- Dec 13, 2013Celtic and Old English Saints 12 December
* St. Finnian of Clonard
* St. Columba of Tyrdaglas
* St. Cormac
* St. Edburga of Thanet
* St. Colman of Glendalough
* St. Corentin
* St. Agatha of Wimborne
St. Finnian of Clonard, Bishop
(Finian, Finden, Vennianus, Vinnianus)
Born in Leinster, Ireland, c. 470; died at Clonard (Cluain-Irard) Abbey
in Meath, Ireland, December 12, c. 552 (but the date ranges from
Saint Finnian was an Irish monk who followed in the path of Saint
Patrick, whose disciples, including Saint Fortchern (f.d. February 17),
instructed him in the essentials of Christian virtue, and himself
initiated a strict form of Irish monasticism. Along with Saint Enda of
Aran (f.d. March 21), he is regarded as the founder of Irish
monasticism. He had close relations with the British Church.
He is said to have been born into a noble family at Myshall, County
Carlow, Ireland. He probably also received his education in that
district, where he also made his first three foundations at Rossacurra,
Drumfea, and Kilmaglush. Thereafter, he spent several years in Wales,
where he was trained in monasticism by Saints Cadoc of Llancarfan (f.d.
September 25), David of Menevia (f.d. March 1), and Gildas (f.d. January
29). He lived on bread, herbs, and water, and on the bare ground with a
stone for his pillow. About 520, Finnian returned to Ireland, armed with
the sanctity and sacred learning to reinvigorate the faith of his
To further God's work, he founded churches and several monasteries,
including Aghowle (County Wicklow) and Mugna Sulcain. His most notable
foundation was Clonard on the Boyne in Meath, which was the greatest
school of the period, renowned for several centuries for its biblical
studies (Finnian was a great Biblical scholar). During his abbacy, he is
said to have gathered 3,000 disciples at Clonard. As each left the
monastery to preach, he took with him a Book of the Gospels, a crozier,
and a reliquary around which he would built a church or monastery.
The rule of Clonard is believed to be based on the Rule of Lerins.
Finnian corresponded with Saint Gildas on matters of monastic
discipline, who had deplored the intrusion of wealth and power into the
episcopal office in Britain. Perhaps this was an influence in
development of a monastic rather than episcopal government within the
He is often called the "Teacher of Irish Saints." At one time his pupils
at Clonard included the so-called Twelve Apostles of Ireland:
Brendan of Birr (f.d. November 29)
Brendan the Voyager (f.d. May 16)
Cainnech (f.d. October 11)
Ciaran of Clommacnois (f.d. September 9)
Columba of Iona (f.d. June 9)
Columba of Terryglass (f.d. today)
Comgall of Bangor (f.d. May 11)
Finian of Moville (f.d. September 10)
Kieran of Saigher (f.d. March 5)
Mobhi (f.d. October 12)
Molaise (Laserian) of Devendish (f.d. August 12)
Ninidh of Inismacsaint (f.d. January 18)
Ruadhan of Lothra (f.d. April 15)
Sinell of Cleenish (f.d.October 12).
(You might note that this is more than 12; this is a very elastic twelve
with different saints added at different times)
He died at Clonard of the yellow plague, which swept the country.
According to his biographer: "As Paul died in Rome for the sake of the
Christian people lest they should all perish in hell, so Finnian died at
Clonard for the sake of the people of the Gael, that they might not all
perish of the yellow pest." His relics were enshrined at Clonard until
they were destroyed in 887.
His monastery at Clonard survived the Viking raids, Norman aggressions,
and native strife, but not the Reformation, at which time it was
suppressed. At one point Clonard was converted into a house of
Augustinian canons, from whom there survives an office of Saint Finnian
with some elements taken from an otherwise unknown source. The
Protestant church of Clonard now houses an 11th-century, grey marble
baptismal font with figures from the Scriptures sculpted on its eight
panels as well as a stone head from the former abbey. All other traces
of Finnian's tomb, church, and abbey have been eradicated.
The contemporary collection of regulations for penitents, ascribed to
Vinnianus, was probably not the work of this Finnian but perhaps by
Finnian of Moville (f.d. September 10; d. c. 579). This oldest surviving
penitentiary is based on Welsh and Irish sources, as well as on those of
Saints Jerome (f.d. September 30) and John Cassian (f.d. July 23), and
influenced a similar work by Saint Columbanus (f.d. November 23). The
feast of Saint Finnian is observed throughout Ireland (Attwater,
Attwater 2, Benedictines, Coulson, D'Arcy, Delaney, Encyclopaedia,
Farmer, Healy, Husenbeth, Montague, Ryan).
Troparion of St Finnian of Clonard tone 8
Truly thou art the 'Tutor of the Saints of Ireland', O Founder of
Clonard, great Father Finnian./ As thou didst tirelessly teach the faith
in thy native land,/ so teach us to follow thy example that many may
come to know Christ and be led into the Way of Salvation.
December 12 on the Church Calendar, sees the commemoration of one of our
most important Irish fathers of monasticism - Finnian of Clonard 'tutor of
the saints of Ireland'. Below is a paper on the life of Saint Finnian from
the Irish Ecclesiastical Record which records what is traditionally known of
him. Modern scholars are engaged in a debate as to whether Finnian of
Clonard, Uinnau the Briton, Finnian of Moville, Finbarr of Cork and Ninnian
of Candida Casa are all one and the same person. In the nineteenth century,
however, when this paper was written, all of these saints were viewed as
distinct individuals, and the writer brings together some of the stories
told of Saint Finnian as founder of Clonard and of the many saints who
flourished under his tutelage. Saint Finnian is also the patron of the
Russian Orthodox parish in Belfast, so we wish the joy of our patronal
festival. Holy Father Finnian, pray to God for us!
ST. FINNIAN OF CLONARD.
SAINT FINNIAN of Clonard, " Tutor of the Saints of Ireland," lived in the
sixth century. He was a native of Leinster ; his birthplace is generally
supposed to have been near the present town of New Ross. Saint Finnian was
of the race of Ir, and belonged to the Clan na Rudhraidhe. His name appears
to be a diminutive of Finn, "white." He was a contemporary of Finnian of
Moville, whose name comes next in the list of saints of the second class.
Saint Abban baptized Finnian, and at an early age he was placed under the
care of Bishop Fortchern of Trim. With him he remained thirty years. At the
end of that period Finnian proceeded to Britain, and settled at Kilmuine or
Menevia, where he placed himself under David, Gildas, and Cadoc. David was
grandson of an Irish prince, Bracan. He taught St. Aidan of Ferns, was first
Bishop of Menevia, and died A.D. 589. Gildas was the author of De Excidio
Britannia, according to the Annals of Ulster. He died A.D 570. Cadoc is
represented as cousin to St. David, and was a pupil of St. Thaddeus, an
Irishman. Saint Finnian is said to have founded three churches in Britain,
but they have not been identified. While a monk at the monastery of St.
David, Finnian on one occasion was asked to supply the place of oeconomus,
or house steward, in the absence of the monk who generally filled that
office. Finnian replied that he would be unable to do so, as he was
unprovided with the necessary requirements for carrying wood and provisions.
His superior having insisted on his undertaking the task, Finnian obeyed,
and we read in his life that an angel came to his assistance. What before
had seemed an impossibility he was able to accomplish by the aid of this
How long Finnian remained at St. David's monastery is uncertain. Lanigan
thinks he returned to Ireland about A.D. 520. Before leaving Britain Finnian
determined to undertake a journey to Rome, but an angel warned him not to do
so, but to return to his own country " Redite ad vestras plebes, Deus enim
acceptat intentionem Vestram." Finnian was accompanied to Ireland by several
friends, among whom special mention is made of Biteus and Genoc. On his
passage to Ireland, says Dr. Lanigan, he stopped a while with his friend
Caimin, and landed at the port Kille-Caireni, in Wexford.
Finnian sent messengers to Muiredeach, sovereign of Ky-Kinsellagh, asking
permission to enter his territory. The king generously acceded to his
request, and came himself to see Finnian, in whose presence Muiredeach
prostrated himself on the ground, and promised the saint a site for a
monastery. Saint Finnian erected an establishment at Achadh Abhla ; i.e.,
"Field of the Apple-Tree," which now bears the name Aghowle, or Aghold, in
the barony of Shillelagh, County Wicklow. It was anciently called Crosalech.
Here St. Finnian resided for sixteen years. At Mughna, County Carlow, he
erected another monastery, and is said to have lectured there for seven
years on the Sacred Scriptures. It is probably while there that he preached
on one occasion in presence of St. Brigid.
We now approach the most important event in St. Finnian's life in his
settlement at Clonard, County Meath, which during his lifetime became the
most celebrated sanctuary in Ireland for piety and learning. Cluain-Eraird
i. e., Erard's Lawn or Meadow is the derivation given by O'Donovan. Erard
was a man's name, very common in Ireland, signifying lofty or noble. Again,
we find it related in the saint's life that an angel appeared to him
directing him as to where he should take up his abode. Saint Finnian entered
Clonard repeating the psalm " Haec requies mea in Saeculum Saeculi hic
habitabo quoniam elegi eam."
The date of the saint's arrival at Clonard is said to be about A.D. 530. It
is a matter of doubt whether St. Finnian was a bishop. The Four Masters
simply term him abbot. Such is the title accorded to him in the Martyrology
of Donegal and other Irish calendars. Dr. Lanigan seems to think that St.
Finnian was only abbot. It is, doubtless, a fact that Clonard was an
episcopal see, but it is quite possible that it did not become so till after
Finnian's time. His successor at Clonard, St. Seanach, is called bishop by
the Four Masters. The school of Clonard in a short time became famous in
Ireland. Those great men who were afterward called the Twelve Apostles of
Ireland came to seek instruction from Finnian viz., Columba, the two
Brendans, Ciaran of Saigher, his namesake of Clonmacnoise, Columb of
Tir-da-ghlas, Mobhi Claraineach, Molaish, Canice, and Ruadhan of Lothra.
Three thousand scholars are said to have been educated at Clonard during the
saint's lifetime, and the holy founder was justly termed "Magister Sanctorum
Hiberniae sui temporis." In the Life of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise we read :
" In schola sapientissimi magistri Finniani plures Sancti Hibernise erant ;"
and in that of St. Columb of Tir-da-ghlas : "Audiens famam S. Finniani
Episcopi de Cluain-Eraird, ut Sacram Scripturam addisceret accessit ;" and,
lastly, we find it said of St. Ruadhan :"Legens diversas Scripturas et
multum proficiens in eis." Colgan enumerates thirty two saints who received
instruction from St. Finnian, and bears testimony of the fame of Clonard,
where students assembled from various parts of Europe.
Saint Finnian did not permit his multifarious labours in behalf of learning
to interfere with his duties towards the needy and afflicted. We read in his
life that he was a father to all who sought help from him: " Flebat cum
flentibus." "Infirmabatur enim cum infirmis." On a certain occasion a bard
named German presented St. Finnian with a beautiful poem, in which many of
his virtues were extolled; the bard demanded from the saint not gold or
silver, or any worldly substance, but only fertility of produce in his
lands. Finnian answered him, and said : "Sing over water the hymn which thou
hast composed, and sprinkle the land with that water." The bard did as he
was directed, and his land produced abundant fruit.
In the historical tale "The Expedition of the Sons of Carra," published by
O' Curry in his MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History, we have a
description of St. Finnian's interviews with the three brothers, who had
plundered the churches of Connaught. O 'Curry observes that while these
tales often contain matter without resemblance to facts, we are not to
reject them wholly on that account, but rather make allowance for poetic
embellishment, at the same time having good ground for believing that a
foundation of truth exists. The story is as follows : -
" Three brothers actuated by an evil spirit plundered the churches of
Connaught. In their wicked enterprise they were joined by a band of
adventurers as daring as themselves. They commenced by pillaging the Church
of Tuam, and never ceased till they had laid waste more than half the
churches of the province. When the three brothers arrived at the Church of
Clothar, they determined to kill the old man, who was the Airchennech of
that place ; he was their grandfather; but he, though suspecting their evil
design, treated them with kindness, and assigned to them a comfortable
resting-place. Lochan, the eldest of the three brothers, that night had a
vision, which alarmed him so much that he became conscience-stricken. He saw
represented before him the eternal joys of heaven and the torments of hell.
When morning came he acquainted his brothers of what he saw, and like him
they felt remorse for their wicked deeds. The brothers Carra sought the
pardon and prayers of their grandfather. They took counsel with the old man
as to what course they should pursue in order to obtain God's forgiveness
and to make reparation for the past. He told them to repair to St. Finnian,
the great teacher, and to submit themselves to his spiritual direction. The
Ua Carra immediately put off their warlike attire, and donned the garb of
pilgrims, and with staves instead of swords hastened to Clonard. At their
approach the inhabitants fled, for the fame of their evil deeds had spread
far and wide. St. Finnian alone came out to meet them ; the brothers threw
themselves on their knees, and besought his friendship and pardon. ' What do
you want, said Finnian.' ' We want,' said they, ' to take upon us the habit
of religion and penitence, and henceforward to serve God.' ' Your
determination is a good one,' said Finnian, ' let us come into the town,
where my people are.' They entered the town, and Finnian took counsel with
his people respecting the penitents. It was decided that they should be
placed for the space of a year under the direction of a certain divinity
student, with whom alone they were to converse during that period. The Ua
Carra faithfully complied with the mode of life laid out for them, and when
the year expired presented themselves before St. Finnian for his
benediction. The saint blessed them, saying, ' You cannot restore to life
the innocent ecclesiastics whom you have slain, but you can go and repair,
and restore as far as is in your power, the churches and other buildings
which you have ruined.' The sons of Ua Carra took an affectionate leave of
St. Finnian, and as the Church of Tuam was the first which suffered from
their plundering, they wished it to be the first that they should restore.
They repaired it, and proceeded from place to place, making amends for the
injury they had inflicted on the churches of Connaught. Having restored all
the churches but one, the Ua Carra returned to St. Finnian, who inquired if
they had finished their work. They replied, 'We have repaired all the
churches but one.' ' Which is that?'asked Finnian. 'The Church of Ceann Mara
(Kinvara),' they said. ' Alas !' said the saint, ' this was the first church
you ought to have repaired the church of the holy man Coman ; return now,
and repair every damage, you have done to that place.' The brothers obeyed
St. Finnian's command, and restored the church. By the advice of St. Coman
they built a canoe, and undertook a voyage on the Atlantic Ocean."
Thus far the tale refers to St. Finnian ; the voyage and its results does
not come within the scope of this paper.
St. Finnian's mode of life was very austere, his usual food was bread and
herbs ; on festival days he allowed himself a little beer or whey ; he slept
on the bare grounds, and a stone served him for a pillow.
In his last illness the saint was attended by his former pupil St. Colomb,
of Tir-da-Ghlas, who administered to him the Holy Viaticum. The Four Masters
record his death A.D. 548; but the year 550 or 551 appears to be the correct
date. It is stated in some of our annals that Finnian died of the plague ;
there is no doubt that the plague was in Ireland during this period, viz.,
548 and 551. In the Chronicon Scotorum, under 551, we read : "A great
mortality, i. e., the Chronn Conaill." St. Finnian is enumerated among its
This great saint is commemorated by Oenghus in the following verse :
" A Tower of Gold over the sea,
May he bring help to my soul,
Is Finnian fair, the beloved root
Of the great Cluain-Eraird."
St. Finnian's sister, St. Regnach, was Abbess of Kilreynagh, near the
present town of Banagher, King's County.
Hardy, in his Descriptive Catalogue of British History, mentions four lives
of St. Finnian: viz., Ex. MS. Salmanticensis (which is given by Colgan) ;
MS. Life, Duke of Devonshire ; MS. Trinity College, Dublin, referred to by
Bishop Nicholson in his Irish Historical Library ; and MS. Bodleian Library,
which begins thus : " Fuit vir nobilia in Hiberniae partibus." (Hardy's
Catalogue, p. 128, vol. i., part 1.)
December 12th (the day of his death) is observed as his Feast.
JOHN M. THUNDER.
Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 13 (1892), 810-815.
St. Columba (Colm) of Tyrdaglas, Abbot
Born in Leinster, Ireland; died 548; feast may also be December 13.
Saint Columba, son of the Leinster noble named Crimthain, was a disciple
of Saint Finnian (f.d. today) and himself became a great master of the
Finnian often had Saint Senach (f.d. March 8) keep an eye on the younger
seminarians at Clonard. Once Senach reported back to the holy abbot that
he found Columba kneeling in prayer, oblivious to everything about him,
with his arms stretched out to heaven and the birds alighting on his
shoulders. Finnian replied, "He is the one who will offer the Holy
Sacrifice for me at my death."
After founding and governing the monastery of Tyrdaglas on the Shannon
in Munster, Saint Columba died of the plague. He is generally described
as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland and is also the co-founder of
Clonenagh with Saint Fintan (f.d. February 17) who became its second
abbot, and of Iniscaltra (Holy Island in the Shannon) (Benedictines,
D'Arcy, Healy, Husenbeth, Montague, Ryan).
Troparion of St Columba of Leinster tone 8
O pious Columba, as a disciple of our Father Finnian and a renowned
struggler, thou didst shine forth in the ascetic life./ O Ireland's
treasure, cease not to pray for those who labour, weeping and repenting,
for the salvation of their souls.
St. Cormac, Abbot
6th century. The eminently holy, ancient Irish abbot, Saint Cormac, was
friend of Saint Columba (f.d. June 9), according to Adamnan
St. Edburga (Eadburh) of Thanet, Abbess & Virgin
Died 751. Saint Edburga, one of the royal family of Kent, succeeded
Saint Mildred (f.d. July 13) as abbess of Minster in Thanet. She is
known chiefly from Saint Boniface's (f.d. June 5) letters to her, in
which he thanks her for books, altar vestments, and other 'tokens of
affection' she had sent him and for the 'spiritual light' conveyed in
her letters. She had a new church built for her convent at Minster to
which she translated the relics of Saint Mildred. Edburga is also known
for her talent as a calligrapher. Her own relics were translated to
Saint Gregory's Church in Canterbury in 1055 (Attwater, Attwater 2,
Benedictines, Coulson, Husenbeth).
St. Colman of Glendalough, Abbot
Died 659. An abbot Colman of Glendalough is mentioned in the Irish
calendars (Benedictines, Husenbeth).
Troparion of St Colman of Glendalough tone 8
Giving thy life to Christ in monastic poverty, thou didst teach us a
God-pleasing set of values, O Father Colman./ Wherefore intercede with
Christ our God that He will instil in us constancy of faith, patience in
trials and freedom from worldliness that we may be found worthy of His
St. Corentin (Cury)
Died c. 490 (though some claim him for the 6th century); a second feast
day on May 1 is probably in honour of his translation. There may be some
confusion between Corentinus, first bishop of Cornouaille (Quimper),
Brittany, and the saintly founder and patron of Cury (Corentin) on
Lizard Island of Cornwall (died 401?) whose feast is also today, and
whose cultus spread throughout southwestern England and Wales. This
second was a hermit at the foot of Mount Menehont in Devonshire, who
preached with great success and is said to have died there. They may be
two people or one; however, in 1890, a fresco was
discovered at Breage (the mother-church of Lizard), which depicts Saint
Corentin/Cury in a cope and mitre with the pastoral staff of a bishop.
Beside him is a fish, from which he was reputed to have cut and eaten
one slice each day, without any diminution in the size of the fish.
The story that unites the two claims that Corentin was a Celtic hermit
who retired to the forest of Plomodiern, where he lived in solitude for
several years. After the death of Marcellus, who had subscribed to the
first council of Tours, and the several other British bishops who
migrated to Brittany, new pastors were needed for the British in
Armorica who were familiar with the language and customs. Thus, Corentin
was recruited and consecrated bishop by Saint Martin of Tours ((f.d.
November 11), who had been dead for some time). It is said that Count
Grallo I of Cornouaille (died c. 445) gave his palace at Quimper to
serve as the home and cathedral of the new bishop. An ancient cross
stands near his church. Corentin participated in the council of Angers
in 453 and signed the canons under the name Charaton. He was said to
have been a friend of Guennole (?).
Corentin's relics were translated to Marmoutier at Tours in 878 to
protect them from destruction at the hands of the Normans (Attwater 2,
Benedictines, Coulson, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Husenbeth).
St. Agatha of Wimborne, Nun
Died c. 790. Saint Agatha, a Benedictine nun at Wimborne, crossed the
English Channel to Germany with her mentor Saint Lioba (f.d. September
28) in order to help Saint Boniface (f.d. June 5) in his missionary
Attwater, D. (1983). The Penguin Dictionary of Saints,
2nd edition, revised and updated by Catherine Rachel John.
New York: Penguin Books.
Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate.
(1947). The Book of Saints. NY: Macmillan.
Coulson, J. (ed.). (1960). The Saints: A Concise Biographical
Dictionary. New York: Hawthorn Books.
D'Arcy, M. R. (1974). The Saints of Ireland. Saint Paul, Minnesota:
Irish American Cultural Institute. [This is probably the most
useful book to choose to own on the Irish saints. The author
provides a great deal of historical context in which to place the
lives of the saints.]
Delaney, J. J. (1983). Pocket Dictionary of Saints.
New York: Doubleday Image.
Encyclopaedia of Catholic Saints, October. (1966).
Philadelphia: Chilton Books.
Farmer, D. H. (1997). The Oxford Dictionary of Saints.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Healy, J. (1902). Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars.
Dublin: Sealy, Bryers and Walker.
Husenbeth, Rev. F. C., DD, VG (ed.). (1928). Butler's
Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints.
London: Virtue & Co.
Montague, H. P. (1981). The Saints and Martyrs of Ireland.
Guildford: Billing & Sons.
Ryan, J. (1931). Irish Monasticism. Dublin: Talbot Press.
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