Friday, 27 April 2012

The Varangian Guard-The Vikings in Byzantium

The Varangian Guard The Vikings in Byzantium
The Varangian Guard in Byzantium is one of the very few mercenary units whose history can be counted in centuries. The length of their service and the number of battles in which they fought is perhaps only surpassed by the Swiss in the pay of the French. But while the Swiss had only to journey into neighboring France, in times when there were already well-established and regular postal routes and diplomatic missions, the Norsemen had to travel far beyond the boundaries of their known world. From the point of view of the Byzantines, these Norsemen came from a distant land, Thule, told of only in myths and legends. By the 9th Century, Swedish Vikings had travelled along the great rivers into modern-day Russia. They came as traders or as raiders, depending on how they calculated their chances of making profit. They quickly constructed their first fortified trading posts and began subduing the local population. By 850 they had founded their own principalities in Novgorod and Kiev, and the small ruling elite which they managed to form intermarried with Slavic noble families to consolidate their power. The Slavs called the Norsemen "Rus" and soon the word became synonymous for the whole realm united under the leadership of Kiev. The name "Varangian" was also often used, which meant a stranger who had taken military service, or a man who belonged to a union of traders and warriors. Though sometimes both terms were used interchangeably, it became common to use "Rus" as a designation for the established Nordic Slavic nobility who reigned in eastern Europe, while "Varangian" was used for the foreign warriors still arriving from Scandinavia to trade, or offer their swords for hire to the Rus. In their wars and internal feuds the princes of the Rus preferred to recruit new fighters from the north, which was facilitated by existing trade routes and old alliances. Since the Rus came originally as traders and pirates, it was natural that they pushed further down the Dnieper from Kiev. They reached the Black Sea, crossed it and discovered in the riches of Constantinople the true object of their desires. Already by 860 they had made their first attack, followed by others until the last great assault in 1043. But between these unsuccessful attacks the Kievan princes traded with Byzantium, married Byzantine princesses and supplied the Byzantines with mercenaries. It is therefore unsurprising that the sources mention "Russian" mercenaries in Byzantine service even more than they do the numerous Russian raids in the area. This was in the best Viking tradition: if you couldn't conquer your opponent, you traded with him or took his money as a mercenary. In Byzantium the Varangians encountered the only state in medieval Europe whose fiscal organisation permitted regular paying of mercenaries. Besides troops, which were provided by the military districts, the so-called "themes" or "themata", the Byzantines routinely contracted foreigners: Normans, Hungarians, Turks, Lombards, Georgians, Armenians, Arabs, Slavs and many others. The first Rus mercenaries are mentioned in 902 as part of an expedition to Crete. Since the recorded names are all of Nordic origin, it can be assumed that this 700-strong auxiliary force consisted mainly of Varangians. More followed and it appears that the Varangians soon became an integral part of the multi-ethnic conglomerate of the Byzantine army. As a result of internal fights in Kiev the Varagians became firmly established in Byzantium. There Vladimir the youngest of three brothers and pretenders to the throne was forced to flee "across the sea", meaning to Scandinavia. But with the aid of a relative he was able to recruit numerous Varangians who helped him conquer the throne of Kiev. After that he was apparently confronted with the problem that he could not pay his allies, who nonetheless showed little desire to return to their homes. It is said that they impetuously demanded to be shown the way to "Miklagard", as the fabulous Constantinople was called in Scandinavia. It was probably a relief, then, when Basisl II, emperor of Byzantium, asked for military assistance to suppress some serious rebellions. Vladimir sent 6,000 of his restless, quarrelsome warriors to Basil, who was able to consolidate his power with their help. From then on, the Varangians, or the "axe-bearing barbarians", formed the core of the Imperial Bodyguard. In the following years the Varangians fought in Syria, Armenia and Sicily. Not all arriving Norsemen entered the Imperial Guard automatically however. This was a very exclusive unit, whose members received higher pay, could be among the first to loot after a victory, and even had the privilege of plundering the emperor's palace after his death. Moreover, one can well imagine that the Byzantine court offered other important sources of income for people who could possibly reach the Emperor's ear. Positions in the Guard were therefore sold for good money, and many newcomers from Scandinavia served in other units until they had collected the necessary capital.
In battle the Guard proved itself again and again, quickly earning a reputation for being the elite of the Byzantine army. Thus a Byzantine chronicler tells of the fighting in southern Italy in 1018 against Lombards and Normans: "When the Emperor learned that brave knights had invaded his country, he sent his best soldiers against them. In the first three battles the Normans were victorious. But when they encountered the Rus, they were defeated and their army was completely destroyed." In the Battle of Beroe (1122) against the Pechenegs, when all other troops had failed to break the circled wagon train of the Pechenegs, the officers cried finally for the "Emperor's wineskins", as the guardsmen were sometimes called due to their habit of heavy drinking. Although heavily outnumbered they broke the circle and slaughtered numerous enemies. They were especially appreciated, however, for their loyalty. According to Anna Comnena, the Greek princess and a major source of information regarding Byzantine history, they passed down this loyalty from generation to generation almost like a sacred heritage. As foreigners, they didn't have much to do with the cabals and intrigues at the Byzantine court. In addition, they were probably brought up from childhood to be loyal and faithful to those who paid and rewarded them. And of course one should not underestimate the exotic charm of a Guard of such barbaric giants with their foreign weaponry amidst the highly ceremonial Byzantine court. Even the Roman Emperors Caligula and Nero kept a Germanic guard, which they appreciated for courage, loyalty and above all, height. When the Varangians had become a permanent institution, the connections between Scandinavia and Byzantium proved ideal for the recruitment of mercenaries. On the one hand there was the rich empire with its constant need for reliable troops, and on the other the poor rural regions of Scandanavia where the warlike population was looking all over Northern Europe for ways to make their fortune. The Varangians from Sweden were soon joined by those from Denmark and Norway. Some even made their way from distant Iceland. A number of inscriptions on runestones in Scandinavia bear testament to the fate of these lost sons. One reads, for example: "In memory of Folkbjôrn who died in Greece"; and another: "Raised by Vefar in memory of her brother, who died in Arabia." Fewer, however, record the good fortune of those like a certain Mursi: "He made a lot of money for his heirs in Greece." Nevertheless it seems that those who returned with a fortune were the best advertisement for new recruits seeking to enlist. So the Icelandic Laxdaela Saga tells of a certain Bolli Bollason who went to Byzantium and there climbed the ranks to become an officer of the Varangian Guard. His homecoming in 1030 is described in the following way: "Bolli brought back with him much wealth, and many precious things that lords abroad had given him. Bolli was so great a man for show when he came back from this journey that he would wear no clothes but those made of scarlet and fur, and all his weapons were bedight with gold: he was called Bolli the Great. [...] Bolli rode from the ship with twelve men, and all his followers were dressed in scarlet, and rode on gilt saddles, and all were a trusty band, though Bolli was peerless among them. He had on the clothes of fur which the Garth-king (Emperor) had given him, he had over all a scarlet cape; and he had Footbiter girt on him, the hilt of which was dight with gold, and the grip woven with gold; he had a gilded helmet on his head, and a red shield on his flank, with a knight painted on it in gold. He had a dagger in his hand, as is the custom in foreign lands; and whenever they took quarters the women paid heed to nothing but gazing at Bolli and his grandeur, and that of his followers."
One can imagine the repercussions of such stories in poverty-stricken Iceland, where, even as recently as the 20th century, people were living in caves, dried fish were a staple food and boiled sheep heads a delicacy. But poverty wasn't the only reason for the long journey. Byzantium also became a hideaway for those who were on the run from the law or a blood feud, or those who had to go into exile after a change of power at home. The most famous of these was Harald Sigurdsson, later better known as Harald Hardrada, King of Norway. He was the younger half-brother of the Norwegian King Olaf II and had to flee after the latter was defeated at Stiklestad in 1030. Like many of these princes in exile who tried their luck as leaders of mercenaries, in time he gathered around him some retainers and was able to rally other émigrés. This freed him from starting his career as a simple mercenary and provided him with a whole troop of experienced warriors loyal to him alone. From Sweden Harald went first to Kiev where he stayed for several years in the service of Prince Jaroslav, until 1034 when he arrived with 500 men in Byzantium. Harald wasn't accepted into the Varangian Guard straight away, perhaps because he couldn't pay the fee or he tried to bring too many of his followers with him. Instead he and his men were used in the navy to fight Arabian pirates. After, from 1038 to 1041, they fought under the famous Byzantine general George Maniakes in Sicily against the Arabs. The wealthy towns there offered many opportunities for pillaging. One Saga in particular relates how Harald's men stormed a town, "killing the men, plundering all the churches, and taking immense booty." Harald become famous in the course of the war and most likely entered the Guard as an officer after his return to Constantinople. In the meantime he had amassed great riches. The Heimskringla tells that he sent a huge quantity of treasure to Prince Jaroslav of Kiev for safekeeping. A good part of it came from Sicily, but he had also made a lot of money fighting against the pirates. After the war in Sicily he fought in Bulgaria, and was then used along with his unit as a tax collector, which also offered great opportunities for enrichment. It seems that Harald took advantage of this extensively, because he was finally thrown into prison for embezzlement. Two Icelanders who served as officers in the Guard shared his fate. The Guard, who considered such misappropriations as their given right, was apparently outraged, for it is reported that the new Emperor Michael V replaced his Varangian bodyguards with Scythian slaves. Through these events the Varangians lost a lot of influence. They remained in their barracks sullenly while their officers conspired against the new government, and an opportunity soon presented itself. When Michael V ousted the brother of the deceased emperor, the powerful eunuch John, and the Dowager Empress Zoe, he incited huge popular uprisings in Constantinople, which some Varangians apparently joined. Accounts of even the first attack on the palace mention warriors with axes. While the battle raged around the palace, conspirators freed some of the most important prisoners, among them Harald, so as to ensure the loyalty of the Guard. In the meantime the defenders of the palace had been able to drive back the masses with the help of archers, and soon received reinforcement from troops arriving from Sicily. It is probable that there were also Varangians among these reinforcements, so that they now fought on both sides. It would have been Harald's job and that of the other officers to persuade the newcomers to switch sides and join the rebellion. It seems they were successful, as the palace was finally taken after a particularly bloody battle. The Varangians formed the spearhead, forcing their way to the chapel with their axes, where they seized the Emperor and his uncle at the altar. Shortly after, the two were blinded according to Byzantine tradition. It's quite likely that the Varangians carried out this mutilation as a kind of vengeance and to demonstrate their loyalty to the new emperor. In some Nordic poems it's even stated that Harald did it himself: Stung tho Greek emperor's eyes both out: The Norse king's mark will not adorn, The Norse king's mark gives cause to mourn; His mark the Eastern king must bear, Groping his sightless way in fear. It's little surprise that thereafter Harald regained all of his former titles and no one dared to speak of his previous embezzlement. He took advantage of the fighting for the palace and the subsequent purge to plunder and amass still further riches. Soon after he learned that the son of his deceased brother Magnus had claimed the Norwegian throne. He apparently came to the conclusion that he himself, as an experienced warrior, would be better suited to the position and set out for Norway. According to the legends the Emperor wouldn't allow him to leave and he had to escape in secret with the help of a lover. But it's more likely that he used a campaign to clear out with his troops to Kiev. There he remained for some time and married the daughter of Prince Jaroslav until he returned to Norway, where he became king in 1047. In 1066 the old warrior fell in the Battle of Stamford Bridge in the attempt to conquer England. Harald's example illustrates that the Varangians were sometimes drawn into internal struggles for power. That they took side against the emperor remained an exception that can only be explained by the fact that they were previously deprived of privileges and some popular officers were thrown into prison. When the Byzantine army went in 1071 to the disastrous Battle of Manzikert, the Frankish and Norman knights mutinied while still on the march, and succeeded later in avoiding the battle itself. The Varangians, however, on that day fell, almost to the last man, guarding the emperor, who was subsequently taken prisoner. Also in 1081, during fighting for the imperial crown between Nicephorus and Alexius, the Varangians were almost the only ones who remained loyal to Nikephoros, while his German mercenaries secretly opened a door to Constantinople for Alexios. The reign of Alexios brought some important changes. It seems that the traditional supply route along the Russian rivers and from Kiev dried up slowly. Later the state of the Kievan Rus disintegrated into various rival regional powers. On the other hand, pilgrimages to the Holy Land became more popular as the maritime routes from Northern Europe to the Mediterranean developed. Of course, there were still Varangians arriving from Kiev, but the share of Slavic-speaking warriors among them was growing rapidly. Many were pure Slavs, while others were the descendants of former Norsemen who had by then been living for generations in Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, warriors with a different origin began to arrive on the scene. After the Normans had conquered England in 1066, many of the established families preferred to seek their fortune in foreign lands. At first it seems that most of these exiles from England had Danish origins from the so-called Danelaw, and they subsequently followed the footsteps of their Danish cousins to Byzantium. But soon many Anglo-Saxons followed also, often making up the majority of the Guard. A chronicler at this point distinguishes between "Inglinoi", "Rhos" and "Vrangoi", ie between Anglo-Saxons, Russians and Scandinavians. But the most significant change was with the arrival of the Normans in Italy, when Byzantium encountered a new and particularly dangerous opponent. Like the Kievan Rus the Normans had their origin in Scandinavia, but had settled in Normandy were they adapted more quickly than the Rus to the country's language and customs. From there, some had made their way to southern Italy, where they - much like the Varangians - first tried to loot the Byzantines and when that didn't work, served them as mercenaries. Harald Hardrada fought under the command of the Byzantine general George Maniakes side by side with the three sons of Tancred of Hauteville, Drogo, William Iron Arm and Humphrey. Meanwhile the Normans had not only displaced the Byzantines from Apulia and Calabria, but also conquered Sicily. Far from satisfied, they spotted in the Byzantine Empire, hard-hit by the Turks and exhausted from the internal struggles, a really worthwhile prey. After Robert Guiscard (another son of Tancred) had united all Norman domains under his rule, in 1080 he began to muster a strong invasion force mobilizing nearly all men who could carry weapons in southern Italy. The following year he ferried his army over to Dalmatia and besieged Dyrrhachium (Durazzo). The Emperor Alexius finally brought up a relief army including the Varangian Guard as the backbone, in which many Anglo-Saxon exiles who had fled their country after the Norman conquest were serving. In the ensuing battle the Byzantine troops were driven back or routed and only the Varangians, who formed the left wing, attacked with such zeal that the Normans began to retreat. One can imagine that more than anything the Anglo-Saxons enjoyed the opportunity to settle some old scores with the Normans. Soon the whole Norman wing was on the run from the fierce onslaught of the axe-swinging Varangians. Only the personal intervention of Roberts Guiscard's wife, the Lombard princess Sikelgaita, saved the day. Like a true Valkyrie she fought in full armour, rallying the fleeing Normans. Meanwhile Robert came up with the reserves and attacked the far advanced and exhausted Varangians in their flank. Cut off from the rest of the army and attacked from several sides, they retreated to a nearby church, which was then set on fire by the Normans, so that most of them perished in the flames. The battle was lost and Alexius was lucky to escape with the rest of his army. Byzantium survived this crisis as well, funding uprisings in southern Italy and a new expedition to Rome by the German Emperor. Nevertheless the demand for warriors from the north remained unchanged. But at this time no more recruits arrived via Kiev and this traditional supply route was replaced by the Crusades. Scandinavians in transit could be easily recruited, sometimes even whole units. It is reported that a Danish prince called Sveno entered the Imperial service with 1,500 men. It seems that the Byzantines employed Varangians as agents, who searched the port cities for compatriots, distributed wine and presents and painted serving the Emperor in the brightest colors. When, for example, the Count of the Orkney Islands passed through with six ships during the Second Crusade all his men were enticed away. The Count himself received lavish gifts and finally returned by land to his own country. If enough men couldn't be recruited among Crusaders and pilgrims, Varangian officers were sent as ambassadors to the kings of Norway, Sweden and Denmark to ask for warriors. But the Crusades also brought about the end of the Varangian Guard. In 1203 Venice succeeded in using the whole crusader army for the conquest of Constantinople. As a consequence of the usual internal intrigues the only reliable troops on the Byzantine side where the foreigners: the Guard - mostly English and Danish by this time - and the Pisans, who defended their trade privileges against Venice. When the Crusaders managed to enter the city in their first major assault, they suffered heavy losses and were driven back by the Varangians. As so often happened, the rot started at the top. When Emperor Alexius III snuck away from Constantinople with his treasures, the Varangians were persuaded by the Imperial Treasurer to free the blinded opponent Isaac II from jail. Then Isaac's son, who was the Venetian candidate for the throne was crowned as Alexius IV. Unfortunately he had already made the Crusaders huge promises of land and money. While he tried to raise the necessary money, the Crusaders plundered the surrounding countryside, and in the city a profound hatred of the Latins and their protégé Alexius IV grew. Finally there was a palace coup in which, with the help of Varangians, a new candidate won the throne as Alexius V. He had secured their assistance by explaining to them that they would otherwise be replaced by Frankish knights. Because the prior promises of Alexius IV with the Crusaders were now revoked, the Crusaders started their final assault in April 1204. When they entered the city at various points, the Varangians retreated with the Emperor to the palace. Here they held their ground until the emperor and large parts of the nobility secretly left the city. After negotiations they surrendered to the Crusaders, and one can assume that many of them found further employment there. Afterwards there is no more firm evidence of the use of Scandinavians in Byzantine service. The Imperial Guard was later formed by Cretans

The Lords Prayer in Old English from the 10th century

Varangian Defenders of Byzantium

A soldier of the Varangoi the Varangian Guard of the medieval Roman Empire made up of Norsemen, and Anglo-Saxons they were the bravest of the brave the fiercest fighters under the double-eagle standard of the Orthodox Roman Emperor (most of them perished gallantly in battle against the treacherous papist aggressors in 1204). May their memories be eternal!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Battle of Hastings : 1066 A.D.

'King Harold was slain, and Leofwine and Gyrth, his brothers, and many good men.  This battle took place on the feast of  Saint Callistus.'
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle


Before us a field full of dread,
Bodies in hundreds lying dead,
Steeds riderless wandered at will,
Swords, armour, gnashing, groaning shrill.

Death it was that flew above this field,
Over the fallen and swords steeled.
Death I see, as it drifts and flies,
The souls it seems, yearn to rise
But dare not yet their bodies leave -
Yea, souls these are, not shades of eve.

(Translated from Vladimir Monomach and Gytha, Harold's Daughter, by I. Avtamonov)

Accompanied by Malcolm Dunstall, I made a private visit to the site of the Battle of Hastings on 27 October this year. Malcolm Dunstall is the founder of 'The English Companions', a 300-strong society whose aim is to promote interest in and the values of Anglo-Saxon England. I was thus able to realise a childhood ambition, to go and pray for those who were slain at Hastings by the Invader of 1066 and died calling on the Holy Cross.
Having requested and received permission from 'English Heritage', I was able to serve the Orthodox memorial service with the Canon for Slain Orthodox Warriors. This took place at the Harold-stone, the very site where 927 years ago the fate of the English nation, and so the British Isles and the whole future English-speaking world, was to be sealed.
Memorial stone, behind which King Harold is said to have been buried in 1066, Waltham Abbey.
It is our earnest hope and prayer that by the grace of God this historic anniversary commemoration, taking place on the very site and day of the fateful battle, 14 October according to the Orthodox / Julian / Old English calendar might yet become a regular and public event.
Despite the individual excommunication of Pope Leo IX twelve years before the battle, in 1054, we should not forget that the England of the period was still in communion with those who had not fallen away from the Orthodox Church, in the EastThis is proved by the fact that the Norman Invasion was blessed by the Papacy and witnessed to by the many contacts after 1066 between Saxon England and Constantinople, where many thousands of Old English fled with their priests to escape the oppression of the Norman tyrant.
To the Orthodox mind, there is an even more direct link with Hastings. Harold's daughter (born 1056) was to flee England after the Invasion for friendly Denmark and thence Russia. Here she married the future Grand-Prince of Kiev, Vladimir Monomach, in the Cathedral of Our Saviour in Chernigov in April 1074. Vladimir, himself half-Greek, was the grandson of St Anne of Novgorod, who had been baptised by the Glastonbury monk and missionary, St Sigfrid of Sweden. Among the children of Vladimir and Gytha was St Mstislav-Harold (in holy baptism, Theodore, feasted on 15 April), who bore a Slav name as well as that of his maternal grandfather. According to chroniclers, 'no woman in all the world was ever happier than her', Gytha had twelve children, another of whom, George (Yuri), founded Moscow.
In his 200-page epic on Vladimir and Gytha (printed with the blessing of Bishop Hilarion), the Russian poet Igor Avtamonov writes the following:
From sundry lands, like weeds lost root,
With promises of power and loot,
William scraped the scum of the earth,
To steal our homes, land of our birth,
Our wives and kinfolk and cots dear,
To rule as lords and despots here.
The poet concludes Part II, Chapter III, entitled 'At Hastings', with these words:
Harold the King died without fear,
But told us before the slaughter
That if he were to perish here,
We should save Gytha his daughter,
And give to her Old England's crown
That we might cast the Normans down!
May the Lord look down upon us sinners and grant us, who have followed Gytha spiritually and sought to cast the demons down, eternal crowns in the unfading light of His Heavenly Kingdom.
In the sleep of the blessed grant, O Lord, eternal repose to the souls of Thy servants departed this life, Harold, last King of the Old English, his brothers Leofwine and Gyrth, his thegns, and all those who laid down their lives upon this field of battle for the Faith and England and grant them - ETERNAL MEMORY

The Center of Orthodox England-Northumbria


cumbria St Edwin Aidan Hart
Christianity first came to the north through the marriage of the Angle King Edwin to St Ethelburga princess of Kent and his consequent conversion.
He was baptised in 627 in a small wooden church built for the purpose in York by St Paulinus. He had been made bishop in 625 in Kent to accompany St Ethelburga on her trip north. St Edwin afterwards built the church in stone. Significantly the church lay within the headquarters of the Roman camp and was called St Peter's in order to make clear its connections with Rome.
But though Edwin and many of his people were baptised, he was not the first. One year previously St Eanfled, the daughter of Edwin and St Ethelburga was baptised, along with 11 others of the royal household in 626.
Edwin and St Paulinus worked on the conversion of Lindsey (Lincolnshire) and of the East Angles. However Edwin however was slain in 633 (and accorded saintly status) and St Paulinus had to go back south.
St Eanfled, later, became a nun at Whitby
The introduction of Christianity into Anglo-Saxon England was tied into the fortunes of their respective kingdoms: Northumbria, Kent, Mercia, Lindsey, East Anglia, Essex, and Wessex. The monasteries too were highly involved, because they were founded by members of royal families who often lived in them; as such they were an integral part of the Anglo-Saxon political, religious and social system.
The church and cross at Heavenfield
Due to the politics royals often spent time in exile in another kingdom than their own.
Oswald, a royal Northumbrian, spent his exile in Iona and became a Christian due to Iona's influence. After the death of St Edwin in 633,he returned to the north east. After a vision of St Columba, St Oswald and his men erected a cross, prayed to Christ, and defeated their pagan opponents at Heavenfield. The site of the battlefield is marked by a church and a simple modern cross
It was usual in those days for the people to follow their king in matters of faith.
He became king over the two Anglian kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira with territory stretching right the way from the Firth of Forth in Scotland to the Humber and Mersey.
St Aidan
Aidan Hart
Oswald needed someone to teach his people the faith and so he sent to Iona. St Aidan, an Irish monk, with twelve others, was eventually sent. Oswald gave him Lindisfarne, a tidal island, to be the site of his monastery. It would have been a simple affair, with a small church, round bee-hive cells, and workshops. It was also a place of study and training. St Aidan was also made bishop of Lindisfarne. The site of his monastery lies under the present church; the later abbey stands next door.
The King's castle lay close nearby, at Bamburgh nearby, a powerful symbol of the unity of king, church and people.
The hermitage on Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne is indisputably the Holy Island of Britain. Typically, in the tradition which St Aidan represents, islands like Iona, and others in Ireland, Wales and Gaul, were chosen for their solitude for the sake of prayer. But they were also bases for evangelism. Bede says: 'the highest recommendation of his teaching to all was that he and his followers lived as they taught'.
'He never sought or cared for worldly possessions, and loved to give away whatever he received from kings or wealthy folk. Whether in town or country, he always travelled on foot, unless compelled by necessity to ride, and whenever he met anyone, high or low, he stopped and spoke to them. If they were heathen, he urged them to be baptised; and if they were Christians, he strengthened their faith and inspired them by word and deed to live a good life and be generous to others. Aidan cultivated peace and love, purity and humility; he was above anger and greed and despised pride and conceit. He set himself to keep and teach the laws of God, and was diligent in study and in prayer. He used his priestly authority to check the proud and the powerful; he tenderly comforted the sick; he relieved and protected the poor. I greatly admire and love all these things about Aidan, because I have no doubt that they are pleasing to God."
The glory of Lindisfarne is the little hermitage on the island St Aidan used for prayer.
St Aidan died in the monastery where the present church now stands
St Hilda
Aidan Hart
St Heiu, an Irish royal, was made the first abbess of Hartlepool; but in 649 she went to another monastery at Tadcaster in North Yorkshire.
St. Aidan persuaded the great neice of St Edwin, St Hilda, to return from her own exile. She had been baptised along with St Edwin by St Paulinus. S Aidan consecrated her as abbess of Hartlepool after the departure of St Hieu, and in 657 as abbess-founder of Streonshalh, now known as Whitby.
This was a double monastery where the men and women lived separately, but worshipped together in church. Such double monasteries under an abbess were characteristic of very many Anglo-Saxon foundations.
St Hilda, one of most powerful women of Anglo-Saxon times, trained priest and bishops at her monastery,
Bede wrote, "All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace". She died in 680
St Ebbe was another Anglian princess who founded monasteries, first at Ebchester in Co Durham, and another one at St Ebbe's Head, later known as Coldingham. This too was another double monastery ruled by an abbess.
St Etheldreda, the wife of St Edwin later became a nun at Coldingham
St Cedd's burial place at Lastingham
Oswiu, (Oswin) brother of St Oswald, took the throne after the latter's death. He conquered the Kingdom of Mercia in 655. Paeda, a subking of Mercia, married his daughter on condition that he became a Christian. He was baptised, and so was Sigebert King of the East Angles, both due to Oswiu's diplomacy
The brothers St Cedd and St Chad were probably from the Northumbria nobility. They were educated at Lindisfarne by St Aidan. Like St Aidan, they belonged to the tradition of ascetic and peripatetic ministry associated with Iona and Ireland
But they were also proteges of King Oswiu, who sent St Cedd to evangelise Mercia. In the event , their king remained pagan.
A year later Oswiu sent St Cedd to be Bishop and evangelist in East Anglia. St Cedd was also made abbot of the monastery at the royal foundation of Lastingham on the wild North Yorkshire moors.
He died there of the plague in 664. A stone church replaced the wooden one and his shrine can still be seen in the crypt.
St Chad
Aidan Hart
King Oswiu wanted St Chad to be bishop over all Northumbria. But at the time he could find no one to ordain him except the Bishop of the West Saxons and two Welsh/British bishops.
This shows that the British/Welsh were not quite so isolated from the Saxons as usually supposed.
But the ordination was not in accord the Roman canons: in 669 the new Archbishop of Canterbury, St Theodore of Tarsus, made St Chad step down.
Meanwhile King Wulfhere of Mercia had become a Christian. So St Theodore re-ordained St Chad and sent him from Lastingham to be Bishop of Mercia and Lindsey
The story of Northumbria began with great glory. But the days of the wide-ranging peripatetic monk bishops on the Irish and Northumbrian model were numbered. The arrival from Rome of Theodore along with Hadrian as abbot of St Augustine's Canterbury, signalled the development of smaller reformed dioceses, of men of learning based in urban centres. From now on a different order prevailed.
The Synod of Whitby in 664 signalled a tide that was coming in everywhere in Europe and it was not going to stop.
Wall painting of St Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral
Meanwhile, back at Lindisfarne, St Finan, an Irishman from Iona, had taken over as Abbot of Lindisfarne from St Aidan in 651. He was succeeded by St Colman in 661. The time of the next bishops there, St Tuda (664) and St Eata (685), take us to the time of St Cuthbert
St Cuthbert, it is said, while still a shepherd boy, saw the soul of St Aidan being borne up to heaven on his death. He became a monk under St Boisil at Old Melrose on the river Tweed on the Scottish borders.
The cave at Holburn
On St Boisil's death in 664 St Cuthbert became prior of Old Melrose in 664. He ministered to people in much the same way as St Aidan had done. He travelled across the country from east and west several times from Berwick as far over as Galloway. He became known as a 'wonderworker'.
He also travelled into Scotland and made a cell and foundation at Dull in Perthshire, and also at Edinburgh
He reputedly used a cave at Holburn in the Kyloe hills in Northumberland for times of prayer
St Bede speaks of St Drithelm who, after appearing to die and see the horrors of hell, sat up on the funeral bier and began to tell everyone what he had seen He afterwards led a life of prayer and repentance at Old Melrose. He finally died about 700
Inner Farne
Geograph Paul Buckingham
In 676 St Cuthbert sought the solitary life and settled on one of the Farne islands, south of Lindisfarne. In 674 he was elected Bishop of Lindisfarne but after nine months retired again to the Farne Islands where he died in 687. It must have seemed then, as it still does today, like the passing of an age.
Many holy wells are dedicated to the Saint. The west end of Durham cathedral is built over a well and another, dedicated to St Cuthbert, lies nearby.
There is one at Bellingham, Northumberland, and another at Scorton (also Cuddy Keld) in North Yorkshire with others in Cumbria.
The Lindisfarne Gospel
The great Lindisfarne Gospel book was probably produced about 715 in honour of St Cuthbert.
In the 10C the first translation of the Gospels into the (Anglo-Saxon) English language was made from this book.
The monks of Lindisfarne set up a monastery at Abercorm 7 miles west of Edinburgh. St Trumin was made bishop by the Northumbrians in 681 but the Picts defeated them in battle in 685 and they had to return south.
The power part of the Tower of St Paul's Monkwearmouth is the original.
The Synod of Whitby in 664 voted for the Roman date of Easter rather than the one used in Ireland, which itself had originally come from Rome. But Southern Ireland - with its own line of communications to the continent and Rome, had already changed as far back as 630.
Roman influence increased. One of the great facilitators of this was St Wilfred, but even more so St Benedict Biscop. He visited Rome five times. Not surprisingly he was stunned by the many stone churches and the skills with which they were adorned. On his second visit he stayed at the great monastery at Lerins and was tonsured as a monk. St Theodore of Canterbury, whom he accompanied to England, made him abbot of the Monastery of St Peter and St Paul in Canterbury. But in 674 he was granted land to build a monastery in Northumbria. So he visited the continent twice to bring back architects, builders and craftsmen of every kind, to begin building after the Roman manner, and not least books, relics and other necessities.
In 674 St Benedict founded the priory of Monkwearmouth and another at Jarrow. These were the first stone built churches in Britain and, with their new-fangled glass and paintings on the walls, they must have looked astonishing. They were intended as models for the future. The library at Jarrow became world famous, second only to that of Rome.
Jarrow must have caused astonishment and wonder
Some look at the achievement of the Irish monks in Northumbria, and of St Aidan and St Cuthbert in particular, but hesitate about that of St Benedict Biscop and St Bede. But this cannot be done. The Irish had been as thirsty of continental and overseas culture as ever St Benedict was. Irish and English share in abundance stone churches, the love of learning, the skills of book-making and illustration, the astonishing carving on High Crosses, and the hermit life. No difference can be seen between them.
The Northumbrians had every right to draw on what Rome had to offer. After all, according to the standards of Orthodoxy, the Pope was always the Patriarch of the West.
Crypt at Ripon
Ahlfrith, subking of Deira, set up a monastery at Ripon using monks from Melrose, shortly before 664. St Wilfred expelled the monks, including St Eata and St Cuthbert, and set it up on Benedictine lines.
The Crypt at Hexham
In 674 St Wilfred founded the abbey at Hexham on ideas that came from Rome - and on the material level with Roman stones taken from Hadrian's Wall. On entering the crypt, built to house the relics St Wilfred had acquired, we almost feel in Rome itself.
A Saxon bishop's throne also survives. Six of its eleven bishops were saints: St Eata Bishop 686 St Cuthbert Bishop 687 St Wilfred Bishop 710 St John of Beverly 721 St Acca, Bishop 742 St Alcmund Bishop 781
Tomb of St Bede Durham
St Benedict Biscop's most outstanding pupil and a most prolific writer was St Bede. He became a monk at Jarrow under St Ceolfrith, the first abbot. St Bede's tomb is in Durham Cathedral
The monastery produced the Codex Amiatinus the earliest surviving manuscript of the complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate version.
Relics of St John at Beverley
St John Beverley was a monk of Whitby who became Bishop of Hexham as well as Bishop of York. He retired to the monastery at Beverley which he had founded. He was regarded as a saint in his lifetime and died in 721. His relics have been reburied in the nave.
There is a complete 7C church at Escomb west of Bishop Auckland in Co Durham, still standing and still being used. It was built of Roman stone and was frescoed. It may have belonged to an important monastic centre - but beyond that we simply don't know who could have built it. The remarkable thing is that it has survived.
St Everilda (7C) had a large monastery at Everingham Yorkshire, said to have had 980 nuns.
Bass Rock
In 681 Trumwine, a Northumbrian, was appointed bishop of the Picts with a base at Abercorn in West Lothian close to the Firth of Forth. This venture however was shortlived.
In 685 the Picts expelled the Northumbrians from the north. It had already lost control over Mercia. The Kingdom was in decline.
St Baldred was an 8C Northumbria monk of Lindisfarne who evangelised among the Britons in the Lothian region south of Edinburgh. He founded a monastery at Tyninghame, had a cave at Seacliff and a hermitage on Bass rock
793: The Vikings come
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 793 reads:
In this year dire portents appeared over Northumbria and sorely frightened the people. They consisted of immense whirlwinds and flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine immediately followed these signs, and a little after that in the same year, on 8 June, the ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed God's church on Lindisfarne, with plunder and slaughter.
The Vikings on pillage and plunder
align="justify"The Vikings plundered Lindisfarne in 793, Iona in 795 and Wearmouth and Jarrow in 794. It was the end of an era. Iona was abandoned in 843, 875, and Wearmouth-Jarrow sometime in the 9C.
align="justify"The Danes took Northumbria in 867. It became part of the Danelaw
St Cuthbert's tomb Durham Cathedral
St Cuthbert's incorrupt body was removed from Lindisfarne when the Danes came in 875. It was taken to several places before resting at Chester-le-Street in Co Durham from 882 to 995 and then, due to further attacks by the Danes, to Ripon in Yorkshire.
A church, the predecessor of the Cathedral, was built for him in Durham.
The Normans, for all their power and prowess, were always concerned to assert their legitimacy. As the 'Johnny-come-lately' they wanted to be seen as respecting the Church and thereby no doubt hoped for some 'divine protection'. St Cuthbert's body was an ideal vehicle for the Normans to show this respect and so they built the most enormous building they could in his honour.
In this the Normans were not any different from most other conquerors. Many people slate the Normans for breaking tradition - with their loyalty to the Pope and in general preferring all things French. But this argument cuts both ways - the very honour they gave to St Cuthbert exalted him as the greatest local saint there ever was. That affection has always stuck.
Remarkably his relics survived the Reformation. His coffin, his cross, and vestment of Byzantine silk can still be seen at the cathedral, and of course his tomb.
His Life expressed the Living Tradition perfectly.
St Godric's Grave
Godric was an Englishman and perhaps even a pirate, but he came across Lindifsarne and 'met' St Cuthbert. He undertook several 'pilgrimages' in the Irish fashion but finally settled down at Finchale where he lived as a hermit for 60 years.  The site, in the bend of the Wear, overlooked by rocks, is typical of the place a hermit might have lived.
Twenty six years later two monks from Durham moved to the site and eventually Finchale Priory was established as a dependency of Durham Cathedral. 

Monday, 9 April 2012

A brief history of the Irish Orthodox Church

by Monk Nicodemus
1. How Did Orthodoxy Reach Ireland?
How did Orthodox Christianity come to this small green island off the shores of the European continent in the uttermost West? Unknown to many, Christianity in Ireland does have an Apostolic foundation, through the Apostles James and John, although the Apostles themselves never actually visited there.

Monastic centres in Ireland
The Irish people were the westernmost extension of the vast Celtic civilization—whose people called themselves the Gauls—which stretched from southern Russia through Europe and eventually into the British Isles. (map below) The vastness of Celtic/Gallic civilization is evident in the names used to designate countries within its entire territory: the land of Galatia in Asia Minor, Gaul (France), Galicia (northwest Spain), and the land of the Gaels (Ireland). The Celtic peoples (like the Jews) kept in very close contact with their kinfolk across the Eurasian continent.

Diachronic distribution of Celtic peoples:core Hallstatt territory, by the sixth century BC maximal Celtic expansion, by the third century BC Lusitanian area of Iberia where Celtic presence is uncertain the "six Celtic nations" which retained significant numbers of Celtic speakers into the Early Modern period areas where Celtic languages remain widely spoken today
When Christianity was first being spread by the Apostles, those Celts who heard their preaching and accepted it (seeing it as the completion of the best parts of their ancient traditions and beliefs) immediately told their relatives, traveling by sea and land along routes their ancestors had followed since before 1000 B.C.
The two Apostles whose teachings had the greatest influence upon the Celtic peoples were the brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee. After Pentecost, James first preached the Gospel to the dispersed Israelites in Sardinia (an island in the Mediterranean Sea off the east coast of Spain, which was used as a penal colony). From there he went on to the Spanish mainland and traveled throughout the northern part of Spain along the river Ebro, where his message was eagerly heard by the Celtic/Iberian peoples, especially those in Galicia. This area continued to be a portal to Ireland for many centuries, especially for the transmission of the Good News.
John preached throughout the whole territory of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and the many peoples living there accepted Christianity, including the Celtic peoples known as the Galatians (in Cappadocia). These people also communicated with their relatives throughout the Greco/Roman world of the time, especially those in Gaul. By the middle of the 2nd century the Celtic Christians in Gaul asked that a bishop be sent to them, and the Church sent St. Irenaeus (icon below), who settled at Lyons on the Rhone river. Among the many works St. Irenaeus accomplished, the most important were his mastery of the language of the local Celtic people and his preaching to them of the Christianity he had received from St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Theologian.

Saint Irenaeus
By the 4th century Christianity had reached all the Celtic peoples, and this "leaven" was preparing people's hearts to receive the second burst of Christian missionary outreach to the Celts, through St. Hilary and St. Martin. (icons below)

Saint Hilary Saint Martin
The seeds that St. Irenaeus planted bore abundant fruit in the person of St. Hilary of Poitiers, who, having lived in Asia Minor, would be the link between East and West, transmitting Orthodoxy in its fullness to the Celtic peoples. He was not only a great defender of the Faith, but also a great lover of monasticism. This Orthodox Faith and love for monasticism was poured into a fitting vessel—Hilary's disciple, St. Martin of Tours, who was to become the spiritual forefather of the Irish people. What Saints Athanasius and Anthony the Great were to Christianity in the East, Saints Hilary and Martin were to the West.
By the 4th century an ascetic/monastic revival was occurring throughout Christendom, and in the West this revival was being led by St. Martin. The Monastery of Marmoutier which St. Martin founded near Tours (on the Loire in western France) served as the training ground for generations of monastic aspirants drawn from the Romano-Celtic nobility. It was also the spiritual school that bred the first great missionaries to the British Isles. The way of life led at Marmoutier harmonized perfectly with the Celtic soul. Martin and his followers were contemplatives, yet they alternated their times of silence and prayer with periods of active labor out of love for their neighbor.
Some of the monks who were formed in St. Martin's "school" brought this pattern back to their Celtic homelands in Britain, Scotland and Wales. Such missionaries included Publicius, a son of the Roman emperor Maximus who was converted by St. Martin, and who went on to found the Llanbeblig Monastery in Wales—among the first of over 500 Welsh monasteries. Another famous disciple of St. Martin was St. Ninian, who traveled to Gaul to receive monastic training at St. Martin's feet, and then returned to Scotland, where he established Candida Casa at Whithorn, with its church dedicated to St. Martin. The waterways between Ireland and Britain had been continually traversed by Celtic merchants, travelers, raiders and slave-traders for many centuries past, so the Irish immediately heard the Good News brought to Wales and Scotland by these disciples of Ninian.
About the same time that the missionaries were traveling to and from Candida Casa amidst all this maritime activity, a young man named Patrick was captured by an Irish raiding party that sacked the far northwestern coasts of Britain, and he was carried back to Ireland to be sold as a slave. While suffering in exile in conditions of slavery for years, this deacon's son awoke to the Christian faith he had been reared in. His zeal was so strong that, after God granted him freedom in a miraculous way, his heart was fired with a deep love for the people he had lived among, and he yearned to bring them to the light of the Gospel Truth. After spending some time in the land of Gaul in the Monastery of Lerins, St. Patrick (451), was consecrated to the episcopacy. He returned to Ireland and preached with great fervor throughout the land, converting many local chieftains and forming many monastic communities, especially convents.
It was during the time immediately following St. Patrick's death, in the latter part of the 5th century, that God's Providence brought all the separate streams of Christianity in Ireland into one mighty rushing river.
While St. Patrick's disciples continued his work of preaching and founding monastic communities—it was his disciple, St. Mael of Ardagh (481), for example, who tonsured the great St. Brigid of Kildare (523)—several other saints who were St. Patrick's younger contemporaries began to labor in the vineyard of Christ. These included Saints Declan of Ardmore (5th c.), Ailbhe of Emly (527), and Kieran of Saighir (5th c.).

Saint Declan Saint Kieran Saint Brigid Saint Ailbhe
Then came young Enda from the far western islands of Aran (off the west coast of Ireland). He studied with St. Ninian at Whithorn, and thus received the flame of St. Martin's spiritual lineage with its ascetical training and mystical aspirations. Having been fully formed in the Faith, St. Enda (530) returned to the Aran Islands, where he founded a monastery in the ancient tradition. It was on the Aran Islands that the traditional founder of the Irish monastic movement, St. Finian, drank deep of the monastic tradition established by St. Martin.
Before Finian's death in a.d. 548, he founded the monastery of Clonard and was the instructor of a whole generation of monks who became great founders of monasteries throughout Ireland, and great missionaries as well. The most famous of his disciples were named the "Twelve Apostles of Ireland," and included Saints Brendan the Navigator, Brendan of Birr, Columba of Iona, Columba of Terryglass, Comgall of Bangor, Finian of Moville, Mobhi of Glasnevin, Molaise of Devenish, Ninnidh of Inismacsaint, Sinnell of Cleenish, Ruadhan of Lorrha, and the great monastic father Kieran of Clonmacnois. By the middle of the 6th century these men and their disciples had founded hundreds of monasteries throughout the land and had converted all the Irish. And that was only the beginning...
Saint Brendan Saints Comgall - Gall - Columbanus Saint Columba

2. Why was Christianity Received so Quickly in Ireland?
Why were the Celtic peoples able to receive Christianity so readily and so eagerly? The Church Fathers state that God prepared all peoples before the Incarnation of Christ to receive the fullness of Truth, Christianity. To the Jews He gave the Israelite revelation. Among the pagans, faint foreshadowings of the coming revelation were present in some of their beliefs and best qualities. The Celtic peoples were no different—in some ways they were better off than most pagans.
On a natural level, the Celtic peoples had a great love of beauty which found overflowing expression as the Christian Faith, arts and culture developed in Ireland. Their extreme and fiery nature, which had previously been expressed through war and bloodshed, now manifested itself in great ascetic labors and missionary zeal undertaken for love of God and neighbor.
Their great reverence for knowledge, especially manifested in lore, ancient history and law, made it easy for them to have great respect for the ancient forms and theology of the Church, which were based in ancient Israelite tradition. They had a great love for, and almost religious belief in, the power of the spoken word—especially in "prophetic utterances" delivered by their Druid poets and seers.
These perceived manifestations of "the wisdom of the Other World" were held in great respect and awe by the Irish, as transmissions of the will of the gods, which could only be resisted at great peril. When many of their Druid teachers wholeheartedly accepted Christianity, and as Christians spoke the revealed word of God from the Scriptures or from the Holy Spirit's direct revelation, the people listened and obeyed. The Irish possessed an intricate and detailed religious belief system that was primarily centered in a worship of the sun, and a tri-theistic numerology—often manifesting itself in venerating gods in threes, collecting sayings in threes (triads), etc.—which led to the easy acceptance of the true fulfillment of this intuition in the worship of the Holy Trinity. They also treasured a very strong belief in the afterlife, conceived as a paradisal heavenworld in the "West" to which the souls of the dead passed to a life of immortal youth, beauty and joy.
Even the societal structure of the Celts in Ireland prepared its peoples for Christianity. In contrast to the urban-centered and highly organized mindset which prevailed in the lands under Roman rule, Ireland (which was never conquered) preserved the ancient family- and communal-based patterns of rural societies. They did not build cities or towns, but settled in small villages or individual family farm holdings. The only recognized "unit" was the tribe and its various family clans, centered around their king's royal hill fort. The economy remained wholly pastoral, in no way resembling the Roman urban and civil systems. There were no city centers. The original apostolic family-based model of an ascetic community, and its later monastery-based form, manifested themselves in Ireland as a natural completion of what was already present. Finally, the leadership and teaching roles previously held by the Druids, poets, lawyers and their schools were naturally assumed by the monks and bishops of the Church and their monasteries.

Ruins of Clonmacnoise Monastery (Country Offaly)
(Image © Research Machines plc)

Ruins of Glendalough (County Wicklow)

3. How Christianity Manifested Itself in Ireland
It was precisely because the monastic communities were like loving families that they had such a long-lasting and complete influence on the Irish people as a whole. These schools were the seedbeds of saints and scholars: literally thousands of young men and women received their formation in these communities. Some of them would stay and enter fully into monastic life, while others would return to their homes, marry, and raise their children in accordance with the profound Christian way of life that they had assimilated in the monastery. Some of the monks, either inspired by a desire for greater solitude, or by zeal to give what they had received to others, would leave the shores of their beloved homeland and set out "on pilgrimage for Christ" to other countries. Once again they would travel along paths previously trodden by their ancestors—both the pagans of long ago, and Christian pilgrims of more recent times.
Because these monastic communities were centers of spiritual transformation and intense ascetic practice, they generated a dynamic environment which catalyzed the intellectual and artistic gifts of the Irish people, and laid them before the feet of Christ. In these monasteries, learning as well as sanctity was encouraged.
The Irish avidly learned to write in Latin script, memorized long portions of the Scriptures (especially the Psalms), and even developed a written form for their exceedingly ancient oral traditions. When the Germanic peoples invaded the Continent (A.D. 400-550), the Gallic and Spanish scholars fled to Ireland with their books and traditions of the Greco-Roman Classical Age. In Ireland these books were zealously absorbed, treasured and passed on for centuries to come. Many Irish monks dedicated their whole lives to copying the Scriptures—the Old and New Testaments, as well as related writings—and often illuminated the manuscript pages with an intricate and beautiful art that is one of the wonders of the world.
4. The Significance of the Orthodox Church in Ireland for Today
Much has been written about Ireland's wandering missionary scholars (see Thomas Cahill's bestselling book, How the Irish Saved Civilization). The vibrant, community-centered way of life and the deep, broad, ascetic-based scholarship of the Irish monks revitalized the faith of Western European peoples, who were both devastated by wave after wave of barbarian invasions and threatened by Arianism. More than this, the Irish monks evangelized both the pagan conquerors and those Northern and Eastern European lands where the Gospel had never taken root.
For Orthodox Christians, however, there are further lessons to be gained from the examples of the Irish saints. These saints were formed in a monastic Christian culture almost solely based on the "one thing needful" and the otherworldly essence of Christian life. They represented Christ's Empire, and no other. They were Christ's warriors, motivated solely by love of God and neighbor, acting in accordance with a clear and firmly envisioned set of values and the goal of Heaven. Such selfless embodiments of Christian virtues are all the more important to us today, who live in an age characterized by the absence of such qualities. The unwavering dedication of the Irish monks drew the Holy Spirit to them. And when He came, He not only deepened and established their already-present resolution, but also filled them with the energy and grace to carry it out. This is what is needed and yearned for today.
The task of the Orthodox Christian convert in the West today is to bridge the gap between our time and the neglected and forgotten saints of Western Europe, who were our spiritual forebears. As St. Arsenios said: "Britain will only become Orthodox when she once again begins to venerate her saints."

In this task we are very fortunate to have had a living example of one who did this: St. John Maximovitch. During his years as a hierarch he was appointed to many different lands, including France and Holland. One of the first things he set out to do upon reaching a new country was to tirelessly seek out, venerate and promote the Orthodox saints of that land, that he might enter into spiritual relationship with those who did the work before him, and enlist their help in his attempts to continue their task. He considered the glorification and promotion of local Orthodox saints as one of the most important works that a hierarch could do for his flock.
We too must actively labor to venerate our ancestral saints, and must enter into spiritual relationship with them as St. John did. While we should not merely "appreciate" their lives and their example as an intellectual or aesthetic exercise, neither should we selectively reinterpret their examples and way of life in the light of modern fashions and "spiritualities." We should, through our efforts, strive to bring these saints into as clear a focus as possible before our mind's eye, reminding ourselves of the fact that they are alive and are our friends and spiritual mentors. The saints are, according to St. Justin Popovich of Serbia (1979), the continuation of the life of Christ on earth, as He comes and dwells within the "lively stones" (cf. I Peter 2:5) that constitute His Body, the Church (cf. Eph. 1:22-23). Therefore, honor given to the saints is honor given to Christ; and it is by giving honor to Christ that we prepare ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit.
May the saints of Ireland come close to us and bring us to the Heavenly Kingdom together with them. Amen.

Short Lives of Irish Saints Found in the 2003 St. Herman Calendar


September 9 (545)
The great St. Columba of Iona (June 9, 597) described St. Kieran as a lamp, blazing with the light of knowledge, whose monastery brought wisdom to all the churches of Ireland. This earthly angel and otherworldly man was born in 512, the son of a carpenter who built war chariots. He was spiritually raised by St. Finian in Clonard (December 12, 549) and was counted among his "twelve apostles to Ireland." After spending some time in Clonard, the childlike, pure, innocent, humble and loving Kieran set off to dwell in the wilderness with his God. After three years, when more and more disciples began to come to him, he finally established a monastery in obedience to a divine decree shortly before he reposed. He was taken by his Lord to dwell with Him eternally at the age of 33. "Having lived a short time, he fulfilled a long time, for his soul pleased the Lord" (Wisdom 4:13).


October 11 (600)
St. Kenneth was the son of a scholar-poet from Ulster. By race he was an Irish Pict and spoke the Pictish language. He was a disciple of the great monastic Saints Finian of Clonard (December 12, 549), Comgall of Bangor (May 11, 603), Kieran of Clonmacnois (September 9, 545) and Mobhi of Glasnevin (October 12, 544). After the death of St. Mobhi he took counsel from St. Finian. As a result (says the Martyrology of Oengus), St. Kenneth sailed off to Scotland. There he lived for a while on the isle of Texa, according to The Life of St. Columba by St. Adamnan of Iona (September 23, 704). While there he often visited his old friend St. Columba (who had lived with him in Glasnevin before departing for Iona) and helped him in his missionary labors to the Picts. Later, he traveled back to Ireland, where he founded the Monasteries of Aghaboe and Kilkenny before his death in the year 600.


December 12 (549)
St. Finian, known as the "Tutor of the Saints of Ireland," stands with St. Enda of Aran at the head of the patriarchs of Irish monasticism. He showed great zeal and piety for God from his youth. He had already founded three churches before he set off for Wales to study at the feet of St. Cadoc at Llancarfan (September 25, 577). In Llancarfan he became close friends with St. Gildas (January 29, ca. 570), another of St. Cadoc's disciples. Upon his return to Ireland, he founded the great Monastery of Clonard during the very same year the great St. Enda (March 21, 530 ) reposed in Aran. A multitude of illustrious and holy men studied under St. Finian, including the famous "Twelve Apostles of Ireland." St. Finian founded many other monasteries during his lifetime, including the famous island monastery of Skellig Michael off the southwest coast of Ireland.


January 15 (570)
The gentle and motherly St. Ita was descended from the high kings of Tara. From her youth she loved God ardently and shone with the radiance of a soul that loves virtue. Because of her purity of heart she was able to hear the voice of God and communicate it to others. Despite her father's opposition she embraced the monastic life in her youth. In obedience to the revelation of an angel she went to the people of Ui Conaill in the southwestern part of Ireland. While there, the foundation of a convent was laid. It soon grew into a monastic school for the education of boys, quickly becoming known for its high level of learning and moral purity. The most famous of her many students was St. Brendan of Clonfert (May 16, 577). She went to the other world in great holiness to dwell forever with the risen Lord in the year 570.


February 1 (523)
The well-known founder and abbess of the Monastery of Kildare has been revered and loved throughout Europe for almost fifteen hundred years. While she was still a young woman, her unbounded compassion for the poor, the sick and the suffering grew to such proportions as to shelter all of Ireland. St. Brigid's tonsure at the hands of St. Mael of Ardagh (February 6, 488) inaugurated the beginning of women's coenobitic monasticism in Ireland. St. Brigid soon expanded it by founding many other convents throughout Ireland. The gifts of the Holy Spirit shine brightly upon all through her—both men and beasts—to this day. After receiving Holy Communion at Kildare from St. Ninnidh of Inismacsaint (January 18, 6th c.) she gave her soul into the hands of her Lord in 523.


February 11 (7th c.)
The future abbess and founder of the Ballyvourney Convent was born in the 6th century in the southern lands of Ireland. To escape a feud within their family, her household fled west to the Aran Islands and dwelt there for some time. It is possible that her family accepted Christianity while living in the islands. Gobnait began to zealously manifest her faith through her deeds, founding a church on the Inisheer Island. When she returned east with her family, she encountered St. Abban of Kilabban (March 16, 650), who became her spiritual mentor. Her family, greatly moved by their daughter's faith, gave her the land on which she and St. Abban founded the Monastery of Ballyvourney. In Ballyvourney her sanctity quickly revealed itself, especially through the abundant healings God worked through her prayers. Even the many bees that she kept paid her obedience, driving off brigands and other unwelcome visitors.


March 11 (824)
While still a youth St. Oengus entered the Monastery of Cluain-Edneach, which was renowned for its strict ascetic life and was directed by St. Malathgeny (October 21, 767). He had an especially great love for the Lives of the Saints. After his ordination to the priesthood, he withdrew to a life of solitude. For his holy way of life many called him the "Cile D" (Culdee) or "the friend of God." After many people disturbed his solitude, he slipped away secretly and entered the Monastery of Tallaght, which was then directed by St. Maelruin (July 7, 792). He entered the monastery as a lay worker, laboring at the most menial tasks for seven years until God revealed his identity to St. Maelruin. There he mortified his flesh with such ascetic feats as standing in icy water. St. Oengus wrote the Martyrology of Tallaght with St. Maelruin. After Maelruin's death in 792, St. Oengus returned to Cluain-Edneach and wrote many more works in praise of the saints, including his well-known Martyrology and the Book of Litanies. He reposed in 824 and became the first hagiographer of Ireland.


March 17 (451)
The most famous of all the saints of the Emerald Isle is undoubtedly her illustrious patron St. Patrick. Reared in Britain and the son of a deacon, St. Patrick was captured and enslaved by Irish raiders while still a youth. Thus, he was carried off to the land he would later enlighten with the Gospel: Ireland. During his captivity, the faith of his youth was aroused in him, and shortly thereafter he miraculously escaped his servitude. Some years later, he received a divine call to bring his new-found faith back to the Irish. For this task, he prepared as best he could in Gaul, learning from St. Germanus of Auxerre (July 31, 448) and the fathers of the Monastery of Lerins. While in Ireland he ceaselessly traveled and preached the Christian Faith to his beloved Irish people for almost twenty years until his blessed repose in 451.


March 21 (530)
St. Enda is described as the "patriarch of Irish monasticism." After many years living as a warrior-king of Conall Derg in Oriel, St. Enda embraced the monastic life. His interest in monasticism originally grew as a result of the death of a young prospective bride staying in the community of his elder sister, St. Fanchea (January 1, ca. 520). St. Fanchea suggested that he enter the Whithorn Monastery in southwestern Scotland. After some years in Whithorn he returned to Ireland and settled on the fallow, lonely Aran Islands off her western shores. During the forty years of his severe ascetic life there, he fathered many spiritual disciples—including Sts. Jarlath of Cluain Fois (June 6, 560) and Finian of Clonard (December 12, 545)—and laid the foundation for monasticism in Ireland. St Enda reposed in the year 530 in his beloved hermitage on Aran.


May 15 ( early 7th c.)
St. Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan king and a Christian mother in Ireland. When her mother died, her father desired to take his own daughter to wife. Dymphna fled with her mother's instructor, the priest Gerberen, to the continent. Her father followed and eventually found them. When Dymphna refused to submit to his unholy desire, he had them both beheaded at Gheel in what is today Belgium. Throughout the centuries she has shown special care and concern from the other world for those suffering from mental illnesses and is greatly venerated throughout Europe and America.


June 3 (618)
The path of St. Kevin's early life was well laid. When St. Kevin was between the ages of seven and twelve, he was tutored by the desert-loving St. Petroc of Cornwall (June 4, 594), who was then studying in Ireland. After St. Petroc left for Wales, the twelve-year-old St. Kevin entered the Monastery of Kilnamanagh. There his humility and the holiness of his life amazed all. After his ordination to the priesthood he followed his tutor's desert-loving example and set out to establish his own hermitage. He settled in an ancient pagan cave-tomb on a crag above the upper lake of Glendalough. For many years he lived in this beautiful desert wilderness like another St. John the Baptist. All the animals behaved toward him as with Adam before the Fall. Disciples soon gathered around him and St. Kevin was constrained to become the founder and Abbot of the famous Glendalough Monastery. He died at the great old age of 120 in 618 and went to his Lord.


June 9 (597)
St. Columba (or Columcille) is one of the greatest of all the saints of Ireland. Born into an exceedingly prominent noble family, the Ui-Niall clan, he forsook his wealth and all earthly privileges and laid his ample natural gifts at the feet of the Lord, becoming a monk at a young age. He studied under some of the holiest men of his day, including Saints Finian of Clonard (December 12, 549) and Mobhi of Glasnevin (October 12, 545). After St. Mobhi's death, St.Columba went on to found the monasteries of Derry and Durrow. He traveled as a missionary throughout his beloved Ireland for almost 20 years. In 565 he settled on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, where he remained for 32 years and brought about the conversion of many. He reposed on Iona in great holiness on June 9, 597.


November __ (8th c.)
St. Cowey is a little-known monastic saint who lived near the tip of the Ards Peninsula in the late 7th and early 8th centuries. For many years he labored there as a hermit, sending up his prayers to God during his long nightly vigils in the depths of the forest. Three holy wells are still to be found where he labored, as well as an ancient church built amidst them, which looks eastward over the Irish Sea. Beside the church, an ancient cemetery completes the view that greets the pilgrim's eye. St. Cowey's holiness attracted many to his quiet, little hermitage. Tradition holds that he was made abbot of the great Moville Monastery further north on the peninsula in 731, possibly shortly before he reposed around the middle of the 8th century. His memory has been kept and treasured by the local inhabitants of the nearby town of Portaferry for over twelve hundred years.


( late 7th century)
Both the early Church of Syria and the early Church of Ireland were famous for their extraordinary ascetics—men and women who were so affected by the touch of Divinity that they fled from all that might interfere with their struggle, even renouncing their reason. Syria gave the Church the stylites, and also the "grazers": severe ascetics who lived almost like animals, having no dwellings and eating whatever vegetation grew in their vicinity. The Irish manifested a similar form of sanctity in the geilt, who were a cross between fools-for-Christ and the Syrian grazers. The most famous of all the geilt was St. Suibhne of Dal-Araidhe, formerly a violent Irish chieftain whose murdeous ways brought the curse of God upon him. In his profound repentance, he took upon himself the extreme ascetic way of life of the geilt, living in the open-air wilderness. Before St. Suibhne died he gave a life confession to his spiritual father, St. Moling (722). St. Moling preserved this account in the form of a long poem. This poem has come down to us today, having been only slightly altered over the years (in very obvious places). It is not only very beautiful poetry but also a spiritually instructive autobiographical document. The Saint foresaw that since he had previously lived by the sword, he would die by violent means. He was murdered at the end of the 7th century in St. Moling's monastery and buried nearby.