Tuesday 9 September 2014

Alto et ineffabile: Saint Colum Cille in praise of Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise

September 9 is the feast of Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise.   Below is the text of a Latin hymn in his honour, attributed to Saint Colum Cille, and translated by Peter Davidson:

Latin Text

Hymnus S. Columbae in Laudem S. Ciarani.

Alto et ineffabile apostolorum coeti
celestis Hierusolimae sublimioris speculi
sedente tribunalibus solis modo micantibus
Quiaranus sanctus sacerdos insignis nuntius

Inaltatus est manibus angelorum celestibus
Consummatis felicibus sanctitatum generibus
quem tu Christe apostolum mundo misisti hominem
gloriosum in omnibus nouissimis temporibus

English Translation

Born of the soaring apostolic company
(glass of Jerusalem exalted ineffably)
raised on thrones as sunlight lustrous,
came Ciaran, priest and messenger glorious;

Borne to the sky by angel infantry
Fulfilling thus his folded family,
Christ’s herald, shining apostle of grace
Sent to Ireland in these last, sad days.

Peter Davidson, ‘The hymn of saint Columba in praise of saint Ciaran: an English translation’ in M.Richter and J-M. Picard, eds., Ogma – Essays in honour of Próinséas Ní Chatháin (Dublin, 2002), 320.

The hymn Alto et ineffabile is published as number 27 in the Irish Liber Hymnorum and the editors offer this introduction to it:

The Hymn Alto et ineffabili.

In the Life of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise (c. 26), as quoted by Colgan, we read: "Unus ex praecipuis Hiberniae est et merito numeratur Apostolis iuxta quod de ipso cecinit eius condiscipulus et coapostolus sanctissimus Columba in hymno quodam quem in eius composuit laudem dicens:

Quantum Christe O apostolum mundo misisti hominem
Lucerna huius insulae lucens lucerna mirabilis, etc."'

The first line of this couplet is almost identical with line 8 of the piece Alto et ineffabili, which suggests that this may be the hymn in question. It is mentioned again in the manuscript (wrongly) called the Book of Kilkenny in Marsh's Library at Dublin, where at fol. 148aa we read: " Et fecit sanctus Columba ympnum sancto Kiarano," a hymn which Ciaran's successor at Clonmacnoise called clarus et laudabilis. Columba, the story goes, asked in return for some earth from St. Ciaran's grave, with which he calmed the stormy water on his way back to Iona.'

This St. Ciaran, who is to be carefully distinguished from St. Ciaran of Saighir, was the founder of the great monastery of Clonmacnoise, and in its Annals the year of his death is given as 547. He is counted one of "the twelve Apostles of Ireland," and in the Martyrology of Donegal at Septr. 9) he is compared to the Apostle St. John. He was known in his life time as Ciaran mac an t-saor, or "Son of the Carpenter"; and was a friend of St. Kevin, as of St. Columba. His memory still survives in the place called " Temple Kieran," about four miles from Navan. In Cornwall the name of Ciaran (of Saighir) has become corrupted to Piran, to whom there were many churches dedicated.

J.H. Bernard and R Atkinson (eds.) The Irish Liber Hymnorum Vol 2, Translations and Notes (London, 1898), 218-220.

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