, John O'Donovan, was writing about this location he found that all knowledge of the patron saint, Críodán, had been lost. Canon O'Hanlon does not mention the Clare saint in his entry below but does cite the evidence for the feast of Caritan of Druim-Lara, whoever he was, from the Irish calendars:

St. Caritan or Cariotan, of Druim-lara. 

At the 7th of March, in the Martyrology of Tallagh, we find a St. Caritan, of Dromalara, entered. In like manner, Marianus O'Gorman, has noticed Caritan of Druim-lara. But, the exact identity of this saint, and of his place, appears to be unknown. It is conjectured, by Colgan—who has Acts based on the supposition at this date—that owing to some mistake of copyists, the present holy man may be the same as a distinguished priest, called Cruthnechan, who baptized St. Columba, who had charge of his infantile years, and who was remarkable for his piety. Without attaching weight to it, the Bollandists merely allude to his statement. We cannot see, how it can be well established. Again, Cariotan, of Druim-lara, is registered in the Martyrology of Donegal, as having been venerated on this day.

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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Saint David in Irish Sources

March 1 is the feastday of the patron of Wales, Saint David, a saint much honoured and loved in Ireland. A modern scholar summarizes below some of the links to the Welsh patron in the Irish sources:

In the first millennium A.D., prior to the promotion of St David’s cult by Rhygyfarch, St David already can be seen to have enjoyed a significant reputation not only in Wales, but across the Irish Sea. Dauid Cille Muni features amongst three Welsh saints whose feasts are recorded in the Latin Martyrology of Tallaght and the Irish Martyrology Félire Óengusso in the early ninth century – both probably the work of the same author, and certainly of the community of the Céli Dé of Tallaght. David also appears in another early list of saints, the Catalogus sanctorum Hiberniae, where he features amongst the British saints from whom the ‘second order’ of early Irish saints are held to have accepted their ritual of the mass. His obit appears in Irish annal collections, probably entered at some time in during first millennium. These references would appear to speak to the relations between the westernmost part of Wales and its closeness to Ireland – the same relationship, perhaps, as is evinced by Armes Prydain Fawr.

The kingdom of Dyfed, the early medieval polity in which the region of the modern St Davids is located, was itself, of course, originally under an Irish dynasty – a fact that appears to have been still known in Rhygyfarch’s time – but it would be unwise to place much weight upon this early Irish connection of St Davids. The association of David’s cult with Irish saints are as likely to reflect later as earlier connections between these closely adjacent countries. Most of the dedications to the saint in Ireland can be shown with certainty to have been made under Cambro- or Anglo-Norman patronage. The appearance of David in the Irish Martyrologies, however, speaks to exchange of cults between Ireland and Wales before A.D. 800. Irish uitae add further detail to this testimony. St David features in the Vita of St Molua of Clonfert-Mullow and in the Vita of Ailbe of Emly. In both cases he appears in the versions of these uitae that are preserved in the Salamanticensis collection amongst the subset (the ‘O’Donohue group’) which Richard Sharpe has identified as preserving a putatively eighth-century form.

The arguably early reference in the cult of St Ailbe is thus of especial interest for the fact that Ailbe (Elvis) is a saint with a cult near St Davids. In Rhygyfarch’s Vita S. David Ailbe is joined by more Irish saints: SS. Patrick, Brendan, Maedóc, Bairre, Modomnóc and Scoithín. Patrick and Ailbe are given the most significant roles in Rhygyfarch’s Vita. The role of St Patrick – who has a dedication near St Davids, at Whitesands Bay – is to be the previous denizen of Vallis Rosina, the place that will later be the site of St David’s monastery. St Ailbe’s role is to baptize David. These roles reflect the significance of these saints in Irish history: Patrick as apostle to the Irish; Ailbe as patron to Munster, whose church was second only in status to Patrick. Pádraig Ó Riain is right to argue that these ‘facilitating’ roles are intended to establish St David’s status as superior to that of other major insular churches. They are products of a time when these saint’s cults had already achieved their existing status in Ireland, not of the time of the historical David. How early or late this period of exchange of information may be placed is a point of contention by Ó Riain.

Jonathan M. Wooding, ‘The Figure of David’ in J. W. Evans and J.M. Wooding, eds., St David of Wales: cult, church and nation (Boydell, 2007), 11-12.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A Festival of Holy Martyrs in the Félire Oengusso, February 15

I was interested to see this entry in Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints for February 15:
Festival of Holy Martyrs. At the 15th of February, the following stanza, transcribed from the " Feilire" of St. Oengus, as found in the " Leabhar Breac," is thus translated by Professor O'Looney:—

Chant the Sunday's celebration
On the morrow at night
With the passion of a powerful host
The victory of the son of God they obtain."

This stanza seems to have reference, to various holy martyrs, venerated in the Church, at this date, as may be seen by consulting the " Acta Sanctorum" of the Bollandists. Regarding the "Sunday's celebration," and "the morrow at night," I feel unable further to present any illustration, other than what is contained in a comment to the Irish word, can:

"To this we find appended a note (a) Chant i.e., it is chanted because of the nobleness of the festival, even though it should fall on Sunday, or on the- Feast of Barrach the triumphant, i.e., Barrach, son of Nemnand, son of Nemangen, son of Fintan, son of Mai, son of Dublha, son of Oengus, son of Erc Uerg, son of Brian, son of Echu Muidhmeadon. And it is a fortnight [i.e., at the end of fourteen nights] in Spring his festival is, and, it is in the wilderness of Cinel Dobtha, in Connaught, he is, namely, in Cluain Cairpti, ut dixit angelus :—

"Berrach and Mochoem
Delightful was their custom
Whomsoever they prayed for at the gasp of death
Should not suffer death, i.e Hell."

The Berrach commemorated on this day is Saint Berrach of Kilbarry about whom a post can be found here. In the translation of the Martyrology of Oengus published by Whitley Stokes, the passage is translated:
Sing a Sunday's celebration on the feast of warlike Berach,
with the passion of a vigorous host the Son of
God's victory over His enemy.
and the notes add:
Sing a Sunday's celebration, i.e. not superfluous is the Sunday's celebration on this feast always, for there is always a Sunday's celebration on each chief festival in the year.
I next checked an online version of the Roman Martyrology and sure enough the entries for February 15 begin with a litany of martyrs:
At Brescia, in the time of Emperor Adrian, the birthday of the holy martyrs Faustinus and Jovita, who received the triumphant crown of martyrdom after many glorious combats for the faith of Christ.

At Rome, St. Craton, martyr. A short time after being baptized with his wife and all his household by the holy bishop Valentine, he was put to death with them.

At Teramo, the birthday of the holy martyrs Saturninus, Castulus, Magnus, and Lucius.

In the same place, St. Agape, virgin and martyr.

Reading this reminded me of a passage in Thomas O'Loughlin's book 'Journeys on the Edges' where he discusses the annual cycles of worship which shaped the lives of Christians in Ireland:
Then there was the annual round of saints' days. This brought into the life of each day Christians from every period and place - strange names of people and far away places such as we find in the calendar of feasts written in verse near Dublin in the early ninth century, the Félire Oengusso. Here is a sample for 27 July:

The day of the bed-death of Simeon the monk,
he was a great sun to the earth;
with the suffering of a loveable host in Antioch high and vast.

All they knew about this Simeon was his name, and that he was a monk. They also knew that 27 July was the anniversary of the martyrdom of a group of Christians at Antioch - which Antioch they did not know. But Simeon and those martyrs were brothers and sisters in the communion of saints and so their memory was recorded and their intercession requested.

I will close with another Irish appreciation of martyrs, this time from the eighth-century poems of Blathmac:
254. If I am to tell the true fundamental account that I had of the death of martyrs, all the servants of Christ who suffered martyrdom on their principal feasts,

255. it passes reckoning to count it. Since ancestral Adam held counsel there has been with perverse kings a multitude of the pure dear ones of Christ.

256. For what those men have suffered in the torturing of their bodies they shall have keenest vengeance; they are not clients of (a lord of) bad oaths.

257. For splendid Christ has risen; he is eternally safe in the eternal kingdom; the leader with great hosts, the triumphant one, victorious in battle, will avenge them.


Rev. John O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume II (Dublin, 1875), 565.

Whitley Stokes, ed. and trans.,The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee: Félire Óengusso Céli dé (London, 1905), 60, 75.

Thomas O'Loughlin, Journeys on the Edges - The Celtic Tradition (DLT, 2000, 144-45.)

James Carney, ed. and trans., The Poems of Blathmac Son of Cú Brettan, together with the Irish Gospel of Thomas and a Poem on the Virgin Mary (London 1964), 87.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Companions of Saint Ursula, January 23

At January 23 Canon O'Hanlon has the first of a number of entries in his Lives of the Irish Saints relating to Saint Ursula and her companions. The story of the martyrdom of Saint Ursula was enormously popular during the later Middle Ages and it seems that Canon O'Hanlon believes there is an Irish connection, not to the saint herself, who is said to have been a British princess, but to the maidens who accompanied her and shared her fate. This particular date of commemoration is found at the city most closely associated with the martyrs, Cologne, itself the site of an Irish monastery. That said I would be far from convinced that there is any Irish link with Saint Ursula and her martyred maidens at all.  A vague claim of 'Scottish' origin does not seem a firm basis on which to proceed, given that the idea of having a link to Ireland and its saints carried a certain cachet in medieval continental Europe, where many were pleased to claim that their monastery or mission was originally founded by natives of this country. In the heat of their enthusiasm for reclaiming Ireland's glorious religious past, writers of Canon O'Hanlon's generation were also keen to press claims of Irish origins for the holy men and women associated with other countries on the basis of such 'tradition' that they were Irish or 'Scottish'. In the Middle Ages Ireland was often referred to as Scotia and its natives as Scotti, just to complicate matters even further.  O'Hanlon has noted at least eight separate commemorations associated with Saint Ursula in various volumes of his Lives of the Irish Saints so he certainly ran with this idea, but trying to disentangle what, if any, historical basis, lies behind the legend of Saint Ursula and her maidens is no easy task:

Reputed Festival of St. Ursula and of her Companions, Martyrs. [Fifth Century]

As many of these holy virgins are believed to have been Scottish or Irish, we should feel an interest in learning that their memory is said to have been celebrated at the Church of St. Cunibert, at Cologne, on this day. To their chief festival, however, we shall refer the reader for more detailed particulars regarding them.

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Friday, 20 January 2017

Saint Fechin at Poulaphouca Waterfall

It was the afternoon of Sunday when Fechin and his monks arrived at Poulaphouca Falls, and the glorious Twenty-Eighth Psalm was part of the Lauds for Monday, which they were reciting that evening, and no other Psalm could so voice the feelings of the enraptured hearts of those "sons of God" in the midst of "the many waters" and "the thunders of the Lord" and "the cedars."

"Afferte Domino, filii Dei, gloriam et honorem : afferte Domino gloriam nomini Ejus : adorate Dominum in atrio sancto Ejus ! 

Vox Domini super aquas, Deus majestatis intonuit : Dominus super aquas multas ! 

Vox Domini in virtute : Vox Domini in magnificentia. 

Vox Domini confringentis cedros. . . . 

Dominus virtutem populo suo dabit : Dominus benedicet populo suo in pace." 

" Bring to the Lord, O ye sons of God, . . . glory and honour ! bring to the Lord glory to His name ! Adore ye the Lord in His holy Church !

The voice of the Lord upon the waters : the God of majesty hath thundered ! The Lord upon many waters !

The voice of the Lord in power, the voice of the Lord in magnificence !

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars ! . . . The Lord will give strength to His people ; the Lord will bless His people with peace." (Ps. xxviii).

Not for a few minutes only but for hours did holy Fechin and his disciples pray here and sing their Psalms and hymns. At last some of the monks completely tired and physically exhausted said to Fechin that it was time for all to rest. "No," answered the Saint, " I cannot cease. The Falls never cease, but are continually offering the sublime melody of their music to their Creator. I must not be a debtor to my God." Behold then God wrought a great wonder to reward His devout servant. The waters of the Falls ceased to flow down, and, piling themselves above, seemed to listen to the chanting of the Psalms of Fechin and his choir, a heavenlier music than their own! This prodigy lasted till the third hour. Then the Saint was given to understand that he and his tired brethren might themselves take a little rest and refresh their exhausted bodies, and so they ceased their psalmody.

The Life of St Fechin of Fore: The Apostle of Connemara by Father J.B. Coyle (Dublin, 1915).

Note: January 20 is the feast day of Saint Fechin of Fore and previous posts on his life can be found here and here.

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