Friday, 31 October 2014

Saint Faolán of Fosses and Devotion to Saint Brigid

October 31 is the feast of Saint Faolán, one of the many Irish missionary saints who laboured in Europe. He is also one of the Irish saints who helped to spread the cult of Ireland's patroness on the Continent. Roísín Ní Mheara has given a fascinating account of devotion to Saint Brigid of Kildare in the Meuse/Maas valley region in which Saint Faolán laboured. His monastery at Fosses was dedicated to Saint Brigid and today their names are still intertwined in this area:
In the cryptal chamber of Saint-Feuillen, old effigies of St Brigid and St Gertrud guard the place where Faolán's remains first reposed. And the particular devotion paid by the saint to his Irish patroness again bears evidence in a small church that tops a hill beside the town, to which the rue Saint-Brigette leads us. Said to have been erected by Faolán and his monks, it has a Celtic cross inserted in the outer wall of the sanctuary, believed to be the altar stone of the original seventh-century church, brought hither from Ireland! Be that as it may, Faolán is certainly responsible for implanting the very lively cult of St Brigid into this part of Belgium - a cult still practised at this ancient place. People gather here to celebrate her Feastday, bringing twigs bound together to form a cros Bríde, as in Ireland. After being blessed, these crosses are hung up in cow-sheds to protect the cattle for another year. Also reminiscent of the charitable aspect of the cult of St Brígid is the large hospital-cum-Old Folks Home beside the church on the hill, superseding, it is said, the original almshouse of the Irish missionaries. The nuns in charge of the hospital also have the keys to the church of Saint-Brigette.

Devotion to St Faolán, fanning out in all directions from Fosses, is marked with churches and chapels in his honour. Since rivers are often destined to be the carriers of man's history, it was the proximity of the river Meuse - Maas in Germanic tongues - that played a part in spreading Faolán's cult and reputation.

...The Meuse Valley's preoccupation with the cult of Faolán affected that of St Brígid. As a protectress of cattle her fame progressed through the land and across the river into the diocese of Cologne. An important Roman road linked Gallia Belgica with the Rhinelands via Maastricht, soon to be complemented by a Carolingian trade-route linking the North Sea port of Brugge with the seat of Charlemagne at Aachen (Aix) and continuing on to Cologne, the famed 'City of Holy Martyrs' - where St Brígid of Ireland, although no martyr, installed herself with a parish of her own in the city's core.

In the cathedral of Aachen, Brígid shares a stained glass window with Faolán, whose own adjacent church, that had served the community since the fifteenth century, has been rebuilt after destruction in World War Two. (The connection between Brígid and Faolán was carried as far as Spain, where their effigies adorn an early church in Navarre).

Roísín Ní Mheara, Early Irish Saints in Europe - Their Sites and their Stories (Seanchas Ard Mhacha, 2001), 70.

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