Thursday, 22 March 2018

The Bachall Ísu at the Founding of Armagh


Although in recent days we have been looking at the Bachall Ísu in relation to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, it was once the prized possession of the Chuch of Armagh. The following vignette, taken from the Leabhar Breac Homily on Saint Patrick, depicts the Bachall Ísu as being present when Saint Patrick founded Armagh itself:
On the night thereafter Patrick beheld in a vision Victor, an angel, coming to him with Ireland’s elders along with him, and they marked out the city in his presence, and the place of the temple and of the kitchen and of the guest-house. And he went right -hand- wise round the rampart, and Patrick behind him with his Bachall Ísu— Jesu’s Staff — in his hand, and Ireland’s elders a-chanting around him.

Patrick afterwards built the city in the same wise as it had been shown to him. And the angel said to him: “Abundant will God’s grace be in this place and upon every one who shall do good therein.” The angel said to Patrick, “ God will heal for thee here twelve persons every Saturday and seven every Thursday, so long as the perfect faith of the menfolk abideth.” Overmany to recount and declare are all the wonders and miracles which Patrick wrought round about Armagh.
Whitley Stokes, ed. and trans., The Tripartite Life of Patrick with Other Documents Relating to that Saint, Vol. II (London, 1887), 474-475.

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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Did the Staff of Jesus Survive?


Yesterday we looked at the sources suggesting that the Bachall Isú, the Staff of Jesus had been publicly burnt in Dublin during the Reformation. However, there are other sources which leave open the possibility that it may have survived and it to these that we now turn. Scholar Sarah Erskine has made a special study of the Bachall Ísu and at the conclusion of one of her papers quotes some interesting observations from  Reformation scholar Raymond Gillespie:
Bachall Isú itself was reputedly burnt in Dublin in a public display presided by the Protestant archbishop George Browne in 1538, in a period of "state-sponsored iconoclasm". However, Raymond Gillespie reckons that Bachall Isú may have passed into lay hands, since the Dublin apothecary reported in 1561 that "men were going about the countryside 'with the bachal of Jesus as they call it' and using it to assist women in labour." During a time when clerical control on the use of relics in general was tightening up, the 1686 'statutes of Meath' stated that no one should be observed carrying Patrick's staff. 
R. Gillespie, Devoted People, Belief and Religion in Early Modern Ireland (Manchester, 1997), p.161 quoted in S. C. Erskine, St Patrick's Bachall Ísu: Its Origins, Tradition, and Rise to Prominence as Armagh's Premier Relic in Eolas: The Journal of the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies, Vol. 6 (2013), pp. 41-67 at p.67.

I think that these sources certainly open up the possibility of the relic's survival, but on the other hand, it struck me that the post-1538 staff is being employed in the countryside where perhaps the knowledge of its destruction in the urban centre of Dublin was less well-known. Or was another medieval crozier later co-opted as the Bachall Isú since the original could no longer be produced by Christ Church Cathedral to contradict the claims?  I suppose we will never know for sure.

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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Burning of the Staff of Jesus

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Yesterday we looked at some of the references to the Staff of Jesus (Baculus Jesu) in the Irish Annals, as compiled by James Henthorn Todd in his introduction to the1844 publication of The Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Dublin. This cathedral, we have already noted, was the home of the Staff following its removal from Armagh in the late twelfth century. As Todd remarked himself of the historical references he provided:
"These examples are sufficient to prove the high veneration in which this relic was held, up to the period of the Reformation, when it was publicly burned, A. D. 1538, as an instrument of superstition." 
So we will allow Todd to continue his account of this next and supposedly final chapter in the history of Saint Patrick's Staff of Jesus:
This event is thus recorded by Sir James Ware in his Annals of the Reign of King Henry VIII. p. 99: "Also, about the same time, among the famous images whereunto pilgrimages were designed, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was burned, then kept at Trim in the Abbey of the Canons Regular, and the gifts of the pilgrims were taken away from thence. The image of Christ crucified, in the Abbey of Ballibogan and St. Patrick's Staff, in the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity at Dublin which William, the son of Adeline, brought from Ardmagh and gave it as a gift to that church in the year 1180, underwent the like fate."  
A valuable manuscript volume of Annals preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, gives the following curious account of this destruction of images and of the staff of Patrick at the year 1538: 
"The most miraculous image of Mary which was at Baile Atha Trium, and which the Irish people all honoured for a long time before that, which used to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and every disease in like manner, was burned by the Saxons. And the Staff of Jesus, which was in Dublin, and which wrought many wonders and miracles in Ireland since the time of Patrick down to that time, and which was in the hand of Christ himself, was burned by the Saxons in like manner. And not only that, but there was not a holy cross, nor an image of Mary, nor other celebrated image in Ireland over which their power had reached, that they did not burn. Nor was there one of the seven orders which came under their power that they did not ruin. And the Pope, and the Church in the East, and at home, was excommunicating the Saxons on that account, and they not paying any heed or attention unto that, &c And I am not certain whether it was not in the above year that these relics were burned."  
The Four Masters have also recorded the burning of the Baculus Jesu, in the following passage, which is here quoted at length, as a curious specimen of the light in which the Reformation was regarded by a native Irish writer of the reign of Charles the First: 
"A.D. 1537. A heresy and a new error broke out in England, the effects of pride, vain-glory, avarice, sensual desire, and the prevalence of a variety of scientific and philosophical speculations, so that the people of England went into opposition to the Pope and to Rome. At the same time they followed a variety of opinions, and the old Law of Moses, after the manner of the Jewish people, and they gave the title of head of the Church of God, during his reign, to the king. There were enacted by the king and council new laws and statutes after their own will. They ruined the orders who were permitted to hold worldly possessions, viz., monks, canons, nuns, and brethren of the Cross; and the four mendicant orders, viz., the Minor order, the Preachers, Carmelites, and Augustinians. The possessions and livings of all these were taken up for the king. They broke the monasteries. They sold their roofs and bells, so that there was not a monastery from Arann of the Saints to the Iccian Sea, that was not broken and shattered, except only a few in Ireland, which escaped the notice and attention of the English. They further burned and broke the famous images, shrines, and relics of Ireland and England. After that they burned in like manner the celebrated image of Mary, which was at Ath-Truim, which used to perform wonders and miracles, which used to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the sufferers from all diseases ; and the Staff of Jesus which was in Dublin, performing miracles from the time of Patrick down to that time, and which was in the hand of Christ while he was among men. They also made archbishops and sub-bishops for themselves; and although great was the persecution of the Roman Emperors against the Church, it is not probable that so great a persecution as this ever came, even from Rome hither. So that it is impossible to tell or narrate its description, unless it should be told by him who saw it." 
This sounds like the end of the road for the Staff of Jesus, but as we shall see in the next post, there just may be a chance that the relic survived.


 J. C. Crosthwaite, ed. The Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Commonly called Christ Church, Dublin (Dublin, 1844), xvi-xviii.


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Monday, 19 March 2018

The Staff of Jesus in the Irish Annals




Yesterday we looked at the account of The Staff of Jesus (Irish Bachall Ísu, Latin Baculus Jesu) by Archbishop John Healy in which he quoted the various manuscript Lives of Saint Patrick collated by Father John Colgan in the seventeenth century. Hagiography, however, is not the only source to feature this relic as the Irish Annals also make mention of it. These references have been usefully collected by the Irish Anglican church historian, James Henthorn Todd (1805-1869),  in his introduction to the Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Dublin. This church, more commonly known as Christ Church, was the home of The Staff of Jesus after its 'translation' from Armagh in the late twelfth century until its reputed destruction during the Reformation, but that event deserves a post of its own.  For now, we can see how the Irish Annals made reference to this famous Patrician relic, with apologies that I cannot easily reproduce the beautiful Irish font the book uses for the original Irish text:
Two obscure notices of the Baculus are to be found in the Annals of Tighernach. The first of these is entered under the year 1027, ... which Dr. O'Conor renders: "Baculum Jesu sacrilege raptum" And in the year 1030, we have a record of another similar act of sacrilege: "The Baculus Jesu was profaned in a matter relating to three horses, and the profaner was killed three days after." 
Todd adds an explantory footnote to these references to 'sacrilege', challenging O'Conor's assumption that the original Irish suggests sacriligious theft. He argues that a reference in the Annals of the Four Masters which uses the same Irish word does not necessarily mean theft but rather to :
...profane a church by any act of violence, such as shedding human blood within it, or taking out of it one who had fled there for sanctuary. See Annal. IV. Mag, anno 1224, where we read: Seachnasach, son of Giolla na naomh O'Shaughnessy, was slain by the Clann Cuilen [Mac Namaras], and the Bachall mor [large crozier] of St. Colman of Kilmacduagh was profaned by the deed." Hence, when the word is applied to such relics as the Baculus Jesu, it implies that the vow made before them, or the covenant entered into in their presence, was broken or violated, or that they were treated with some indignity. The words of Tighernach are extremely obscure. In the second instance, especially, it does not appear what was done to the horses: they may have been stolen from some place which was sacred in consequence of the presence of the baculus, or from the keeper of the baculus, whose property was considered sacred; or else, perhaps, some contract relating to three horses, which was made in presence of the baculus, was violated.
Todd then goes on to quote some references from the Annals of the Four Masters which also illustrate the use of the famous relic as one of the sacred objects on which oaths were sworn:
In the Annals of the Four Masters, at the year 1080, there is the following mention of this relic: "A hostile expedition undertaken by Torlogh O'Brian to Dublin, and to Meath, when Maoileachlan came into his tent, with the baculus Jesu, and with the successor of Patrick, and with the clergy of Munster." Again in the same Annals, at the year 1143, the Baculus Jesu is mentioned, amongst other relics, as having been called in to witness a treaty of peace between two chieftains. The words of the annalist are as follows: "'Muiredhach O'Dubhthaigh, the Archbishop [of Tuam], the Lord of Connaght, and his chieftains, the successor of Patrick, and the baculus Jesu, the successor of Fechin [i. e. the Abbot of Fore], and the bell of Fechin, and the Boban of Caoimhgin [Kevin], all these were pledges between Tordhelbhach [O'Conor, King of Connaght] and Murchadh [O'Maoleachlainn, King of Meath] &c." 
Finally,  Todd cites some interesting historical snippets from English sources, including one use of the relic just less than a decade before its reputed destruction in 1538:
In Anglo-Irish history also, the staff of Patrick is frequently mentioned. Thus, Campion in his "Historie of Ireland," makes O'Kelly, AD. 1316, swear by St. Patrick's staff, in his attempt to seduce one of Sir Richard Birmingham's followers from his allegiance: "But come and serve me at my request, and I promise thee by St. Patrick's staffe, to make thee a lord in Connaght, of more ground than thy master hath in Ireland." In the bag marked "Ireland," in the Chapter-house, Westminster Abbey, there is a paper, No. 53, containing "an examination of Sir Gerald Mackshayne, Knight," sworn 19th March, 1529, "upon the Holie Masebooke, and the great relike of Erlonde, called Baculum Christi, in presence of the Kynges Deputie, Chancellour, Tresoror, and Justice." 
We will explore the destruction of the relic in tomorrow's post.

 J. C. Crosthwaite, ed. The Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Commonly called Christ Church, Dublin (Dublin, 1844), xiv-xv. 


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Sunday, 18 March 2018

Saint Patrick and the Staff of Jesus


We begin an octave of posts in honour of the Feast of Saint Patrick with a look at one of the most famous of the relics associated with our national apostle, the Bachall Ísu (Íosa), or Staff of Jesus. Over the coming days we will examine the traditions surrounding this fascinating artefact, sadly now no longer extant, and to look at what modern scholarship has to say. We can begin with an account by Archbishop John Healy (1841-1918), taken from his monumental 1905 work, The Life and Writings of Saint Patrick. He devoted Appendix V to a discussion of The Relics of Saint Patrick. The written traditions on the Bachall Ísu were collected by the great seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, from manuscripts preserved mostly in continental Europe. The Lives of Patrick as Colgan catalogued them are discussed by Archbishop Healy in the Introduction to his book and here in Appendix V he also gives us a useful introduction to the classification of relics:

THE RELICS OF ST. PATRICK.

We use the word 'Relics' here in its widest sense to include all those things that are specially worthy of veneration on account of their intimate connection with our National Apostle. They are of two classes, (i) the martra, or corporeal relics of the Saint ; and (2) the minna or extrinsic relics which are worthy of veneration because they were the personal implements used by the Saint in discharge of his duties, and hence came to be regarded as the insignia or symbols of his high office as the Head of the Irish Church. Hence, also, these holy minna, sanctified by the use of the Saint, came to be held in the highest veneration, and, as the sacred symbols of the primatial office, were regarded as indispensable for the exercise of the primatial functions. The prelate who had the minna of St. Patrick in this way came to be regarded as the true comarb of Patrick; without them no one was regarded as his lawful successor. The most venerable of the minna of St. Patrick, from this point of view, was the Staff of Jesus.

 1. — The Staff of Jesus, or Bachall-Iosa. The early history of this most venerable relic has been admirably summed up by Colgan in a special dissertation on the subject. It is not long, but it is clear and accurate so far as it goes. 

Following the chronological order, the earliest writer who refers to the Staff of Jesus is probably the author of the Third Life. He merely states that Patrick ' having set out on his journey to Rome went to a certain hermit, who dwelt in a certain place ; from him Patrick received the Staff, which had been in the hand of Jesus Christ, our Lord, that under its guidance or companionship he might be prosperous in his (missionary) journey, and the Staff remains to this day in the City of Armagh, and is called the Baculus Jesu, or Staff of Jesus.' 

It will be noticed that the writer here does not determine in any way the place where the person from whom Patrick received the Staff dwelt, beyond saying that he was a hermit dwelling in a certain place.

The Fourth Life goes further, and says that Patrick on his voyage through the Tyrrhene Sea ' received the Staff of Jesus from a certain youth who dwelt in a certain island, and there had given hospitality to Jesus Christ. ' It adds, however, that the Lord spoke to Patrick on the mountain, and commanded him to come to Ireland. The 'island' and the 'youth' are not determined; but the statement of a special command given to Patrick by our Lord himself is strikingly borne out by his own words in the Confession, where he says that Christ the Lord commanded him to come to Ireland and spend the rest of his life with his converts in that country.

Jocelyn amplifies these brief accounts, — saying that the hermit or solitary was one Justus in name and indeed, that he gave to Patrick the Staff which the Lord Jesus, who had appeared to him, held in His own hand, and ordered to be given to Patrick as soon as he came to the island. There were other solitaries also, he adds, in the island, some young and some old, but all dwelling apart; the younger hermits told Patrick that they used to give hospitality to all comers, and on one occasion they gave it to a Person who had the Staff in His hand, and this Person said, after partaking of their hospitality, " I am Jesus Christ, whose members you have been ministering to, even as now you have done to Myself" — thereupon He gave the Staff which He held in His hand to their superior, with instructions to give it to a certain stranger called Patrick who would come there in later times. — Having thus spoken He ascended into Heaven, but He left to them of that generation the gift of perpetual youth in reward of their charity; whilst the peaceful old men whom Patrick saw were their children, who did not enjoy the same privilege. So Patrick took the Staff from the Elder, and having remained for some days with the holy solitaries bade them farewell and went on his way rejoicing.

 It will be observed here that there is no question of a personal appearance of our Saviour to Patrick, nor any special mandate given to him to preach the gospel in Ireland.

But the Tripartite gives a fuller, and perhaps, more satisfactory, explanation than any of the other Lives. According to this venerable authority Patrick on his voyage through the Tyrrhene Sea came to a certain island, and found there a new house, in which a young married couple dwelt, but he saw also an old woman scarcely able to crawl along the ground. The young man then informed him that long ago when exercising hospitality they had received Jesus Christ Himself as their guest, that He, in return for their charity, gave them and their house a blessing, which preserved both from decay, but that the blessing was not given to their children, who were not then born. In consequence the children grew old in the ordinary way, and the old crone whom he saw was the granddaughter of the speaker, that is the daughter of his daughter, who was a still older and more decrepit woman.

The Staff which our Saviour held in His hands He then gave to the young man. His host, with instructions to keep it safely for a certain stranger who would thereafter visit them, and was the destined apostle of Ireland. And so he offered the Staff to Patrick. But Patrick said, "No, I will not take it except the Lord Himself confirms this donation as His own." He then spent three days with them, and thereafter he came to the mountain called Hermon, where the Lord himself condescended to appear to him, and commanded him to preach the Gospel to the Irish people, and at the same time gave him the staff, which is ' now everywhere called the Staff of Jesus,' to be his stay in weakness, and his defence in adversity. Then follows a long catalogue of all the wonders which Patrick had accomplished during his missionary career by the instrumentality of the Staff of Jesus. So far the Lives.

Now, it appears to us the one strong point in this narrative — for it is substantially one narrative — is that the Special Mission from Jesus Christ referred to as given to Patrick, directly or indirectly, is confirmed by his own language in the Confession, for that language undoubtedly implies an immediate supernatural mission from his Divine Master. He who admits this will have little difficulty in admitting that our Lord would at the same time, and naturally, as it were, give him a Crozier to be a proof of that mission, for the Crozier is the symbol of episcopal authority ; and if the mission was thus extraordinary and supernatural we might naturally expect that the Crozier too would be given in a supernatural way. Such, at least, was the belief in Ireland down to the time of Henry VIII. , for all the authorities admit that the Staff was held in the highest veneration, and all without exception call it the Staff of Jesus — many of them, too, explaining the origin of the name.

St. Bernard first of all calls especial attention to the Crozier, gold-covered and adorned with most precious gems, which Nigellus the pseudo-primate carried off with him from Armagh, and along with the Book of Patrick exhibited as undoubted proofs of his own claim to the primacy. " For," he adds, "the foolish people thought that he who possessed these venerable relics was indeed the true successor of St, Patrick." 

Gerald Barry, too, refers to the Staff of Jesus as the most famous and wonder-working Crozier in all Ireland. It was by it, he says, that St. Patrick is said to have driven all venomous reptiles from the island; and, although its origin is doubtful, its virtue is undoubted (certissima). ' In our times, and by our people, this celebrated treasure has been taken away from Armagh and brought to Dublin.'  There for more than 300 years it was preserved and venerated as of old in Armagh. It was kept in the Cathedral of Christ Church until George Browne, the apostate friar and first Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, had it forcibly taken from the Cathedral and publicly burned in High Street, to the great horror and indignation of all the people.

Most Rev. J. Healy, The Life and Writings of St. Patrick, (Dublin, 1905), Appendix V, 633-636.


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Saturday, 17 March 2018

Saint Patrick: 'He always gave till he had no more to bestow'



To celebrate the feast of Saint Patrick below is a brief account of his life and career by the Irish-American Church historian, John Gilmary Shea (1824-1892). He presents the Irish Apostle as an example of the perfect Christian, a man whose commitment and fidelity to God led him to convert Ireland and establish it as the insula sanctorum:
He not only converted the whole country by his preaching and wonderful miracles, but also cultivated this vineyard with so fruitful a benediction and increase from heaven, as to render Ireland a most flourishing garden in the church of God, and a country of saints.
Beannachtaí na Féile oraibh!

GREAT DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH IN EVERY AGE.

SAINT PATRICK.

Bishop, Confessor and Apostle of Ireland.

If the virtue of children reflects an honor on their parents, much more justly is the name of St. Patrick rendered illustrious by the innumerable lights of sanctity with which the church of Ireland, planted by his labours in the most remote corner of the then known world, shone during many ages; and by the colonies of saints with which it peopled many foreign countries; for, under God, its inhabitants derived from their glorious apostle the streams of that eminent sanctity by which they were long conspicuous to the whole world. St. Patrick was born in the decline of the fourth century; and as he informs us in his "Confession," in a village called Bonaven Taberniae, being the same as the present Boulougne-Sur-Mer, in France. His father was of a good family, named Calphurnius, and his mother Conchessa, a near relative to St. Martin of Tours. At fifteen years of age he committed a fault, which appears not to have been a great crime, yet was to him a subject of tears during the remainder of his life. He says, that when he was sixteen, he lived still ignorant of God, meaning of the devout knowledge and fervent love of God, for he was always a Christian; he never ceased to bewail this neglect, and wept when he remembered that he had been one moment of his life insensible of the divine love. In his sixteenth year he was carried into captivity by certain barbarians, together with many of his father's vassals and slaves taken upon his estate. They took him into Ireland, where he was obliged to keep cattle on the mountains and in the forests, in hunger and nakedness, amidst snows, rain, and ice. Whilst he lived in this suffering condition, God had pity on his soul, and quickened him to a sense of his duty by the impulse of a strong of interior grace. The young man had recourse to him with his whole heart in fervent prayer and fasting; and from that time faith and the love of God acquired continually new strength in his tender soul. He prayed often in the day, and also many times in the night, breaking off his sleep to return to the divine praises. His afflictions were to him a source of heavenly benedictions, because he carried his cross with Christ, that is, with patience, resignation, and holy joy. St. Patrick, after six months spent in slavery under the same master, was admonished by God in a dream to return to his own country, and informed that a ship was then ready to sail thither. He repaired immediately to the sea-coast, though at a great distance, and found the vessel; but could not obtain his passage, probably for want of money. Thus new trials ever await the servants of God. The saint returned towards his hut, praying as he went; but the sailors, though pagans, called him back and took him on board. After three days' sail they made land, but wandered twenty-seven days through deserts, and were a long' while distressed for want of provisions, finding nothing to eat. Patrick had often entertained the company on the infinite power of God; they therefore asked him, why he did not pray for relief. Animated by a strong faith, he assured them that if they would address themselves with their whole hearts to the true God, he would hear and succour them. They did so, and on the same day met with a herd of swine. From that time provisions never failed them, till, on the twenty-seventh day, they came into a country that was cultivated and inhabited. During their distress, Patrick refused to touch meats which had been offered to idols. Some years afterwards, he was again led captive, but recovered his liberty after two months. When he was at home with his parents, God manifested to him by divers visions, that he destined him to the great work of the conversion of Ireland. He thought he saw all the children of that country from the wombs of their mothers stretching out their hands, and piteously crying to him for relief.

The authors of his life say, that after his second captivity, he travelled into Gaul and Italy, and had seen St. Martin, St. Germanus of Auxerre, and Pope Celestine, and that he received his mission, and the apostolical benediction from this pope, who died in 432. But it seems, from his confession, that he was ordained deacon, priest, and bishop, for his mission in his own country. It is certain that he spent many years in preparing himself for those sacred functions. Great opposition was made against his episcopal consecration and mission, both by his own relations and by the clergy. These made him great offers, in order to detain him among them, and endeavored to affright him by exaggerating the dangers to which he exposed himself amidst the enemies of the Romans and Britons, who did not know God. Some objected, with the same view, the fault which he had committed thirty years before, as an obstacle to his ordination. All these temptations threw the saint into great perplexities, and had like to have made him abandon the work of God. But the Lord, whose will he consulted by earnest prayer, supported him and comforted him by a vision — so that he persevered in his resolution. He forsook his family, sold, as he says, his birthright and dignity, to serve strangers, and consecrated his soul to God, to carry his name to the end of the earth. He was determined to suffer all things for the accomplishment of his holy design, to receive in the same spirit both prosperity and adversity, and to return thanks to God equally for the one as for the other, desiring only that his name might be glorified, and his divine will accomplished to his own honour. In this disposition he passed into Ireland, to preach the gospel, where the worship of idols still generally reigned. He travelled over the whole island, penetrating into the remotest corners, without fearing any dangers, and often visited each province. Such was the fruit of his preachings and sufferings, that he consecrated to God, by baptism, an infinite number of people, and laboured effectually that they might be perfected in his service by the practice of virtue. He ordained everywhere clergymen; induced women to live in holy widowhood and continence; consecrated virgins to Christ, and instituted monks. Great numbers embraced these states of perfection with extreme ardour. Many desired to confer earthly riches on him who had communicated to them the goods of heaven, but he made it a capital duty to decline all self-interest, and whatever might dishonour his ministry. He took nothing from the many thousands whom he baptized, and often gave back the little presents which some laid on the altar, choosing rather to mortify the fervent than to scandalize the weak or the infidels. On the contrary, he gave freely of his own, both to Pagans and Christians, distributed large alms to the poor in the provinces where he passed; made presents to the kings, judging that necessary for the progress of the gospel; and maintained and educated many children whom he trained up to serve at the altar. He always gave till he had no more to bestow, and rejoiced to see himself poor with Jesus Christ, knowing poverty and afflictions to be more profitable to him than riches and pleasures. The happy success of his labours cost him many persecutions.

St. Patrick wrote his Confession as a testimony of his mission, when he was old. It is solid, full of good sense and piety, expresses an extraordinary humility and a great desire of martyrdom, and is written with spirit. The author was perfectly versed in the holy scriptures. He confesses everywhere his own faults with a sincere humility, and extols the great mercies of God towards him in this world, who had exalted him, though the most undeserving of men; yet, to preserve him in humility, afforded him the advantage of meeting with extreme contempt from others, that is from the heathens. He confesses, for his humiliation, that, among other temptations, he felt a great desire to see again his own country, and to visit the saints of his acquaintance in Gaul; but durst not abandon his people; and says, that the Holy Ghost had declared to him that to do it would be criminal. He tells us that a little before he wrote this, he himself and all his companions had been plundered and laid in irons, for his having baptized the son of a certain king against the will of his father, but were released after fourteen days. He lived in the daily expectation of such accidents, and of martyrdom, but feared nothing, having his hope as a firm anchor fixed in heaven, and reposing himself with an entire confidence in the arms of the Almighty. He says, that he had lately baptized a very beautiful young lady of quality, who some days after came to tell him, that she had been admonished by an angel to consecrate her virginity to Jesus Christ, that she might render herself the more acceptable to God. He gave God thanks, and she made her vows with extraordinary fervour six days before he wrote this letter. St. Patrick held several councils to settle the discipline of the church which he had planted. The first, the acts of which are extant under his name in the editions of the councils, is certainly genuine. Its canons regulate several points of discipline, especially relating to penance. St. Bernard and the tradition of the country testify, that St. Patrick fixed his metropolitan see at Armagh. He established some other bishops, as appears by his Council and other monuments. He not only converted the whole country by his preaching and wonderful miracles, but also cultivated this vineyard with so fruitful a benediction and increase from heaven, as to render Ireland a most flourishing garden in the church of God, and a country of saints. And those nations which had for many ages esteemed all other barbarians, did not blush to receive from the utmost extremity of the uncivilized or barbarous world, their most renowned teachers and guides in the greatest of all sciences, that of the saints.

Many particulars are related of the labors of St. Patrick, which we pass over. In the first year of his mission he attempted to preach Christ in the general assembly of the kings and states of all Ireland, held yearly at Taraghe, or Themoria, in East-Meath, the residence of the chief king, styled the monarch of the whole island, and the principal seat of the Druids or priests, and their paganish rites. The son of Neill, the chief monarch, declared himself against the preacher: however, he converted several, and, on his road to that place, the father of St. Benen, or Benignus, his immediate successor in the see of Armagh. He afterwards converted and baptized the Kings of Dublin and Munster, and the seven sons of the King of Connaught, with the greatest part of their subjects, and before his death almost the whole island. He founded a monastery at Armagh; another called Domnach-Padraig, or Patrick's Church; also a third, named Sabhal Padraig, and filled the country with churches and schools of piety and learning; the reputation of which, for the three succeeding centuries, drew many foreigners into Ireland. Nennius, Abbot of Bangor, in 620, in his history of the Britons, published by the learned Thomas Gale, says that St. Patrick continued his missions over all the provinces of Ireland, during forty years; that he restored sight to many blind, health to the sick, and raised nine dead persons to life. He died and was buried at Down, in Ulster. His body was found there in a church of his name in 1185, and translated to another part of the same church. His festival is marked on the 17th of March, in the Martyrology of Bede, etc.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Saint Brigid: completing the work of Saint Patrick?


To mark the octave day of the feast of Saint Brigid, we bring to a close the reading of St Brigid: Patroness of Ireland, published in 1907 by Irish Augustinian, Father Joseph A. Knowles. One of the themes which struck me as I read this book was the author's frequently-repeated wish to link the mission and career of our national patroness with that of our national apostle. He returns to this theme in Chapter VIII in which he describes the death, burial and relics of Saint Brigid. As he attempts to paint a picture of her final hours on earth, Father Knowles gives free rein to both the romantic imagination and the triumphalist vision which has characterised his entire book:
As she cast her eyes over the fair plains and upon the green hills of her native land, in those last hours of her life, what a tidal wave of spiritual joy and hope must have inundated her soul. Her monasteries were spread over the whole extent of the land. Churches were raised in towns and hamlets to the honour and glory of the Most High. King and peasant knelt at the same altar, and were linked in a common brotherhood of faith and worship. The altars of the Druids were destroyed, and their false gods banished forever. The preaching of St. Patrick and his disciples had given the death blow to superstition and idolatry. The standard of the true faith was planted on every hill, and waved triumphantly over every valley of regenerated Ireland. And when our Saint recalled how much her labours contributed to this happy consummation, she must have rejoiced and blessed Him Who made her the instrument of such apostolic work for the land of her birth and love. St. Patrick and St. Brigid are ever associated in the minds of Catholic Ireland with the evangelisation of our country. It has been well said that St. Brigid was chosen by God to complete the work of Ireland's Apostle, whilst, at the same time, she in part reaped the fruits of his labours. The "one sowed, the other came when the harvest was ripe; the one watered with tears, the other gathered with joy; the one passed on to his reward, when the other culled the most blooming flowers to decorate his festive offering on the day of his departure." Yes, truly does St. Brigid merit to be placed on a throne beside our National Apostle.

Rev. J.A. Knowles, O.S.A., Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, (Dublin, 1907), 178-180.

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