10 May #1
- Celtic and Old English Saints 10 May
*St. Comgall of Bangor
St. Comgall, Bishop and Founder of Bangor Monastery
Born in Ulster, Ireland, c. 517; died at Bangor, Ireland, in 603; some
list his feast as May 11. It is said that Comgall was a warrior as a
young man, but that he studied under Saint Fintan at Cluain Eidnech
Monastery, was ordained a priest before he was 40, and with several
companions became a hermit in Lough Erne. The rule he imposed was so
severe that seven of them died. He left the island and founded a
monastery at Bangor (Bennchor) on the south shore of Lake Belfast, where
he taught Saint Columban and a band of monks who evangelized Central
Europe. Two other of his monks actively evangelized Scotland, Saint
Moluag of Lismore in Argyll and Saint Maelrubha of Applecross in Ross.
In time, it became the most famous monastery in Ireland, and Comgall is
reported to have ruled over some 8,000 monks there and in houses founded
from Bangor. Bangor was one of the principal religious centres of
Ireland until it was destroyed by the Danes in 823.
Although he was known for his ascetism and was said to have only eaten a
full meal once a week on a Sunday, many of the miracles ascribed to him
concern food. On one occasion, a farmer refused to sell grain to his
monks, saying that he would rather his mother-in-law, whom he called
Luch, should eat it all rather than the monks. The word luch is the
Gaelic for mouse. S.Comgall said, "So be it, by luch it shall be eaten",
and that night a plague of mice ate two piles of corn, which would have
been thirty cart loads.
On another occasion, a group of thieves broke into the grounds of the
monastery to steal the monks' vegetables, and through the prayers of
Comgall they were deprived of their sight until they repented. When they
did repent, they were admitted into the community. Yet again, when the
monks were short of food, and visitors to the community were expected,
S.Comgall prayed to God, and a shoal of fish swam to the shore, so that
the brethren might feed their guests.
Comgall went to Scotland for a time, where he lived in a monastery on
the island of Tiree. He also accompanied Saint Columba on a missionary
trip to Inverness to evangelize the Picts. Columba and Comgall are
believed to have journeyed together through the Great Glen and preached
before King Brude at Inverness. There he founded a monastery at Land of
Heth. The manuscript called the Bangor Antiphonary [see below], written
there less than a century after Saint Comgall's death, contains a long
hymn in his praise. Comgall died after years of suffering resultant from
St.Fiacre received the message that his friend was dying through an
angel and arrived in Bangor in time to see him into the next world. When
he returned to Ullard after burying Sr.Comgall, Fiacre took an arm of
the saint back as a relic. Nothing now remains of the great monastery,
but the Bell of Bangor is preserved in the heritage museum at Belfast,
and in the Ambrosian Library there is the Antiphonary of Bangor
(Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Neeson, Flanagan, Farmer).
.....As monasticism changed from solitary to community life, the monks
received something of the same privilege of carrying the Eucharist with
them. They would have it on their persons when working in the fields or
going on a voyage. The species was either placed in a small receptacle
(Chrismal = "Christ-carrier", Old Irish) worn bandoleer-fashion, or in a
little bag (Perula) hung around the neck under their clothes. Irish and
British manuscripts make frequent mention of the practice. It was not
only to have the hosts ready for Communion but also to insure safety
against robbers and protection against the hazards of travel.
The life of St. Comgall (died 601) tells how on one occasion he was
attacked by heathen Pietists while working in a field. On seeing the
Chrismal around his neck, the attackers did not dare touch him for fear
of some retaliation since they surmised (as the narrator says) that
Comgall was carrying his God. The saint was so moved by the experience
that he exclaimed, "Lord, you are my strength, my refuge, and my
Redeemer" (Psalm 18:2).
In art, Saint Comgall's emblem is a fish. Usually he is portrayed as an
abbot holding a stone, to whom an angel brings a fish (Roeder).
A Second Life:
Founder and abbot of the great Irish monastery at Bangor, flourished in
the sixth century. The year of his birth is uncertain, but according to
the testimony of the Irish annals it must be placed between 510 and 520;
his death is said to have occurred in 602 ("Annals of Tighernach" and
"Chronicon Scotorum"), or 597 (Annals of Innisfallen). He was born in
Dalaradia in Ulster near the place now known as Magheramorne in the
present County Antrim. He seems to have served first as a soldier, and
on his release from military service he is said to have studied at
Clonard with St. Finnian, and at Clonmacnoise with St. Ciaran, who died
We next find him in Ulster in an island on Lough Erne accompanied by a
few friends following a very severe form of monastic life. He intended
to go to Britain, but was dissuaded from this step by Lugidius, the
bishop who ordained him, at whose advice he remained in Ireland and set
himself to spread the monastic life throughout the country. The most
famous of the Comgall is Bangor, situated in the present County Down, on
the Southern shore of Belfast Lough and directly opposite to
Carrickfergus. According to the Irish annals Bangor was founded not
later than 552, though Ussher and most of the later writers on the
subject assign the foundation to the year 555.
According to Adamnan's "Life of Columba", there was a very close
connection between Comgall and Columba though there does not appear to
be sufficient authority for stating that Comgall was the disciple of
Columba in any strict sense. He is said to have been the friend of St.
Brendan, St. Cormac, St. Cainnech, and Finbarr of Moville. After intense
suffering he received the Eucharist from St. Fiacra and expired in the
monastery at Bangor.
Comgall belonged to what is known as the Second Order of Irish Saints.
These flourished in the Irish Church during the sixth century. They were
for the most part educated in Britain, or received their training from
those who had grown up under the influence of the British Schools. They
were the founders of the great Irish monastic schools, and contributed
much to the spread of monasticism in the Irish Church. It is an
interesting question how far Comgall, or men like him, had advanced in
their establishments at Bangor and elsewhere in introducing the last
stages of monasticism then developed on the Continent by St. Benedict.
In other words, did St. Comgall give his monks at Bangor a strict
monastic rule resembling the Rule of St. Benedict? There has come down
to us a Rule of St. Comgall in Irish, but the evidence would not warrant
us in saying that as it stands at present it could be attributed to him.
The fact, however, that Columbanus, a disciple of Comgall and himself a
monk of Bangor, drew up for his Continental monasteries a "Regula
Monachorum" wound lead us to believe that there had been a similar
organisation in Bangor in his time. This, however, is not conclusive,
since Columbanus might have derived inspiration from the Benedictine
Rule then widely spread over South-Western Europe. St. Comgall is
mentioned in the "Life of Columbanus" by Jonas, as the superior of
Bangor, under whom St. Columbanus had studied. He is also mentioned
under 10 May, his feast-day in the "Felire" of Oengus the Culdee
published by Whitley Stokes for the Henry Bradshaw Society (2nd ed.),
and his name is commemorated in the Stowe Missal (MacCarthy), and in the
Martyrology of Tallaght.
Icon of Saint Comgall
Troparion of St Comgall tone 4
O Comgall, Father of Monks, / thou didst train four thousand monastics./
Thou didst kindle Christ's fire in Bangor/ and thy cell was aglow in the
pagan darkness./ O friend of Saint Colum Cille,/ thou radiancy of
Ireland and Scotland; we praise God Who hath glorified thee.