Thursday, 8 August 2013

Saint Brigid and the Blind Nun

August 8 is the commemoration of Saint Daire, one of three female saints commemorated on the Irish calendars who bear this name. In his account of Saint Daire, which can be read at my other site here, Canon O'Hanlon suggests that she may have been the blind nun Daire, who features in a poignant episode from the hagiography of Saint Brigid. The miracle of the blind nun was rendered into verse by the poet Aubrey de Vere (1814-1902), whose work was widely quoted by Catholic writers like Canon O'Hanlon in their work on the Irish saints:


ST. BRIGID is the mother, all men know,
Of Erin's nuns that have been or shall be
From great St. Patrick's time to that last day
When Christ returns to judge the world with fire.
Her life was full of marvels; here is one
Some deem than miracle miraculous more.

'Twas summer eve: upon a grassy slope
Which overlooks Cill Dara's boundless plain
She sat, and by her side a fair blind nun
Of them that followed her and loved her rule,
And sang her nocturn psalms. They spake of God,
The wonder of His dread inscrutable Being,
Round all, o'er all, in all; the wonder next
That man, so slight a thing, can move His love,
Can love Him, can obey: the marvel last
Of God made Man; the Infinite in greatness
By infinite descent a creature made,
Perchance within the least of peopled worlds

For saving of all worlds. The sun went down:
Full-faced the moon uprose: the night-wind sighed:
It broke not their discourse. For them it swayed
Not Dara's oaks but boughs of Olivet,
Brightened their midnight dews.

The dawn returned:
It flushed the clouds: it fired the forest's roof :
It laughed on distant streams. The splendour burned
In the green grass and lived in brake and bush:
Transfigured earth upreared a face as when
Man his terrestrial to celestial changed
Shall look upon his Maker ; such a face
As angel-hosts raised to God's universe
"When, first evoked, it burst upon their sight
From night primeval and that chaos old.

St. Brigid gazed upon that dawn: a thought
Keen as a lance transfixed her heart: she mused,
'Alas, this poor blind Sister sees it not ! '
She clasped that Sister's hand, she raised, she kissed
That blind one spake: ' Why weepest thou, Mother
Thy tears are on my hand! ' The Saint replied;
'I weep because thou canst not see yon dawn,
Nor in it God's great glory.' Then the nun;
'If that thought grieves thee, pray and I shall see.'
St. Brigid knelt ; and, lo, the blind one saw!

'Twere sin to paint in words that creature's gladness:
 It lasted long: it passed: by slow degrees
A twilight shadow tinged the sweet, pale face:
She spake: 'Great Mother, you can watch yon dawn
Yet nothing lose of that more heavenly vision
"Which lights God's inner realm within our hearts.

That inner world hath been my comfort; there
Ever I saw my Jesus, first a Babe
Couched in His crib, a Boy within the Temple,
At Cana's marriage feast, by Lazarus' tomb,
Upon the mount of His Beatitudes,
Upon the mount of His Transfiguration;
I tracked His steps through fields of Palestine;
I heard His Parables; I saw Him lay
His hand upon the blind, the dumb, the dead;
I knew that voice in all its holy changes,
His footstep, and the joy upon the face
Of those who heard that footstep though far off
Martha, or Mary, or the loved disciple;
Daily these things I saw: that vision pales,
Dazed by the earthly splendours of this dawn,
Dim as earth dimmed when blindness near me drew.
Never be blindness mine to heavenly things!
Still let me feel when other help is none
That God is nearest to me, Mother mine!
A weakling I; grant me what weaklings need!
Kneel down once more, and give me back my blindness.'

Then knelt the Saint and prayed once more, and God
Restored to her she loved her holy blindness:
For forty years it lasted: then she died.

Aubrey de Vere, The Poetical Works of Aubrey de Vere, Volume II, (1895), 402-5.

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Monday, 17 June 2013

Octave of the Feast of Saint Colum Cille

June 17 marks the Octave of the Feast of Saint Colum Cille. There is a description of a manuscript, no 211, preserved in the Library of Edinburgh University, which contains an office for the Octave:

IV. Four leaves, measuring roughly 11"x7 and three-quarter inches, of an Antiphoner written in Scotland, c. 1340, with later additions, containing parts of the services for the feasts of S. Columba and Corpus Christi, as follows:

S. Columba. — Part of ninth respond at Matins ; anthems, chapter, hymn, anthem to Benedictus at Lauds ; anthem to Magnificat at 2nd Evensong ; rubric for Octave; respond and anthem for 1st Evensong, one anthem for Matins and Lauds of Sunday within the Octave ; seven anthems for other days in the Octave ; responds and anthems to Magnificat at 1st and 2nd Evensong of Octave Day.

Corpus Christi. — End of hymn Pange lingua at 1st Evensong and rest of services to V. Non est alia nacio of 7th respond at Matins, including proper anthems for psalms and Nunc dimittis, and Collect at Compline and hymn Sacris solempniis at Matins ; all the rest as in Sarum Breviary.

The full noted service for an Octave of S. Columba (which has no Octave in the Aberdeen Breviary or other extant breviary used in Scotland) points to an important church dedicated in his name. This is confirmed by an allusion in the anthem to the Magnificat of 1st Evensong of the Octave Day, locumque istum tibi deditum. The fact that the Corpus Christi service (written in the same hand on the same leaves) is not Sarum Use, excludes Dunkeld Cathedral, and Iona is excluded because the Use is not Benedictine. There remains only one other church of any great size in Scotland for which such a service would be required, viz. that of the Augustinian Priory of Inchcolm. The prayer te laudantem serva chorum ab incursu anglicorum also points in the same direction, for Inchcolm was sacked by the English in 1335, and this service was evidently written not long after that date.

The service shows no connection with that in the Aberdeen Breviary. The proper anthems and Collect for Compline of Corpus Christi suggest a church of Canons Regular. The fact that the services of S. Columba, belonging to the Sanctorale, and Corpus Christi, belonging to the Temporale, are written in the same gathering and at the same time, point to their being an addition to a manuscript which was no doubt written in England at a date too early to contain Corpus Christi.

C. R. Borland, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Medieval Manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library (Edinburgh, 1916), 306-7.

Alas, there is no translation or text of any of this material cited but to honour Saint Colum Cille below  is the Benedictus Antiphon for his feast as found in the Inchcolm Antiphoner and recorded by the monks of Pluscarden Abbey. An earlier post on this recording can be found here.

Confessor Dei pretiose Columba, devotos tibi astantes adiuva et tuum confugientes patrocinium numquam diurnam deserat auxilium.

Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel... (Lk 1:68-79)

O precious confessor of God, Columba, help those who devoutly come into your presence, and may your constant help never depart from those who fly to your protection.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

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Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Death of Saint Columba


The last faint glimmer of sunset gold
Hath sunk in the western wave;
Over the isle the night-winds blow,
Tenderly sighing, moaning low,
Like mourners o'er a grave.

'Tis only meet that his life should close
Where he watched and toiled so well;
How is he keeping this last, sad night,
That the taper burns so late, so bright
In his sternly simple cell?

A scribe sits there with parchment scroll —
“Now haste thee, my son, and write!
Take thou no rest till the death-rest fall,
And watch thou, too, for the Master's call,
That Cometh so oft at night."

The monk wrote on, with eager hand.
No other sound was there;
For the grief in his soul might find no breath
In the presence of work — in the presence of Death,
Till the bell should sound for prayer.

"I would thou hadst closed the golden psalm
With the close of this passing life;
But these words are meet for my last farewell —
They will call the next brother like matin bell
To pray for the holy strife."

The words that looked from the speaking page,
That had touched so deep a chord
In the old man's heart, would thine eyes, too, see ?
They were, "Come, ye children, hearken to me,
I will teach you the fear of the Lord "

Tis the midnight bell! I will enter in
Where my children kneel, once more;"
And there followed one, with torch a-light,
To guide his way through the gusty night
To the lowly entrance-door.

Alone he passed that portal dark,
For the storm had quenched the lights,
And there, as he knelt on the ground to pray,
His soul with the midnight soared away
To its home on the holy heights.

They found him there, the smile of God
Gleamed calm on his saintly face;
And when the deep hush of their pain was o'er,
And they bare him out through the lowly door,
A sweet anthem filled the place.

They laid him low for his quiet sleep
By the Church's western bound —
And few were there that had loved him best!
For the storm beat wild; and of all the rest
No boat could cross the Sound.

The days grew calm, and they bore him back
To the land of his earliest love;
And a coffin was laid in his own green Isle,
For her balmy tears, and her proud, sweet smile,
For her saint in the rest above.


Born in County Tyrone, Ireland.

Daniel Connolly. Ed., The Household Library of Ireland’s Poets, with Full and Choice Selections from the Irish-American Poets (New York, 1887), 649-650.

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Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Story of Blessed Columba and the Horse

We continue the series of posts for the Octave of the Feast of Saint Colum Cille with a poetic retelling by Katharine Tynan of another story concerning the saint and animals. This one alludes to the tradition that the Columban monastic family were so devoted to their founder that their prayers detained Saint Colum Cille on earth, even though he was more than ready to leave for the glories of heaven. One creature who did understand how the saint felt, however, was an old pack horse which had served the monastery faithfully for many years. The animal places his head on the chest of the saint and weeps, its distress finally bringing the monks of Iona to the realisation that they must let their beloved founder go.


COLUMBA was kept back
Four years from his reward,
The brethren's prayers, alack,
Prevailing with the Lord.
"O children, let me go!"
'Twas oft and oft he prayed,
Yet still with prayer aglow
They held him from the dead.

They held him back with might,
Kissing his habit's hem,
His soul's wings set for flight,
Were prisoned long by them.
His soul was sick for death;
Yea, anguished long and dumb
To take the lonely path
Should lead the exile home.

At last one Autumn day
When woods were red and gold,
And the sea moaned alway
For summers dead and cold,
Columba, weary foot,
Went out and saw the sheaves,
And flames of yellow fruit
Trembling among the leaves.

He saw the sheep and swine,
The oxen and the ass,
The drying swathes in line
Of rich and honeyed grass:
Opened the granary door,
And saw the brethren had
Of fruit and grain great store
To last through winter sad.

Upon a brother's arm
The great Columba leant;
Bowed was that stately form,
The holy head down-bent.
Yet peace was in his eyes,
Happy and satisfied:
He blessed the granaries,
The beasts and pastures wide.

As slowly home they came,
There limped along the road,
The old horse tired and lame
That long had borne his load.
The horse that night and morn
Drew home the abbey milk,
Drew home the load of corn,
And swathes of grass like silk.

With a low whinnying neigh,
He ran full wild and fast
And hid his forehead grey
Against Columba's breast,
And wept against his neck,
Till any heart of stone
Were very like to ache,
Hearing the creature moan.

"O little horse, so kind"
The dear Columba said;
"How hast thou well divined
I should so soon be dead?
Thou wouldst not keep me, thou,
From glory and from grace
And from Queen Mary's brow,
And from the Lord God's face!”

But while the horse sobbed on,
Columba stroked his mane;
O, any heart of stone
Had ached to see that pain.
And still as home they went,
The horse came following yet;
His head deject and bent,
His eyes still strained and wet.

The brethren they ran out:
Columba, speaking then,
His tender arm about
His patient friend's grey mane.
"O kinder is the beast
That grieves, but lets me go,
Than ye who keep from rest
An old man, sad and slow!

"Far kinder is the horse:
He knows how pastures dim,
With many a water-course,
Beckon so sweet to him.
He too is tired and old,
And knows how sweetly call
The harps and hymns of gold
To me this evenfall.

"Long have they called to me,
My soul is hungered
The dear Lord God to see,
With glories round His head.
Sweet is the thought of rest,
While all the ages roll,
In that eternal Breast:
Yea, lovely to my soul!"

They cried then with one voice:
"No more we will retard,
Go, elect soul, rejoice,
Receive thy great reward!
And yet forget not there
The little ones who go
Like some sad wayfarer
When heaven lets out the snow!"

They led the horse away
Unto his manger brown.
Three days the sorrel-gray
Let the big tears fall down.
Three days the horse did mourn;
The fourth day dawn came faint:
Iona woke forlorn,
But heaven received its saint.

Katherine Tynan, The Story of Blessed Columba and the Horse in W. J. Paul, ed. Modern Irish Poets, (Belfast, 1894), 155-158.

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Friday, 14 June 2013

The Rule of Saint Colum Cille

Below is a translation by the nineteenth-century scholar, Eugene O'Curry, of the Rule ascribed to Saint Colum Cille. It was among a collection of Rules attributed to Irish saints preserved in Belgium among  the manuscripts of Friar Michael O'Clery, the seventeenth-century hagiologist and annalist. The Anglican Bishop William Reeves published the text and O'Curry's translation in one of his scholarly publications dealing with the Diocese of Derry:


BE alone in a separate place near a chief city, if thy conscience is not prepared to be in common with the crowd.

Be always naked in imitation of Christ and the Evangelists.

Whatsoever little or much thou possessest of anything, whether clothing, or food, or drink, let it be at the command of the senior, and at his disposal, for it is not befitting a religious to have any distinction of property with his own free brother.

Let a fast place, with one door, enclose thee.

A few religious men to converse with thee of God and His Testament; to visit thee on days of solemnity; to strengthen thee in the Testaments of God and the narratives of the Scriptures.

A person too who would talk with thee in idle words, or of the world; or who murmurs at what he cannot remedy or prevent, but who would distress thee more, should be a tattler between friends and foes, thou shalt not admit him to thee, but at once give him thy benediction should he deserve it.

Let thy servant be a discreet, religious, not tale- telling man, who is to attend continually on thee, with
moderate labour of course, but always ready.

Yield submission to every rule that is of devotion.

A mind prepared for red martyrdom.

A mind fortified and steadfast for white martyrdom.

Forgiveness from the heart to every one.

Constant prayers for those who trouble thee.

Fervour in singing the office for the dead, as if every faithful dead was a particular friend of thine.

Hymns for souls to be sung standing.

Let thy vigils be constant from eve to eve, under the direction of another person.

Three labours in the day, viz., prayers, work, and reading.

The work to be divided into three parts, viz., thine own work, and the work of thy place, as regards its real wants; secondly, thy share of the brethren's work; lastly, to help the neighbours, viz., by instruction, or writing, or sewing garments, or whatever labour they may be in want of, ut Dominus ait, ‘Non apparebis ante me vacuus.’

Everything in its proper order; Nemo enim coronabitur nisi qui legitime certaverit.

Following almsgiving before all things.

Take not of food till thou art hungry.

Sleep not till thou feelest desire.

Speak not except on business.

Every increase which comes to thee in lawful meals, or in wearing apparel, give it for pity to the brethren that want it, or to the poor in like manner.

The love of God with all thy heart and all thy strength.

The love of thy neighbour as thyself.

Abide in the Testaments of God throughout all times.

Thy measure of prayer shall be until thy tears come;

Or thy measure of work of labour till thy tears come;

Or thy measure of thy work of labour, or of thy genuflexions until thy perspiration often comes, if thy tears are not free.


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Colum Cille, the Gambler and the Poor Man

85. Another time when Columcille was in Derry, there came to him a gambler and a poor man. And he gave a groat to the gambler and a penny to the poor man. And it seemed passing strange to all that he gave more to the gambler than to the poor man. God revealed to Columcille that all were amazed thereat. And Columcille bade certain that were present to follow the gambler and the poor man to see what they would do with the money he had given them. And they found the gambler in a tavern drinking the worth of the groat and sharing it with every needy man that came to him. And it is thus they found the poor man: dead upon the road, and the penny Columcille had given him sewed in his garments, and five marks thereto. And they came with these tidings to Columcille.

And Columcille said: “God did manifest to me that the poor man had but thus long to live, and even had his life been long, he would have put to no use either for himself or for any other what he might have; but he would hoard it up, as he hath done the five marks. And albeit the gambler was an evil man in himself, yet did he not hoard what he gat, but with the worth of the groat he sustained himself and other poor men that were in need, and for this I gave him more than I gave the poor man.”

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Memory of Saint Colum Cille in Ireland and Scotland

Ireland bore him, Scotland holds his remains. Each country has precious memories of his work and witness. The Irish remember the young firebrand who set his country aflame with his zeal and covered half the land with monasteries and churches. They know his faults and they forgive them. He was a human saint. If his fiery temper led him to do wrong, he made magnificent amends. The Scots have gentler memories of a gentler man, the father of Christianity in their country. Others had come before him, preached their message and built their churches. Their message had been forgotten and their churches had fallen into ruin. But Colum Cille built on a firmer foundation, the rock-like solidity of his faith, and what he built remains to this day.

Desmond Forristal, Colum Cille - The Fox and the Dove (Dublin, 1997, 76-77.)

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Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Columba and the Dove

Below is a poem which captures the theme of exile which the Irish came to associate with Saint Colum Cille. It draws on the story that an exhausted, windswept bird from Ireland was blown on to the shore of Iona. The saint, for whom thoughts of his beloved northern homeland were never far away, nurses the avian exile back to health and sends him on his way home. The poem was published in an American religious journal of 1904 and the sentimental treatment of the theme of exile would, no doubt, have appealed to an Irish-American readership. In the version of this story which I am familiar with, the bird is actually a heron, but perhaps the writer here draws on the literal meaning of the saint's name - 'the dove of the church'. 



IN exile far from Derry's hill
It ached the sweet Columba sore
He nevermore might gaze his fill
On Erin's loved and lovely shore.

He nevermore might hear the finch
In Fanad's wood beside his home,
Nor watch round craggy cape and inch
The surges of Lough Swilly foam.

No more might see Ben Bulban fling
About his form his cloak of cloud,
Nor royal Edar, like a king,
Blaze out in heathery purple proud.

Nor see the shining salmon leap
The cascade white of Assaroe,
Nor net the trout, nor hear the sheep
Bleat in the meadows of Raphoe.

For so decreed the penance sore
That drove him forth an exiled man :
To see his native land no more,
While grass was green and water ran.

But daily, far from Derry's hill,
He walketh where the breakers roar,
And far through mist and sea-fog still
He watches from Iona's shore.

And gazeth o'er the ocean dim
Through smoking spume and drifting spray,
Where on the sunset's golden rim
His Erin lieth far away.

With arrowy sleet his eyes are blind,
The needles of the tempest sting;
When lo! against the northern wind
What cometh up on weary wing?

What cometh from the distant south,
The holy south where Erin lies?
A prayer leaps to Columba's mouth,
The tears well up within his eyes.

" My little bird from Derry's oaks,
Christ Jesu send him safe ashore,
That breasts the breeze with valiant strokes
Of wounded wing and pinion sore!'

So prays he, and through storm and sleet
It wins to land - oh, blessed thing!
An Irish dove, and at his feet
It droppeth with bedraggled wing.

The tears are on Columba's cheek.
" O little wanderer from home,
What dost thou in Iona bleak ?,'
Why wingest thou across the foam ?

" Why dost thou leave thine Irish nest
'Neath Derry's hill by reedy Foyle?
Oh foolish little bird, to breast
The wind that blusters over Moyle!'

" But thou, assuaged of grief and pain,
Shalt win again to Erin's shore.
O happy dove, to see again
The fields my feet may tread no more!"

So spake the Saint with tearful word,
The while with gentle hand he strook
Its plumage soft and raised the bird
And to his convent's shelter took.

And fed it there and brought it forth,
And set it free with happy smile,
And bade it hasten from the north
And win its way to Erin's isle.

'' O little wanderer from home !
Go, hasten hence and take my love
O'er golden leagues of sunset foam
To Durrow's hill and Derry's grove.

" 'Neath Derry's oaks, God's angels, go,
A shining host in garb of gold.
To Derry's oaks and sweet Raphoe
O take my blessing manifold!'

Up rose the dove in joyous flight
And winged its way unto the south,
As sure as by a beacon-light
The fisher gains the harbour's mouth.

And long with wistful eyes the Saint
Watched by the ocean's margin gray
The bird become more faint and faint
Until it vanished far away.

Catholic World, Volume 79 (1904), 620-622.

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Monday, 10 June 2013

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Colum Cille and Baoithín

One day Columcille and his disciple Beethan were walking along the sea-shore near Dublin. A storm arose, and they saw a ship wrecked by the waves.
"Why did the Almighty permit that ship to be lost?" inquired Beethan.
"One of the crew was a great sinner, and because of his sins those other men suffered shipwreck," Columcille replied.
"It hardly seems just," said Beethan, "that so many should die for the sins of one person."
Columcille did not answer. He knew his disciple spoke without thinking.
They passed on, and the saint took a bee-hive, which he asked his companion to carry. One of the bees escaped and stung Beethan, who dropped the hive. The honeycombs were broken in pieces.
"Why did you destroy the hive?" said Columcille, slyly.
"I was stung!" cried Beethan. "A bee stung my hand!"
"Then because you get a slight sting in one hand from a single bee, you consider the whole hive may fitly be destroyed?"
This time it was Beethan who did not answer.
"So," said Columcille, "the justice of God is not violated, although for the very grievous sin of one a multitude may pay the penalty."

Francis Carty, Two and Fifty Irish Saints (Dublin, 1941), 40-41.

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Sunday, 9 June 2013

Goffine's Devout Instruction on the Feast of Saint Colum Cille

June 9 is the feast of Saint Colum Cille and this year there is something of an extravaganza taking place in the northern city of Derry (Doire Cholmcille) to honour him. The event, called The Return of Colum Cille, has been designed by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the man behind the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. There are some pictures of the event at this page, I note that the Loch Ness monster will be making an appearance and I can only hope that more serious elements of Columban tradition might also surface. Below is a much more conventional presentation of the saint taken from a nineteenth-century translation of the work of the German Norbertine, Father Leonard Goffine. Father Goffine looked at the liturgical texts for the day and then provided a commentary in a  question and answer format. I was pleased to see that he gave the full treatment to the feasts of Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid, but his treatment of Saint Colum Cille is not quite so comprehensive and later editions of the work omitted him entirely:

[June 9.]

ST. COLUMBKILL or Columba of most noble extraction was born at Garten in the present county of Donegal, on the 7th of December, 521. From his childhood he devoted himself to the love of God with an entire disengagement of his heart from the world, and in perfect purity of mind and body. In the great school of the holy Bishop Aidan he learned the holy Scriptures and the lessons of ascetic life. Being ordained priest in 546, he began to give instruction in piety and sacred science, and soon formed many disciples. In 550 he founded the great monastery of Durrough, and afterwards many others, so that at the time of his death he had founded no less than one hundred monasteries in Ireland and Scotland. To these monasteries he has given a rule composed by himself.

King Dermot being offended at the great zeal of St. Columbkill in reproving public vices, the holy abbot left his native country, and came into Scotland. This happened in 565. There he preached and performed many miracles. The result of his labor was that he converted from idolatry to the faith of Christ the whole northern nation of the Picts. The southern Picts had received the light of faith long before by the preaching of St. Ninyas.

St. Columbkill's manner of living was always most austere. He lay on the bare floor with a stone for his pillow, and never interrupted his fast. His biographers say that despite his austerity his countenance always appeared wonderfully cheerful, showing the constant interior serenity of his holy soul, and the unspeakable joy with which it overflowed from the presence of the Holy Ghost. Every moment of his precious time he employed for the honor of God, either in praying, reading, writing, or preaching. His incomparable mildness and charity towards all men, on all occasions, won the hearts of all who conversed with him, and his virtues, miracles, and extraordinary gift of prophecy, commanded the veneration of all ranks of men. He was of such authority that neither king nor people did anything without his consent. Four years before he died, St. Columbkill had a vision of angels which caused him many tears, because these angels told him that on account of the prayers of the British and Scottish churches his exile on earth would be prolonged yet four years. Having labored in Scotland thirty-four years, he clearly and openly foretold the time of his death, and on Saturday, the ninth of June, kneeling before the altar he received the Viaticum, gave his blessing once more to his disciples, and sweetly slept in the Lord, 597, in his 77th year. He was one of the greatest patriarchs of the monastic order in Ireland, and is justly called “the Apostle of the Picts."

Introit of the Mass: The mouth of the just man shall meditate wisdom, and his tongue shall speak judgment: the law of his God is in his heart. (Ps. xxxvi. 30-31.) Be not emulous of evil doers, nor envy them that work iniquity. (Ps. xxxvi. 1.) Glory be to the Father &c.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. Let the intercession of the blessed abbot Columba, we beseech Thee, O Lord, commend us unto Thee: that what by our own merits we are unworthy to receive, we may obtain by his patronage. Thro. &c.

Lesson and Explanation, see Feast of St. Anthony, Jan.17th.

Gospel, see Feast of St. Benedict, March 21st.

Rev. L. Goffine, Explanation of the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays, Holydays and Festivals throughout the Ecclesiastical Year, to which are added the Lives of Many Saints (New York and Cincinnati, O., 1880), 775-6.

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Saturday, 8 June 2013

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Brigid Exonerates Saint Brón

June 8 is the feast day of Saint Brón of Kilaspugbrone whom hagiography links with both Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid. In the Patrician texts Brón is depicted as an early disciple of our national apostle, appointed by him to found a church in the County Sligo district of Cassell-Irra, now known as Killaspugbrone, literally 'the church of Bishop Brón'. In the Irish Life of Saint Brigid, however, Brón is accused of raping a woman and of being the father of her child. Fortunately, although Saint Patrick is present at the gathering where this accusation is made, Saint Brigid arrives with another of her episcopal mentors, Bishop Mel, and saves the day. There are a number of charming aspects to this account. First, the ever-modest Saint Brigid is depicted as being reluctant to perform a miracle in the presence of Saint Patrick but nevertheless deals firmly with the issue. The mother's sins very publicly find her out and she is ultimately condemned by her own child. Then while the onlookers clamour for the woman caught in the lie to be burned, Saint Brigid is content for the sinner to do penance. Thus she demonstrates her characteristic virtues of modesty and mercy. The last line really says it all: 'The people are delighted, the bishop is liberated, and Brigit is glorified’.


Thereupon they come to Tailtiu. Patrick was there. They were debating an obscure question there, namely a certain woman had come to accuse a priest of Patrick’s household of being the father of her child. Brón was the priest’s name. ‘How has this been made out’, said everyone. ‘Not difficult’, said the woman, ‘I had come to Brón to have the veil blessed on me and to offer my virginity to God. This is what this wicked priest did, he debauched me, so that I have borne him a son.’ As they were debating thus, Brigit was coming towards the assembly. Then Mel said to Patrick: ‘The holy maiden Brigit is approaching the assembly and she will find out for you by the amount of her grace and the proximity of her miracles whether this is true or false; for there is nothing in heaven or earth which she might request of Christ which would be refused her. And this is what should be done in this case: she should be called apart out of the assembly about this question, for she will not perform miracles in the presence of holy Patrick. ‘ Brigit comes thereupon. The crowd rises up before her. She is immediately called aside out of the assembly to address the woman, and the priests except Patrick accompany her. ‘Whose is this child?’ [said Brigit] to the woman. ‘Brón’s’, said the woman. ‘That is not true’, said Brigit. Brigit made the sign of the cross over her face and immediately her head and tongue began to swell. Patrick then comes to them into the great hall. Brigit addresses the child in the presence of the people of the assembly, though it had not yet begun to speak. ‘Who is thy father?’ said Brigit. ‘Brón the bishop is not my father but a certain ill-shaped man who is sitting in the outermost part of the assembly; my mother is a liar.’ They all return thanks to God and demand that the guilty one be burned. But Brigit refuses saying: ‘Let this woman do penance’. This was done and the head and tongue lost their swelling. The people are delighted, the bishop is liberated, and Brigit is glorified’.

M.A. O’Brien, ‘The Old Irish Life of St. Brigit: Part I. Translation’, in Irish Historical Studies, Volume 1, no.2 (1938), 132-133.

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Friday, 10 May 2013

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Colum Cille Visits Comgall

On a certain occasion, when St. Columba had sailed in a vessel from Iona Island, to the monastery of Bangor; it happened, that one of his brethren died on board. When landed at the mouth of a river, and at a port, named Iniver Beg, the whole company hastened towards Bangor monastery, where they were received with much joy. Meantime, their deceased companion was laid with the baggage, in a secret part of the vessel. When the voyagers had received a kiss of peace, Comgall washed their feet, and asked, if they had any person, besides the assembled number, during the voyage. St. Columba replied, that one remained on board; Comgall requested, he might be sent for, that he might have an opportunity of enjoying their community's conversation and society. " For," said he, "after the labours of this voyage, the hands and feet of all must find rest, and the vessel with its effects must be taken under our care." St. Columba replied, " That brother will not come, unless you go to him." Without delay, Comgall went to the vessel ; but, not immediately finding the brother, he searched among the luggage, where he thought the monk might be sleeping. There, however, he was found dead. The servant of God was astonished, but betaking himself to prayer, Comgall said, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ arise, and hasten with me to thy brothers." As if awaking from sleep, the dead man arose, and coming with our Abbot to his monastery, the latter observed, that his companion was deprived of one eye. The saint declared, that as he had prayed to God for a perfect restoration, in all his limbs and body, the monk should not labour under such a defect. At the same time, a fountain of water sprung from the earth, whereon they stood. In its water, the Abbot ordered that monk to bathe his face, when he recovered the eye, which he before wanted. Its lustre continued undiminished, even in his old age.

While St. Columba remained with our saint, they entered a church together, to recite Hours. Afterwards, returning to the monastery for supper, St. Comgall ordered a brother to bring some food, which it was thought the house did not contain. But, on going to the cellar, that brother brought the required viands, which were placed before both great saints. These partook thereof, giving thanks. Knowing this to be the gift of God, St. Columba said to St. Comgall, "O holy father, this food is not to be taken with indifference, for it has not been provided by men, but by God's Angels." Those, who were present, immediately said, "Blessed be God for his gifts".

It is recorded, that on another day, while these two great saints were at table, they saw the devil placed in a seat reserved for the cook of the monastery. Surprised at this sight, the saints entertained suspicions, regarding the virtue of this cook. On being sent for, seeing his place occupied by a demon, the cook cried out with a stern voice, " Wretched demon, what brings you here? or what folly induces you to occupy this seat? Certainly, from my youth I have never served thee, and if otherwise, declare it: fly therefore to the sea-depths, or to the desert solitudes, where thou canst hurt no person." The demon then fled in silence. St. Columba and St. Comgall did penance for harbouring unjust suspicions, concerning that brother.

Note: A paper by Archbishop John Healy on the life of Saint Comgall and the monastery he founded can be found on my other blog here.

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Saturday, 27 April 2013

"Becoming Mary of the Gael"

The medievalists net site has published an interesting summary of a paper delivered earlier this month by scholar Dorothy Ann Bray. This site has many good articles, news snippets and links to theses on Irish saints and is well worth a browse:

“Becoming Mary of the Gael”

The Celtic Studies Association of North America Annual Meeting – The University of Toronto, April 18-21, 2013

Dorothy Ann Bray (McGill University)

The second paper of the opening session moved away from archaeology and towards religious devotion and saint’s cults. Dorothy Ann Bray presented a paper on the background of St. Brigit’s association with the Virgin Mary in Ireland. St. Brigit is often represented as the Virgin Mary in Irish worship – this paper explored the reasons behind this phenomenon.

Texts offer a lengthy eulogy of the saint. This term, “Mary of the Gael”, has been firmly attached to St. Brigit. The Middle Irish version is based on an even earlier version and there is long tradition comparing St. Brigit to the Virgin Mary,

‘A fair both, fair dignity which will come to thee thereafter from thy children’s descendants, who shall be called from her great virtues truly pious Brig-eoit; she will be another Mary, mother of the Lord.” (‘The Old Irish Life of Saint Brigit’, Irish Historical Studies 1:2 (1938): 348)

Brigit has had a constant, insistent comparison to Mary but only in vernacular texts. The first instance appears in a ninth century biographical hymn. Naming of Brigit as the Mother of Jesus is bold and audacious but this has not received much mention by scholars. Bray has not found any women outside of Ireland so closely associated with Mary as Brigit. There was nothing heretical or especially devious about it but Bray wondered, ‘How did this arise?’. The assertion of Brigit as the mother of Christ was explained in 1955 as an Irish convention of symbolically sharing in motherhood. However, this doesn’t explain why other Irish saints are not associated with the mother of God. Some saints are associated as a sister but not Mother. What about the laity? They would be the most likely audience of these hymns. When the cult of Mary in Ireland began is indeterminate but there is an indication that there was worship of Mary as early as the sixth century in Ireland and that a cult was well in place by the seventh century. Devotion to Mary carried Eastern influences; she was often referenced to the Queen of Sheba. Sheba became interpreted as a kind of Mary. In the East, she is celebrated more as the Queen of Heaven, in the West, she is worshipped more as the Mother of Christ. Jerome, Augustine and other theologians reinforced Mary’s role as a mother. Augustine grounded his thoughts on Mary in scripture, and the new “Eve” was the Church, not Mary. Under the influence of Ambrose, Augustine regards Mary as a model disciple. The emphasis on Mary as the Mother of Jesus is in line with earlier medieval views of martyrology. Most hymns to Brigit were heavy on praise and light on biography and in Latin hymns she is described “like” Mary but not taken to the complete level of identification as in Irish texts. Mary as the Mother of Christ was a powerful symbol in Irish devotion.

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Sunday, 31 March 2013

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Brigid's Easter


1.     As Easter Day was approaching, Saint Brigit wanted to give a banquet for all the churches which were near her in the surrounding towns of Mide.
2.     However, she had not the wherewithal for a banquet except for a single vat of beer, for there was a shortage of provisions in those parts at the time.
3.     Now she put the beer from the vat into two basins, for she had no other vessels.
4.     And the beer was divided up and taken by Brigit to the eighteen surrounding churches and there was enough for them all for Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday and the week up to the end of Easter.
5.     The same Easter a leper came to saint Brigit and as he was covered with leprosy he asked Brigit for a cow.
6.     Not having a cow she said to him, ‘Would you like us to pray to God for you to be cured of your leprosy?’ He replied,  ‘That to me would be the best gift of all’.
7.     Then the holy virgin blessed water and sprinkled it on the leper’s body and he was cured.
8.     He gave thanks to God and stayed with Brigit till his death….

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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Goffine's Devout Instruction for the Feast of Saint Patrick

Below is a nineteenth-century translation of a work originally published in the seventeenth century by the German Norbertine priest Father Leonard Goffine (1648-1719).  In his 'devout instructions' the author sought to provide a commentary on the liturgy of the day in a question and answer form. The liturgical texts are prefaced by a life of Saint Patrick in which the Irish are depicted as 'wild and unpolished' heathens who live by 'war and robbery'. By contrast the Britons are depicted as having acquired a 'certain degree of culture' due to the Roman occupation and their adoption of Christianity. Any wounded national pride, however, is quickly salved by the assertion that the Irish were 'hardier warriors than the effeminate Britons'! By the end of the piece, thanks to the labours of Saint Patrick, these Irish barbarians can teach the rest of the world a thing or two about Christian civilization.


[March 17.]

ST. Patrick was born in the decline of the fourth century in a village called Bonaven Taberniae, in Armorice Gaul, being the same as the present Boulogne sur-Mer, in Picardy. His father  Calpurnius was of a noble Roman family, his mother Conchessa was niece to St. Martin of Tours. Patrick remained in his father's house until his fifteenth year, and then as he says in his book entitled "Confessions" and written towards the end of his life, God was pleased to lead him to his high vocation through a very painful and laborious preparatory school.

In those remote times Ireland was a mountainous, inhospitable country, covered all over with forests, bogs and morasses. Her inhabitants were wild and unpolished, lived by war and robbery; only a few of them had some little knowledge of the true God.The Britons, on the contrary, under the sway of the Romans had already attained a certain degree of culture and had adopted the Christian Faith. The Irish, however, were hardier warriors than the effemminate Britons; in their naval expeditions they visited the shores of England, landed here and there, attacked villages and unfortified towns, sacked them, and carried the inhabitants into slavery. A swarm of rapacious Irish assailed a manor belonging to Calphurnius, and cut down the domestics who attempted to resist. The parents were absent, but young Patrick and a number of the male servants were made prisoners and carried over to Ireland. From this day the son of Calphurnius, hitherto accustomed to the comforts of a wealthy home, entered upon a long and severe novitiate of six years. Slave to a coarse barbarian, he had to drive his master's cattle into the woods, to guard and feed them; not seldom he must spend, unsheltered, whole nights among bogs and marshes and was often cruelly beaten. Thus engaged in an endless struggle against hunger and thirst, heat and frost, deprived of every earthly consolation, and of every hope of deliverance, St. Patrick was taught by his misfortunes, in fervent prayers to have recourse to God and His blessed Providence, which always knows and possesses the means to console those, who lovingly confide in it. St. Patrick now commenced a new life; a celestial light now illumined his soul, and warmed his heart. He now examined his past life; the sorrow for having squandered so many years by not perfectly loving God, drew the most bitter tears from his eyes. Even towards the end of his life, as the Saint himself avows in his book of Confessions, every day he bewailed that time of his youth not devoted to God. Humble and resigned, he henceforth suffered all in a spirit of penance, and with confidence in the goodness of God awaited the hour of his delivery.

At length, after a severe trial of six years, this hour arrived for Patrick. In a dream he was ordered to leave his master's house and go to the sea shore; there he would find a vessel ready to take him on board. Patrick obeyed. After a journey of several days he arrived at the very spot, shown him in the dream, and there found a vessel about to start. But, unfortunately, Patrick had no money to pay for his passage, and in spite of all prayers the master of the ship refused to take him on board. Deeply afflicted Patrick was about to return to his master, but he had scarcely made several steps, when the owner became good-humored, recalled him and took him on board.

After a favorable voyage they landed on the shore of Northern Scotland, a desert wilderness in which they wandered about, discovering nowhere a human abode. Their provisions had all given out. Patrick's companions were yet heathens; he had, on board, told them of the God of the Christians and of His infinite love. Almost starving, they now, reminded Patrick of his words and besought him to implore his God. For if the Christians God, they said, is really almighty and merciful, he both can and will save us from starvation.

Patrick, penetrated by a lively faith, resolutely promised them the approach of delivery within an hour, in case of their sincere conversion to the true God. He was immediately absorbed in silent prayer, and no sooner had this hour elapsed, than they encountered a herd of swine, which sufficed as provision to the end of their voyage of twenty-four days.

Patrick's patience however was subjected to another hard trial. Though his pagan companions had witnessed, how soon Patrick's prayer was heard, yet before eating they sacrificed to their idols all the flesh; this forced Patrick to abhor all such meat and rather to suffer the most fearful hunger than defile himself by eating it. He was less afflicted by his own hunger and thirst, than by the incomprehensible spiritual blindness of these heathens, who in spite of an evident miracle would not desist from their idolatry. Finally, after many days of suffering, Patrick happily reached his home; where, however, he enjoyed only a short repose. He was a second and third time captured, but was soon released.

When God had by these years of suffering prepared His servant for the high vocation of being Ireland's guide to the only saving faith, He called him to the priesthood. Being once absorbed in prayer Patrick, in a vision, saw himself carried over to Ireland and there beheld a multitude of children, who with piteous cries stretched out their hands for help, as if they were in great need. In another vision he heard voices from the western shore, which cried out to him: "Come, we beseech thee, walk among us."

Patrick resolved to obey this heavenly call; but was opposed on all sides, and above all by his parents, who almost persuaded him to give up his pious project. God Himself, however, in a series of wonderful apparitions revealed to Patrick His adorable will. The saint was thus strenghtened and became firmly determined to go to Ireland in order to bear salvation to her people. None would accompany him to the work of saving those poor, neglected souls. He was consecrated bishop, that he might afterwards ordain such Irish converts, as by zeal and science should be qualified to be his co-laborers. Having overcoming many obstacles Patrick left all, his native country, his parents and relations, to embark for the northernmost border of the then known world, to spread the light of the Gospel. He had during a six years captivity acquired the Irish language, and was thus enabled to preach to them the doctrine of the cross in their own mother tongue.

His success was wonderful. Wheresoever he came, the people flocked together and, as it were, clung to the lips of the saintly preacher; hunters and warriors were changed into tame, calm and obedient lambs, and at the close of each sermon all would stretch forth their arms towards him, beseeching him for the Sacrament of Baptism. He baptized them as soon as they were sufficiently instructed in every article of faith.

The Saint seeing the great success of his apostolic work provided this vineyard of Christ with necessary laborers. For this purpose he selected such converts for each district, as proved sufficiently zealous and educated, and by the imposition of his episcopal hands ordained them acolytes, deacons and priests. To this young Irish clergy, as also to the prospering parishes, St. Patrick carefully imparted all good counsel and directed them wisely, at the same time erecting churches in all parts of the country. After the saint had labored much upon this Island, Britain at last remembered him, and sent to him two co-laborers, the bishops Auxentius and Iserinus, whose aid the saint most joyfully accepted. He immediately erected a number of episcopal seats, to which he gave intelligent and pious bishops. Nor even did it suffice the Apostle of Ireland to strengthen and fortify in their faith those already converted; he moreover desired to lead them upon the very path of Christian perfection. He taught, therefore, young widows to devote their lives to continence; he persuaded young, tender maidens to transform their bodies into living temples of God by preserving their precious purity unsullied; he, moreover, encouraged wealthy youths to bestow their riches upon the needy and to follow Jesus with free and undivided hearts. No sooner had the Saint commenced to guide souls on this this seemingly rough, but actually delightful path, than they increased to such a number, as to compel him to erect monasteries for both sexes. One day he baptized a beautiful young girl of exceedingly fine form, and scarcely sixteen years of age. A few days after, the girl returned to St. Patrick informing him of an apparition which she had  (perhaps her guardian angel) in which it was made known to her that it would be agreeable to God, if she would devote her life exclusively to Him. The Saint saw her heart and recognized this to be vocation, and therefore gave her the sacred veil.

When advanced in years our Saint had the joy and consolation to see nearly all Ireland adoring the crucified Saviour. He therefore prayed incessantly for the grace of perseverance on the part of his beloved flock which he had purchased with so many sufferings and trials. Truly, no other country ever has manifested the blessed influence of Holy Religion more perseveringly than Ireland. Half a century after its saintly Apostle's death the people of Ireland rivalled every civilized nation. Every church and monastery, even at the time of St. Patrick, were provided with excellent schools; there great and celebrated masters reared scholars equally great and celebrated, so that in the course of several centuries men flocked to Ireland from all parts, there to still their thirst for knowledge, there to quench their thirst for knowledge, there to cultivate their minds and to receive the Doctrines of Salvation at a fount, which they well knew to be pure and unsullied. Ireland became the school of Saints, so that she even deserved to be styled “Isle of the Saints". Numerous Irish, as for instance SS. Columban, Gallus, Fridolin, Chilian and others started out for France and Germany, there to propagate the true faith in Christ.

St. Patrick died at a very advanced age. His body, deposited in a church at Down, was discovered in the year 1185. Ireland, despite all persecutions and oppressions, has stood faithful and kept the faith of her great apostle, St. Patrick. Down to the present day, every Irish heart remembers St. Patrick, its champion and patron, with sentiments of singular gratitude and devotedness.

At the Introit of the Mass the Church says: The Lord made to him a covenant of peace, and made him a prince: that the dignity of the priesthood should be to him forever. (Eccl. xlv.) O Lord, remember David and all his meekness. (Ps. cxxxi.) Glory, &c.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. O God, who didst vouchsafe to send the blessed Patrick Thy Confessor and Bishop, to declare Thy glory to the nations: grant through his merits and intercession, that what Thou commandest us to do, we may with Thy mercy be able to accomplish. Through &c.  

LESSON. (Eccl. xliv.17- xlv 20.) Behold, a great priest, who in his days pleased God and was found just: and in the time of wrath was made a reconciliation. There was not any found like to him who kept the law of the Most High. Therefore by an oath the Lord made him increase among his people. He gave him the blessing of all nations and confirmed his covenant upon his head. He acknowledged him in his blessings: he preserved for him his mercy: and he found grace before the eyes of the Lord. He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him a crown of glory. He made an everlasting covenant with him, and gave him a great priesthood, and made him blessed in glory: to execute the office of the priesthood, and to have praise in his name: and to offer him worthy incense for an odor of sweetness.

EXPLANATION. The text of the chapters from which this lesson is taken refers to the great and holy men of the Old Law, as to Enoch, Noe, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Aaron. God found these men just, and He therefore, showered upon them His graces and blessings, and exalted them above the powerful of this earth. In like manner St. Patrick, the great priest of God, was blessed and exalted, because he was pleasing to God, and found just, he was a model of all Christian virtues. God blessed him like Abraham making him the spiritual father of a great nation.  The praise of the Almighty was continually on the lips of St. Patrick and the incense of prayer and of good works daily ascended to His throne; God therefore, honored him on earth and crowned him with the diadem of eternal glory in Heaven.

GOSPEL. (Matt. xxv. 14 — 23.) At that time, Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: A man going into a far country, called his servants, and delivered to them his goods. And to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability, and immediately he took his journey. And he that had received the five talents went his way, and traded with the same, and gained other five. And in like manner he that had received the two, gained other two. But he that had received the one, going his way, digged into the earth, and hid his lord's money. But after a long time, the lord of those servants came and reckoned with them. And he that had received the five talents coming, brought other five talents, saying: Lord, thou didst deliver to me five talents, behold, I have gained other five over and above. His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant: because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. And he also that had received the two talents came and said: Lord, thou deliveredst two talents to me, behold, I have gained other two. His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.

[For explanation see the Feast of St. Nicholas, December 6.]