Thursday, 17 March 2022

Oration on Saint Patrick


To celebrate the feast of our national patron, below is a sermon on St Patrick, described by the Boston Catholic newspaper The Pilot as 'the finest oration on Ireland's Patron Saint that has, perhaps, ever been delivered'. It was given in the United States by a celebrated preacher of his day, Galway-born Dominican, Thomas Burke (1830-83). Father Burke had a considerable international reputation as a preacher and he delivered this oration in the United States, where he had gone for what was supposed to be a short visit in 1871, but where his preaching found such an appreciative audience that he stayed until 1873. His talks and sermons on religion and history in America ran into the hundreds and it is said that they were delivered in an animated style in his rich Galway accent. One can well imagine that the audience for the sermon on Saint Patrick would have been captivated by the dramatic, triumphal vision of Ireland, its people and its patron which it presents. Father Burke was a staunch nationalist who saw Catholicism as an essential part of Irish identity. He was unafraid to confront Protestant critics who claimed that the religion of Saint Patrick had little in common with Catholicism and famously rebutted the anti-Irish sentiments of the English historian J.A. Froude in two books published in the same year as this oration. Like many Victorian writers he saw Saint Patrick as an all-conquering hero, single-handedly converting Ireland and personally traversing every inch of the land. Indeed, for Father Burke the Irish adoption of Christianity has a character unknown in other places for 'the saint met with no opposition; his career resembles more the triumphant progress of a king than the difficult labor of a missionary'. Ireland's relationship with her apostle is also exceptional for 'she is, again, the only nation that never cost her apostle an hour of sorrow, a single tear, a drop of blood.' It's a wonderfully stirring vision, untroubled by the revisions of modern scholarship. May I wish everyone a very Happy and Blessed Saint Patrick's Day!

 
 Oration on Saint Patrick
Let us now praise men of renown, and our fathers in their generations; . . . those men of mercy, whose godly deeds have not failed; good things continue with their seed. Their posterity are a holy inheritance; and their seed hath stood in the covenants; and their children for their sakes remain forever; their seed and their glory shall not he forsaken. Let the people shew their wisdom, and the Church declare their praise. —Eccles. 44. 

We are assembled to obey the command of God expressed in my text. One of the great duties of God’s Church, to which she has ever been most faithful, is the celebration of her saints. From end to end of the year the Church’s saints are the theme of her daily thanksgiving and praise. They are heroes, and therefore she honors them; just as the world celebrates its own heroes, records their great deeds and builds up monuments to perpetuate their names and their glory. The saints were the living and most faithful representatives of Christ our Lord, of his virtues, His love, his actions, his power, so that He lived in them, and wrought in them, and through them, the redemption of men; therefore the Church honors, not so much the saint, as Christ our Lord in the saint; for, in truth, the wisdom of saintliness which she celebrates, wherever it is found, is nothing else, as described to us in Scripture, than a "vapor of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty God; . . . the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty, and the image of His goodness; . . . and through nations she conveyeth herself into holy souls, she maketh the friends of God and prophets.” Nor does the Church’s honor of the saints derogate from that of God, as some say; otherwise the Lord, who is jealous of His divine power and glory, would never command us to praise the saints as he does in the words of my text, and in many other parts of the Holy Scriptures: “Praise ye the Lord in his saints,”  God is wonderful in his saints,” etc., etc. Nay, so far from lessening our love and praise of God, the saints are the very channel through which praise is most acceptably given to Him, and if the Scriptures command us to praise the Lord in all His works, how much more in His saints—the masterpieces of nature and grace! Let no one therefore, suppose that we are assembled to-day to dishonor God by honoring his saint: let no one imagine that we are come together to bless and praise other than Our God Himself, the Father of lights, ”for every best and every perfect gift” which He has given us through our great Apostle, St. Patrick. He was  a man of renown,” for his work and his name are known and celebrated by all men;  and our father in his generation,” for he  begat us to God by the Gospel.” He was, moreover, “a man of mercy,” for, when he might have lived for himself and the enjoyment of his own ease, be chose rather to sacrifice himself, and to make his life cheap and of no account in his sight, and this through the selfsame mercy which brought the Lord Jesus Christ forth from the bosom of the Father, namely, mercy for a people who were perishing. His "godly deeds have not failed,” for the Lord crowned his labors with blessings of abundance.  "Good things continue with his seed", for the faith which he planted still flourishes in the land.

"HIS POSTERITY ARE A HOLY INHERITANCE"

for the scene of his labours, famous for holiness, obtained among the nations the singular title of "the Island of Saints," "And his seed hath stood in the covenants," for it is well known and acknowledged that no power, however great, has been able to move them from the faith once delivered to the saints.   "His children for his sake remain forever," for he blessed them, as we read, that they should never depart from the fold of the "one Shepherd" into which he had gathered them, and his prayer in heaven has verified for 1500 years his prophetic blessing on earth. "His seed and his glory shall not be forsaken", for "they are the children of saints, and look for that life which God will give to those that never change their faith from Him." Seeing, therefore, that all the conditions of the Inspired Word have been so strikingly fulfilled in our saint, is it wonderful that we should also desire to fulfil the rest of the command, "Let the people shew forth His wisdom, and the Church declare His praise?" I propose, therefore, for your consideration - first, the character of the saint himself: secondly, the work of his Apostleship; and thirdly, the merciful providence of Almighty God toward the Irish Church and the Irish people. The light of Christianity had burned for more than four hundred years before its rays penetrated to Ireland. For the first three hundred years of the Church's existence the sacred torch was hidden in the catacombs and caves if the earth, or, if ever seen by men, it was only when held aloft for a moment in the hands of a dying martyr. Yet the flame was spreading, and a great part of Asia, Armenia, Egypt, Spain, Italy, and Gaul had already lighted their lamps before that memorable year 312, when the Church's light, suddenly shooting up, appeared in the heavens, and a Roman Emperor was converted by its brightness. Then did the spouse of Christ walk forth from the earth, arrayed in all the "beauty of holiness," and her "light arose unto the people who were seated in darkness and in the shadow of death". The Christian faith was publicly preached, the nations were converted, churches and monasteries were everywhere built, and God seemed to smile upon the earth with the blessings of Christian faith and Roman civilization. A brief interval of repose it was; and God, in His mercy, permitted the Church just to lay hold of society, and establish herself amongst men, that she might be able to save the world, when, in a few years, the Northern barbarians should have swept away every vestige of the power, glory and civilization of ancient Rome, that a young Christian was taken prisoner on the northern shores of Gaul, and carried, with many others, by his captors, into Ireland.


THIS YOUNG MAN WAS ST. PATRICK.

He was of noble birth, born of Christian parents, reared up-with tenderest care, and surrounded from his earliest infancy with all that could make life desirable and happy. Now he is torn away from parents and friends, no eye to look upon him with pity no heart to feel for the greatness of his misery; and in his sixteenth year, just as life was opening and spreading out all its sweets before him, he is sold as a slave, and sent to tend cattle upon the dreary mountains of the far north of Ireland, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness; and there for long years did he live forgotten and despised, and with no other support than the Christian faith and hope within him. These, however failed him not; and so at length he was enabled to escape from his captivity and return to his native land. Oh, how sweet to his eyes and ears must have been the sights and sounds of his childhood! how dear the embraces, how precious the joy of his aged mother when she clasped to her "him that was dead, but came to life again! ” Surely he will remain with her now, nor never expose her to the risk of losing again joys all the dearer because they had once been lost. Not so, my brethren. Patrick is no longer an ordinary man—one of us. A new desire has entered into his soul and taken possession of his life. A passion has sprung up within him for which he must live and devote his future. This desire, this passion, is to preach the Christian faith in Ireland, and to bring the nation forth "from darkness into the admirable light” of God in the days of his exile, even when a slave on the mountain-side, he heard, like the prophet, a voice within him, and it said, “Behold, I have given my words in thy mouth. Lo, I have set thee this day over the nations and over kingdoms, to root up and pull down, and to waste and destroy, and to build and to plant. Gird up thy loins and arise, and speak to them all that I command thee.” And when he was restored to his country and to those who loved him, the same voice spoke again, for he heard in a dream the voice of many persons from a wood near the western sea, crying out, as with one voice,  "We entreat thee, O holy youth, to come and walk still among us.” “It was the voice of the Irish says the saint in his Confessions,  and I was greatly affected in my heart.” And so he arose, and once more leaving father and mother, houses and lands, went forth to prepare himself for his great mission. Having completed his long years of preparatory study, he turned his face to Rome, to the fountain-head of Christianity, the source of all jurisdiction and Divine mission in the Church, the great heart whence the lifeblood of faith and sound doctrine flows even to her most distant, members, the new Jerusalem and Sion of God, of which it was written of old “from Sion shall the law go forth, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” and here in Rome St. Celestine the First laid his hands upon Patrick and consecrated him first Bishop of the Irish nation. 

And now he returned to our shores a second time no longer a bondsman, but free, and destined to break the nation’s chains: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free:” no longer dragged thither an unwilling slave of men, but drawn by irresistible love, the willing slave of Jesus Christ; no more a stripling, full of anxious fears; but a man, in all the glory of a matured intellect, in the vigor of manhood, in the fulness of power and jurisdiction; with mind prepared and spirit braced to bear and brave all things, and with heart and soul utterly devoted to God and to the great enterprise before him. Oh, my brethren, what joy was in heaven at that hour when the blessed feet of the Bishop Patrick touched the shores of Ireland— 

THE ANCIENT “ISLE Of DESTINY.” 

This was her destiny surely, and it is about to be fulfilled—that she should be the home and the mother of saints—of doctors and holy solitaries, and pure virgins and martyrs robed in white, and of a people acceptable before the Lord. That the Cross of Christ should be the emblem of her faith forevermore, of her faith and of her trial, of her tears and sorrow, and of her victory, “which conquereth the world.” O golden hour amongst the hours! when the sands of the Irish shore first embraced softly and lovingly the beautiful footprints of him who preached peace and good  things; when Moses struck the rock, and the glistening waters of salvation flowed in the desert land; when the “Name, which is above all names,” was first heard in the old Celtic tongue, and the Lord Jesus, entering upon his new inheritance, exclaimed, “This is My resting-place for ever and ever; here shall I dwell because I have chosen it.”. 

The conversion of Ireland, from the time of St. Patrick’s landing to the day of his death, is, in many respects, the strangest fact in the history of the Church. The saint met with no opposition; his career resembles more the triumphant progress of a king than the difficult labor of a missionary. The Gospel, with its lessons and precepts of self-denial, of prayer, of purity, in a word, of the violence which seizes on heaven, is not congenial to fallen man. His pride, his passions, his blindness of intellect and his hardness of heart, all oppose the spread of the Gospel; so that the very fact that mankind has so universally accepted it, is adduced as a proof that it must he from God. The work of the Catholic missionary has, therefore, ever been and must continue to he, a work of great labor with apparently small results. Such has it ever been amongst all the nations: and yet Ireland seems a grand exception. She is, perhaps, the only country in the word that entirely owes her conversion to the work of one man. He found her universally Pagan. He left her universally Christian. She is, again, the only nation that never cost her apostle an hour of sorrow, a single tear, a drop of blood. She welcomed him like a friend , took the Word from his lips, made it at once the leading feature of her life, put it into the blood of her children and into the language of her most familiar thoughts, and repaid her benefactor with her utmost veneration and love. And much, truly, had young Christian Ireland to love and venerate in her great Apostle. All sanctity, coming as it does from God, is an imitation of God in man. This is the meaning of the word of the Apostle, “those whom he foreknew and predestined to he made conformable to the image of His Son, the same He called, and justified, and glorified.” Conformity to the image of God is, therefore, Christian perfection or sanctity, “the mystery which was hidden from eternity with Christ in God.” But as our Lord Jesus Christ, “in whom dwelt the fulness of the God-head corporally,” is an abyss of all perfections, so do we find the saints differing one from another in their varied participations of His graces and resemblance to His divine gifts, for so "star differeth from star in glory.” Then, amongst the apostles, we are accustomed to think and speak of the impulsive zeal of Peter, the virginal purity of John, etc., not as if Peter were not pure, or John wanting in zeal, but that where all was the work of the Spirit of God, one virtue shone forth more prominently, and seemed to mark the specific character of sanctity in the saint. Now, amongst the many great virtues which adorned the soul of Ireland’s Apostle, and made him so dear to the people, I find three which he made especially his own, and these were, a spirit of penance, deepest humility, and a devouring zeal for the salvation of souls. A spirit of penance. It is remarkable, and worthy of special notice in these days of self-indulgence and fanciful religions, how practical the Gospel is. It is pre-eminently not only the science of religious knowledge, hut also of religious life. It tells us not only what we are to believe, but also what we are to do. And now, what is 

THE FIRST GREAT PRECEPT OF THE GOSPEL? 

It is penance. My brethren, “do penance, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” And when, on the day of Pentecost, the Prince of the apostles first raised up the standard of Christianity upon the earth, the people ‘‘when they heard these things had compunction in their hearts, and said to Peter, and to the rest of the Apostles, What shall we do, men and brethren? and Peter said to them, do penance, and be baptized, every one of you.” This spirit of penance was essentially Patrick’s. His youth had been holy; prevented from earliest childhood by ‘‘the blessings of sweetness” he had grown up like a lily, in purity, in holy fear and love. Yet for the carelessness and slight indiscretions of his first years, he was filled with compunction, and with a life-long sorrow. His sin, as he called it, was always before him, and with the prophet he cried out, “Who will give water to my head, and a fountain of tears to mine eyes, and I will weep day and night.” In his journeyings he was wont to spend the night in prayer, and tears, and bitter self-reproach, as if he was the greatest of sinners; and when he hastened from “Royal Meath,” into the far west of the island, we read that when Lent approached, he suspended his labors for a time, and went up the steep, rugged side of Croagh Patrick, and there, like his Divine Master, he spent the holy time in fasting and prayer; and his “tears were his food night and day.” Whithersoever he went he left traces of his penitential spirit behind him: and Patrick’s penance and Patrick’s purgatory are still familiar traditions in the land. Thus, my brethren, did he ‘‘sow in tears,” who was destined to reap in so much joy; for so it is ever with God’s saints, who do his work on this earth; “going, they went and wept, scattering the seed, but coming, they shall come with joy.” His next great personal virtue was a wonderful humility. Now, this virtue springs from a twofold knowledge, namely, the knowledge of God and of ourselves. This was the double knowledge for which the great St. Augustine prayed: “Lord, let me know thee, and know myself, that I may love thee and despise myself;” and this did our saint possess in an eminent degree. This knowledge of God convinced him of the utter worthlessness of all things besides God, and even of God’s gifts, except when used for himself; and therefore he did all things for God and nothing for self, and of “ his own he gave Him back again;” he lost sight of himself in advancing the interests and the cause of God; he hid himself behind his work in which he labored for God; and strangely enough, his very name and history come down to us by reason of his great humility, for he would write himself a sinner, and calls himself ‘‘Patrick, an unworthy, and ignorant, and sinful man,” for so he saw himself, judging himself by the standard of infinite holiness in Jesus Christ, by which we also shall all be one day judged. Looking into himself he found only misery and weakness, wonderfully strengthened, not by himself, but by God: poverty and nakedness, clothed and enriched, not by himself, but by God; and, fearful of losing the Giver in the gifts, he put away from him the contemplation of what God had made him, and only considered what he was himself. Thus was he always the most humble of men. Even when seated in glory and surrounded by the love ,and admiring veneration of an entire people, never was his soul moved from the solid foundation of humility, the twofold knowledge; and so he went down to his grave a simple and an humble man. And yet in this lowly heart there burned a mighty fire of love, a devouring zeal for the souls of his brethren. Oh! here indeed does he shine forth ‘‘likened unto the Son of God;” for like our Divine Lord and Master, Patrick was a ‘‘zealous lover of souls.” He well knew how dear those souls were to the sacred heart of Jesus Christ—how willingly the Lord of glory had spent Himself, and given His most sacred and precious blood for them: how it was the thought of their salvation that' sustained Him during the horror of His passion; in the agony of His prayer; when His sacred flesh was torn at the pillar, when the cruel thorns were driven into His most holy brows; when, with drooping head and wearied eyes, and body streaming blood from every open wound, He was raised up on the cross to die heart-broken and abandoned, with the anger of God and the insults of men poured upon him. Patrick knew all this, and it filled him with transports of zeal for souls, so that, like the great apostle, he wished to he as accursed for them; and to die a thousand times rather than that one soul, purchased so dearly, and the offspring of so much love and sorrow should perish. Therefore did he make himself the slave and the servant of all that lie might gain all to God. And in his mission of salvation no difficulties retarded him, no danger frightened him, no labor or sacrifice held him hack, no sickness subdued him, no infirmity of body or mind overcame him. Old age came upon him, yet he spared not himself, nor did he for a moment sit down to count his years, or to number his triumphs, or to consider his increasing wants; but his voice was clear and strong and his arm untiring though he had reaped a harvest of many years and had borne ‘‘the burden of the day and the heat;” and his heart was young, for it was still growing, in the faith of those around him. Even to the last day of his life "his youth was renewed like the eagle. ” He repeatedly journeyed throughout the length and breadth of the land, caring and tending with prayer, and blessing, and tears, the plants which he had planted in this new vineyard of God: and grace was poured abroad from his lips, and “virtue went forth from him,” until the world was astonished at the sight of a whole nation converted by one man, and the promise made of old was fulfilled in Patrick, “I will deliver to you every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, and no man shall he able to resist thee all the days of thy life.” And now we come to the question, 

 
WHAT DID ST. PATRICK TEACH, 
and in what form of Christianity did he expend himself for God? For fifteen hundred years, my brethren, Christianity meant one thing, one doctrine, one faith, one authority, one baptism; now, in our day, this same Christianity, though as undivided, as true, as exclusive, as definite as ever, is made to signify many things; and men, fondly imagining that our ancestors had no greater unity than ourselves, asks what form of doctrine did St. Patrick preach to the Irish people? I answer: He preached the whole cycle of Catholic truth as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be to the end of time. He taught them that Christ's most sacred body and blood are really and truly present in the Blessed Eucharist, so that we find an Irish writer of the same century (Sedulius) using the words “we are fed on the body and members of Christ. and so we are made the temples of God:” again, the language used by the Irish Church at the time, as even the Protestant Bishop Usher acknowledges, concerning the Mass, was “the making of the body of the Lord.” In support of the same truth we have the beautiful legend of St. Bridgid which, even if its truth be disputed, still points to the popular faith and love whence it sprang—how, when a certain child, named Nennius, was brought to her she blessed him, and prophesied that his hand should one day give her the Holy Communion; whereupon the hoy covered his right hand and never again let it touch any profane thing, nor be even uncovered, so that he was called “ Nennius na laumh glas ,” or, Nennius of the clean hand, out of devotion and love to the most Holy Sacrament. St. Patrick taught the doctrine of penance and confession of sins and priestly absolution; for we find, amongst the other proofs, an old penitential canon of a synod held under the saint himself in 450, in which it is decreed that “if a Christian kill a man, or commit fornication, or go in to a soothsayer after the manner of the Gentiles, he shall do a year of penance; when his year of penance is over, he shall come with witnesses, and afterwards he shall he absolved by the priest.” He taught the invocation of saints, as is evident from numerous records of the time. Thus, in a most ancient life of St. Bridgid we find the words, ‘‘There are two holy virgins in heaven who may undertake my protection—Mary and Bridgid—on whose patronage let each of us depend.” In like manner, we find in the synods of the time laws concerning the “oblations for the dead;” in the most ancient Irish missals Masses for the dead are found with such prayers as ‘‘Grant, O Lord, that this holy oblation may work pardon for the dead and salvation for the living;” and in a most ancient life of St. Brendan it is stated that “the prayer of the living doth much profit the dead.” But, my brethren, as in the personal character of the saint there were some amongst his virtues that shone out more conspicuously than the others, so in his teaching there were certain points which appear more prominently, which seemed to he impressed upon the people more forcibly,and to have taken peculiar hold of the national mind. Let us consider what these peculiar features of, St. Patrick’s teaching were, and we shall see how they reveal to us what I proposed as the third point of this sermon, namely, the merciful providence of God over the Irish Church and people. They were the following: Fidelity to St. Peter's chair and to Peter’s successor the Pope of Rome, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary; prayer and remembrance for the dead; and confiding obedience and love for their bishops and priests. These were the four great prominent features of Patrick’s teaching: by the first, namely, fidelity to the Pope, he secured the unity of the Irish Church as a living member of the Church Catholic; by the second, devotion to the Blessed Virgin, he secured the purity and morality of the people; by the third, care of the dead, he enlisted on the side of Catholic truth the natural love and strong feelings of the Irish character; and by the last, attachment and obedience to the priesthood, he secured to the Irish Church the principle of internal union, which is the secret of her strength. 
 
HE PREACHED FIDELITY 
and unswerving devotion to the Pope—the head of the Catholic Church. Coming direct from Rome, and filled with ecclesiastical knowledge, he opened up before the eyes of his new children and revealed to them the grand design of Almighty God in His Church. He showed them in the world around them the wonderful harmony which speaks of God; then rising into the higher world of grace, he preached to them the still more wonderful harmony of redemption and of the Church—the Church, so vast as to fill the whole earth, yet as united in doctrine and practice as if she embraced only the members of one small family or the inhabitants of one little village; the Church, embracing all races of men, and leaving to all their full individual freedom of thought and action; yet animating all with one soul, quickening all as with one life and one heart; guiding all with the dictates of one immutable conscience, and keeping every, even the least, member, under the dominion of one head. Such was the Church on which Patrick engrafted Ireland—“A glorious church, without spot or wrinkle;” a perfect body, the very mystical body of Jesus Christ, through which “we, being wild olives, are engrafted on Him, the true olive-tree,” so that ‘‘we are made the flesh of His flesh, and hone of His bones.” Now, Patrick taught our fathers, with truth, that the soul, the life, the heart, the conscience and the head of the Church is Jesus Christ , and that His representative on earth, to whom He has communicated all His graces and powers, is the Pope of Rome, the visible head of God’s Church, the Bishop of Bishops, the centre of unity and of doctrine, the rock and the corner-stone on which the whole edifice of the Church is founded and built up. All this he pointed out in the Scriptures, from the words of our Lord to Peter. Peter was the shepherd of the fold, whose duty it was to “feed both lambs and sheep,” with ‘‘every word that cometh from the mouth of God.” Peter was the rock to sustain and uphold the Church: “thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church ” (words which are the very touchstone of faith in these days of sorrow). Peter’s was the strong, unerring voice which was ever to be heard in the Church, defining her doctrines, warning off enemies, denouncing errors, rebuking sinners, guiding the doubtful, strengthening the weak, confirming the strong; and Jesus said, “Thou, O Peter, confirm thy brethren.” Patrick taught the Irish people not to he scandalized if they saw the cross upon Peter’s shoulders, and the crown of thorns upon his head, for so Christ lives in His Church and in her supreme pastor; but he also taught them that he who strikes Peter strikes the Lord; he taught them what history has taught us, that “whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be bruised; and upon whomsoever it shall fall it will grind him to powder.” He taught them that in the day when they separated from Peter they separated from Christ, as did the foolish men in the Gospel: ‘‘After this many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him. Then Jesus said to the twelve, Will you also go away? And Simon Peter answered Him: Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Thus it was, my brethren, that He bound them to ‘‘the rock of ages,” to Peter’s chair, with firmest bound of obedience and love, and infused into their souls that supernatural instinct, which, for fifteen hundred years, has kept them, through good report and evil report, through persecution and sorrow, faithful and loyal to the Holy See of Rome. It was a bond of obedience and love that bound Ireland to Rome. Thus, in the beginning of the seventh century, when the Irish bishops assembled to consider the question of celebrating Easter, we find the Fathers selecting some “wise and humble men,” and sending them to Rome for instruction, “as children to their mother and this in obedience to a primitive law of the Irish Church, which enacted that, in every difficulty that might arise, “the question should be referred to the Head of Cities,” as Rome was called. This devotion to the Holy See saved Ireland in the day of trial. The next great feature in Patrick’s teaching was devotion to the Mother of God. Of this we have abundant proof in the numerous churches built and dedicated to God under her name. Teampoill Mhuire, or Mary’s Church, became a familiar name in the land. 
 
IN THE FAR WEST OF IRELAND, 
where the traditions of our holy faith are still preserved, enshrined in the purest form of our grand old Celtic language, the sweet name of the Mother of God is heard in the prayers and songs of the people, in their daily familiar converse, in the supplications of the poor, not under the title of “our Lady,” or of “the Blessed Virgin,” but by the still more endearing name of Mhuire Mathair , ‘‘Mary Mother.” And so it was that Patrick sent his Catholic doctrines home to the hearts of the people. He preached Jesus Christ under the name by which He is still known and adored in that far western land, Mac na Maighdine “the Virgin’s Son,” thus admirably insinuating the great mystery of the Incarnation, and preaching Jesus through Mary; and Mary herself he preached, with all her graces and glories,  as “Mary Mother.” The example of her virginal purity and maternal love he made the type of the Irish maiden and mother; and so well did they learn their high lesson that they have been for ages the admiration of the world, and the glory of their afflicted country. The devotion to Mary sank deep into the heart of the nation. So well had they already learned to love and appreciate her that, in a few years after their conversion to the faith, when they would express their love and admiration for the first great Irish virgin saint— St. Brigid—they thought they had crowned her with glory when they called her “the Mary of Ireland.” This devotion to Mary was a protecting shield over Ireland in the day of her battle for the faith. 
 
The third great prominent point in St. Patrick’s preaching was the doctrine of Purgatory, and, consequently, careful thought and earnest prayer for the dead. This is attested by the ordinances of the most ancient Irish synods, in which oblations, prayers and sacrifice for the dead are frequently mentioned, as evidently being the practice, frequent and loving, of the people. They were not unmindful of the dead, “like others who have no hope.” Every ancient church had its little graveyard, and the jealous care of the people, even to this day, for these consecrated spots, the loving tenacity with which they have clung to them at all times, speak of their faith in this great doctrine, and tell us how much Irish hope and love surrounds the grave. “ Nothing is our own except our dead,” says the poet, and so these affectionate hearts took with joy the doctrine of mercy, and carried their love and their prayer beyond the tomb into the realms of expiation, where the dross of earth is purged away, the gold and silver refined, and souls saved are prepared for heaven, “yet so as by fire.” This doctrine of the Church, so forcibly taught by Patrick, and warmly accepted by the Irish people, was also a great defence to the nation’s faith during the long ages of persecution and sorrow. 

Finally, the great saint established between the people and their priesthood the firmest bonds of mutual confidence and love. In the Catholic Church the priest is separated from men and consecrated to God. The duties of his office are so high, so holy and supernatural, and require such purity of life and devotion of soul, that he must, of necessity, stand aloof from amongst men and engage himself with God; for, to use the words of the apostle, he is "the minister of Christ, and the dispenser of the mysteries of God.” Hence, every Catholic looks upon the priest as a supernatural man; supernatural in the unction of his priesthood, in his office, his power, his life, his duties, and most sacred in his person as the anointed of the Lord. This was the idea of the priesthood which Saint Patrick impressed upon the Irish people. The very name by which the priest has ever been known in our language. and which has no corresponding word in the English tongue, signifies “a sacred man and a giver of sacred things.” Such is the exalted dignity of the priesthood, such the knowledge and matured sanctity required for, and the tremendous obligations and duties imposed upon it, that we generally find the first priests of a newly converted people strangers; men who in Christian lands were brought up and educated for their high mission. It would seem as if the young Christianity of a people, like a vine hut newly planted, were unable yet to hear such full matured fruit of holiness. But it was not so in Ireland, my brethren. There we behold a singular instance of a people who immediately produced a national priesthood. The priests and bishops of Ireland, who assisted and succeeded St. Patrick in his great work, were almost to a man Irishmen. So congenial was the soil on which the seedling of Christianity fell, that forthwith it sprung up into the goodly tree of all holiness and power; and so the aged apostle saw around him, in “the ring of his brethren,” those whom he had himself baptized, anointed and consecrated into the ministry of God’s altar and people. Taken thus from the heart of the people they returned to them again laden with divine gifts, and, living in the midst of them, joyfully and contentedly ministered unto them ‘‘in all things that are of God.” A community of joy and sorrow, of good and of evil, was thus established between the priesthood and the people of Ireland; an intercourse the most familiar yet most reverential; an union of the strictest kind, founded in faith, fidelity and affection, and cemented by centuries of tears and of blood.

 FOR MORE THAN A THOUSAND YEARS 
the work of St. Patrick was the glory of Christendom. The Virgin Church of Ireland, unstained even by one martyr’s blood, became the prolific mother of saints. Strange indeed, and singular in its glory, was the destiny of Innisfail. The Irish Church knew no childhood, no ages of painful and uncertain struggle to put on Christian usuages and establish Christian traditions. Like the children in the early ages of the Church, who were confirmed in infancy, immediately after baptism, Ireland was called upon, as soon as converted, to become at once the mother of saints, the home and refuge of learning, the great instructress of the nations; and, perhaps, the history of the world does not exhibit a more striking and glorious sight than Ireland for the three hundred years immediately following her conversion to the Catholic faith. The whole island was covered with schools and monasteries, in which men, the most renowned of their age, both for learning and sanctity, received the thousands of students who flocked to them from every land. Whole cities were given up to them; as we read of Armagh, which was divided into three parts— "Trianmore,” or the town proper; “ Trian-Patrick,” or the cathedral close; “ Trian-Sassenagh,” or the Latin quarter, the home of the foreign students. To the students the evening star gave the signal for retirement, and the morning sun for awaking. When, at the sound of the early bell, says the historian, "two or three thousand of them poured into the silent streets and made their way towards the lighted church, to join in the service of matins, mingling, as they went or returned, the tongues of the Gael, the Cimbri, the Pict, the Saxon, and the Frank, or hailing and answering each other in the universal language of the Roman Church, the angels of heaven must have loved to contemplate the union of so much perseverance with so much piety.” And thus it was, not only in St. Patrick’s own city of Armagh, but in Bangor, in Clonard, in Clonmacnoise, in Mayo; of the Saxons in Taginahon and Beg-Erin on the Slaney; in famed Lismore, on the Blackwater; in Mungret, on the lordly Shannon; in the far-off Islands of Arran on the Western Ocean: and in many another sainted and historic spot, where the round tower, and the group of seven churches, still remain, silent hut eloquent witnesses of the sanctity and the glory of Ireland’s first Christianity. The nations, beholding and admiring the lustre of learning and sanctity which shone forth in the holy isle, united in conferring upon Ireland the proudest title ever yet given to a land or a people; they called her “the Island of Saints and Doctors.” 
 
The voice of history clearly and emphatically proclaims that the intellectual supremacy and guidance or the Christian world belonged to Ireland from the sixth to the ninth centuries. But. although religion may flourish in the halls of the university, and be fairly illustrated in the peaceful lives of the saints, yet, there is one crown, and that, indeed, the very countersign of faith,—“ Victoria quae vincit mundum fides’’—which can only rest on the brows of a church and a nation which has been tried in the arena of persecution and war; and that crown is victory. The baytree may flourish by the riverside; the cedar may rear its majestic head on the mountain-top; leaf and fair flower, and the fulness of fruit may be there: hut it is only in the dark hour, when the storm sweeps over the earth, and every weak thing yields to it, and is carried away by its fury, that the good tree is tested, and its strength is proved. Then do men see whether it has struck its roots deep into the soil, and so twined them about the hidden rocks, that no power can tear them out. The good ship may sail before the prosperous gales, and ‘‘walk the waters ” in all her beauty and majesty; hut it is only on the morning after the storm, when the hurricane has swept over the face of the deep, when the angry waves have beaten upon her, and strained to its utmost every element of her strength—seeking to destroy her, but in vain,—that the sailor knows that he can trust to the heart of oak, and sleep securely in his noble vessel. Thus it is with the Church in Ireland. Her beauty and her sanctity were known and admired both of God and man; but her Lord was resolved that she should wear such crown of victory as never was placed on a nation’s brows; and therefore, at two distinct periods of her history, was she obliged to meet and conquer a storm of persecution and of war unequalled in the world’s annals. The first of these great trials came upon Ireland at the beginning of the ninth century, when the Northmen, or Danes, invaded the country in mighty force. They came not only as the enemies of Ireland’s nationality, but much more of her faith; and we invariably find that their first and most destructive fury was directed against the churches, monasteries, and schools. 
 
THE GLOOMY AND TERRIBLE WORSHIP OF ODIN 
was to replace the religion of Christ; and for three hundred long years the whole land was covered with bloodshed and confusion, the nation fighting with heroic courage and perseverance, in defence of its altars and homes; until, at the close of the eleventh century, Ireland rose up in her united strength, shook off the Pagan and fierce invaders from her virgin bosom, and cast them into the sea. The faith and religion of Christ triumphed, and Ireland was as Catholic, though far from being as holy, at the end of the eleventh as she was at the end of the eighth century. Now we can only realize the greatness of this result by comparing it with tho history of other nations. Behold, for instance, how completely the Mussulman invasions destroyed the Christianity of those ancient peoples of the East who had received the faith from the lips of the apostles themselves; how thoroughly the Saracens succeeded, in a few years, in destroying the Christian faith of the north of Africa, — that once famous and flourishing Church, the Alexandria of St. Mark, the Hippo of St. Augustine, the Carthage of St. Cyprian. History attests that nothing is more subversive of the religion of a, people than long-continued war; and of this great truth we have, without going to the East or to Africa, a most melancholy proof in the history of England. “The Wars of the Roses,” as the strife between the Houses of Lancaster and York was called, cover a space of only thirty years, from 1455 to 1485. This war was not directed at all against religion, but was simply a contention of two great rival Houses struggling for the sovereignty; and yet it so demoralized the English people that they were prepared to accept, almost without a struggle, the monstrous form of religious error imposed upon them at the so-called Reformation,—an heretical Church with a tyrant, an adulterer, and a murderer for its head. Contrast with these and many other such terrible examples the glory of a nation that emerged from a contest of three hundred years, which was really a religious war, with faith unimpaired, and untarnished by the least stain of superstition or infidelity to God. 
 
It is not necessary for us to-day to recall the sad events that followed the Danish invasion of Ireland. The crown of empire fell from Ireland’s brows, and the heart broke in the nation’s bosom. 
“The emerald gem of the western world 
Was set in the crown of the stranger.” 
 
It is, however, worthy of remark, that although Ireland never was united in her opposition to her English invader, as she bad been at Clontarf, still the contest for national existence was so gallantly maintained, that it was four hundred years since the first Norman invasion, before the English monarch ventured to assume the title of ‘‘King of Ireland.” It was in 1169 the English first landed, and it was on the 19th of June, 1541, that the royalty of Ireland was first transferred to an English dynasty, and the Lordship of the Island of Saints conferred on one of the most wicked and inhuman monsters that ever cursed the earth, King Henry VIII. And now a new era of persecution and sorrow opened upon Ireland. The nation was commanded to give up its faith and religion. Never, since the beginning of the world, was an all-important question more solemnly put; never has it been more triumphantly and clearly answered. The question was: Were the Irish people prepared to stand by their ancient faith, to unite in defence of their altars; to close with the mighty persecuting power of England, and fight her in the cause of religion? Solemnly and deliberately did Ireland take up the gage and accept the great challenge. The issue seemed scarcely doubtful. The world refused to believe that a people who could never be united in the defence of their national existence would unite as one man in defence of religion; or that the power which had succeeded in breaking Ireland’s sceptre and wresting her crown should he utterly defeated in its mightiest and most persistent efforts to destroy Ireland’s ancient faith. Yet so it was to be. The ‘‘Island of Saints and Doctors ” was destined to be a land of heroes and martyrs, and the sacred cause of Ireland’s nationality was destined to be saved in tho victory which crowned her wonderful and glorious battle for her faith. This is not the time nor the occasion to dwell upon the details of that terrible struggle in which the whole strength of earth’s mightiest people was put forth against us; which lasted for three hundred years; which was fought out on a thousand battle-fields; which deluged Ireland with the best blood of her children, and reduced her fairest provinces, over and over again, to the condition of a waste and desert land. 
 
BUT THE CELT WAS ENTRENCHED
 in the citadel of God; the light of divine truth was upon his path, the power of the Most High nerved his arm, and the spirit of Patrick hung over him, like the fiery cloud that overshadowed the hosts of Israel upon the plains of Edom and Madian. 
 
Ireland’s preservation of the Catholic faith has been a puzzle to the world, and men have sought to explain in many different ways the extraordinary phenomenon. Some ascribe it to our natural antipathy and opposition to England and everything English; others again allege the strong conservatism of the Irish character, and its veneration for ancient rites and usages, merely because they are ancient; whilst English historians and philosophers love to attribute it to the natural obstinacy and wrong-headedness which they say is inherent in the Irish. I do not deny that, amongst the minor and human causes that influenced the religious action of the Irish people, there may have been a hatred and detestation of England. The false religion was presenter to our fathers by the detested hands that had robbed Ireland of her crown; it was offered at the point of the sword that had shed (often treacherously and foully) the blood of her best and bravest sons; the nauseous dose of Protestantism was mixed in the bowl that poisoned the last of her great earls— Owen Roe O’Neill. All this may have told with the Irish people; and I also admit that a Church and religion claiming to he of God, with such a divinely appointed head as the saintly Henry the Eight—such a nursing mother as the chaste Elizabeth—such gentle missionaries as the humane and tender-hearted Oliver Cromwell, may have presented difficulties to a people whose wits were sharpened by adversity, and who were not wholly ignorant of the Christian character, as illustrated in the history and traditions of their native land. 
 
We may also admit to a slight extent the conservatism of the Irish character, and its veneration for antiquity. Oh, how much our fathers had to love in their ancient religion! Their history began with their Christianity; their glories were all intertwined with their religion; their national banners were inscribed with the emblem of their faith, ‘‘the green, immortal Shamrock;” the brightest names in their history were all associated with their religion—“Malachi of the collar of gold,” dying in the midst of the monks, and clothed with their holy habit on an island of Lough Ennel, near Mullingar, in Meath—Brian, “the great King,” upholding the crucifix before his army on the morning of Clontarf, and expiring in its embraces before the sunset —the brave Murkertach O'Brien answering fearlessly the threat of William Rufus—for, when the English king said, looking towards Ireland, “ I will bring hither my ships, and pass over and conquer the land;” “Hath the King,” asked the Irish monarch, “in his great threatenings said,  'if it please God? ’ ” And when answered, no; “Then tell him", exclaimed the Irish hero, “I fear him not, since he putteth his trust in man, and not in God. ” Roderick O’Connor, the last “High King” of Ireland, closing his career of disaster and of glory amongst the canons of the Abbey of Cong—saint, and bard, and hero, all alike presented themselves to the national mind surrounded by the halo of that religion which the people were now called upon to abandon and despise. Powerful as was the appeal of history and antiquity, I cannot give it any great weight in the preservation of Ireland’s Catholicity. I do not believe that adherence to ancient usage because of its antiquity is a prominent feature of Irish character. We are by no means so conservative as our English neighbors. It is worthy of remark that usages and customs once common to both countries, and long since abandoned and forgotten in Ireland (Christmas “waits,” for instance, harvest home feasts, May-pole dances, and the like) are still kept up faithfully and universally throughout England. The bells which, in Catholic times, called the people to early Mass on Sunday mornings, are still rang out as of old, through mere love of ancient usage, although their ringing from Protestant towers in the early morning has no meaning whatever, for, it invites to no service or prayer. And yet in the essential matter of religion where antiquity itself is a proof of truth, the conservative English gave up the old faith for the new; whilst the Irish—in other things so regardless of antiquity—died and shed their blood for the old religion, rather than turn for one instant to the strange imposture of the new. 
 
But none of these purely natural explanations can explain the supernatural fact, that a whole people preferred, for ten generations, confiscation, exile, and death, rather than surrender their faith; and the time reason lies in the all-important circumstance, that the religion of the Irish people was the time religion of Jesus Christ, bringing not only light to the intelligence, hut grace and strength to the heart and will of the nation. The light of their divine faith showed them the hollowness and fallacy of Protestantism, in which they recognized an outrage upon common sense and reason, as well as upon God; and the grace of their holy Catholic religion enabled them to suffer and die in its defence. Here it is that we recognize the Providence of God in the preaching of St. Patrick. 
 
THE NEW AND FALSE RELIGION 
assailed precisely those points of Catholic teaching which he had engraved most deeply on the mind and heart of Ireland, as if he had anticipated the trial and prepared for it. Attachment to the Holy See was more than a sentiment; it was a passion in the Irish bosom. Through good report and evil report, Ireland was always faithful to Peter’s chair; and it is a curious fact, that, when the Christian world was confused by the pretensions of Antipodes, and all the nations of Christendom were, at one time or other, led astray, so as to acknowledge some false pretender, Ireland, with an instinct truly supernatural, never failed to discover, to proclaim, and to obey the true pontiff. She is the only Catholic nation that never was, for a moment separated from Peter, nor mistaken in her allegiance to him. Her prayer, her obedience, her love, were the sure inheritance of each succeeding Pope, from Celestine, who sent Saint Patrick to Ireland, to Pius who, in our own day, beheld Patrick’s children guarding his venerable throne, and prepared to die in his glorious cause. In every Catholic land union with Rome is a principle. In Ireland it was a devotion. And so, when the evil genius of Protestantism stalked through the land, and with loud voice demanded of the Irish people separation from Rome, or their lives—the faithful people of God consented to die, rather than to renounce the faith of their fathers, transmitted to them through the saints. 
 
Devotion to the Mother of God was the next great feature of Patrick’s preaching and of Ireland’s Catholicity. The image of all that was fairest in nature and grace, which arose before the eyes of the people, as depicted by the great apostle, captivated their imaginations and their hearts. They called her in their prayers "Miden dheelish.” their darling Virgin. In every family in the land the eldest daughter was a Mary; every Irish maid or mother emulated the purity of her virginal innocence, or the strength and tenderness of her maternal love. With the keenness of love they associated their daily sorrows and joys with hers; and the ineffable grace of maiden modesty which clung to the very mothers of Ireland seemed to be the brightest reflection of Mary which had lingered upon the earth. Oh, how harshly upon the ears of such a people grated the detestable voice that would rob Mary of her graces, and rob the world of the light of her purity and the glory of her example! Never was the Mother of God so dear to Ireland as in the days of the nation’s persecution and sorrow. Not even in that bright day when the Virgin Mother seemed to walk the earth and to have made Ireland her home, in the person of their own St. Bridget, was her name so dear, and the love of her so strong, as in the dark and terrible time when, church and altar being destroyed, every cabin in the land resounded with Mary’s name, invoked in the Holy Rosary, the great devotion that saved Ireland’s faith. The third great leading feature of our holy religion assailed by Protestantism was the sweet and tender doctrine of prayer and love for the dead. That which is opposed to divine truth is always, when we analyze it, an outrage on the best instincts of man. Remembrance of those who are gone, and a desire to help them, to communicate with them, seems natural to us all; and the more tender-hearted and affectionate and loving a people are, the more deeply will they realize and appreciate the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, and prayer for the dead. How terrible is the separation of death, as seen from the Protestant point of view! In the Catholic Church this mystery of death is despoiled of its worst bitterness. It is only a removal from our bodily sight, as if the loved one were only gone on a journey for a few days, to return to us again. Our intercourse with him does not cease; nay, we can do more for him now than ever we could in life, and by our prayers obtain, for him the relief and consolation that will never he forgotten during the long day of eternity in Heaven. 
 
TO A PEOPLE LIKE THE IRISH, 
naturally affectionate, and strongly attached to each other, the Christian doctrine of prayer for the dead must always be grateful. Our history served to deepen this portion of our Catholic devotion, for it was a history of sorrow and of national privation; and sorrow softens and enlarges the heart. A people who had lost so much in life, turned the more eagerly and lovingly to their dead. I remember once seeing an aged woman, weeping and praying over a grave in Ireland; and when I questioned her, endeavoring to console her, she said, “Let me cry my fill; all that I ever had in this world are here in this grave; all that ever brought me joy or sorrow is here under this sod; and my only consolation in life is to come here and speak to them, and pray for them, and weep.” We may imagine, but we cannot the indignation of our fathers, when the heartless, sour-visaged, coldblooded men of Geneva came to them to tell them, that henceforth they must be ‘‘unmindful of their dead, like others who have no hope.” This doctrine may do for the selfish, light-hearted, thoughtless worldling, who loves nothing in death, and who in life only loves for his own sake; but it would scarcely he acceptable to a generous, pure, and loving race, and withal a nation of mourners, as the Irish were, when the unnatural doctrine was first propounded to them. 
 
Finally, the new religion was represented to the Irish people by men who grotesquely represented themselves as successors of the apostles. The popular mind in Ireland had derived its idea of the Christian priesthood from such men as Patrick, Columba, of Iona, and Kevin, of Glendalough. The great majority of the clergy in Ireland were at all times monastic—men who added to the character and purity of the priest the sanctity and austerity of the Cenobite. The virtues of Ireland’s priesthood made them the admiration of other lands, hut the idols of their own people. The monastic glories of ancient Lismore and Bangor were still reflected from Millifont and Bective; the men of Glendalough and ancient Armagh lived on in the Franciscan and Dominican abbeys throughout the land; and the Catholic Church presented, in the 16th century, in her Irish clergy, the same purity of life, sanctity and austerity of morals, zeal and learning, which illumined the world in ages gone by. Steeped as our people were in sorrow, they could not refrain from mirth at the sight of the holy ‘‘apostles” of the new religion, the men who were to take the place of the Catholic bishops, and priests, and monks, to teach and illustrate by their lives the purer gospel which had been just discovered—the Mormonism of the 16th century. English renegade monks, English apostate priests, English drunken brawlers, with a ferocious English army at their back, invaded the land, and, parading themselves, with their wives or concubines, before the eyes of the astonished and disgusted people, called upon the children of St. Patrick and St. Columba to receive them as ‘‘the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God.” Their religion was worthy of them—they had no mysteries to dispense to the people; no sacrifice, no penance, no confession of sin, no fasting, no vows to God, no purity, no counsels of the Gospel, no sacrament of matrimony, no priesthood, no anointing of the sick, no prayer for the dead. Gracious God! They came to a people whom they had robbed of their kingdom of earth, and demanded of them also the surrender of the Kingdom of Heaven! 
 
WAS EVER HEARD SUCH AUDACITY! 
What wonder that Ireland took her own priest, her ‘‘soggath aroon,” to her bosom! Never did she know his value till now. It was only when she had seen his hideous counterpart that she realized all that she possessed in the humble child of St. Francis and St. Dominick. The sunshine is all the more welcome when we have seen the blackness of the night; the sweet is all the sweeter when we have tasted bitterness; the diamond shines all the brighter when its dull, glassy counterfeit is set beside it; and the Angel of Light has all the purer radiance of heaven around him, after the affrighted eye has caught a glimpse of the Spirit of Darkness. As strangers, the ministers of Protestantism have lived in Ireland for three hundred years; as strangers they live in the land to-day. The people and their clergy, united, ‘‘have fought the good fight, have kept the faith,” and we have lived to see the triumph of that faith in our own day. 
 
Now, I say, that in all this we see the Providence of God in the labor of Ireland’s glorious apostle. Who can deny that the religion which St. Patrick gave to Ireland is divine? A thousand years of sanctity attest it. Three hundred years of martyrdom attest it. If men will deny the virtues which it creates, the fortitude which it inspires, let them look to Ireland’s history. If men say that the Catholic religion flourishes only because of the splendor of its ceremonial, the grandeur of its liturgy, and its appeal to the senses let them look to Ireland’s history. What sustained the faith when church and altar disappeared? when no light burned no organ pealed, but all was desolation for centuries? Surely the divine life, which is the soul of the Church, of which the external worship and ceremonial are but the expression. But if they will close their eyes to all this, at least there is a fact before them—the most glorious and palpable of our day—and it is, that Ireland Catholicity has risen again to every external glory of worship, and triumphed over every enemy. Speaking of our Lord, St. Augustine says, “In that He died He showed Himself man; in that He rose again He proved Himself God.” Has not the Irish Church risen again to more than her former glory? The land is covered once more with fair churches, convents, colleges, and monasteries, as of old; and who shall say that the religion that could thus suffer and rise again is not from God? This glorious testimony to God and to His Christ is thine, O holy and venerable land of my birth and of my love! O glory of earth and Heaven, to-day thy great apostle looks down upon thee from his high seat of bliss, and his heart rejoices: to-day the angels of God rejoice over thee, for the light of sanctity which still beams upon thee; to-day thy troops of virgin and martyr saints speak thy praises in the high courts of heaven. And I, O Mother, far away from thy green bosom, hail thee from afar—as the prophet of old beholding the fair plains of the promised land—and proclaim this day that there is no land so fair, no spot of earth to be compared to thee, no island rising out of the wave so beautiful as thou art; that neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars of heaven, shine down upon anything so lovely as thee, O Erin!
 
Oration on Saint Patrick delivered by Rev Father Burke, O.P., (Halifax, N.S., 1873).

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Tuesday, 8 February 2022

The History of the Mantle of Saint Brigid


We conclude the series of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with a look at the history of the relic of her mantle, preserved at the Cathedral de Saint Sauveur in Bruges. In the previous post we looked at what the examinations of 1866 and 1935 revealed about the nature of the relic, as described by Henry McClintock. But what of its origins? How did la manteline de Saint Brigide d'Irlande come to Belgium? Let's start with a brief reminder of how the relic is displayed today:

What the visitor actually sees is a glazed frame of Gothic design, not unlike the fame of a picture, and underneath the glass, an ancient and, much worn, piece of cloth, roughly two feet square, of a dull crimson colour and of a strange make quite unlike any modern cloth with which we are now familiar. Its surface instead of being smooth is covered all over with tufts of curly wool so that at first sight it looks more like a piece of sheep skin's or astrakhan fur dyed red than any sort of fabric woven on the loom.

 Next, McClintock sketches the interesting provenance of this relic which goes back to the Saxon royal house:

The history of this piece of cloth is as strange and romantic as its appearance. It is said to have been brought to Bruges and presented to the Cathedral by the Princess Gunhild of England, a sister of King Harold, who took refuge there after the defeat and death of her brother, as well as that of her husband, at the battle of Hastings, 1066. The first documentary record of the relic is in the year 1347, and this earlier part of its history rests only on tradition, but there is no reason to doubt its truth and indeed there is much to confirm it. It is, for instance, a historical fact that Princess Gunhild settled in Bruges after the battle of Hastings and ultimately died there twenty-one years later; while the story is further supported by the fact that there was as close connection between her family and Ireland, for when her father, Earl Godwine, then the wealthiest and most powerful man in England, quarrelled with the King - King Edward the Confessor - in the year 1051 and was exiled to Flanders, two of his sons, Harold and Leofwine, went to Ireland where they stayed with the King of Leinster, Diarmaid Mac Mael-na-mbo, and busied themselves in collecting ships and men to help their father in gaining his restoration. Having thus raised a force they set sail for the English Channel and joined Godwine who had come with auxiliaries from Flanders, and the two fleets proceeded together along the south coast of England taking hostages and receiving promises of help and thence up the Thames to London where, at a conference with the King, matters were settled and Godwine was allowed to return and his property was restored. Now nothing could have been more likely, or more in keeping with the spirit of those days, than for the the two young princes, before embarking on a desperate adventure like this to have visited a famous shrine like that of St Brigid at Kildare in the heart of Diarmaid's kingdom, and to have returned with a relic of the saint in memory of their pilgrimage. This relic would have been carried with them during their subsequent successful expedition and would thenceforward have become one of the most treasured possessions of their family. It would, therefore, be only natural for their sister to rescue it with her other valuable possessions and to take it with her for safety to Flanders.
Sadly, the author declines to devote much time to the later history but nevertheless manages to include some interesting details, especially of how the relic was used for healing:

I will pass over the subsequent history of the relic - how about the year 1400, it was enclosed in a sumptuous covering of yellow silk and gold lace in the form of a cape, which used to be placed on the shoulders of the sick, and especially those of sick women, and was exposed for veneration of the 1st of February in each year; how it, together with other Church valuables, was preserved and placed in safety when the the Cathedral was destroyed during the French revolution....
McClintock, H. F. (1951). The “Mantle of Saint Brigid” at Bruges. Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society, 12 (3), 119–122. https://doi.org/10.2307/27728777

As this is the Octave Day of the Feast of Saint Brigid I will close with the traditional prayer from her Office:

Deus, qui nos hodierna die beatae Brigidae Virginis tuae annua solemnite laetificas: concede propitius; ut ejus adjuvemur meritis, cujus castitatis irradiamur exemplis. Per Dominum. 

O GOD, Who year by year dost cause us to rejoice as upon this day, in the feast of Thy blessed hand-maiden Brigid, mercifully grant us help for her sake, the bright ensample of whose chastity doth still shed its light upon us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

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Monday, 7 February 2022

The "Mantle of Saint Brigid" at Bruges

Derricke's Image of Ireland, 1581

The "Mantle of Saint Brigid" at Bruges is the title of a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1936. The author, Major Henry Foster McClintock (1871-1959), had a particular interest in historical dress and published a book on the subject, Old Irish and Highland Dress, in 1943. He was born in Dublin the first child of the sailor and polar explorer Francis Leopold McClintock, who was instrumental in uncovering the fate of the lost Antarctic expedition led by Sir John Franklin. After a military career Henry McClintock returned to Ireland in 1928 and settled in Ardee, County Louth. In his paper on Saint Brigid's mantle, McClintock begins by pointing out that the name of this relic is somewhat misleading:

...the name of "Mantle" is really a misnomer; it is not a complete cape or garment of any sort but simply a rectangular piece of woollen cloth measuring about 21 by 25 inches, of a dark crimson colour, and covered all over on its face with tufts of curly wool resembling the fleece of a sheep.
However, he goes on to explain that at one time this fleecy woollen cloth was enclosed in what sounds like a type of fabric reliquary in the form of a silk cape:

Until about 70 years ago it had the appearance of a cape, or shoulder-cloak, of yellow silk interwoven with gold thread and decorated with gold lace...But in 1866, when it was examined ..the cape was found to be merely a decorative covering  which appeared from the nature of its materials to have been made in about the year 1400. The original relic was discovered inside, and was found to consist of a piece of shaggy cloth, with some sort of lining of blue and green linen which showed signs of wear. It was at this time that the silk covering was removed and the relic enclosed in the glazed wooden case in which it is now kept...
The cloth was next examined in 1935 by a staff member of the Department of Textiles of the Royal Museum, Brussels, and McClintock provided a translation of the report. This is how the relic was described on that occasion:

In its present condition the fragment of St Brigid's cloak consists of a rectangular bit of stuff measuring 0.545m. wide and 0.64m. long (about 21 by 25 inches), kept in a modern triptych-shaped reliquary. It consists of a deep violet woollen fabric, to which a light lining of red silk taffeta was added - by oversewing it to the edges - after its official recognition in 1866. This woollen fabric is characterised by a thick curly fleece which entirely covers its outer surface, giving it the effect of astrakhan fur. The reverse side is perfectly smooth, and thus it is easy to follow the interlacements of the threads of the warp and weft which is of the simplest form, being that used in making linen...We must add to this that the fabric underwent some alterations in 1866; darning in several damaged places and putting back strands which had become detached.

 McClintock, H. F. (1936). The “Mantle of St. Brigid” at Bruges. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 6 (1), 32–40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25513808

McClintock saw this type of cloth as typical of the 'Shag-rug Mantles' worn in sixteenth century Ireland and mentioned by various English Tudor commentators. Some illustrations of these cloaks also survive including that from Derricke's Image of Ireland (1581) which I have reproduced above. It shows an Irish Chief with his wife and retinue at dinner. McClintock explains that "The Chief's wife is wearing a mantle with a shaggy exterior, while the two Friars appear to have similar mantles with the shaggy sides worn inwards." He admits that he cannot prove such mantles were made in the time of Saint Brigid but feels that it is reasonable to suggest that the weaving of such garments had a long history in Ireland and were part of a wider European tradition going back to the Bronze Age. He adds that a chemical analysis of a bit of the wool showed that the main dye used was iron oxide. The Belgian textile expert also informed McClintock that "she saw no signs of the green and blue lining said to have been attached to the piece of shaggy woollen cloth when the relic was examined and re-arranged in 1866."

 In 1951 Major McClintock published a second article on The Mantle of Saint Brigid in the and in the next post we will examine the fascinating provenance of the relic and trace its journey from Ireland to Belgium.


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Sunday, 6 February 2022

Saint Brigid's Cloak

 


We continue the series of posts in honour of Saint Brigid with a reminder of one of her most famous relics - the Mantle or Cloak preserved at Bruges Cathedral. I have already brought a brief account here from an Irish writer who saw this relic in the 1880s, but an Australian newspaper of 1937 picked up on a paper by a 'Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries' which re-examined it. This is a reference to the 1936 article 'The "Mantle of St. Brigid" at Bruges ', published by H.F. McClintock in the Society's journal. I will bring a summary of his paper in the next post, but for now here is an introduction to the main details of the relic as published in the Auckland Star newspaper of January 16, 1937:

ST. BRIGID'S CLOAK.

It had often been found, says the "Children's Newspaper," that tradition is founded on fact.

It has always seemed unlikely that the piece of curly woollen fleece said to be part of St. Brigid's cloak, which has been treasured for 900 years in the cathedral of St. Sauveur at Bruges, was actually worn by the Irish saint, who was born as long ago as the fourth century.

Now some remarkable evidence has been found in ancient documents by a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries that the fabric, which is very ancient and shows signs of hard wear, actually may have been part of St. Brigid's mantle.

It is a piece of shaggy, dark crimson material, about 21in by 25in, and was, taken to Belgium by an English princess, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
 
Before he became King of England, Harold had lived in Ireland as an exile. While he was the guest of the King of Leinster it is likely that, when making a pilgrimage to the tomb of the saint at Kildare, he acquired this relic.
 
Shaggy weaving, which is extremely ancient in Europe, was probably an Irish custom long before Brigid's time, and there are many allusions in old manuscripts to shag-rug mantles. It has been found that the piece of shag-rug at Bruges was coloured with dye made from iron oxide, and artists of the future will be able to represent the exact tint of her mantle.


ST. BRIGID'S CLOAK. Auckland Star, Volume LXVIII, Issue 13, 16 January 1937, Page 7 (Supplement)




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Saturday, 5 February 2022

A Legend of Donegal


Today we are staying at Saint Brigid's holy well in Donegal to explore another piece of its associated folklore. Whilst rural Catholics cherished holy wells and the rituals which took place at them, the sites themselves were often in the ownership of Protestant landlords who could be hostile to their tenantry's traditions. Such a story is told of the landowner of the site of Saint Brigid's well and it is typical of the type of accounts uncovered by folklore collectors in the nineteenth century. This tale of how the Protestant landlord tries to impede access to the well, only to have a vision of a beautiful maiden hover protectively over it, was published in the American periodical The Sacred Heart Review in 1889. The illustration above is a postcard from my own collection showing Saint Brigid hovering ethereally above the stream at her reputed birthplace of Faughart, in County Louth:

A LEGEND OF DONEGAL.

Not far from the picturesque little village of Stranorlar, renowned as the last resting-place of Butt, the founder of the Home Rule movement, lies a calm, placid sheet of water, known to the peasantry as Loch Lawne. In its southern side, about three feet from the pebbly shore, is the famous well of St. Brigid, surrounded by a mound of small white stones brought from almost every part of Ulster, and surmounted by pieces of linen, sticks, and crutches, left by those who had the happiness of being cured by its healing waters. It has long been considered a pious custom for the pilgrim, on his first visit, to place three white stones on the ever-increasing mound. 

In the year 18 —, the concourse of pilgrims being larger than usual, the owner of the estate on which the lake is situated, under pretence that his crops were in danger of being destroyed, closed all ingress to the holy well. The peasantry became excited; threats were indulged in by some; petitions were made by others, but in vain. He was a man of gentle, but by times (as in the present instance), of stubborn manner. He knew no fear, and threats as well as petitions were entirely disregarded. For three months his hateful mandate was in force. One morning the inhabitants of Stranorlar awoke to find the following placard on the trunk of a large beech-tree, long used for public notices. It was signed by the owner of the estate: 

"FREE ACCESS TO ST. BRIGID'S WELL." 

Many were the suppositions of the pious villagers as to the cause of his relenting; some said that his cattle were all dying; others, that good St. Brigid had sent him a warning from heaven. Be this as it may, a great change had come over him; his toleration was the wonder of all. Pilgrims might trample his oats, break his fences; he would only remark, "I will be nothing the poorer." 

Sitting one evening by his blazing peat-fire, many years after, he said to me: "I will tell you an incident that happened long years ago. You were then a mere boy. One morning I found my fences thrown into the lake. I became angry, and falsely suspecting the pilgrims, I poured forth threats and curses against them, and closed all ingress to the well; I even determined to drain it by means of a channel connecting it with the lake. To accomplish this spiteful work, I chose a clear, moonlight night. Taking a gun and spade, I set out by the shortest route to the well. Judge of my surprise on finding it illuminated as if by hundreds of candles! Trembling, I aimed my gun and fired. Not a light was extinguished; on the contrary, I seemed only to have increased the brilliancy of the scene. As I was pausing, not knowing whether to proceed to the well or return home, I saw a beautiful maiden rising, as it were, from the lake, attired in a long-flowing white robe, girded by a blue sash. On her breast sparkled gems more dazzling than the sun. She glided as I have seen swallows, without touching the earth, and hovered over the well. No doubt it was St. Brigid. . . . I often think of calling on Father C , and joining the Catholic Church." 

He is dead now, but his son, who inherits his liberal spirit, has made an excellent road to St. Brigid's well. And the peasants thereabout tell the strangers that linger on that romantic way the story I have told you.— S.D. in the Ave Maria.

 The Sacred Heart Review, Volume 1, Number 24, 11 May 1889, p6.

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Friday, 4 February 2022

St Brigid's Well in Donegal


Saint Brigid, like many Irish saints, has holy wells dedicated to her throughout the country. These sites were an important part of popular Irish devotion to the saints, and often involved the performance of set rituals on the saint's feast day plus the use of the well water for therapeutic purposes.  These activities could be rather shocking though to observers from outside the rural Catholic communities which practised them. Nineteenth-century writer Mary Frances Cusack (1829–1899), defended holy wells against the charge that their use and the rituals surrounding them were no more than pagan superstition:

...in Ireland, the people happen to believe that God hears the prayers of saints more readily than their own; and acting on the principle which induced persons, in apostolic times, to use "handkerchiefs and aprons" which had touched the person of St. Paul as mediums of cure, because of his virgin sanctity, in preference to "handkerchiefs and aprons" of their own, they apply to the saints and obtain cures. But they do not believe the saints can give what God refuses, or that the saints are more merciful than God. They know that the saints are His special friends, and we give to a friend what we might refuse to one less dear. Lege totum si vis scire totum, is a motto which writers on national customs should not forget

 M.F. Cusack, An Illustrated History of Ireland (London, 1868), p.105.

The article below is from a 1936 Australian newspaper which describes a Donegal holy well dedicated to Saint Brigid. Interestingly, the emphasis here is less on Ireland's patroness and more on Ireland's experience of religious persecution in the centuries following the Reformation. For this well has an inscribed stone recording that "Father James Gallagher said his last Mass in Penal Days at Tobar Brighde." Although the 'Mass Rock' is the most iconic outdoor setting for Mass in the Penal times, holy wells also served this function and form part of its folklore. There are stories, for example, of strange mists descending at wells which hid the celebrants from the prying eyes of the 'priest hunter'. The account below suggests that in 1936 the popularity of Saint Brigid's well was undimmed, with Sunday the most popular day for visiting:


LINK WITH PENAL DAYS

ST. BRIGID'S WELL IN DONEGAL

In the heart of the Finn Valley, in Donegal, is the Well of St. Brigid. Eager workers from in and around Clady, the nearby little village across the Tyrone border, have now fashioned a grotto near the Well, and placed there a statue of the saint. Below the grotto, in black letters on a white slab, is the simple inscription: "Father James Gallagher said his last Mass in Penal Days at Tobar Brighde."

This Well links the people of the Valley of the Finn with the not too distant days when the heads of priests were bought for a few pounds and the more distant times when the work of saints like Brigid made possible the triumphant bridge that has been built ever the Penal Days. On Sundays there is a constant stream of visitors, and last Sunday made a record. Motor cars, cycles, and horse-drawn vehicles were parked along the road sides.

A circular wall has been built around the well five feet high, with coping stones on top, set in cement. Over the grotto covering there is a construction of rough stones, and on top a Celtic cross. At one side of the well is the raised grotto containing the Saint's statue, and again on the right is another with a statue of Our Lady. 

LINK WITH PENAL DAYS (1936, December 10). Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954), p. 9.

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Thursday, 3 February 2022

Where Brigid is Honoured


We stay with the theme of devotion to Saint Brigid in Europe with a 1929 piece from Irish Benedictine writer Dom Patrick Nolan. He is perhaps best known for his 1908 book The Irish Dames of Ypres which looked at the history of the Irish Royal Abbey of Ypres founded by seventeenth-century Catholic exiles. Here, however, he provides us with a gazetteer of places outside Ireland which cherished Saint Brigid and describes some of the history and traditions associated with them. As the immediate inspiration for Dom Patrick's reflections seems to have been the return of a portion of the relics of Saint Brigid to Killester in 1929, he concludes with a brief sketch of the history of her relics:

WHERE BRIGID IS  HONOURED.

Europe's Devotion to Irish Saint.


BY DOM PATRICK NOLAN, O.S.B.

A recent interesting article in the 'Irish Independent' on St. Brigid and the celebrations in her honour at Killester, prompts me to remind Irish people that devotion to this great saint is not confined to Ireland, and that her 'cultus' is as far flung as are the numerous lands evangelised by Irish missionaries.

Devotion to St. Brigid has been a constant European tradition, and her fame has extended far beyond our Continent. It may, indeed, be said to be greater in some Continental countries than in her own native land.

St. Brigid and Britain.

On Sunday January 27, I announced to the congregation, mostly English Catholics, of a small Oxford village that Friday, February 1, would be kept as the feast of St. Brigid of Ireland throughout the diocese of Birmingham, and rightly so.

The ancient Saxon kingdom of Mercia, which comprised the territory of the present Archdiocese of Birmingham, was evangelised by the children of St. Brigid many long centuries go, and the erection of the present nourishing diocese was a direct result of the extensive immigration of St. Brigid's children in the 'forties and 'fifties of last century.

In Scotland.

Our Scottish kinsfolk do not yield to their Irish forebears in their veneration for our great Irish saint. To the Scottish Gael, as Fiona Macleod reminds us, she is the 'Fair Lady of February,' 'St. Bride of the Kindly Fire,' and 'St. Bride of the Shores.' February is her own month, the month of 'Bride Min,' gentle Brigid; or 'Brighid boidheach Muime Chriosd,' Bride the Beautiful, Christ's Foster Mother.

In the Gaelic Highlands and storm-swept Isles of the West her emblems are the dandelion, the lamb and the sea-bird known to the common folk as the 'oyster-opener.'

The humble dandelion, the harbinger of Spring and of St. Brigid, the dealan Dhe, 'the little flame of God,' or bhearnan Brighde, 'St. Bride's forerunner,' has from remotest times been associated with St. Brigid by the Scottish Gael.

St. Bride's Flocks.

'To this day shepherds on Ah Fhiell Brighde,' St. 'Brigid's feast, 'are wont to hear among the mists the crying of in numerable young lambs, and this without the bleating of ewes, and so by that token know that Holy St. Bride has passed by, coming earthward with her flocks of countless lambs. . . .'

'In these desolate far isles where life is so hard ... a rejoicing sound is that in truth when the Gille-Bhride is heard calling along the shores.' And well may this welcome visitor to the bleak Scottish coasts be called the 'Servant of Bride,' for does not its incessant, cheery cry 'gilly-breed, gilly-breed, ' come to Gaelic ears like an invocation to the Mary of the Gael?

Alsace.

It is a far cry from Scotland to Alsace, but there too the traditional devotion to our Irish saint still flourishes.

The Canons of Old St. Peter's at Strassburg used to distribute 'St. Brigid 's Bread,' their best wine was known as 'St. Brigid's Wine.' Alsatian farmers had such devotion to her that they placed their fields and field work under her special protection, and 'Buren-bridel' was a generic title for Alsatian farmers' daughters, many of whom bore the name of Brigid, a name still not uncommon in Southern Germany.

The festival of St. Brigid was solemnly kept almost universally throughout the mediaeval German Empire, and by all the religious Orders. Churches and chapels were dedicated to her at Cologne, Mainz,
and elsewhere, from an early date.

At Fosses, in Belgium, an ancient chapel of St. Brigid still tops the hill so conspicuous from the railway station. At Piacenza, in North Italy, there is a church of St. Brigid, said to have been founded in 868 by the Irish saint, Donatus, Bishop of Fiesole. Annexed to it was a hospice for Irish pilgrims on their way to Bobbio or Rome.

Story of St. Brigid's Relics.

Much more could be said about the 'cultus' of St. Brigid on the Continent, but I must conclude with a few remarks as to her relics.

Cogitosus tells us that St. Brigid's relics were kept in a richly-decorated shrine in Kildare. It is not known when they were 'translated' and placed with St. Columba's and St. Patrick's at Downpatrick, but Columba's relics were still at Iona in the beginning of the ninth century.

During native political broils, devotion to the saint nagged and all knowledge of the whereabouts of her relics was lost. But they were miraculously re-discovered through the prayers of a holy Bishop, Malachy, in the year that Earl, later King John, came to Ireland (1185), as related in a special office for the day, printed in Paris in 1620. 

The Shrine Desecrated.

They were solemnly authenticated, or translated, on June 9 (St. Colum's day) in the presence of a Cardinal Legate, specially sent from Rome, and 15 Bishops; but the shrine was desecrated by Lord Leonard Gray, Viceroy of Henry VIII.

The head of St. Brigid is said to have been previously transferred to Newstadt in Austria, where it was venerated in the chapel of the imperial citadel. Later on the Emperor Rudolph II. gave it to John Borgia, son of St. Francis Borgia, and Ambassador of Philip II., who took it to Spain in 1587, and gave it to the Lisbon Jesuits, who kept it in the chapel of their house of studies at St. Roch, the solemn translation, one of the most magnificent ever seen, taking place in 1588.

St. Roch or Lumiar.

But Cardosus says that the head of St. Brigid is preserved with very great veneration in the church at Lumiar, formerly known as. St. John the Baptist's, but now as St. Brigid's. Three Irish knights are said to have taken it into Portugal to King Dionysius, or Denis (d. 1225).

Don Philip O'Sullivan Beare supports the Lumiar tradition, so that we may suppose the relic at St. Roch's, Lisbon, to be that of another St. Brigid, for there have been more than one saintly imitator of the great Irish original. We presume the great St. Brigid of Sweden had the Irish saint for her patron and model, and we know that Scandinavian pilgrims frequented the hospice of St. Brigid at Piacenza.

"WHERE BRIGID IS HONOURED." The Catholic Press, 28 March 1929
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