Saturday, 28 January 2012

Relics of Saint Brigid at Cologne

Portugal is not the only country outside Ireland to house a relic of Saint Brigid, as the German city of Cologne also claims to have had a relic brought there in the Middle Ages. In a book published in 1907 to coincide with the centenary of the founding of the Brigidine Order of Nuns, the redoubtable Cardinal Moran describes in a letter to the Mother Superior how he brought a portion of it to the Order's Australian congregation:

"Regarding the relic of St. Brigid, you will find some reference to it, I think, in the little 'Life of the Saint' published by the Catholic Truth Society of Melbourne. I went all the way to Cologne on my return from Rome in 1884, on my appointment as Archbishop of Sydney, to secure a portion of the precious relic of St Brigid preserved there for over a thousand years. It is venerated at present in the Parochial Church of St Martin, to which in olden times was attached a famous Irish monastery, renowned for its learning and piety throughout all Germany in the early middle ages. In the special Lessons for St Brigid's Feast in the Breviary of Cologne mention is made of the relic as held in the greatest veneration from time immemorial, and frequented by pilgrims from all parts on the 1st February. The relic is, if I remember aright, a tooth of the Saint. At Cologne I found great difficulty in securing a portion of the relic. It was at first peremptorily refused. The Pastor of St. Martin's declared that his parishioners would be at once in revolt if they heard that their great parochial treasure was being interfered with. I had then to invoke the aid of an influential Canon of the Cathedral of Cologne, whom I had assisted in some of his literary pursuits, and he set his heart on procuring the coveted relic. One of his arguments was somewhat amusing: It was the first time an Irish Archbishop of the remote See of Sydney had solicited a favour from Cologne. It was the new Christian world appealing to the old for a share of its sacred wealth. At all events our pleading was successful, and I bore away with me a portion of the bone, duly authenticated, which is now the privilege of your good Sisters to guard and venerate. I hope that St. Brigid may, by her intercession, obtain for her Australian communities some share of the zeal and holiness which were so characteristic of her nuns in the olden times."

Rev. J. Knowles, Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland (Dublin, 1907), 203-206.

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