Tuesday 13 March 2012

The Burial Place of Saint Patrick- Paper 2

" In Burgo Duno tumulo tumulantur in uno
Patritius, Brigida, et Columba pius."

WE have seen in our last paper, that there is very conclusive evidence that St. Patrick was buried, not at Saul or at Armagh, but at Downpatrick. And there is a very ancient and general tradition, that the relics of St. Columcille and of St. Brigid were also enclosed in the same tomb with those of our national apostle. So now we come to examine what historical evidence can be adduced in favour of this wide-spread tradition.

First of all, it is perfectly certain that St. Columba died in his monastery at Iona, about the year 597, in the seventy-seventh year of his age, and that he was buried by his devoted disciples in the monastery where he died. The testimony of his biographer Adamnan, a holy and learned man, with reference to those facts, cannot for a moment be called in question by any competent scholar. His blessed body, rolled up in clean linen, was placed in a busta or ratabusta, according to the common text, and was then buried with all due veneration. Lower down in the same chapter this humatio is described as a sepultio, and in the next section as a sepultura; so that the writer clearly meant that the remains of the saint were enclosed in a coffin, and then buried in the earth ; but he nowhere indicates the exact spot where the grave was made. The word ratabusta is not found in Du Cange, nor anywhere else, so far as we know. It is probably an error of the scribe, who wrote "in ratabusta" for "intra busta," the latter phrase according to its classical usage meaning a grave rather than a coffin. It matters little, indeed, because the meaning is in either case that the body of the saint was buried in an ordinary grave.

Adamnan, however, though so explicit as to the burial, makes no reference to any enshrining, or translation, or disturbance of Columba's relics; so that it is only natural to assume that up to the period when he wrote, Columba's grave was undisturbed. Adamnan became abbot in 679; and the Life of Columba was .certainly written during his tenure of office as abbot; but in all probability not before the year 690. After that period he spent most of his time in Ireland ; whereas certain references to Iona indicate that the life was written during his abbacy in that island.

Now, although Tirechan expressly declares that his Annotations were derived from the oral information, or from the book of Bishop Ultan, who died about 657, we need not assume that they were written during the lifetime of his master, and perhaps not even until many years after his death. Tirechan himself most probably lived on to the end of the seventh century: and he might well have composed his Annotations during the last ten years of his life.

The statement, which he makes, that there was a ''conductio martirum, id est, ossuum Columcille de Britannia," to Downpatrick, appears to be an explanation given by Tirechan himself to identify the "church very near to the sea," as that to which the bones of Columcille were carried from Britain. Bishop Reeves, indeed, thought these words were at first a gloss on Tirechan's text, which was afterwards inserted in the text by the copyist; but even in that case the gloss must have been there before 807, when the Book of Armagh was copied. Our own opinion is, that the words were an explanation, given either by Tirechan or his copyist ; that they cannot have been written before 690; and possibly may have been added by some copyist during the eighth century, but not later. Hence we infer that the bones of Columcille, or some notable portion of them, were actually transferred to Downpatrick at some time during the eighth century; and most probably about the beginning of that century.

But here several difficulties crop up, which it is necessary to explain.

The question occurs at once, if the relics of Columcille were transferred to Downpatrick so early as the beginning of the eighth century, or perhaps even earlier, how are we to explain certain entries in our national annals of a later date? For instance, when the Danes desolated Iona, in 824, we are told by Walafridus Strabo, who probably got his information from one of the companions of the martyred abbot, that when Blathmac refused to surrender the hidden treasure -

" Pretiosa metalla
Beddere cogentes, queis Sanctae Columbae
Ossa jacent, quam quippe suis de sedibus arcaru
Tottentes tumulo terra posuere cavato,
Cespite sub denso, guari jam pestis iniquae ;
Hanc praedam cupiere Dani "-

the saint was most cruelly martyred by the greedy pirates. But how to reconcile this story with an earlier translation to Downpatrick ?

The answer appears to be that a portion of the saint's relics were retained at Iona, when the rest were carried to Downpatrick; that this portion was enshrined, as might have been expected, during the eighth century, in a precious shrine preciosa metalla an expression that could hardly be used of the plain busta, or wooden coffin, in which they were first interred. In other words, it was the shrine of the relics of St. Columba that was hidden away ; a shrine richly adorned, as we know was then the custom, with gold and precious stones, but which at the same time did not contain all the relics of the saint, but only that portion of them preserved at Iona, when the rest were transferred to Downpatrick about the beginning of the eighth, or the close of the seventh century.

It is stated in the Annals of Ulster that some four years later, in A.D. 828, " Diarmait, Abbot of Ia, went to Alba with the reliquaries of Columcille." This seems to imply that they were carried from Ireland, to which they had been brought in 824, back again to Alba, or Scotland, by the newly-elected Abbot of Iona. Now the word Minna, which is used by the annalist, so far as we know, is not applied to designate the corporeal relics of a saint ; but it usually designates what may be called the extrinsic relics of the saint; that is, things intimately connected with him during life, but at the same time quite distinct from his bones or ashes. The late learned Bishop Reeves adopted this view as to the meaning of the word minna, as used in the Annals; and if this be true, the conveyance of the minna of Columcille from Erin to Alba and back again, more than once, does not mean that his blessed bones, or any part of them the "martira" of the saint were taken from Downpatrick, but that certain extrinsic relics of Columba his bell, his psaltery, his cowl, or his staff, it may be were carried hither and thither by the abbots of Iona. We venture to think that this is the true view of the various translations of the minna of St. Columba reported in the Annals; and it will go far to reconcile the apparently conflicting statements of Tirechan and of the writers who come after him.

All these subsequent writers of the Annals are, in our opinion, to be understood in the same sense. For example, in A.D. 830, the minna of Columcille were again brought back to Ireland; and once more, in 848, the minna of the saint were carried to Ireland, which shows that they must have returned to Iona in the meantime. Again, in 877, the "shrine of Columcille, with all his minna, arrived in Ireland to escape the foreigners." In all these cases we have reference to a scrin, or shrine, of the saint, containing, it may be, some small portion of the relics of his sacred body ; but it is quite evident that its chief contents were the minna, which according to the usage of the Annals must not be understood as martra, or martira in Latin, that is corporeal relics, but rather of extrinsic relics connected with the saint during life, of the character which we have already explained. It is quite obvious that all those translations of the minna of Columcille would, in that case, be quite compatible with the quiet rest of his corporeal relics in Downpatrick.

With regard to St. Brigid's remains, there is somewhat more doubt and uncertainty. That she was at first interred in her own church at Kildare, on the left-hand side of the high altar, is beyond question. This is expressly stated in her Life by Cogitosus. He declares that in that church "the glorious bodies of both, that is, of Bishop Conleath and of this virgin Saint Brigid, repose on the right and left hand of the decorated altar, placed within tombs richly adorned with various decorations of gold and silver, and gems and precious stones, with crowns of gold and silver pendant from above." As this passage is very important, and has in our opinion been greatly misunderstood, we have translated it literally, and subjoin the Latin text in the note.

From this passage Petrie makes a very strange deduction. He assumes that the "monuments" which are here described were shrines, in which the bodies of the saints, or rather their relics, were enshrined according to the custom that certainly became very general during the course of the eighth century. And as the Annals of Ulster, under date of A.D. 799, tell us that the relics of St. Conlaeth were placed in a shrine (scrin) in that year, he infers that the Life of Brigid, by Cogitosus, must have been written after that year, but before 835 ; when, as we know from the same Annals of Ulster, Kildare was plundered by Gentiles from Inver-Dea, and half the church burned. It is clear that the beautiful tombs would not be left intact in that raid, if they existed at the time.

But "monumenta" are not shrines at all. The word, both in classical and mediaeval Latin, when used in this connection, means a tomb, monument, or grave, in which the dead were buried. On the other hand, the shrine or scrinium, or scrin, as it is called in Irish, was a small and highly ornamental metal case for containing the relics or some memorial of a saint, of which we have several examples still existing. But they cannot with propriety be called "monumenta," and we do not recollect that the word has ever been applied to any of them. Then, again, Cogitosus describes the bodies of the saints as resting within the monuments ; whereas whenever there is question of enshrining the word always used is relics; that is, reliquiae in Latin, and matra (a loan word) in the Irish, to express corporeal relics.

In our opinion, therefore, Cogitosus in this passage describes the tombs in which the saints were buried where, as he says, their bodies reposed in his time; whence we infer that he must have written before any enshrining took place, and therefore in all probability long before the enshrining of St. Conlaeth's relics in 799, as described in the Ulster Annals. It is much more likely that Cogitosus died, as Dr. Graves thinks, about the year A.D. 670, or perhaps somewhat later. It is certain, however, that in his time the body of St. Brigid was reposing in a splendid monument within her own church at Kildare.

But the next, that is the eighth century, was the great period for enshrining the relics of the saints, We find no less than twelve instances expressly recorded in the Annals during that century. Doubtless, there would be great reluctance to disturb the bodies of the two saints that lay within their splendid tombs on either side of the high altar of the great Church of Kildare tombs at which wonderful miracles frequently took place "quas nos virtutes non solum audivimus, sed etiam oculis nostris vidimus" says Cogitosus, speaking of his own time.

That reluctance, however, would be overcome at the approach of the Danes. They had been hovering round the Irish coasts for some years. Rechra was burned by the Gentiles in 794; Sci was pillaged and wasted in the same year; Inis-Patraic was burned in 797; the shrine of Dachonna was also broken by them (the Gentiles), and they committed other great devastations both in Erin and in Alba. It was high time, therefore, to put the relics of St. Brigid and St. Conlaeth, as well as the gold, and silver, and precious stones, which adorned their tombs in a more portable form, to save them from the plunderers. So we are told that in 799 " the relics of Conlaeth were placed in a shrine of gold and silver." But, strange to say, there is no reference here to the enshrining of the relics of St. Brigid. Surely they did not leave her body in the tomb, when they took up and for greater security enshrined the remains of her companion saint in a shrine of gold and silver.

We think the only probable explanation of this omission is the fact that the relics of St. Brigid must at that time, or perhaps a very short time previously, have been taken up from the grave and carried for greater security to Downpatrick. At this time, as we know, Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille, were recognised as the national patrons of the Irish Church, and of the Irish people. The remains of Patrick and Columcille were already reposing together in Downpatrick what more natural than that, if they were to be disturbed at all, the remains of the third great patron of Ireland should also be carried thither to repose in the same grave. This, however, would be done as quietly as possible, not only for fear of the Danes, but also for fear of the people, who certainly would not readily permit the transfer. So we have no reference to the date of this translation in our annals, as it was not a public fact ; but afterwards we find it expressly stated by those who must have known that it was true.

The principal authority for this translation to Downpatrick is the author of the Fourth Life of St. Brigid, as published by Colgan. Colgan himself attributes the authorship of the Life to a certain Animchad, Latinized Animosus, who appears to have been first a monk and afterwards Bishop of Kildare, and whose death is assigned in the Chronicon Scotorum to the year A.D. 979. The author of the Life was manifestly, as may be gathered from his prologue, a monk of Kildare, and therefore must have been well acquainted with the tradition of the translation of the saint's relics then current amongst his community.

In one passage of this Life it is expressly stated that St. Patrick was buried in Down, and that St. Brigid also, and the relics of the Blessed Columcille were many years afterwards placed in the same tomb. This passage, however, is suspiciously like an interpolation in the text of Animosus, and as such has been printed between brackets in the Fourth Life of St. Brigid. But in the same chapter there is given an alleged prediction of St. Brigid that she herself with Patrick and Columcille would arise from the same tomb on the day of judgment ; which proves that at the time of the writer, the bodies of those three saints were supposed to be within the same tomb in Downpatrick. The evidence, indeed, is not quite satisfactory; but still it goes far to show the existence of this belief in Kildare so early as the middle of the tenth century.

It will be observed that we place the translation of the remains, both of Brigid and Columcille, to Downpatrick at an earlier date than that commonly assigned. However, we have given our reasons, which will doubtless be estimated at their proper value. There is one fact which goes far to show that the remains of St. Brigid were not transferred to Downpatrick until a somewhat later period. It is this, that we find the same ecclesiastic, Ceallach, son of Ailill, was abbot both of Iona and Kildare at the very time that the ravages of the Danes were most severely felt at Kildare. What more natural than that this eminent man should transfer the holy remains to Downpatrick, a place of comparative security, where, as he well knew, the remains of the great apostle of the Picts had already been transferred? There is much plausibility in this view ; and the only thing that makes us hesitate to accept it is, that there is no mention of the enshrining of St. Brigid's relics in 799, when the relics of St. Conleath were certainly enshrined. This, in our opinion, goes far to show that the remains of St. Brigid had been already carried elsewhere, although for prudential reasons their destination was not made public at the time.

This brings us to the alleged invention and translation of the relics of our three great national patrons towards the close of the twelfth century.

It is remarkable that our native annalists make no reference to this discovery of the relics of the three saints in Downpatrick. The Four Masters, for instance, although careful to give an account of the visit of Cardinal Papiron, in 1151, and the Synod over which he presided in 1152, and also of Cardinal Vivian's visit in 1177, make no reference at all to the visit of Cardinal Vivian in 1186. Gerald Barry, however, a contemporary writer, and at that very time in Ireland with Prince John, expressly declares that the bodies of the three saints, Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille, were found in his time in the city of Down in the very year that Prince John first came to Ireland hidden, as it were, in a triple hole or cave Patrick lying in the middle, with the other two on either side. Thereupon, under the direction of John de Courcy, then ruling in Ulster, these three noble treasures were by a divine revelation made known and translated.

Cardinal Vivian came to Ireland as Papal Legate in the beginning of the year 1177, and met John De Courcy in Down. He afterwards held a Synod in Dublin, on the 13th of March, the first Sunday of Lent, to which the Four Masters refer; but the Masters make no subsequent reference to his reappearance in Ireland in 1186 ; nor does any other Irish annalist so far as we are aware. This invention and translation of the relics of the three saints is narrated in minute detail by several modern writers. It is, however, greatly to be regretted that the contemporary evidence is very unsatisfactory as to these circumstantial details. Usher quotes John Brompton, Ralph of Chester, and others ; but these were English and later writers, who knew very little about Ireland. Gerald Barry's testimony as to the substantial fact is most valuable ; but he gives no details ; and the verses usually given as quoted by him are not found in the best MSS. of the Topographia; that is:

" In Burgo Duno tumulo tumulantur in uno
Brigida, Patritius, atque Columba pius."

Messingham, who has collected so many other important documents in his Florilegium gives us also the Lessons for the Feast of this Invention and Translation, which was first celebrated on the 9th of June, 1186. They furnish, perhaps, the weightiest evidence in favour of the truth of the details connected with this remarkable event. Here is the substance of these historical Lessons :

" It is said [fertur] that at the time of the conquest of Ireland by the English, there was a certain Malachias, a man of great merit, and of holy life and conversation, who was Bishop of Down, where the bodies of the aforesaid saints were buried. This bishop being instant in prayer, almost daily besought the Lord that He would deign to make known to him, in His own time, where that precious treasure, the relics of the aforesaid saints, was hidden. One night whilst he was thus most earnestly praying in the Church of Down, he saw as it were a ray of sunlight beaming through the church up to the place of burial of the bodies of the aforesaid saint. The bishop, greatly rejoicing in this vision, prayed still more earnestly that the ray of light might not depart until he should find the hidden relics. Thereupon rising up he took quickly the necessary tools, and going to that bright spot he dug there until he found the bones of the three aforesaid bodies. Then on the spot where the light was shining he enclosed the bones separately in wooden shells [illa in tabbulis separatim inserebat] and thus enclosed [tabulata] replaced them under ground in the same spot."

Then the Bishop narrates his vision to John de Courcy, the Conqueror of Ulster, "a man much given to the service of God," by whose advice and assistance supplication was made to the Pope for the translation of the relics. The Pope graciously assented, and sent over John a Cardinal Priest, under the title of St. Stephen on the Caelian Mount, as Apostolic Legate in Ireland, who, on the 9th day of June, with all due reverence and devotion, transferred the holy relics from the spot in which they were laid by Malachias, the Bishop, to an honourable place, specially prepared for them in the church. There were present at this translation, besides the Legate, fifteen bishops, with very many abbots, provosts, deans, archdeacons, priors, and other orthodox men, who, in solemn assembly, decreed that the festival of this Translation was thenceforward to be observed on the 9th of June, the feast of St. Columba, which latter was to be transferred to the day after the octave of the Feast of the Translation.

It has been frequently insinuated that this invention and translation was a political device, arranged by John de Courcy and the bishop, to reconcile the Ultonians to the conquest, by giving it a kind of heavenly sanction in their eyes. But John de Courcy was not a schemer; and the Bishop Malachias was a native Irishman, who was no friend of the conquest or the conquerors. Indeed if the bishop were an Anglo-Norman the entire business would look very suspicious; but, as it stands, the narrative is entirely trustworthy, for the revelation is made to this Celtic bishop, and as we Catholics know often happened before, in answer to humble and fervent prayer.

It has been said also that if the remains of Columba and St. Brigid were carried to Down in the eighth or ninth century, and were enclosed in the grave of St. Patrick, a spot so sacred could not be utterly forgotten even by the clergy of the Church. There is an obvious answer to this that during the depredations of the Danes, the churches .were burnt, sometimes frequently burned to ashes, and the clergy were often all slaughtered. What grave of our early saints is known outside the Aran Islands ? Hardly a single one. The same motive, too, that led to bringing the remains to Down would lead to the place where they were buried being kept a profound secret, except from a very few. Thus, in the course of generations, the knowledge of the place might be utterly lost, although it was well known that the sacred remains were hidden somewhere within the Church of Down. Similar events have led, even in more recent times, to the same uncertainty as of old. Although the relics of St. Patrick, Brigid, and Columba were then buried in Down, no one now can tell the exact spot where these holy relics repose.

There is, indeed, in the cemetery attached to the Protestant Cathedral, or the abbey, as it is still called by the people, an ancient grave, which is commonly reputed to be the grave of St. Patrick. It is now hollowed out by the excavations of pious Catholics, who, when about to emigrate, always carry away with them a small portion of "the clay from St. Patrick's grave." It is said that over this grave there was formerly erected a granite cross to mark the sacred spot, but it was carried off and broken in pieces by certain bigots amongst the Orangemen of Downpatrick, who afterwards, as might be expected, all came to a bad end. No one can regret if St. Patrick showed his power on men like these. This grave, however, could not have been the original grave of St. Patrick, nor that into which the remains of the Trias Thaumaturga were enclosed in 1186; for in both cases, the grave was within the cathedral, and no church ever stood over the present grave.

But a certain writer in the Ulster Examiner, under date of Feb. 9th, 1870, declared that, thirty years before, a man of the name of Millar told him that he remembered the time when the cathedral was restored (in 1790) ; that three stone coffins were discovered near the high altar; that these holy remains, supposed to be those of the three saints, were transferred to a new grave in the churchyard, and to mark the spot an ancient market cross was carried there and placed over the grave that very cross, we must assume, that was afterwards broken to pieces by the Orangemen. It is a point that deserves further investigation, which we must leave to the zeal of the local antiquarians.


IER, Vol 15, (1894), 203-215

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment