Saturday, November 24, 2012

Monasticism (13)

Irish Monasticism  part 1

The ‘Catalogue of the Saints of Ireland’ divided the Saints of Ireland into three orders. The first contains all those bishops deemed to have received their ministry from St Patrick. The second lists monks who had received their ministry from Britain. The third consists of hermits. But the document is of 9C or even 10C and is clearly designed to boost the prestige of Patrick and his bishops over against the monks and hermits. But these orders were not consecutive but contemporary one with another and should be dated to the 6C. This century was one of great expansion which saw not only bishops, but monks and hermits, spreading everywhere in Ireland. The result was that the monasteries became the de facto centres of the church.  Monasticism, with its multiple forms, had great appeal because its adaptability.

The traditional founder of the monastic movement is said to have been St Finnian of Clonard (548) who had received training in Wales. He was undoubtedly a great founder and teacher. But there were many before him. Patrick’s relation to the monastic life is unclear though interesting. Some deny he founded any monasteries on the grounds that bishops came first and monks later. Yet St Patrick was firmly in favour of the dedicated life; he refers to it four times. Most explicit is his statement that, ‘The sons of the Irish and the daughters of their kings are monks and brides of Christ’. But even if this only referred to individuals not communities – and this is not clear- for a bishop in the 5th C to be so positive is unusual. His companion St Tassach (470), founder of the church at Raholp just 2 miles from Saul, is said to have spent 7 years on Rathlin O’Birne off the coast of Donegal with other hermits before 500. If so this is of extraordinary interest. St Enda (530) spent many years first as a hermit, founder of a monastery and teacher of many on Inishmore, the main island of Aran Co Galway. St Donard (507) at Maghera Co Down is said to have had a hermit’s cell on top of Slieve Donard in the Mountains of Mourne. St Forthchern (5C), who is said to have been a bishop and then a hermit in Meath, may have been the teacher of Finnian. St Buite (523) founded Monasterboice in Co Louth. St Senan (546) evangelised West and South Clare and he and his disciples founded many places around the Clare coast and on the islands of the Shannon estuary. There are also several remarkable women saints from the early period, St Gobnait (5C) at Ballyvourney (Co Cork), St Arraght (5C) at Killaracht and Monasteraden (both Co Sligo), St Monnina at Killevy (Co Armagh) (517), St Brigit (524) at Kildare, St Bronagh at Kilbroney, Rostrevor (Co Down) and St Ita (570) at Killeedy (Co Limerick).

St Columba (597) was perhaps the most prolific founder of monasteries of all. Born at Garten in Co Donegal, he was of royal blood, of commanding stature and evidently of great charisma. He eventually left Ireland for Scotland where, from this base on Iona, he evangelised among the Picts. His ‘Life’ written by St Adamnan gives a vivid picture of an Irish saint and Irish  monasticism..

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