Sunday 10 June 2012

Translation of the Relics of Saints Patrick, Brigid and Colum Cille

Saint Columba also shares his feastday of June 9 with that of the Translation of his relics, along with those of Saints Patrick and Brigid to a common grave at Downpatrick, County Down. The history of this feast is a curious one, with many inclined to believe that it is purely an attempt by the Norman conqueror of Ulster, John de Courcy, to win over the locals by honouring important native saints. Indeed, some would trace the whole idea of Ireland having a trio of patrons back to this time, certainly it was an idea which was accepted by succeeding generations, as the 17th-century illustration of our three patrons at the head of this blog shows. Here is Canon O'Hanlon's account of the Feast from Volume 6 of his Lives of the Irish Saints:

Feast of the Translation of the Relics of St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Brigid, Chief Patrons of Ireland.

[June 9.]

Far distant from each other lay the sacred relics of the great Apostle of Ireland St. Patrick, of the renowned Virgin St. Brigid, and of the illustrious St. Columkille, for many generations after their respective dates of departure from this life. The former, first in order of time, was deposed at Downpatrick, and according to a long-preserved tradition, in a very deep earth-pit, without the site of that cathedral. After the lapse of years, the body of the Irish Apostle seems to have been drawn from that position, and it was probably enshrined or entombed within the church. In the century succeeding that of St. Patrick died St. Brigid, and her remains appear to have been deposited within the church at Kildare, attached to her convent. They rested in a shrine, at one side of the high altar, and they were held in great veneration by the people, especially on the day of her chief festival, when multitudes flocked thither for devotional purposes. Many miracles were wrought there through her intercession. The body of St. Brigid remained in Kildare, until the beginning of the ninth century. The magnificent shrine in which her relics were encased invited the cupidity of the Scandinavian invaders, and as Kildare was greatly exposed to their ravages, it was deemed more desirable to have St. Brigid's relics removed to Downpatrick, where they should be in a more defensible position, and more secure from plunder or profanation. When the happy soul of St. Columba departed from the tenement of his body after his useful missionary career in Scotland had terminated, and until the time of Adamnan, the place where his sacred bones reposed was well known and reverenced. Frequently did his monks resort thither, less to offer prayers for the loved and lamented Father of their institute, than to prefer their own petitions for his powerful patronage. Visited by the holy angels, and illumined in a miraculous manner by heavenly light, was that grave, which for many long years succeeding his decease had been exposed to the winds, that played freely over the ancient cemetery at Iona. Those visions were clearly manifested, but only to a select few. It would appear from the words of Adamnan, which are borrowed from the earlier work of Cummian, that at least a century was allowed to elapse, before the remains of St. Columba were disinterred. In the course of the eighth century, it seems probable, that the bones of St. Columba had been removed, and that they had been deposited in a shrine or shrines. Afterwards, they must have been transferred to the church of the monastery in Iona, where they were religiously preserved, so long as it was deemed safe to keep them in that venerated spot.

Ireland is said to have been selected as a country best suiting such a purpose, when the occasion arose, which demanded their removal. Towards the close of the eighth century, the Scandinavian sea-rovers began to sail southwards, in quest of new settlements and bent upon plunder. The appearance of the Northman invaders on the Hebridean coasts gave warning to conceal the precious shrine, in which, doubtless, the relics of St. Columba had been encased. But such a temporary expedient could not long save it from their cupidity and profanation. The accounts contained in our Irish Annals state, that the remains of St. Columba had been brought to Erin, after his death, and on more than one occasion. A belief seems to have existed, at the close of the eighth century, that his relics had been brought to Ireland from Britain, and that they had been deposited in Saul. Another mediaeval tradition sets forth Downpatrick, as having been his resting place. These contradictory accounts may be reconciled, however, by supposing a translation from Saul, when it became a subordinate church, and on the erection of Downpatrick into a Bishop's See.

Another thoroughly legendary account of a still later date gives us to understand, that when Manderus, son to a Danish king, and chief of the Northman piratical fleet, ravaged the northern parts of Britain with fire and sword, he also came to Iona, and there he profaned the sanctuary, while digging in the earth for treasures he thought to be concealed. Among other impieties, he opened the sarcophagus or case, in which lay the body of St. Columba. This he is said to have carried with him to that vessel, in which he sailed for Ireland ; but, on opening the chest, in which he found only bones and ashes, he threw it overboard. Then it miraculously floated on the waves, until it was wafted to the innermost part of Strangford Lough, near to Downpatrick. There, it is related, that the Abbot had a Divine revelation, regarding the sacred deposit it contained. Accordingly, he extracted the relics, and placed them with the lipsanae of Saints Patrick and Brigid. We need not attach the slightest credit to the foregoing account ; for, it may be observed, that the earliest recorded descent of the Northmen on Iona was in 802, nor does it seem likely, that the body of St. Brigid had been removed from Kildare to Downpatrick, at so early a date. However, it cannot have been very long after this year, when the relics of St. Brigid were removed from Kildare to Down. There, it seems probable, they had been kept in their own distinctive shrine, which was a costly work of art. Elsewhere, too, some other relics of this holy Patroness of Ireland had been preserved. [At the 9th of June, in the Calendar compiled by himself, the Rev. William Reeves has a festival for St. Brigid, at Downpatrick. It is to be presumed, that he has reference to St. Brigid of Kildare, whose remains had been translated to Downpatrick, where they repose with those of St. Patrick and St. Columkille. See "Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore," Appendix LL, p. 379. ] Moreover, in the year 825, when the Scandinavians again visited the Island of Iona, St. Columba's shrine adorned with precious metals was there, and to prevent desecration it was hidden

It seems strange, that while the relics of the three great Irish Patrons had been kept with such religious veneration in the Cathedral Church of Downpatrick, for a long lapse of ages, that in the twelfth century the place of their deposition within it was forgotten. It would appear, that the Northmen frequently attacked, plundered, and burned that town. It is probable, that the sacred remains had been buried in the earth, to preserve them from profanation, and that the secret place of their deposition had been confided to only a few of the ecclesiastics, who perished through violence, or who had not been able to return afterwards, to indicate that exact spot, in which they had been laid. For a long time, the bishops, clergy and people of Down lamented this loss, until about the year 1185, when Malachy III. was bishop over that See. This pious prelate had been accustomed to offer earnest prayers to the Almighty, that the eagerly desired discovery might be made. One night, while engaged at prayer within the cathedral, Malachy observed a supernatural light, resembling a sunbeam, passing through the church and settling over a certain spot. This astonished the bishop, who prayed that the light might remain, until implements should be procured to dig beneath it. Accordingly, these being procured, beneath that illuminated place, the bodies of the three great saints were found; the body of St. Patrick occupied a central compartment, while the remains of St, Bngid and of St. Columba were placed on either side. With great rejoicing, he disinterred the bodies of those illustrious saints, and he placed them in three separate coffins. He then had them deposited in the same spot, whence they had been taken, and he took care to have the site exactly noted. In fine, the bones of St. Columkille were buried with great honour and veneration, in the one place with those of St. Patrick and of St. Brigid, within Dun-da-lethgles or Downpatrick cathedral, in Ulster. About this time, the celebrated John De Courcy had procured possessions, in that part of the province; and to him, Bishop Malachy reported all the circumstances, connected with the miraculous discovery of the relics. Taking counsel together, it was resolved, that application should be made to the Pope at Rome, for permission to remove the sacred remains, to a more conspicuous and honourable position in the cathedral. At this time, Urban III. presided over the Universal Church. Supplication was made to him, that the relics of those saints should be translated in a solemn manner. Not alone was his sanction obtained, but the Pope nominated Cardinal Vivian, as his Legate for Ireland, with a commission to direct the undertaking. Accordingly, on the 9th of June, 1186, this public Translation of the remains was solemnized. No less than fifteen Bishops were present, besides many abbots and high dignitaries, with a great concourse of the clergy and laity, the Cardinal Legate himself assisting. An office, which is said to date back to the twelfth century, has been attributed to the approval of Cardinal Vivian, who assisted in the time of Pope Urban III., at this solemn Translation of the Relics of St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Brigid, in Downpatrick. This was a Double of the First Class, with an Octave. This is in a small and rare 18mo Tract, containing only 64 pages, but giving other Irish offices, and among them one of St. Columba, Abbot. At p. I, it commences with " Die Nona Junii, Translatio SS. Patricii, Columba; et Brigidae, trium communium Hibernise Patronorum, Duplex I. Classis, cum Octava per universam Insulam, cujus sequitur Oflicium approbatum a Viviano Cardinale titttli S. Stephani in Coelio Monte, quern ad Solemnitatem Translationis, An. 1186, Apostolicum Legatum demandavit Urbanus III." There is not a title page, at least in the copy, the property of Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J. and that used by the writer. The office has a First Vespers, with proper Antiphons, Capitulum, and Prayer. The Invitatorium of Matins is proper, with all the Antiphons and Six Lessons, the remaining three being from the Common of Evangelists, with proper Versicles and Responses. The Lauds, Hours and second Vespers are of a mixed character. Afterwards follows a proper Mass.

The Bollandists have fallen into an error, in placing the Finding of the Relics of Saints Patrick, Brigid and Columba, at this date, which should rather be called that for their Translation.

Canon O'Hanlon has a second entry for the feast at June 17 where he records:

Festival of St. Columba, and the Translation of the Relics of St. Patrick, St. Columba and St. Brigid. 
In 1620, an Office of St. Columba, Abbot, had been printed in Paris, and again in the same city, A.D. 1675, referring his Feast as a Double of the Second Class to the 17th day of June, on account of the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of St. Patrick, St. Columba and St. Brigid, falling on the 9th of June, and it being an Office of the First Class with an Octave. This contains proper Antiphons for Vespers and Lauds, with proper Hymns and Prayers, as also an Office of Nine Lessons, three of which are proper.

The foregoing is stated,and shown in a small 18mo tract, anonymously printed, apparently in the last century, and in Ireland. The copy, from which the writer quotes, was borrowed from Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J.

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