Monday, 13 July 2015
The foundation of Clonfert
This account is taken from the Lives of the Irish Saints by John Canon O'Hanlon (1821-1905) for 16th May, beginning in Chapter III at p. 450 in my edition.
In the year of grace 561, our present St. Brendan is said to have flourished in Ireland. This is about the period, to which the foundation of Clonfert city has been ascribed, and, while the holy man was in his seventy-seventh year; although, other accounts place it at an earlier date, while the Annals of Inisfallen synchronize it with the very day on which the battle of Culdreimhe had been fought. An angel is said to have directed its foundation. While our saint lived there, a monk, who had left his parents in Britain, and who had travelled with St. Brendan, died. The third day after his departure, the holy old Abbot said to the Bishop, St. Moeneiu: "Place my bacillus over the body of the dead brother." Accordingly, St. Moeneiu set it on the stiff cold corpse, when the monk was restored to life. Afterwards, that brother, filled with faith in our holy Brendan's miraculous power, went safely home to his province in Britain. It was a journey of three days, from Clonfert of St. Brendan, in the province of Connaught, to the monastery of Chiayn-Credal, in that territory of Munster, where his holy nurse St. Ita lived, and whose departure to Heaven now approached. On the night or vigil of our Lord's Nativity, the pious virgin said within herself: "Would that on this very holy morning, I could receive the Body of Christ, from the hand of my venerable foster-son Brendan." Then, rising on the instant, to celebrate the vigil in her monastery, like the holy Abacuch, she was raised by an Angel and brought to the city of St. Brendan, at Clonfert. Knowing in the spirit, what was to occur, the holy superior went out from the porch of his church, to meet St. Ita with the Holy Communion. The Angel placed that fovoured virgin on the ground, where she received the Body of our Lord from the hand of St. Brendan, while offering thanks to God. Giving and receiving mutually a blessing, the virgin of Christ was raised once more by the Angel, and brought to her monastery. Her translation through the air to Clonfert and back to Cluayn-Credal only occupied an hour.
St. Brendan made a journey into the province of Connaught, where a field was presented to him. In after times, and even to the present day, that place has been called Clonfert. Here arose a once celebrated city, because our saint began there the erection of a religious establishment. That former famous city — the head of an episcopal See — has now dwindled away to an inconsiderable village. In our Annals, it is usually called Clonfert of Brendan, to distinguish it from many other places so denominated, in different parts of Ireland. This was a principal one of St. Brendan's erections, and there it was known, in his time, as Clonfert monastery, near the River Shannon. Its foundation has been ascribed to the year 558. Over this Abbey, he was called upon to preside, as superior of a fervent religious community. He is said afterwards to have been a bishop. It has been stated, moreover, that a great educational institute was erected by St. Brendan, at Clonfert. This college deserves to be ranked in the first place, among the sacred and literary institutions of Ireland. Theology, philosophy, the sciences, and general literature, were taught within its walls. The numbers that resorted to it for education were so great, that in a few years, it became necessary to appoint a bishop, for the purpose of ordaining missionaries, and of serving the churches, which grew up in the adjacent country.
In legend, too, he is associated with the place. On a certain day, Brendan was at Cluain-ferta, in his church, after preaching and the Mass. This happened fourteen years before his death. He saw a wonderful bird coming in at the window, and after that, it perched on the altar. However, Brenainn was not able to look at it, in consequence of a sun-like radiance that gleamed.