Saturday 25 February 2012

Prologue to The Life of Saint Brigid by Donatus of Fiesole

Below is the translation by Margaret Stokes of the Prologue to the Life of Saint Brigid attributed to Saint Donatus of Fiesole. In it he describes his homeland, Ireland, or Scotia as it was often called at this time, as an almost magical place blessed with all manner of riches and resources (except in the fierce beasts department). It is into this rich and wonderful land that the holy virgin Brigid is born. She, of course, outdoes her homeland when it comes to the enumerating of her virtues. Saint Donatus also refers to some of the other biographers of Saint Brigid -Ultan, Aileran and Animosus - and to her father, Dubtach.

Three fragments of the writings of Donatus have been preserved. The first is a prologue to the life of St. Brigid of Kildare, in an ancient MS. preserved in the Laurentian Library, Florence. (Bibl. Mugellane xix, p.78)

"Far in the west they tell of a matchless land,
Which goes in ancient books by the name of Scotia;
Rich in resources this land having silver,
Precious stones, vesture and gold;
Well suited to earth-born creatures as regards
Its climate, its sun and its arable soil,
That Scotia with lovely fields
Hath skill with husbandry and raiments, and arms and arts and fruits
There are no fierce bears there, nor ever
Has the land of Scotia brought forth savage
Broods of lions. No poisons hurt no serpent
Creeps through the grass, nor does the babbling frog
Croak and complain by the lake. In this land
The Scottish race are worthy to dwell, a renowned race of men
In war, in peace, in fidelity. Here was born in former days
The most holy virgin,
Brigid, glory of the Scots; her name, her honour,
A tower reaching to the highest points of the flame-bearing heaven.
An inexhaustible light, a noble crown of God,
A blessed fountain rejoicing, reforming the hearts of the Scots;
While recreating them, she takes care of herself, she feeds, she grows;
A ladder prepared for men, excellent for youths and girls.
For mothers and for saints, she reaches to the stars of heaven.
Her father was called by name Dubtacus;
A man renowned for his good deeds, of famous ancestry;
Noble and humble, gentle and full of piety ;
Nobler because of his wife and pious offspring.
Many have written of the virtues of this virgin soul.
The learned Ultan and Eleran honouring her ;
One called Animosus has written many books
Concerning the life and studies of this virgin and her good deeds.
I shall begin from the least, nor shall greater things follow,
But so shall I gather fitting blossoms in a garden full of flowers.
If, beholding the glittering stars of heaven, we seek to know
their order and high-aspiring course,
If we could number the minutest grains of sand which the troubled
waves of the sea have scattered on our shores,
Then might we number the virtues of this virgin
Whose body was the temple of the Most High God."

Margaret Stokes, Six months in the Apennines; or, A pilgrimage in search of vestiges of the Irish saints in Italy (London, 1892), p237-8.

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