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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