Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Alto et ineffabile: Saint Colum Cille in praise of Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise

September 9 is the feast of Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise.   Below is the text of a Latin hymn in his honour, attributed to Saint Colum Cille, and translated by Peter Davidson:

Latin Text

Hymnus S. Columbae in Laudem S. Ciarani.

Alto et ineffabile apostolorum coeti
celestis Hierusolimae sublimioris speculi
sedente tribunalibus solis modo micantibus
Quiaranus sanctus sacerdos insignis nuntius

Inaltatus est manibus angelorum celestibus
Consummatis felicibus sanctitatum generibus
quem tu Christe apostolum mundo misisti hominem
gloriosum in omnibus nouissimis temporibus

English Translation

Born of the soaring apostolic company
(glass of Jerusalem exalted ineffably)
raised on thrones as sunlight lustrous,
came Ciaran, priest and messenger glorious;

Borne to the sky by angel infantry
Fulfilling thus his folded family,
Christ’s herald, shining apostle of grace
Sent to Ireland in these last, sad days.

Peter Davidson, ‘The hymn of saint Columba in praise of saint Ciaran: an English translation’ in M.Richter and J-M. Picard, eds., Ogma – Essays in honour of Próinséas Ní Chatháin (Dublin, 2002), 320.

The hymn Alto et ineffabile is published as number 27 in the Irish Liber Hymnorum and the editors offer this introduction to it:

The Hymn Alto et ineffabili.

In the Life of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise (c. 26), as quoted by Colgan, we read: "Unus ex praecipuis Hiberniae est et merito numeratur Apostolis iuxta quod de ipso cecinit eius condiscipulus et coapostolus sanctissimus Columba in hymno quodam quem in eius composuit laudem dicens:

Quantum Christe O apostolum mundo misisti hominem
Lucerna huius insulae lucens lucerna mirabilis, etc."'

The first line of this couplet is almost identical with line 8 of the piece Alto et ineffabili, which suggests that this may be the hymn in question. It is mentioned again in the manuscript (wrongly) called the Book of Kilkenny in Marsh's Library at Dublin, where at fol. 148aa we read: " Et fecit sanctus Columba ympnum sancto Kiarano," a hymn which Ciaran's successor at Clonmacnoise called clarus et laudabilis. Columba, the story goes, asked in return for some earth from St. Ciaran's grave, with which he calmed the stormy water on his way back to Iona.'

This St. Ciaran, who is to be carefully distinguished from St. Ciaran of Saighir, was the founder of the great monastery of Clonmacnoise, and in its Annals the year of his death is given as 547. He is counted one of "the twelve Apostles of Ireland," and in the Martyrology of Donegal at Septr. 9) he is compared to the Apostle St. John. He was known in his life time as Ciaran mac an t-saor, or "Son of the Carpenter"; and was a friend of St. Kevin, as of St. Columba. His memory still survives in the place called " Temple Kieran," about four miles from Navan. In Cornwall the name of Ciaran (of Saighir) has become corrupted to Piran, to whom there were many churches dedicated.

J.H. Bernard and R Atkinson (eds.) The Irish Liber Hymnorum Vol 2, Translations and Notes (London, 1898), 218-220.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Saint Patrick: The Archaeology and the Texts

A forthcoming workshop at Queen's University, Belfast sounds promising. Further details from the School of Education's Open Learning programme here for anyone in this part of the world who might also be interested in attending.

Update October 5: Was most disappointed to receive a letter from the University on Saturday informing me that the course was cancelled due to insufficient numbers. I wonder if they will re-schedule it for their spring programme as there may be a more receptive audience around March time?

St Patrick: The Archaeology and the Texts
Peter Morgan Barnes, BA

Autumn 2014

A two-day workshop on Fridays 10 & 24 October, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm

In recent years our understanding about the 5th century has been transformed by archaeology and new techniques of reading Patrick’s texts. This two day intensive workshop will bring participants up to speed on current thinking about this most enigmatic figure. Only two texts are known from the 5th century in the entire British Isles and Patrick wrote both of them!

Recommended Textbook: St Patrick AD 493 – 1993, D.N.Dumville (Boydell Press).

Friday, 15 August 2014

Who is Patrick? – Answers from the Saint Patrick's Confessio HyperStack

A useful review of the Royal Irish Academy's Confessio Hyperstack from a German academic:

Who is Patrick? – Answers from the Saint Patrick's Confessio HyperStack

Franz Fischer

University of Cologne

Cologne Center for eHumanities

Universitatsstr. 22, D-50923 Koln



Not everyone realizes that there are two Latin works, still surviving, that can definitely be attributed to Saint Patrick’s own authorship.

On 14th September 2011 the Royal Irish Academy published his writings in a freely accessible form on line, both in the original Latin and in a variety of modern languages (including Irish). Designed to be of interest to the general public as well as to academic researchers, the Saint Patrick’s Confessio Hypertext Stack includes such features as digital images of the medieval manuscripts involved, a specially commissioned historical reconstruction that evocatively describes life in pre-Viking Ireland, articles, audio presentations, and some ten thousand internal and external digital links that make it truly a resource to be explored.

Read the paper in full here.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Such was Columba

He was at the same time full of contradictions and contrasts at once tender and irritable, rude and courteous, ironical and compassionate, caressing and imperious, grateful and revengeful led by pity as well as by wrath, ever moved by generous passions, and among all passions fired to the very end of his life by two which his countrymen under stand the best, the love of poetry and the love of country. Little inclined to melancholy when he had once surmounted the great sorrow of his life, which was his exile; little disposed even, save to wards the end, to contemplation or solitude, but trained by prayer and austerities to triumphs of evangelical exposition; despising rest, untiring in mental and manual toil; born for eloquence, and gifted with a voice so penetrating and sonorous that it was thought of afterwards as one of the most miraculous gifts that he had received of God; frank and loyal, original and powerful in his words as in his actions in cloister and mission and parliament, on land and on sea, in Ireland as in Scotland, always swayed by the love of God and of his neighbour, whom it was his will and pleasure to serve with an impassioned uprightness. Such was Columba.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Saint Colum Cille and the Beggar

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Colum Cille and the Beggar

One of those rarely beautiful and instructive incidents, common to the lives of many saints, is recorded as having happened at Derry. The Saint fed a hundred poor men daily, but his steward, or dispenser, did not quite appreciate the liberality of his master. He had a fixed time for giving the dole of food, and any one who came late was peremptorily dismissed. A poor man came one day late, and was, as usual, sent away. The next day he came in time, but was told there was nothing for him. For many days he came, but each time he met with some repulse. He then sent a message to Columba, to tell him that he advised him for the future to put no limit to his charity while he had alms to give, except what God set on the number of those who came for it. Columba was struck by the message, and came down to the gate of the monastery, not waiting even to put on his cloak. He hastened after the beggar; but when he had gone some distance he found not the poor man, but Christ, who had taken the form of a beggar. Then, as he fell down and adored his Lord, he obtained from him a royal alms — new lights, new graces, new and yet more wonderful powers of miracle and prophecy. In the precise language of the chronicle, "He saw both the secrets of Holy Scripture, things happening at a distant place or time, and even what was passing in a man's thoughts; and he came to know about beasts and birds, and their affections, and their language, and of what great value it was to have pity on the poor, when that virtue was joined on to other virtues." And so it came to pass that when St. Brendan came to visit him with a hundred men there was food for all, and the very lakes were filled with fish for his service.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

A Portrait of Saint Colum Cille

BEFORE we follow him to his monastic foundations in Ireland, or on his missionary journeys through Scotland, it may be well to see what manner of man he was personally. Venerable Bede and the ancient Irish manuscripts leave no room for conjecture regarding his physical appearance. He was tall and muscular, angelic of face, somewhat reddish haired, with a loud resonant voice that could on occasions be heard very far off and was withal musical as an angel's. Naturally hot and fiery in his temperament, he so completely overcame himself by his fastings, prayers, and vigils as to successfully verify his baptismal name of "The Dove." Restless and studious by turns, he was at once the deepest student and the most extensive publisher of the Sacred Text, the most energetic missionary and enlightened statesman of his day. Adamnan says "he never could spend even the space of one hour without study or prayer, or writing, or some other holy or useful occupation. So incessantly was he engaged, night and day, in the un wearied exercise of fasting and watching, that the burden of each of these austerities would seem beyond the power of all human endurance, and still in all these he was beloved by the brethren, for a holy joyousness ever beaming on his countenance revealed the joy and gladness with which the Holy Ghost filled his inmost soul."

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Monastic Life of Saint Colum Cille

In the midst of the new community Columba inhabited, instead of a cell, a sort of hut built of planks, and placed upon the most elevated spot within the monastic enclosure. Up to the age of seventy-six he slept there upon the hard floor, with no pillow but a stone. This hut was at once his study and his oratory. It was there that he gave himself up to those prolonged prayers which excited the admiration and almost the alarm of his disciples. It was there that he returned after sharing the outdoor labour of his monks, like the least among them, to consecrate the rest of his time to the study of Holy Scripture and the transcription of the sacred text. The work of transcription remained until his last day the occupation of his old age as it had been the passion of his youth; it had such an attraction for him, and seemed to him so essential to a knowledge of the truth, that, as we have already said, three hundred copies of the Holy Gospels, copied by his own hand, have been attributed to him.