- Celtic and Old English Saints 16 July
* St. Helier of Jersey
* St. Sinach MacDara
* St. Tenenan of Leon
St. Helier of Tongres & Jersey, Martyr
(also known as Elier, Herlier, Helerous)
6th century. The town of Saint Helier in Jersey is named after this
saint, but all that we really know of him comes from a corrupt version
of a medieval account.
Helier (in Latin: Helerius) was born in Tongres in Belgium, probably
between 510 and 520 AD. He probably arrived in Jersey around 535 - 545
AD. He was martyred in approximately 550-560 AD.
The Bollandist Fathers published hagiographies of Helier and his
associates in the 'Acta Sanctorum' published in Antwerp in 1725. The
Life of St. Helier gives the following information:
Helier's father was a noble of Tongres, called Sigebert (or Sigebard)
who married a Swabian woman called Lusegard (or Lusigard). After seven
years of marriage, however, they had had no children. They were pagans,
but after all prayers to the idols had failed, they turned to a
Christian teacher named Cunibert. He agreed to intercede, but made them
promise that they would dedicate the child to God as a Christian.
Cunibert's prayers were successful, and Sigebert and Lusegard had a son.
However, they immediately reverted to their pagan ways, and forgot their
promise. When the boy was seven years old, though, he fell ill and was
paralysed. In desperation, Sigebert finally handed his son over to St.
Cunibert, and the boy was cured. Cunibert renamed him Helier and took
him into the church and educated him. Helier started performing miracles
(among them: negotiating with the rabbits that plagued his garden so
that they could share the vegetables that grew there; curing blindness;
removing a snake from the mouth of a man who had had the misfortune of
having it slither in there while he was asleep). Sigebert was furious
because he wanted his son back, and had grave suspicions of the miracles
which he ascribed to wizardry, and so he had St. Cunibert killed.
Helier was heartbroken, and ran away. After much wandering (punctuated
by more miracles), he was directed by God to go to Nanteuil in the
Cotentin, and find a holy man called Marculf. Marculf baptized him and
sent him to an island called Gersut, or Agna (i.e. Jersey). There were
only about thirty people left on the Island at that time due to regular
attacks by Viking pirates. Helier found a little rock to live on by an
Islet out in a bay on the South coast and started life as a hermit,
attended by a companion called Romard. He was visited by St. Marculf,
and while Marculf was there, the Vikings arrived on a raid. Marculf and
Helier prayed and made the sign of the Cross, and God raised a mighty
storm which destroyed the Vikings and their ships.
Marculf left Helier alone on his rock, and Helier remained there for
fifteen years, only eating once a week, until he was so weakened from
hunger and the rigours of life on his exposed rock that he could barely
move. Eventually Christ appeared to Helier and told him he was to come
to Him. Helier said his farewells and prepared himself for martyrdom.
Three days later, a large number of Vandals arrived in a fleet of ships
and started to lay waste to the Island. One of the Vandals found St.
Helier and cut off his head. The Saint picked up his head and walked
towards the shore. The Vandals ran away in great terror, and the Island
St. Helier's body was taken to France, and relics were dispersed to
different churches and monasteries. The Islet and the rock on which
Helier lived is linked to the mainland of Jersey by a causeway which is
walkable at low tide, but covered at high tide. The legend is that the
causeway marks the route walked by St. Helier when he carried his head.
A small town grew up on the coast and took its name from the saint to
whom was attributed, together with Saint Marculf, the conversion of
Jersey to Christianity.
In the "Shorter Menology of the Cistercian Order", Claude Chalmot
asserts that "the sacred relics of St. Helier are preserved and honoured
religiously in the chapel of the Abbey of Beaubec in the Diocese of
Rouen". Dean Falle supported this, but in recent years it has been
discovered that the inhabitants of BrÐ¹ville, in Normandy, have always
believed that initially Helier's body was carried by the currents from
Jersey and washed up on to their seashore.
The body was in a stone coffin, they say, presumably encased in wood to
make it float, and when it was being carried up from the beach its
weight became too much for the bearers and they had to let it drop.
Where it fell, water sprang up, and to this day pilgrimages have been
made to the Fontaine de St. Helier, the water from which is often used
to bathe defective eyes.
It is not just in Jersey that St. Helier is remembered and venerated.
Churches and chapels can be found dedicated to the saint scattered
across Normandy, and also in Eastern Brittany.
The island of Jersey and the other Channel Islands represent the last
remnants of the medieval Dukedom of Normandy that held sway in both
France and England. Today the Bailiwick of Jersey is a British Crown
dependency headed by a lieutenant-governor appointed directly by the
Crown, but is part of neither the United Kingdom nor the European Union.
Troparion of St Helier tone 5
O glorious Saint Helier,/ thou didst labour for Christ on the Isle of
Jersey,/ in fasting, vigil and prayer./ Thou didst leave thy rock/ to
convert pirates when they landed,/ and so obtain the crown of victory./
O valiant Martyr, we praise God Who has glorified thee.
St. Sinach MacDara
6th century. The only reference I can find to Sinach is that the
fisherman traditionally gathered on the island of MacDara for an annual
Mass. It is still customary to dip sails or make the Sign of Cross when
passing the island (Montague).
St. Tenenan (Tininor) of Leon, Bishop
Born in Britain; died c. 635. Tenenan was a priest who became a hermit
in Brittany and later bishop of Leon. He probably died at Ploabennec,
where he had built a forest hermitage and where his relics were long
venerated (Benedictines, Farmer).
These Lives are archived at: