From Catholic Herald: The long read: Ireland must remember that it is truly a land of saints and scholars. Michael Duggan, wrote on the 16 March, 2019

From Catholic Herald: The long read: Ireland must remember that it is truly a land of saints and scholars.

Michael Duggan, wrote on the 16 March, 2019:

“Given where Ireland now finds itself, it seems fitting enough that one of the most passionate remaining public champions of ‘The Land of Saints and Scholars’ is not Irish, but Italian. Enzo Farinella, native of Sicily and long-time resident of Dublin, has written and published several evocatively titled books, such as On the Summits of the Highest Love and Through Mountains and Valleys, honouring the achievements and heroism of ancient Irish monks in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. A volume about France is on its way.

Farinella’s books are a treasure trove. With them to hand, one can carry on drawing up a map of Europe that pulsates with places Irish exiles helped to found, build up, or save: Maria Saal in Austria, for example, where Modestus, as sent by Virgil, established the church from which he Christianized the surrounding region (the modern Austrian ‘Land’ of Carinthia); or another Austrian city, Bregenz, where Columbanus and Gallus worked as missionaries; or Regensburg in Germany where Erhard was a prolific monastery-founding Irish Bishop of the seventh-century. (One is reminded that, while these men were indeed saints and scholars, many were also examples of another Irish vocation par excellence: builders.)

On the map too would be Laon in northern France, dominated by its magnificent cathedral. Here, John Scotus Eriugena served in the court of Charles the Bald. According to Dr Ian Leask of Dublin City University, Eriugena was “probably Christianity’s greatest systematic thinker between the times of Augustine and Aquinas”. His image used to adorn the Irish five-pound note in the days before the Euro.

Further south, the Église Notre-Dame-des-Ardents et Saint-Pierre in Lagny, in the eastern suburbs of Paris, catches the eye. St Peter’s Abbey was originally founded in around 644 by Saint Fursey, a monk from Connaught, famous for his visions, and one of the so-called Four Comely Saints of the early Irish church. Clovis II made gifts to Fursey’s church, as did his saintly English wife, Bathild. Joan of Arc visited Lagny twice, and, on the second occasion, in 1430, she is said to have raised from the dead a child who had died three days earlier.

Further east, one comes to Lure in the Haute-Sâone, where Saint Deicolus, another companion of Columbanus, founded an abbey with bequests from Clothar the Great, King of the Franks. The two men first met when Clothar was out hunting. A panic-stricken boar is reputed to have taken refuge in Deicolus’s chapel in the woods. The Irish monk calmed and protected the foaming beast, while also managing not to anger the king. Instead, Clothar made him grants of land and fisheries. There is a tremendous drawing of the whole incident by the eighteenth-century German artist, Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner.

Indeed, the Irish seemed to have a special way with the wild animals of the European forests. Gallus was said to have once tamed a rampaging bear, who, originally intent on savaging him, sloped off instead to gather wood for the monk’s fire and then stayed by his side for the rest of his days. The saint is often depicted with this companionable bear at his feet.

And so the map continues to fill up. It would glow all the greener if one were to begin plotting the traces of English monks who trained in Ireland before embarking for the continent. Utrecht in the Netherlands, for example, is where Saint Willibrord of Northumbria, Apostle to the Frisians, made his mark, after having first spent twelve years, between the ages of twenty and thirty-two, at the Irish monastery of Rathmelsigi among a host of other Englishmen. As Bede tells us, during the episcopates at Lindisfarne of Finan and Colmán, “many English nobles and lesser folk” left their own land to go and live in Ireland “either to pursue religious studies or to lead a life of stricter discipline. Some of these soon devoted themselves to the monastic life, while others preferred to travel, studying under various teachers in turn. The (Irish) welcomed them all kindly, and, without asking for any payment, provided them with daily food, books and instruction.” There is a copy of the Gospels at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris which is an Irish codex brought to the continent by Willibrord.

And when our map-making eye finally returns to England itself, we find that Mael Dub and Aidan (and his small army of disciples) are not by any means the whole story. The great Anglo-Saxonist Sir Frank Stenton argued that Saint Fursey (the same man who founded the abbey at Lagny in France) ‘should be remembered in any account of the conversion of the East Angles’. Bede devotes a whole chapter to Fursey, calling him ‘of noble Irish blood and even more noble in mind than in birth’. And as for Kent, the centre of all Roman influence on the conversion of England, Stenton cautioned that it would not be wise to ignore the Irish bishop Dagán.

This is an amazing article which shows so much of the Irish connection to the rest of Europe. Particularly nice to see the references to Pisa, Lucca and Florence and to your work. I had wondered about San Frediano when I came across his name in Tuscany (T.Z., N.Y.)

Ripensando i grandi monaci e Santi irlandesi potrebbe essere veramente una via d’uscita dalla nostra situazione spirituale caratterizzata dall'oblio dei grandi valori e tradizioni E.L. – Vienna).