Wednesday 12 October 2016

Kells, Saint Colum Cille and the Prophecy of Bec Mac Dé

October 12 is the commemoration of Saint Bec Mac Dé, an Irish saint, who like Saint Colum Cille, was renowned for his gift of prophecy. Last year we looked at the part played by both prophecy and by Saint Colum Cille at the time of the death of Saint Bec, the post can be read here. Now we look at another prophetic encounter between the two in which Bec comes down on the side of the Church regarding the County Meath site of Kells. It is a commonplace of hagiography to depict a saint being treated disrespectfully by a ruler, only for the king to get his comeuppance. Modern scholars see these episodes as the hagiographer's way of alluding to what were in reality rather more complex encounters between secular and spiritual authorities. Needless to say, when it comes to the claims of Colum Cille and those of King Diarmaid over this place, there can be only one winner...

98. After that Columcille went to the place that is called Kells today, that was the stead of the King of Erin in that time, to wit, Diarmaid mac Cerbaill. And Columcille was kept without the door of the palace in front of that place. Then did Columcille betake him to making prophecies touching that stead, and he said it would not be for long that the household therewithin should hold it. And there chanced to come upon him Bec mac De, the which was druid to Diarmaid mac Cerbaill, and a good prophet. Columcille said to him : "Bec mac De, make a prophecy touching this place. How shall it be? Shall it be kings or clerics that shall dwell therein?" ''Of a sooth it shall be clerics," saith Bec, ''henceforward; and thou shalt be head of those clerics, and never again! shall it be the place of a king." The King was not there at that time. He came thither after, and he gave the whole place to Columcille as compensation, because he had been kept outside, and Aed Slaine son of Diarmaid consented thereto.