Thursday 22 March 2018

The Bachall Ísu at the Founding of Armagh

Although in recent days we have been looking at the Bachall Ísu in relation to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, it was once the prized possession of the Chuch of Armagh. The following vignette, taken from the Leabhar Breac Homily on Saint Patrick, depicts the Bachall Ísu as being present when Saint Patrick founded Armagh itself:
On the night thereafter Patrick beheld in a vision Victor, an angel, coming to him with Ireland’s elders along with him, and they marked out the city in his presence, and the place of the temple and of the kitchen and of the guest-house. And he went right -hand- wise round the rampart, and Patrick behind him with his Bachall Ísu— Jesu’s Staff — in his hand, and Ireland’s elders a-chanting around him.

Patrick afterwards built the city in the same wise as it had been shown to him. And the angel said to him: “Abundant will God’s grace be in this place and upon every one who shall do good therein.” The angel said to Patrick, “ God will heal for thee here twelve persons every Saturday and seven every Thursday, so long as the perfect faith of the menfolk abideth.” Overmany to recount and declare are all the wonders and miracles which Patrick wrought round about Armagh.
Whitley Stokes, ed. and trans., The Tripartite Life of Patrick with Other Documents Relating to that Saint, Vol. II (London, 1887), 474-475.

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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Did the Staff of Jesus Survive?

Yesterday we looked at the sources suggesting that the Bachall Isú, the Staff of Jesus had been publicly burnt in Dublin during the Reformation. However, there are other sources which leave open the possibility that it may have survived and it to these that we now turn. Scholar Sarah Erskine has made a special study of the Bachall Ísu and at the conclusion of one of her papers quotes some interesting observations from  Reformation scholar Raymond Gillespie:
Bachall Isú itself was reputedly burnt in Dublin in a public display presided by the Protestant archbishop George Browne in 1538, in a period of "state-sponsored iconoclasm". However, Raymond Gillespie reckons that Bachall Isú may have passed into lay hands, since the Dublin apothecary reported in 1561 that "men were going about the countryside 'with the bachal of Jesus as they call it' and using it to assist women in labour." During a time when clerical control on the use of relics in general was tightening up, the 1686 'statutes of Meath' stated that no one should be observed carrying Patrick's staff. 
R. Gillespie, Devoted People, Belief and Religion in Early Modern Ireland (Manchester, 1997), p.161 quoted in S. C. Erskine, St Patrick's Bachall Ísu: Its Origins, Tradition, and Rise to Prominence as Armagh's Premier Relic in Eolas: The Journal of the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies, Vol. 6 (2013), pp. 41-67 at p.67.

I think that these sources certainly open up the possibility of the relic's survival, but on the other hand, it struck me that the post-1538 staff is being employed in the countryside where perhaps the knowledge of its destruction in the urban centre of Dublin was less well-known. Or was another medieval crozier later co-opted as the Bachall Isú since the original could no longer be produced by Christ Church Cathedral to contradict the claims?  I suppose we will never know for sure.

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Tuesday 20 March 2018

The Burning of the Staff of Jesus

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Yesterday we looked at some of the references to the Staff of Jesus (Baculus Jesu) in the Irish Annals, as compiled by James Henthorn Todd in his introduction to the1844 publication of The Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Dublin. This cathedral, we have already noted, was the home of the Staff following its removal from Armagh in the late twelfth century. As Todd remarked himself of the historical references he provided:
"These examples are sufficient to prove the high veneration in which this relic was held, up to the period of the Reformation, when it was publicly burned, A. D. 1538, as an instrument of superstition." 
So we will allow Todd to continue his account of this next and supposedly final chapter in the history of Saint Patrick's Staff of Jesus:
This event is thus recorded by Sir James Ware in his Annals of the Reign of King Henry VIII. p. 99: "Also, about the same time, among the famous images whereunto pilgrimages were designed, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was burned, then kept at Trim in the Abbey of the Canons Regular, and the gifts of the pilgrims were taken away from thence. The image of Christ crucified, in the Abbey of Ballibogan and St. Patrick's Staff, in the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity at Dublin which William, the son of Adeline, brought from Ardmagh and gave it as a gift to that church in the year 1180, underwent the like fate."  
A valuable manuscript volume of Annals preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, gives the following curious account of this destruction of images and of the staff of Patrick at the year 1538: 
"The most miraculous image of Mary which was at Baile Atha Trium, and which the Irish people all honoured for a long time before that, which used to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and every disease in like manner, was burned by the Saxons. And the Staff of Jesus, which was in Dublin, and which wrought many wonders and miracles in Ireland since the time of Patrick down to that time, and which was in the hand of Christ himself, was burned by the Saxons in like manner. And not only that, but there was not a holy cross, nor an image of Mary, nor other celebrated image in Ireland over which their power had reached, that they did not burn. Nor was there one of the seven orders which came under their power that they did not ruin. And the Pope, and the Church in the East, and at home, was excommunicating the Saxons on that account, and they not paying any heed or attention unto that, &c And I am not certain whether it was not in the above year that these relics were burned."  
The Four Masters have also recorded the burning of the Baculus Jesu, in the following passage, which is here quoted at length, as a curious specimen of the light in which the Reformation was regarded by a native Irish writer of the reign of Charles the First: 
"A.D. 1537. A heresy and a new error broke out in England, the effects of pride, vain-glory, avarice, sensual desire, and the prevalence of a variety of scientific and philosophical speculations, so that the people of England went into opposition to the Pope and to Rome. At the same time they followed a variety of opinions, and the old Law of Moses, after the manner of the Jewish people, and they gave the title of head of the Church of God, during his reign, to the king. There were enacted by the king and council new laws and statutes after their own will. They ruined the orders who were permitted to hold worldly possessions, viz., monks, canons, nuns, and brethren of the Cross; and the four mendicant orders, viz., the Minor order, the Preachers, Carmelites, and Augustinians. The possessions and livings of all these were taken up for the king. They broke the monasteries. They sold their roofs and bells, so that there was not a monastery from Arann of the Saints to the Iccian Sea, that was not broken and shattered, except only a few in Ireland, which escaped the notice and attention of the English. They further burned and broke the famous images, shrines, and relics of Ireland and England. After that they burned in like manner the celebrated image of Mary, which was at Ath-Truim, which used to perform wonders and miracles, which used to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the sufferers from all diseases ; and the Staff of Jesus which was in Dublin, performing miracles from the time of Patrick down to that time, and which was in the hand of Christ while he was among men. They also made archbishops and sub-bishops for themselves; and although great was the persecution of the Roman Emperors against the Church, it is not probable that so great a persecution as this ever came, even from Rome hither. So that it is impossible to tell or narrate its description, unless it should be told by him who saw it." 
This sounds like the end of the road for the Staff of Jesus, but as we shall see in the next post, there just may be a chance that the relic survived.

 J. C. Crosthwaite, ed. The Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Commonly called Christ Church, Dublin (Dublin, 1844), xvi-xviii.

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Monday 19 March 2018

The Staff of Jesus in the Irish Annals

Yesterday we looked at the account of The Staff of Jesus (Irish Bachall Ísu, Latin Baculus Jesu) by Archbishop John Healy in which he quoted the various manuscript Lives of Saint Patrick collated by Father John Colgan in the seventeenth century. Hagiography, however, is not the only source to feature this relic as the Irish Annals also make mention of it. These references have been usefully collected by the Irish Anglican church historian, James Henthorn Todd (1805-1869),  in his introduction to the Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Dublin. This church, more commonly known as Christ Church, was the home of The Staff of Jesus after its 'translation' from Armagh in the late twelfth century until its reputed destruction during the Reformation, but that event deserves a post of its own.  For now, we can see how the Irish Annals made reference to this famous Patrician relic, with apologies that I cannot easily reproduce the beautiful Irish font the book uses for the original Irish text:
Two obscure notices of the Baculus are to be found in the Annals of Tighernach. The first of these is entered under the year 1027, ... which Dr. O'Conor renders: "Baculum Jesu sacrilege raptum" And in the year 1030, we have a record of another similar act of sacrilege: "The Baculus Jesu was profaned in a matter relating to three horses, and the profaner was killed three days after." 
Todd adds an explantory footnote to these references to 'sacrilege', challenging O'Conor's assumption that the original Irish suggests sacriligious theft. He argues that a reference in the Annals of the Four Masters which uses the same Irish word does not necessarily mean theft but rather to :
...profane a church by any act of violence, such as shedding human blood within it, or taking out of it one who had fled there for sanctuary. See Annal. IV. Mag, anno 1224, where we read: Seachnasach, son of Giolla na naomh O'Shaughnessy, was slain by the Clann Cuilen [Mac Namaras], and the Bachall mor [large crozier] of St. Colman of Kilmacduagh was profaned by the deed." Hence, when the word is applied to such relics as the Baculus Jesu, it implies that the vow made before them, or the covenant entered into in their presence, was broken or violated, or that they were treated with some indignity. The words of Tighernach are extremely obscure. In the second instance, especially, it does not appear what was done to the horses: they may have been stolen from some place which was sacred in consequence of the presence of the baculus, or from the keeper of the baculus, whose property was considered sacred; or else, perhaps, some contract relating to three horses, which was made in presence of the baculus, was violated.
Todd then goes on to quote some references from the Annals of the Four Masters which also illustrate the use of the famous relic as one of the sacred objects on which oaths were sworn:
In the Annals of the Four Masters, at the year 1080, there is the following mention of this relic: "A hostile expedition undertaken by Torlogh O'Brian to Dublin, and to Meath, when Maoileachlan came into his tent, with the baculus Jesu, and with the successor of Patrick, and with the clergy of Munster." Again in the same Annals, at the year 1143, the Baculus Jesu is mentioned, amongst other relics, as having been called in to witness a treaty of peace between two chieftains. The words of the annalist are as follows: "'Muiredhach O'Dubhthaigh, the Archbishop [of Tuam], the Lord of Connaght, and his chieftains, the successor of Patrick, and the baculus Jesu, the successor of Fechin [i. e. the Abbot of Fore], and the bell of Fechin, and the Boban of Caoimhgin [Kevin], all these were pledges between Tordhelbhach [O'Conor, King of Connaght] and Murchadh [O'Maoleachlainn, King of Meath] &c." 
Finally,  Todd cites some interesting historical snippets from English sources, including one use of the relic just less than a decade before its reputed destruction in 1538:
In Anglo-Irish history also, the staff of Patrick is frequently mentioned. Thus, Campion in his "Historie of Ireland," makes O'Kelly, AD. 1316, swear by St. Patrick's staff, in his attempt to seduce one of Sir Richard Birmingham's followers from his allegiance: "But come and serve me at my request, and I promise thee by St. Patrick's staffe, to make thee a lord in Connaght, of more ground than thy master hath in Ireland." In the bag marked "Ireland," in the Chapter-house, Westminster Abbey, there is a paper, No. 53, containing "an examination of Sir Gerald Mackshayne, Knight," sworn 19th March, 1529, "upon the Holie Masebooke, and the great relike of Erlonde, called Baculum Christi, in presence of the Kynges Deputie, Chancellour, Tresoror, and Justice." 
We will explore the destruction of the relic in tomorrow's post.

 J. C. Crosthwaite, ed. The Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Commonly called Christ Church, Dublin (Dublin, 1844), xiv-xv. 

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Sunday 18 March 2018

Saint Patrick and the Staff of Jesus

We begin an octave of posts in honour of the Feast of Saint Patrick with a look at one of the most famous of the relics associated with our national apostle, the Bachall Ísu (Íosa), or Staff of Jesus. Over the coming days we will examine the traditions surrounding this fascinating artefact, sadly now no longer extant, and to look at what modern scholarship has to say. We can begin with an account by Archbishop John Healy (1841-1918), taken from his monumental 1905 work, The Life and Writings of Saint Patrick. He devoted Appendix V to a discussion of The Relics of Saint Patrick. The written traditions on the Bachall Ísu were collected by the great seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, from manuscripts preserved mostly in continental Europe. The Lives of Patrick as Colgan catalogued them are discussed by Archbishop Healy in the Introduction to his book and here in Appendix V he also gives us a useful introduction to the classification of relics:


We use the word 'Relics' here in its widest sense to include all those things that are specially worthy of veneration on account of their intimate connection with our National Apostle. They are of two classes, (i) the martra, or corporeal relics of the Saint ; and (2) the minna or extrinsic relics which are worthy of veneration because they were the personal implements used by the Saint in discharge of his duties, and hence came to be regarded as the insignia or symbols of his high office as the Head of the Irish Church. Hence, also, these holy minna, sanctified by the use of the Saint, came to be held in the highest veneration, and, as the sacred symbols of the primatial office, were regarded as indispensable for the exercise of the primatial functions. The prelate who had the minna of St. Patrick in this way came to be regarded as the true comarb of Patrick; without them no one was regarded as his lawful successor. The most venerable of the minna of St. Patrick, from this point of view, was the Staff of Jesus.

 1. — The Staff of Jesus, or Bachall-Iosa. The early history of this most venerable relic has been admirably summed up by Colgan in a special dissertation on the subject. It is not long, but it is clear and accurate so far as it goes. 

Following the chronological order, the earliest writer who refers to the Staff of Jesus is probably the author of the Third Life. He merely states that Patrick ' having set out on his journey to Rome went to a certain hermit, who dwelt in a certain place ; from him Patrick received the Staff, which had been in the hand of Jesus Christ, our Lord, that under its guidance or companionship he might be prosperous in his (missionary) journey, and the Staff remains to this day in the City of Armagh, and is called the Baculus Jesu, or Staff of Jesus.' 

It will be noticed that the writer here does not determine in any way the place where the person from whom Patrick received the Staff dwelt, beyond saying that he was a hermit dwelling in a certain place.

The Fourth Life goes further, and says that Patrick on his voyage through the Tyrrhene Sea ' received the Staff of Jesus from a certain youth who dwelt in a certain island, and there had given hospitality to Jesus Christ. ' It adds, however, that the Lord spoke to Patrick on the mountain, and commanded him to come to Ireland. The 'island' and the 'youth' are not determined; but the statement of a special command given to Patrick by our Lord himself is strikingly borne out by his own words in the Confession, where he says that Christ the Lord commanded him to come to Ireland and spend the rest of his life with his converts in that country.

Jocelyn amplifies these brief accounts, — saying that the hermit or solitary was one Justus in name and indeed, that he gave to Patrick the Staff which the Lord Jesus, who had appeared to him, held in His own hand, and ordered to be given to Patrick as soon as he came to the island. There were other solitaries also, he adds, in the island, some young and some old, but all dwelling apart; the younger hermits told Patrick that they used to give hospitality to all comers, and on one occasion they gave it to a Person who had the Staff in His hand, and this Person said, after partaking of their hospitality, " I am Jesus Christ, whose members you have been ministering to, even as now you have done to Myself" — thereupon He gave the Staff which He held in His hand to their superior, with instructions to give it to a certain stranger called Patrick who would come there in later times. — Having thus spoken He ascended into Heaven, but He left to them of that generation the gift of perpetual youth in reward of their charity; whilst the peaceful old men whom Patrick saw were their children, who did not enjoy the same privilege. So Patrick took the Staff from the Elder, and having remained for some days with the holy solitaries bade them farewell and went on his way rejoicing.

 It will be observed here that there is no question of a personal appearance of our Saviour to Patrick, nor any special mandate given to him to preach the gospel in Ireland.

But the Tripartite gives a fuller, and perhaps, more satisfactory, explanation than any of the other Lives. According to this venerable authority Patrick on his voyage through the Tyrrhene Sea came to a certain island, and found there a new house, in which a young married couple dwelt, but he saw also an old woman scarcely able to crawl along the ground. The young man then informed him that long ago when exercising hospitality they had received Jesus Christ Himself as their guest, that He, in return for their charity, gave them and their house a blessing, which preserved both from decay, but that the blessing was not given to their children, who were not then born. In consequence the children grew old in the ordinary way, and the old crone whom he saw was the granddaughter of the speaker, that is the daughter of his daughter, who was a still older and more decrepit woman.

The Staff which our Saviour held in His hands He then gave to the young man. His host, with instructions to keep it safely for a certain stranger who would thereafter visit them, and was the destined apostle of Ireland. And so he offered the Staff to Patrick. But Patrick said, "No, I will not take it except the Lord Himself confirms this donation as His own." He then spent three days with them, and thereafter he came to the mountain called Hermon, where the Lord himself condescended to appear to him, and commanded him to preach the Gospel to the Irish people, and at the same time gave him the staff, which is ' now everywhere called the Staff of Jesus,' to be his stay in weakness, and his defence in adversity. Then follows a long catalogue of all the wonders which Patrick had accomplished during his missionary career by the instrumentality of the Staff of Jesus. So far the Lives.

Now, it appears to us the one strong point in this narrative — for it is substantially one narrative — is that the Special Mission from Jesus Christ referred to as given to Patrick, directly or indirectly, is confirmed by his own language in the Confession, for that language undoubtedly implies an immediate supernatural mission from his Divine Master. He who admits this will have little difficulty in admitting that our Lord would at the same time, and naturally, as it were, give him a Crozier to be a proof of that mission, for the Crozier is the symbol of episcopal authority ; and if the mission was thus extraordinary and supernatural we might naturally expect that the Crozier too would be given in a supernatural way. Such, at least, was the belief in Ireland down to the time of Henry VIII. , for all the authorities admit that the Staff was held in the highest veneration, and all without exception call it the Staff of Jesus — many of them, too, explaining the origin of the name.

St. Bernard first of all calls especial attention to the Crozier, gold-covered and adorned with most precious gems, which Nigellus the pseudo-primate carried off with him from Armagh, and along with the Book of Patrick exhibited as undoubted proofs of his own claim to the primacy. " For," he adds, "the foolish people thought that he who possessed these venerable relics was indeed the true successor of St, Patrick." 

Gerald Barry, too, refers to the Staff of Jesus as the most famous and wonder-working Crozier in all Ireland. It was by it, he says, that St. Patrick is said to have driven all venomous reptiles from the island; and, although its origin is doubtful, its virtue is undoubted (certissima). ' In our times, and by our people, this celebrated treasure has been taken away from Armagh and brought to Dublin.'  There for more than 300 years it was preserved and venerated as of old in Armagh. It was kept in the Cathedral of Christ Church until George Browne, the apostate friar and first Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, had it forcibly taken from the Cathedral and publicly burned in High Street, to the great horror and indignation of all the people.

Most Rev. J. Healy, The Life and Writings of St. Patrick, (Dublin, 1905), Appendix V, 633-636.

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Saturday 17 March 2018

Saint Patrick: 'He always gave till he had no more to bestow'

To celebrate the feast of Saint Patrick below is a brief account of his life and career by the Irish-American Church historian, John Gilmary Shea (1824-1892). He presents the Irish Apostle as an example of the perfect Christian, a man whose commitment and fidelity to God led him to convert Ireland and establish it as the insula sanctorum:
He not only converted the whole country by his preaching and wonderful miracles, but also cultivated this vineyard with so fruitful a benediction and increase from heaven, as to render Ireland a most flourishing garden in the church of God, and a country of saints.
Beannachtaí na Féile oraibh!



Bishop, Confessor and Apostle of Ireland.

If the virtue of children reflects an honor on their parents, much more justly is the name of St. Patrick rendered illustrious by the innumerable lights of sanctity with which the church of Ireland, planted by his labours in the most remote corner of the then known world, shone during many ages; and by the colonies of saints with which it peopled many foreign countries; for, under God, its inhabitants derived from their glorious apostle the streams of that eminent sanctity by which they were long conspicuous to the whole world. St. Patrick was born in the decline of the fourth century; and as he informs us in his "Confession," in a village called Bonaven Taberniae, being the same as the present Boulougne-Sur-Mer, in France. His father was of a good family, named Calphurnius, and his mother Conchessa, a near relative to St. Martin of Tours. At fifteen years of age he committed a fault, which appears not to have been a great crime, yet was to him a subject of tears during the remainder of his life. He says, that when he was sixteen, he lived still ignorant of God, meaning of the devout knowledge and fervent love of God, for he was always a Christian; he never ceased to bewail this neglect, and wept when he remembered that he had been one moment of his life insensible of the divine love. In his sixteenth year he was carried into captivity by certain barbarians, together with many of his father's vassals and slaves taken upon his estate. They took him into Ireland, where he was obliged to keep cattle on the mountains and in the forests, in hunger and nakedness, amidst snows, rain, and ice. Whilst he lived in this suffering condition, God had pity on his soul, and quickened him to a sense of his duty by the impulse of a strong of interior grace. The young man had recourse to him with his whole heart in fervent prayer and fasting; and from that time faith and the love of God acquired continually new strength in his tender soul. He prayed often in the day, and also many times in the night, breaking off his sleep to return to the divine praises. His afflictions were to him a source of heavenly benedictions, because he carried his cross with Christ, that is, with patience, resignation, and holy joy. St. Patrick, after six months spent in slavery under the same master, was admonished by God in a dream to return to his own country, and informed that a ship was then ready to sail thither. He repaired immediately to the sea-coast, though at a great distance, and found the vessel; but could not obtain his passage, probably for want of money. Thus new trials ever await the servants of God. The saint returned towards his hut, praying as he went; but the sailors, though pagans, called him back and took him on board. After three days' sail they made land, but wandered twenty-seven days through deserts, and were a long' while distressed for want of provisions, finding nothing to eat. Patrick had often entertained the company on the infinite power of God; they therefore asked him, why he did not pray for relief. Animated by a strong faith, he assured them that if they would address themselves with their whole hearts to the true God, he would hear and succour them. They did so, and on the same day met with a herd of swine. From that time provisions never failed them, till, on the twenty-seventh day, they came into a country that was cultivated and inhabited. During their distress, Patrick refused to touch meats which had been offered to idols. Some years afterwards, he was again led captive, but recovered his liberty after two months. When he was at home with his parents, God manifested to him by divers visions, that he destined him to the great work of the conversion of Ireland. He thought he saw all the children of that country from the wombs of their mothers stretching out their hands, and piteously crying to him for relief.

The authors of his life say, that after his second captivity, he travelled into Gaul and Italy, and had seen St. Martin, St. Germanus of Auxerre, and Pope Celestine, and that he received his mission, and the apostolical benediction from this pope, who died in 432. But it seems, from his confession, that he was ordained deacon, priest, and bishop, for his mission in his own country. It is certain that he spent many years in preparing himself for those sacred functions. Great opposition was made against his episcopal consecration and mission, both by his own relations and by the clergy. These made him great offers, in order to detain him among them, and endeavored to affright him by exaggerating the dangers to which he exposed himself amidst the enemies of the Romans and Britons, who did not know God. Some objected, with the same view, the fault which he had committed thirty years before, as an obstacle to his ordination. All these temptations threw the saint into great perplexities, and had like to have made him abandon the work of God. But the Lord, whose will he consulted by earnest prayer, supported him and comforted him by a vision — so that he persevered in his resolution. He forsook his family, sold, as he says, his birthright and dignity, to serve strangers, and consecrated his soul to God, to carry his name to the end of the earth. He was determined to suffer all things for the accomplishment of his holy design, to receive in the same spirit both prosperity and adversity, and to return thanks to God equally for the one as for the other, desiring only that his name might be glorified, and his divine will accomplished to his own honour. In this disposition he passed into Ireland, to preach the gospel, where the worship of idols still generally reigned. He travelled over the whole island, penetrating into the remotest corners, without fearing any dangers, and often visited each province. Such was the fruit of his preachings and sufferings, that he consecrated to God, by baptism, an infinite number of people, and laboured effectually that they might be perfected in his service by the practice of virtue. He ordained everywhere clergymen; induced women to live in holy widowhood and continence; consecrated virgins to Christ, and instituted monks. Great numbers embraced these states of perfection with extreme ardour. Many desired to confer earthly riches on him who had communicated to them the goods of heaven, but he made it a capital duty to decline all self-interest, and whatever might dishonour his ministry. He took nothing from the many thousands whom he baptized, and often gave back the little presents which some laid on the altar, choosing rather to mortify the fervent than to scandalize the weak or the infidels. On the contrary, he gave freely of his own, both to Pagans and Christians, distributed large alms to the poor in the provinces where he passed; made presents to the kings, judging that necessary for the progress of the gospel; and maintained and educated many children whom he trained up to serve at the altar. He always gave till he had no more to bestow, and rejoiced to see himself poor with Jesus Christ, knowing poverty and afflictions to be more profitable to him than riches and pleasures. The happy success of his labours cost him many persecutions.

St. Patrick wrote his Confession as a testimony of his mission, when he was old. It is solid, full of good sense and piety, expresses an extraordinary humility and a great desire of martyrdom, and is written with spirit. The author was perfectly versed in the holy scriptures. He confesses everywhere his own faults with a sincere humility, and extols the great mercies of God towards him in this world, who had exalted him, though the most undeserving of men; yet, to preserve him in humility, afforded him the advantage of meeting with extreme contempt from others, that is from the heathens. He confesses, for his humiliation, that, among other temptations, he felt a great desire to see again his own country, and to visit the saints of his acquaintance in Gaul; but durst not abandon his people; and says, that the Holy Ghost had declared to him that to do it would be criminal. He tells us that a little before he wrote this, he himself and all his companions had been plundered and laid in irons, for his having baptized the son of a certain king against the will of his father, but were released after fourteen days. He lived in the daily expectation of such accidents, and of martyrdom, but feared nothing, having his hope as a firm anchor fixed in heaven, and reposing himself with an entire confidence in the arms of the Almighty. He says, that he had lately baptized a very beautiful young lady of quality, who some days after came to tell him, that she had been admonished by an angel to consecrate her virginity to Jesus Christ, that she might render herself the more acceptable to God. He gave God thanks, and she made her vows with extraordinary fervour six days before he wrote this letter. St. Patrick held several councils to settle the discipline of the church which he had planted. The first, the acts of which are extant under his name in the editions of the councils, is certainly genuine. Its canons regulate several points of discipline, especially relating to penance. St. Bernard and the tradition of the country testify, that St. Patrick fixed his metropolitan see at Armagh. He established some other bishops, as appears by his Council and other monuments. He not only converted the whole country by his preaching and wonderful miracles, but also cultivated this vineyard with so fruitful a benediction and increase from heaven, as to render Ireland a most flourishing garden in the church of God, and a country of saints. And those nations which had for many ages esteemed all other barbarians, did not blush to receive from the utmost extremity of the uncivilized or barbarous world, their most renowned teachers and guides in the greatest of all sciences, that of the saints.

Many particulars are related of the labors of St. Patrick, which we pass over. In the first year of his mission he attempted to preach Christ in the general assembly of the kings and states of all Ireland, held yearly at Taraghe, or Themoria, in East-Meath, the residence of the chief king, styled the monarch of the whole island, and the principal seat of the Druids or priests, and their paganish rites. The son of Neill, the chief monarch, declared himself against the preacher: however, he converted several, and, on his road to that place, the father of St. Benen, or Benignus, his immediate successor in the see of Armagh. He afterwards converted and baptized the Kings of Dublin and Munster, and the seven sons of the King of Connaught, with the greatest part of their subjects, and before his death almost the whole island. He founded a monastery at Armagh; another called Domnach-Padraig, or Patrick's Church; also a third, named Sabhal Padraig, and filled the country with churches and schools of piety and learning; the reputation of which, for the three succeeding centuries, drew many foreigners into Ireland. Nennius, Abbot of Bangor, in 620, in his history of the Britons, published by the learned Thomas Gale, says that St. Patrick continued his missions over all the provinces of Ireland, during forty years; that he restored sight to many blind, health to the sick, and raised nine dead persons to life. He died and was buried at Down, in Ulster. His body was found there in a church of his name in 1185, and translated to another part of the same church. His festival is marked on the 17th of March, in the Martyrology of Bede, etc.

Friday 9 February 2018

Saint Brigid: completing the work of Saint Patrick?

To mark the octave day of the feast of Saint Brigid, we bring to a close the reading of St Brigid: Patroness of Ireland, published in 1907 by Irish Augustinian, Father Joseph A. Knowles. One of the themes which struck me as I read this book was the author's frequently-repeated wish to link the mission and career of our national patroness with that of our national apostle. He returns to this theme in Chapter VIII in which he describes the death, burial and relics of Saint Brigid. As he attempts to paint a picture of her final hours on earth, Father Knowles gives free rein to both the romantic imagination and the triumphalist vision which has characterised his entire book:
As she cast her eyes over the fair plains and upon the green hills of her native land, in those last hours of her life, what a tidal wave of spiritual joy and hope must have inundated her soul. Her monasteries were spread over the whole extent of the land. Churches were raised in towns and hamlets to the honour and glory of the Most High. King and peasant knelt at the same altar, and were linked in a common brotherhood of faith and worship. The altars of the Druids were destroyed, and their false gods banished forever. The preaching of St. Patrick and his disciples had given the death blow to superstition and idolatry. The standard of the true faith was planted on every hill, and waved triumphantly over every valley of regenerated Ireland. And when our Saint recalled how much her labours contributed to this happy consummation, she must have rejoiced and blessed Him Who made her the instrument of such apostolic work for the land of her birth and love. St. Patrick and St. Brigid are ever associated in the minds of Catholic Ireland with the evangelisation of our country. It has been well said that St. Brigid was chosen by God to complete the work of Ireland's Apostle, whilst, at the same time, she in part reaped the fruits of his labours. The "one sowed, the other came when the harvest was ripe; the one watered with tears, the other gathered with joy; the one passed on to his reward, when the other culled the most blooming flowers to decorate his festive offering on the day of his departure." Yes, truly does St. Brigid merit to be placed on a throne beside our National Apostle.

Rev. J.A. Knowles, O.S.A., Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, (Dublin, 1907), 178-180.

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Thursday 8 February 2018

Father Knowles and Hagiography

Today as we continue to read the 1907 book Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland by Father J.A. Knowles, we turn to his view of hagiography. At this time writers of devotional works tended to take at face value the attributed authorship and dating of Lives of the saints. Father Knowles lists some of the reputed authors of Lives of Saint Brigid, seeking to take us right back to the days of Saint Patrick himself with the inclusion of Fiech. Interestingly, he does not mention the mid-seventh century Life of Cogitosus, now hailed as one of the most important.  For Father Knowles, the purpose of hagiography was entirely devotional:
Little wonder is it that we find so many saintly and learned writers employing their graphic pens to record, in elegant verse, or flowing period, the heroic deeds, the numerous miracles, and the many virtues of their beloved Abbess of Kildare. St. Ninnid, her chaplain, faithfully placed on record the miracles he had witnessed during the time he had spent in her blessed and edifying company. Fiech, a disciple of St. Patrick, wrote her life, while St. Brigid was still performing her noble mission amongst the children of old Ireland. St. Brendan, Bishop of Clonfert, wrote her life in verse. The poet-saints, Columba and Kilian of Inis-Keltra, sang her praises in sweetest poesy. These metrical lives of St. Brigid were chanted by the cloistered children of the sanctuary. The multitude devoted themselves to the task of committing each verse to memory, so that they might share in the universal chorus of praise and thanksgiving which daily ascended to heaven from millions of Irish hearts.
Modern scholarship, of course, views hagiography as rather more complex in character. In the case of Saint Brigid, for example, Cogitosus was writing at a time when Armagh hagiographers were claiming primacy for their foundation thanks to Saint Patrick. His work may, therefore, be seen as an attempt to counter these claims on behalf of Kildare and its founder, Saint Brigid. Another of the central principles of hagiography accepted by modern scholars is that any piece of hagiography will always tell us more about the time in which it was written rather than about the time of its subject. This is true of Father Knowles too as in his account of the survival of these written records of Saint Brigid he reflects the ethos of the national revival of his own day. It is one in which Ireland is viewed as a long-suffering Catholic nation, valiantly withstanding centuries of oppression and the ravages of the likes of Cromwell:
From the number of these ancient records preserved from the ravages of time and the destroying hand of the heretical bands, who would gladly have given them to the flames, it is not too much to say that an all-wise Providence exercised a special care and watch over them to save them from decay and destruction. It certainly appears providential that many of the earlier lives and copies of them, made by conscientious and faithful scribes, found their way to safe refuge in the archives of Catholic countries abroad. Had they been left at home, they would not have escaped the rigorous search made for such invaluable and priceless documents by Cromwell and his followers. There can be no doubt that they would have served to light the fires that consumed the bodies of our noble martyrs, put to death by the cruel and relentless enemies of their creed and race. The preservation of this store of inestimable value, which enshrines and catalogues the doings, the sayings, and the miracles of St. Brigid, is the one consolation left us amidst the ruin and desolation caused by the burning and destruction of our ecclesiastical archives. This treasure is — and let us fervently thank God for it— the one great inheritance that the children of the early Church have left us to perpetuate and strengthen us today in our loyalty and devotion to St. Brigid, the Patroness of our Land.
Father Knowles goes on to suggest, however, that we should not be too hasty to dismiss the many legends regarding Saint Brigid which have also survived:
It may be advisable, before coming to the events of our Saint's life, to say a word or two regarding those beautiful garlands of legendary and traditional lore woven round the stately and enduring monument of authentic facts, which the hands of reliable and saintly biographers have erected to her blessed memory... In a life of the Saint, such as this purports to be, many legends and traditions must be introduced to stimulate the devotion of the reader, and to relieve the monotony which would inevitably ensue from a mere studied recital of historical detail. Having read the extracts given at length, the reader will be the better enabled to judge between what he can reasonably believe as true, and what he may safely set down as mere pious tradition. Thus does the late Canon O'Hanlon write of the legends and traditions so thickly strewn through the authentic writings of learned and holy authors who have treated of the life and miracles of St. Brigid: — "The truly religious and disciplined spirit of an enlightened and a pious Christian will not too readily reject the various interesting legends contained in the acts of our National Saints, when he is free to receive them on the weight, or set them in abeyance on the want of sustaining evidence. Many sceptical or over-fastidious critics undervalue the force of popular traditions, and regard such attested miracles as incredible or legendary, but while those persons desire to remove the cockle from the field of Irish hagiology, they possibly incur some risk, at the same time, of rooting up good seed with the tares." 
 In another place his remarks on the same subject are worthy of attentive consideration: — "Religious feeling and Christian Faith do not require for their preservation and growth, the the production and publication of many legends to be found in special acts of our National Saints. Those narratives, however, were consonant with a prevalent taste and with the sentiments of our ancestors in past ages. Even yet, when received with due caution, and with a just, discriminating spirit, such legends may be found not altogether devoid of edification, granting their authenticity to be very questionable. A well- regulated mind will regard them chiefly as emanations of a former period, and as illustrations of popular opinion, national feeling, or religious impressions which widely prevailed during times when those narratives had been written."
Now 1907 was also the year of publication of an English translation of the Legends of the Saints by Father Hippolyte Delehaye. This was the first work to undertake a scholarly examination of hagiography and revolutionised the understanding of medieval saints' Lives. The miraculous signs and wonders with which hagiography abounds were finally able to be placed within a context which could be explained and understood. No longer would the reader be asked to believe that Saint Brigid literally hung her cloak on a sunbeam or that the historical/biographical material contained within her various Lives was necessarily any more authentic than the miracle stories. Hagiography is not history, it is a distinctive genre of literature with its own rules and internal logic. We cannot fault Father Knowles or Canon O'Hanlon for not sharing this understanding as Delehaye's ideas took some time to filter through and become the accepted academic view. 

Rev. J.A. Knowles, O.S.A., Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, (Dublin, 1907), 11-15; 20-21.

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Wednesday 7 February 2018

What would happen if Ireland ever forgot Saint Brigid?

Continuing the reading of the 1907 book Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland by Father J. A. Knowles with a follow-up to yesterday's selection on the devotion of the people of Ireland to their patroness. Today the author lays out what he sees as the dire consequences for the country should it ever forget to honour her:
Should they, which God forbid, ever grow cold in their devotion to her, or become forgetful of her benefits to them, their crime would truly be an unpardonable one. A terrible change would come over the fair face of our country, every acre of which holds some sacred memorial of a life devoted to the spiritual regeneration of a people she loved next to Him, in Whose service her days were spent. The ivy-mantled walls of the temples erected by our forefathers in her honour would totter to the ground in indignant protest. The holy wells that bear her name would cease to give their blessed waters to an ungrateful nation. The fertile soil of the four provinces, consecrated by her missionary footsteps, would cease to yield their rich golden harvests. 
Fortunately, Father Knowles does not foresee any immediate danger of ruined churches collapsing, holy wells drying up or harvests failing, for which we can only be thankful: 
There is no indication of such untoward events happening in our generation. St Brigid still holds her high place in the hearts of Irish Catholics. Her consecrated virgins still assume her name when entering the cloister. Mothers are found to give her name to their children at the baptismal font and to place them under her protection. Churches are raised, year after year, in her honour. Fervent prayers ascend from Irish hearts, not only on her feast-day, but hourly, that God, through her intercession, may protect the Irish nation from the evils of the day, may bless and shield us from the enemies of our Faith, and send down on our Island the twin-gifts of righteous liberty and enduring peace.
Tomorrow I want to look at how Father Knowles views the written sources for the life of Saint Brigid.

Rev. J.A. Knowles, O.S.A., Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, (Dublin, 1907), 18-20.

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Tuesday 6 February 2018

Is Irish devotion to Saint Brigid written into our DNA?

Yesterday we looked at how Irish devotion to Saint Brigid is described in the pages of the 1907 book Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland by Father J. A. Knowles. Following this section, the author goes on to discuss the writings of the various Lives of Saint Brigid, of which more anon. But he cannot help returning to the theme of Irish love for the national patroness and suggests that reason for it lies in our DNA:
If we seek the key to the intense love and veneration for St. Brigid that rules and sways the Celtic heart to-day, as in the centuries gone by, we must look for it in one of the noblest traits of the Irish character. No matter what our faults may be, we, the children of the Gael, can never be charged by our bitterest enemies with ingratitude to our friends and benefactors. Wherever, in our chequered history, a hand has been held out to bestow a favour upon our race, we treasure up the memory of the good deed and pour benedictions on the head of the giver. St. Brigid, after our National Apostle, was the truest and best friend Ireland has ever had, or ever will have.
At this time it was commonplace to claim that one could identify racial traits from which a 'national character' could be deduced. The 'Celt' was dreamy and otherworldly, in sharp contrast to the hard-headed Anglo-Saxon who had his feet firmly on the ground. This sort of racial stereotyping may seem like harmless bunkum but one might argue that it did have an impact in what was an age of imperialism. The campaign for Irish self-determination, for example, begged the question of whether the naive, childlike 'Celt' was capable of ruling himself without the paternalistic guiding hand of the imperial family of which the solid Anglo-Saxon was the head.

I have also previously referred to another idea, common to writers of this time, that Saint Patrick's mission to convert the pagan Irish was a single-handed heroic endeavour of epic proportions. We have already seen Father Knowles liken it to a 'triumphal procession'.  He now applies some of the same thinking to Saint Brigid whom he credits with having 'infused a vigour and energy into the Irish Church, which it maintains down to the present day':
During her long life she, like her Divine Master, "went about doing good." She marked out the path of perfection which many an Irish virgin has since trodden, with happiest spiritual results. She infused a vigour and energy into the Irish Church, which it maintains down to the present day. Her works of charity relieved distress in many an Irish home. Her prayers strengthened and nurtured the infant Church, left by St. Patrick, into a vigorous manhood. Her example stimulated the guardians of the sanctuary to renewed effort to evangelise those not reached by the Apostle, St. Patrick, and to spread the Faith in lands beyond the seas. Her intercession has guided and preserved the Irish Church through many a storm of persecution and bloodshed, chronicled in the annals of our country. Her protecting hand is still extended over our Isle, that no spiritual harm may befall the Church which her blessed hands so laboriously toiled to extend and establish on a firm and lasting foundation. How, then, considering such a record of favours bestowed, could the children of this favoured land ever forget their benefactress and patroness — St Brigid?
Although I have read a good deal of Victorian devotional literature on Irish saints over the past few years I find this approach by Father Knowles one of the most memorable. Tomorrow we will continue with what he sees as the dire consequences for Ireland should we ever try to cast off our devotion to our benefactress and patron.

Rev. J.A. Knowles, O.S.A., Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, (Dublin, 1907), 16-18.

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Monday 5 February 2018

Father Knowles on Irish Devotion to Saint Brigid

We continue with the reading of the 1907 book, Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, with a look at how the author, Irish Augustinian Joseph Knowles, viewed devotion to Saint Brigid in her own country. As I noted in the previous post, he is determined to make sure that Saint Patrick receives his share of the credit for Saint Brigid's greatness. Also, as we saw yesterday, Father Knowles believes that pagan Ireland was uniquely responsive to the Christian message and thus he sees the wonder that was Saint Brigid as a heavenly 'reward for the warm-hearted and generous welcome extended to the Apostle' sent to us. That said, he also claims that 'St. Brigid received from her people a worship which history accords to no other saint', which sounds like yet another demonstration of the supposed uniqueness of Early Christian Ireland:
Devotion to St Brigid is not a matter of to-day or yesterday. It began during her earthly life, growing in intensity as the shadows closed in around her mortal career. The fame of her sanctity and her miraculous power rang during her days from end to end of her Island-home. After the National Apostle, she was proclaimed by all the greatest and best beloved of the Saints whose names enrich the Calendar of the Irish Church. St. Brigid received from her people a worship which history accords to no other saint. The nation fell prostrate at her feet, offering to her the sweet incense of a tender and deep-seated love and devotion. The people beheld in her the noblest and best type of womanhood, raised to the most elevated plane attainable by the children of men this side of the grave. They recognised in her the realization of that blessing, which the Almighty had specially bestowed on their race, as a reward for the warm-hearted and generous welcome extended to the Apostle He had sent to teach them His heavenly doctrines. A people who had so readily opened their hearts to the teachings of their Apostle could not but rise to the highest pitch of enthusiastic devotion to her, who was the brightest and most exalted product of St. Patrick's ministry. She typified the perfect woman, nurtured and fed on the word of God. She was the light that shone over their Island to direct the footsteps of the daughters of Erin in the paths of virtue and sanctity.
 And how did the devotion of the Irish people to this 'perfect woman' manifest itself?
In speaking of her they discarded the prefix Saint, and called her, in homely, yet reverent fashion, "Mo Brighe" — or "My Bride." The children received her blessed name at the baptismal font. The sturdy sons of the Irish race added her name to those usually adopted by their sex. With one chorus of acclamation, she was proclaimed the Patroness of their land, the Protectress of their daughters' virtue, and the strength of their warrior sons in defence of Faith and Fatherland. 

I think that in his final sentence Father Knowles has encapsulated the entire spirit of the Irish national revival of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Rev. J.A. Knowles, O.S.A., Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, (Dublin, 1907), 7-8.

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Sunday 4 February 2018

Saint Brigid: 'the pride and glory of the Irish Church'

The opening chapter of Father Knowles' book Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, sets the scene for the career of its subject. He opens, naturally enough, with the coming of Saint Patrick and it is clear that Father Knowles views the fifth-century Ireland to which Patrick came as a place of special holiness, unique among the pagan nations:
Never, in the history of the propagation of the Catholic Faith, was there found a soil more ready for the reception of the blessed seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, than that of our own dear Isle. In the wide expanse of the dominions of the Catholic Church, Ireland stands alone as a Nation whose conversion, from the darkness of paganism to the full light of the true faith, was accomplished without the shedding of one drop of a Martyr's blood. St. Patrick went from end to end of our Island preaching the Gospel of peace and good will, without encountering any of the obstacles and trials experienced by the Apostles of other nations. His apostolate partook more of the nature of a triumphal procession than of a fierce combat with the powers of darkness and superstition.
This view of Saint Patrick as an all-conquering hero who singlehandedly evangelized the entire island of Ireland was a common one at the time. And despite the fact that he is writing in English, Father Knowles approvingly notes the national apostle's use of the national language:
Wherever our Apostle went, crowds flocked round him to hear the doctrines and practices of the New Law preached to them in their own sweet Gaelic tongue.
The superiority of Saint Patrick's new teachings are particularly manifested to upper-class Irish women: 
Ladies of royal and noble birth sat at the feet of the Apostle, to learn the true dignity of womanhood, attained only by the knowledge and practice of Christian virtue.  
And, attracted by this message, women begin to enter the religious life, as the quotation from Saint Patrick's own Confession records:
...And there is one blessed Irish maiden, of the Scottish race, of noble birth, most fair, of adult age, whom I baptised; and soon thereafter she came to us on some business, and informed us that God's will had been revealed to her, admonishing her to become a Virgin of Christ and draw near to God. Thanks be to God, on the sixth day after that, she worthily and most eagerly embraced that state of life. And indeed all the Virgins of God act in like manner, not at the bidding of their parents — nay, they endure reproaches and persecutions from their parents — and, nevertheless, their number goes on increasing, so that I know not the number of the natives who thus have become of our kindred, besides the widows and those who observe continency.
There is one Irish nun though who stands out from all the innumerable and anonymous others:
At the head of this noble band of consecrated virgins, St. Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, takes her rightful place. She, of all the spiritual children of St. Patrick, was the brightest jewel in his apostolic crown. She is, and always will be, the pride and glory of the Irish Church, the most honoured and venerated on the bead-roll of her Saints, the joy and the crown of the womanhood of holy Ireland.
It is interesting to see Father Knowles take some pains to establish Saint Patrick as the inspiration of Saint Brigid's later career. I will continue with his view of Saint Brigid in tomorrow's post.

Rev. J.A. Knowles, O.S.A., Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, (Dublin, 1907).
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Saturday 3 February 2018

Father Knowles on the Writing of Saint Brigid

We begin the exploration of Father Joseph Knowles' 1907 work on Saint Brigid with a look at the author's preface in which he explains his reasons for writing the book. His purpose is twofold - first to satisfy a public demand for such works and secondly to commemorate the centenary of the founding of the Order of Saint Brigid. What I found particularly interesting is the author's attribution of the perceived public demand to 'the untiring zeal and efforts of the Gaelic League and other kindred organizations'. Fr Knowles thus quite self-consciously places his endeavours squarely within the national revival movement, which he credits with having created 'this sound and desirable condition of our literary tastes.' Finally, he hopes that a greater knowledge of our national patroness will lead to a greater devotion to her 'whom a nation's voice has proclaimed "the Mary of the Gael."'


 IN this volume the Author has endeavoured to place before his readers a concise and popular narration of the life and labours of St. Brigid, the Patroness of Ireland. The facts and legends, which abound in its pages, he has carefully selected from the most reliable and authentic sources. The present time seems to him opportune and propitious for the publication of the class of literature to which this volume claims to belong. There exists amongst the Irish reading public a marked preference for books that deal with the religious or national history of our country. This sound and desirable condition of our literary tastes is mainly attributable to the untiring zeal and efforts of the Gaelic League and other kindred organizations. 

 The joyous occasion which has called forth this volume may not be passed over in silence. This year the Order of St. Brigid celebrates the centenary of its foundation. To mark with greater emphasis the glorious event the Brigidine Nuns decided to publish a life of their special Patroness. They were pleased to ask the assistance of the Author in carrying out their pious and laudable design. Conscious of many obligations of gratitude to the spiritual daughters of St. Brigid, he could not do otherwise than interpret their wish as a command. Hence the appearance of his name on the title page of this volume. 

 The Author takes this opportunity of returning his sincere and respectful thanks to the illustrious Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin for his gracious letter of approval, which forms an appropriate and valuable introduction to this volume. May these pages, the Author fervently prays, tend to deepen the knowledge of the exalted sanctity of St. Brigid amongst her children, and strengthen their faith in the powerful advocacy of her whom a nation's voice has proclaimed "the Mary of the Gael."

Rev. J.A. Knowles, O.S.A., Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland, (Dublin, 1907), ix-xi. 

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Friday 2 February 2018

A New Life of Saint Brigid

I begin a series of posts on Saint Brigid to run throughout the octave of her feast with a contemporary review of the 1907 life of the saint by the Irish Augustinian J.A. Knowles. Father Knowles' book was probably the most substantial work on our national patroness since Canon O'Hanlon's Life of Saint Brigid, published some thirty years earlier. I will be exploring aspects of Saint Brigid, Patroness of Ireland over the coming days, the entire work can be found at the Internet Archive here.


"One Blessed Irish Maiden of the Scottish Race."

A new 'Life of St. 'Brigid,' Patroness of Ireland, written by the Rev. J. A. Knowles, O.S.A., St, Augustine's, Cork, has just come to hand. The new work is dedicated to the Most Rev. Dr. Foley, Bishop of Kildare, and Leighin. It is a well-bound and finely-illustrated octavo volume, comprising a double preface and 11 chapters.

One preface is by the author, the other by the Bishop of Kildare. The author tells us that in the new volume he has endeavoured to place before his readers a popular narration of the life and labours of Ireland's patroness. In the Bishop's preface his Lordship earnestly thanks and congratulates Father Knowles on the excellent character of his work, and assures him at the same time that he has placed Irishmen and Irishwomen the world over under a debt of gratitude by placing so interesting a life within their reach. In his famous book, known as the 'Confessions,' Ireland's Apostle writes: 'The sons of the Scotti — the noble race — and the daughters of chieftains are soon to be monks and virgins of Christ. And there is one blessed Irish maiden of the Scottish race, of noble birth, most fair, of adult age. whom I baptised; and soon thereafter she came to us in some business, and informed, us that God's will had been revealed to her, admonishing her to become a virgin of Christ and draw near to God. Thanks be to God on the sixth day after that, she worthily and most eagerly embraced that state of life. And, indeed, all the virgins of God act in like manner, not at the bidding of their parents— nay, they endure reproaches and persecutions from their parents— and nevertheless, their number goes on increasing, so that I know not the number of the natives who thus have become of our kindred besides the widows and those who observe continency.' At the head of this noble band of consecrated virgins, St. Brigid Patroness of Ireland and 'the Mary of the Gael,' takes her rightful place. After the national apostle, she was proclaimed by all as the greatest and best beloved of the saints, whose names enrich the calendar of the Irish Church. "No one was more retiring, more modest, more meek, more humble, or more chaste than Brigid. She was abstemious, prayerful and patient. She was benevolent, forgiving, charitable; she was a temple of God, a consecrated shrine for the Body and Blood of Christ; her heart and her mind were a vestry throne for the Holy Ghost. She was afflicted with those that were in sorrow, she was bright in virtues and miracles. Her type in created things is the dove among the birds, the vine among the trees, the sun among the stars. She subdues pestilence, she restrains the fury of the tempest; she is the child of prophecy, the Queen of the South, the Mary of Erin."

His Eminence Cardinal Moran, in his life of the Saint, gives the following remarkable extract from the work of a Protestant dignitary, entitled, 'St. Brigid and the See of Kildare.' "Extraordinary veneration for the name of Brigid was displayed by the Irish in the Middle Ages. It is said that her feast was celebrated in every Cathedral Church from the Grison to the German Sea for nearly a thousand years."

'Brigid, noble woman,
A flame, golden, beautiful!
A sun, dazzling, splendid!
May she bear us to the eternal kingdom.'

To every reader of the new volume it must be quickly manifest that Ireland's renowned patroness has found in Father Knowles, not only an eloquent, interesting and able biographer, but also a loving and devoted client. His book, which runs into 292 pages, deserves a very wide circulation, and is sure to obtain it. It is brought out by Browne and Nolan, of Nassau-street, Dublin, and the price is the moderate one of 2s 6d.

A NEW LIFE OF ST. BRIGID, (1907, August 1). The Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW: 1895 - 1942), p. 6. Retrieved December 19, 2017, from
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Thursday 1 February 2018

Saint Brigid: 'Her grace was her staff through life'

To celebrate the feast of Saint Brigid below is an account of her life from a nineteenth-century American author of Irish descent, John Gilmary Shea (1824-1892). Shea was a Church historian and thus places Saint Brigid into a wider context. His account is both romantic and heroic, paying tribute to our patroness as a pioneering monastic founder and champion of the poor.


SAINT BRIDGET. , Abbess, and Patroness of Ireland. St. Patrick not only planted the faith in Ireland, but he also confirmed it by his miracles and preachings, and by establishing monasteries and churches throughout the length and breadth of the land; thus laying the foundations of those great religious establishments which, in after ages, sent missionaries and saints to spread the Gospel throughout Europe. St. Bridget shares with St. Patrick the glory and sanctity of being the first to combine the pious young virgins of Ireland into conventual communities. Her success in this holy task was miraculous, for religious establishments of this kind soon extended over the land, and Bridget encouraged them by her visits, her teachings and example. We all know how great the influence of woman is in softening and refining society, and particularly for moulding the minds of youth for good or evil; and it is not too much to say that the holy and virtuous fire infused by Bridget into the hearts of the women of Erin powerfully aided the labors of St. Patrick in Christianizing the inhabitants.  She was born at Fochard, in Ulster, soon after Ireland had been blessed with the light of faith. She received the religious veil in her youth, from the hands of St. Mel, nephew and disciple of St. Patrick. She built herself a cell under a large oak, thence called Killdara, or cell of the oak, living, as her name implies, the bright shining light of that country by her virtues. Being joined soon after by several of her own sex, they formed themselves into a religious community, which branched out into several other nunneries throughout Ireland, all which acknowledged her for their mother and foundress, as in effect she was of all in that kingdom. She flourished in the beginning of the sixth century, and is named in the Martyrology of Bede, and in all others since that age. Like St. Patrick, St. Bridget spent much of her time in traveling through the country, establishing communities of nuns, and converting and instructing the people; like him, also, she was accompanied by several companions, or disciples, one of whom she always left to preside over her newly-established community, and, finally, having fulfilled her mission, like St. Patrick, she established a permanent house, where she spent the remainder of her life as head of the great and numerous order of Bridgetine nuns which she had established. The fame of her miracles, her virtues and piety had spread over the land, and young virgins — even the daughters of kings and princes — were inspired with similar religious zeal, and desired to follow in her footsteps, and to become worthy to establish religious communities.   The shrine of St. Bridget was to Ireland what Loretto has been to Italy, and was enriched from time to time by the offerings of the faithful until it became one of the wealthiest in Ireland. In that early age of the primitive church the conventual life was only just beginning to assume shape and form. St. Bridget was, perhaps, the very first among the saints of Europe who gathered into communities governed by certain rules a congregation of holy virgins. She was anterior to St. Scholastica, the sister of St. Benedict, who was the great founder of Monasticism in the West. These communities were primitive in their manner of living, as also in the severity of their rules and discipline, which were of the most austere nature. They dwelt in cells of the rudest and simplest construction, and spent their time in prayer, mortification and acts of charity. They freely clothed the naked and fed the hungry; and the convents and monasteries were not only the asylums of the learned and pious, but also of the poor, the afflicted and the distressed. At a time when the licentiousness of paganism struggled against the purity of Christianity in men's hearts, the pure sacrificing lives of those holy virgins who despised the pleasures and allurements of the world to give themselves up, soul and body, to Jesus Christ, must have had great influence upon the sterner and ruder nature of man. Innumerable are the traditions handed down of St. Bridget's charity and generosity. The poor never left her empty handed, and her convent was, indeed, a house of refuge for them. The miracles said to have been performed by the Saint are innumerable. She was visited by several of the holy bishops and nuns of her time, and a warm friendship existed between herself and most of them. She was also frequently visited by other holy men, and by the kings and princes of the land. St. Bridget's life was one series of acts of mercy, love and charity. She labored in peace and for the good of mankind and the glory of God. She sacrificed all worldly pleasures for the beatitude of heaven. The only attainment she sought on earth was to do the will of her Father who is in heaven. His grace was her staff through life, and supported her in her trials and afflictions. His love was the pure flame that warmed her heart and that rewarded her for all her labors and sacrifices. The love of her Saviour alone filled her heart; for Him she lived on earth, and with Him she reigns in heaven. She died Feb. 1, 525, in the seventy-second year of her age. Her body was found with those of SS. Patrick and Columba in a triple vault in Downpatrick, in 1185, as Giraldus Cambrensis informs us. They were all three translated to the cathedral of the same city; but their monument was destroyed in the reign of King Henry VIII. The head of St. Bride is now kept in the church of the Jesuits at Lisbon. See Bollandus, Feb. t. i. p. 99.

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Wednesday 31 January 2018

The Death of Saint Brigid

The story, perhaps is best told in the language of an ancient writer:

"Now that the last moments of Brigid approached, when she had founded many churches and religious establishments, and erected many altars, and. leading a life of charity and mercy, had performed miracles more numerous than the sands by the sea or the stars of the heaven, Nennidh of the pure hand, returned from Rome and gave the Communion and Sacrament to her and her pure soul sped its way to heaven"

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 67.

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