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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

THE birth-place of our national Saint has been the subject of much controversy; but till our own time his burial-place was not, we believe, seriously questioned. Recently, however, the ancient traditional claim of Downpatrick to possess the remains of St. Patrick has been rather lightly set aside, and it is sought to bestow on Armagh the double honour of his tomb and his ‘kingdom.’ It is worth while, therefore, in the first place, to examine the evidence in favour of the Ulidian claim; and then to weigh the newly-found arguments in favour of Armagh. The subject is surrounded by many difficulties, and even so capable and impartial a critic as the late lamented Bishop Reeves admitted that the evidence in favour of Downpatrick was ‘not altogether unexceptionable.’ We shall, therefore, briefly examine the evidence and the objections, such as they are; and, at the same time, we shall touch on the wider question, whether the relics of Brigid and Columcille also repose in the sacred soil of Downpatrick.

In our opinion, the oldest, though perhaps not the clearest, reference to St. Patrick’s burial at Down, is contained in Fiacc’s Hymn, which is older even than Muirchu’s Memoir contained in the Book of Armagh. The arguments hinted at by Todd and Stokes against the authenticity of this Hymn will be found to disappear on close examination. Fiacc says:—

In Armagh there is a kingdom, it long ago deserted Emain,

A great church in Dun-leth-glaisse; that Tara is a waste, is not pleasant to me.

The Lives of St. Patrick generally declare that the angel told him his ‘kingdom,’ or spiritual sovereignty, was to remain in Armagh, but that his body was to rest in Downpatrick; that is, of course, Dun-leth-glaisse, or, as it has been written in later times, Dun-da-leth-glaisse, that is, the Fort of the Two-Half-Chains—alluding, it is said, to the broken fetters of the two sons of Dichu, who were kept in bondage by King Laeghaire, but whose bonds were broken miraculously by St. Patrick, and carried by them to their father’s stronghold at Down. The only meaning of the reference to the great church of Down in this couplet, in connection with our Apostle, must arise from the fact that he was buried there. Its church cannot be conceived as great for any other reason in connection with St. Patrick. His spiritual sovereignty continued in Armagh, but his body remained at Down.

Still more explicit is Muirchu’s statement in the Book of Armagh, dating at least from the end of the eighth century. This author, writing in that very book which was always esteemed as the most cherished treasure of the Church of Armagh, declares expressly that, when Patrick felt the hour of his death approaching, he was anxious to return to Armagh so that he might die there, ‘because he loved it before all other lands.’ But the angel Victor sent another angel to the Saint to tell him to return to Saul, where he was then staying; that his petitions to the Lord were granted; and that at Saul—his earliest foundation—he was destined to die. As the end approached, Tassach of Rathcolp gave him the ‘Sacrifice,’ and there the Saint gave up his holy soul to God. But the same angel told them to harness, after the obsequies, two wild steers to a waggon, and let them go whither they would with the Saint’s body. This was done, and ‘they came, by divine guidance, to Dun-leth-glaisse, where Patrick was buried. Then we are told of the contest with the men of Oriel for his remains. It is impossible to have more explicit testimony than this of the burial in Down.

Again, in the Tripartite, we have the same testimony in a somewhat different form. “Go back,” says Victor, “to the place from which thou hast come, namely, to Saul (the barn church); for it is there thou shalt die, and not in Armagh.” “Let,” he added, “two unbroken young oxen, of the cattle of Conall, be brought out of Findabair, that is from Clochar, and let thy body be put into a little car behind them, and be thou put a man’s cubit into the grave, that thy remains and thy relics be not taken out of it.” Thus was it done after his death. The oxen brought him as far as the stead, ‘wherein to-day standeth Dun-leth-glasi, and he was buried in that place with honour and veneration.’

Now, here is practically the same statement given by our two most ancient and perfectly independent authorities—one written in Latin, and the other in Gaelic; and the substance of that statement is: first, that St. Patrick, feeling his end approaching, wished to return to Armagh, the city of his love, that he might die there; secondly, that instead, he was commanded to return to Saul, which shows that he was already on the road for Armagh; thirdly, that he died at Saul; and, fourthly, that he was buried not there, but some two miles distant at Dun-da-leth-glaisse, or Downpatrick.

It is worth noting also that a command was given to bury him deep in the ground—five cubits according to one account, or a man’s cubit according to this Tripartite account which seems to mean the height or depth that a man standing up could reach with his arm, that is, between seven and eight feet in either case. And the reason is given—‘that thy remains may not be taken out of the grave,’ either by the men of Oriel or by any other marauders: a very wise and necessary precaution, as subsequent events clearly proved.

The later Lives of St. Patrick, by Probus and Jocelyn—the former writing in a German monastery in the ninth century, and the latter in an English monastery of the twelfth—repeat the same statements, which at least go to prove that the tradition in favour of Downpatrick was universal and unquestioned in the time of those writers. Moreover, there is collateral evidence of a very early date. Usher quotes from an early Life of St. Brigid a paragraph which states that St. Patrick was buried in Dun-leth-glaisse, and that his body will remain there until the day of judgment. And in the Testamentum Patricii, a work also of very ancient date, we have in Irish and Latin the couplet:—

Dun i mbia m-eseirgi a Raith Celtair Mic Duach,

Dunum, ubi erit mea resurrectio in colle Celtaris filii Duach,

in which the Saint proclaims that it is in Down his resurrection will be.

The ‘hill’ of Celtar, to which this verse refers, is the great rath a little to the north of the modern cathedral of Downpatrick, which still rises to a height of about sixty feet above the plain, with a circumference of more than seven hundred yards, surrounded by a treble line of circumvallations. A right royal fort it was in size and strength, and fitly took its name from Celtar of the Battles, who was either its builder or its most renowned defender. This hero was one of the knights of the Red Branch, who flourished about the beginning of the Christian era. His fort was called Dun Celtair, and sometimes Rath Celtair, and also Aras Celtair, or the habitation of Celtair. This ‘habitation—or civitas, as it is called in Latin—is described in the Life of St. Brigid, by Animosus, as situated in regione Ultorum prope mare, which explains the statement of Tirechan, who describes the church of St. Patrick’s grave as juxta mare proxima—close by the sea—because at that time a small arm of the sea from Strangford Lough flowed almost quite up to the ancient Dun and the church beside it. There are other considerations also which leave no reasonable doubt that St. Patrick was buried at Downpatrick.

The men of Orior and the Hy Niall around them, though very anxious to possess the body of St. Patrick, and quite ready to engage in a bloody conflict in order to secure it, never claimed to have succeeded in their purpose. On the contrary, the Book of Armagh, belonging to their own great church, whose prerogatives it would naturally exalt, expressly testifies that the Saint was buried, not at Armagh, as he wished, but at Downpatrick; and that, too, by the direction of an angel. If there was any doubt about the matter, if they had even a shadow of claim in their favour, is it likely that the scribes who wrote the Book of Armagh, and naturally make the most of its privileges and rights, would not also claim this great honour instead of yielding the glory to Downpatrick? They certainly never failed to exalt the prerogatives of their own church, as they had a right to do; but, on the other hand, they never claimed to possess the body of their great Apostle, which is of itself a conclusive argument that history and tradition always pointed to Down as the place of his burial. And the fact that the authors of the Book of Armagh so distinctly admit it, is a strong proof of their honesty as historians; for we may well believe them in other things, when they are so truthful in what tells against the renown of their own royal city. In Armagh was his ‘kingdom,’ as Fiacc says, but in Down was the ‘great church’ that contained his remains.

Now this brings us to examine the objections or arguments on the other side, if we can call them such. First of all, there is Tirechan’s statement in the Book of Armagh, where he says Patrick was in four things like to Moses; and the fourth is, that ‘where his bones are no one knows.’ Therefore it certainly follows that they were not in Tirechan’s time known to be in Armagh; in fact, Armagh, as we have seen, never claimed to possess them. Tirechan, however, explains what he means clearly enough in the following paragraph, which has not been faithfully rendered by Rev. Mr. Olden, in his paper read before the Royal Irish Academy, and which is meant to be explanatory of the statement that ‘no one knows where his bones are’:—

Two hostile bands [he says] contended during twelve days for the body of the blessed Patrick, and they saw no night intervene during these twelve days, but daylight always; and on the twelfth day they came to actual conflict; but the two hosts, seeing the body on its bier with each party, gave up the conflict. Columcille, inspired by the Holy Ghost, pointed out the sepulchre of Patrick, and proves where it is; namely, in Saul of Patrick; that is, in the church nigh to the sea, where the gathering of the relics is—that is, of the bones of Columcille from Britain, and the gathering of all the saints of Erin in the day of judgment.

As this is an important passage, we append the Latin text below, as given by Dr. Stokes in his edition of the Tripartite.

Ubi sunt ossa ejus nemo novit. Duo hostes duodecim diebus corpus Sancti Patricii contenderunt, et noctem inter se duodecim diebus non viderunt sed diem semper; et in duodecima die ad praelium venerunt, et corpus in grabato duo hostes viderunt apud se, et non pugnaverunt. Columcille, Spiritu Sancto instigante, sepulturam Patricii ostendit (et) ubi est confirmat, id est, in Sabul Patricii, id est in ecclesia juxta mare proxima, ubi est conductio martirum, id est ossuum Columcille de Britannia, et conductio omnium sanctorum Hiberniae in die judicii. (Vol., ii. p. 332.)

This passage gives rise to several very interesting questions; and first of all we ask, is ours the correct translation, and what is its true meaning? Now any scholar can compare the translation with the text, and judge for himself.

The meaning also of Tirechan appears to us to be clear enough, although the Latin is rather rude. No one knew the exact place where Patrick’s bones were deposited until Columcille pointed out the spot; and that spot is in Saul, that is, in the church near to the sea, where the relics of Colcumcille were brought, and where all the saints of Ireland will be gathered, doubtless as assessors to Patrick, who is to judge the Irish on the day of judgment. ‘In Saul’ here clearly means in the neighbourhood of Saul, for it is explained to mean the church very near the sea, whither the relics of Columcille were brought from Britain. Downpatrick is only two miles from Saul; the church very near the sea is, as we have already shown, the church of Downpatrick. Saul had no church that could be described as quite close to the sea as Downpatrick was; and, moreover, it was to that church of Downpatrick the relics of Columcille and Brigid were afterwards brought—to the very spot which Columcille himself had pointed out as the grave of Patrick.

Taking this account of Tirechan in connection with the other early accounts given in the Tripartite, and in the Book of Armagh, we can fairly judge what took place after the death of Patrick. He died at Saul, as all admit, and news of his illness first, and afterwards of his death, was quickly carried over all the north, and bishops, priests, and people came in crowds from all quarters to be present at the obsequies of their beloved father in God, to whom they owed their salvation. The obsequies were prolonged for twelve days, to give them all time to arrive, and the lights in the little church around his body and without the church, where ‘the elders of Ireland were watching him with hymns, and psalms, and canticles,’ were so many and so bright, that ‘there was no night in Magh Inis;’ or, as it is elsewhere said, there was almost no darkness, but rather a bright angelic radiance—which is certainly not unlikely.

But meantime the men of Orior from Slieve Gullion to the Bann, and the fierce Hy Niall of Lough Neagh, had resolved, when the obsequies were over, to carry home, at any cost, the body of their beloved Patrick to his own cathedral of Armagh; and, on the other hand, the proud Ulidians were as sternly resolved to prevent them. With themselves he had founded his first church in Erin, that very Barn, where his remains now lay; with them he came to die by direction of God’s angel; and with them he would be buried in spite of all the warriors of Orior. The two parties were watching each other all the time that the priests were praying; but as soon as the body was moved, the strongest party would try to carry it off. The men of Orior and O’Neilland were gathered on the northern shore of the estuary running up to Downpatrick from Strangford Lough, now called the Quoile river; the Ulidians stood watching them on its southern shore between Saul and Down. When all was ready, the body was placed by divine direction, it is said, on a wain, drawn by two unbroken steers, and it was to be buried at the spot where the steers would stop of their own accord. And now a battle was imminent, but the Ulidians wisely took the opportunity of setting out when there was a high tide in the estuary, and Providence divinely interposed and raised still higher the swelling waves, so that the men of Armagh could not cross the ford at the Quoile bridge, as it is now called, or Drumbo, as it seems to have been called at that time. So the Ulidians utilised the favourable time; probably they had the grave already made nigh to their own royal fort, and before the tide receded, they had the Saint’s body buried seven feet deep with a huge flag over it, and the earth and the green sward over all, so as to leave no visible trace of the exact spot, for they feared that the men of Orior might come and remove the body, either by stealth or by the strong hand.

The men of Armagh, however, were resolved to cross the ford, and fight for the sacred treasure, which the Ulidians were guarding, when suddenly, to their great joy, there appeared amongst the men of Orior that very identical waggon drawn by two steers and bearing the Saint’s body which they had seen coming from Saul to Drumbo. It was the Saint himself, as they thought, gave his body to Armagh, so they set out with great joy to return home; but, alas! when they came near to Armagh, to the river called Cabcenne, the steers and waggon and body suddenly disappeared from their eyes, and were seen no more. Then the men of Orior and the Hy Niall knew that it was God’s will that the Saint’s body should not be in his own city on Macha’s Height, so they made no further attempt to recover it. Whether the appearance of the second waggon was a real miracle, or a pious ruse to prevent bloodshed, or a later invention to gratify the disappointed vanity of the Hy Niall, it is now impossible to ascertain. The story, however, is quite consistent and natural, and clearly shows why, for greater security, the Saint was buried at Down, near the royal fortress, rather than at Saul, and why in a few years no man knew the exact spot where his bones were laid, until Columcille revealed it sixty years later, in A.D. 552. In that year we are informed by the scribe of the Ulster Annals—a high authority—who quotes from the Book of Cuanu, that:—

The relics (minna) of Patrick were placed in a shrine at the end of threescore years after Patrick’s death by Columcille. Three splendid minna were found in his tomb; to wit, his Goblet, and the Angel’s Gospel, and the Bell of the Testament. Columcille, at the bidding of the Angel, gave the Goblet to Down, the Bell of the Testament to Armagh, and kept the Angel’s Gospel for himself; and the reason it is called the Angel’s Gospel is, because it was from the Angel’s hand that Columcille received it.

The first scribe of the Book of Cuanu was probably as ancient as Tirechan himself.

This entry is very interesting, because it not only explains and confirms Tirechan’s statement regarding the burial of the Saint, but also goes to prove that the date of his death was 493, since his relics were enshrined threescore years after his death. The word coach, which has been translated ‘goblet,’ means a cup, and usually a wooden cup. The cup found by Columcille in the grave of St. Patrick was probably a chalice, and perhaps a wooden chalice, although the word cailech, obviously a loan word from the Latin, is that which is used for ‘chalice’ in the Irish Tripartite. Chalices, both of glass and wood, were certainly used, although of course not exclusively, in the early ages of the Church. St. Boniface is reported to have said that in old times they had wooden chalices but golden priests; now, however, there were golden chalices but wooden priests. It was the custom, too, in the earlier ages of the Church, and to some extent the custom is still preserved, to bury with the deceased the insignia of his office. It would be more pagan than Christian-like to bury an ordinary drinking goblet with the Saint, and the clergy who stood round his bier would never permit it. But to bury a chalice with him—perhaps the very one he first used in the Barn-church at Saul—would be appropriate, if not usual. The three splendid minna found by Columcille in Patrick’s grave would thus be the appropriate insignia of his high office—the chalice would typify the sacrificing priest, the Gospel the preacher, and the bell was always taken in the early Irish Church to signify the jurisdiction of the Saint, which extended at least as far as its sound could be heard.

There seems to have been no church in Down when Patrick was buried there; but the church was afterwards built around his grave, although the exact spot where his body lay seems to have been doubtful. For we are told that the workmen, when digging the foundations of the church, suddenly beheld flames issuing from the grave, and thereupon withdrew, fearing the burning fire. The grave was, doubtless, then closed in again, and no one dared to disturb it until Columcille was inspired to enshrine the holy relics.

Another reference to the alleged burial of the Saint at Saul occurs in Colgan’s Fourth Life, where:—

It is related [says Rev. Mr. Olden] that a boy playing in the churchyard there lost his hoop in a chink in St. Patrick’s grave, and having put down his hand to recover his plaything was unable to withdraw it. Upon this Bishop Loarn of Bright, a place near at hand, was sent for, and on his arrival addressed the Saint in the following words:—“Why, O Elder, dost thou hold the child’s hand?”

This entire passage is founded on a mis-translation of an incident, which is correctly recorded in the Tripartite:—

Then Patrick went from Saul southwards, that he might preach to Ross, son of Trichem (the brother of Dichu of Saul). He it is that dwelt in Derlus, to the south of Downpatrick—there stands a small town there to-day, namely, Bright—ubi est episcopus Loairn, qui ausus est increpare Patricium tenentem manum pueri ludentis ecclesiam juxta suam.

The incident occurred during the lifetime of St. Patrick, for Loarn was of his ‘familia,’ and probably died before him; and, as Dr. Stokes observes, the phrase ‘tenentem manum’ in the Latin seems to be a translation of the Irish gabail lama, which is constantly used in the Tripartite to signify expelling or driving away—showing one off the premises. Loarn was Bishop of Bright, three miles south-east of Down, and the south of Saul. We are told that St. Patrick often resided at Saul during the intervals of his missionary labours; the boy doubtless disturbed him, and the Saint drove him away, perhaps with too much severity; and, therefore, his disciple ‘rebuked’ him for his harshness to the child. This story is intelligible, and even probable, for Patrick, if we can believe the Tripartite, was not always meek and patient. But the incident, as recorded in Colgan’s Fourth Life, is evidently due to the imagination of a scribe who did not understand the record from which he was copying. The author of the Tripartite was apparently so much afraid of scandalizing anybody by the story, that he narrates the incident in Latin, and not in the vernacular. When Loarn was in Bright and Patrick in Saul there was, as we have said, neither church nor bishop in Downpatrick. That church became famous because it was Patrick’s burial-place; and hence the first prelate of Down of whom we know anything is ‘Fergus, Bishop of Dun-leth-glaisse,’ who died in 583; that is, thirty years after Columcille had revealed St. Patrick’s grave.

In Colgan’s Latin Tripartite, as quoted by Bishop Reeves, there is a passage which might be easily misunderstood. The angel Victor is described as saying to Patrick: ‘Revertere ad monasterium Sabhallense, unde veneras, ibi et non Ardmachae migrabas ad Deum, tuumque sepelictur corpus.’ But the last clause is not in the Irish Tripartite, as we have it; and if it were it could only mean in the neighbourhood of Saul; for, on the same page it is distinctly stated that the oxen carried his body from Saul to Dun-leth-glaisse, and that he was buried there with honour and veneration.

There is also a strange entry in the Annals of the Four Masters, A.D. 1293. ‘It was revealed to Nicholas MacMaclisa (Comarb of Patrick), that the relics of Patrick, Columcille, and Bridgid were at Sabhall; they were taken up by him, and great virtues and miracles were wrought by them, and after having been honourably covered were deposited In a shrine.’ The Dublin copy of the Ulster Annals has a similar entry. These entries seem to ignore the celebrated invention and translation of the same relics, which took place in the Cathedral of Down, in 1185, in presence of the Papal Legate, the Bishop of Down, and John de Courcy. Could the shrine have been lost or stolen in the meantime? Or was it, as some writers suggest, an Irish Invention of the relics got up for Armagh, as a set-off against the Anglo-Norman Invention by John de Courcy in Down? Or, what is much more probable, was the Saul of which there is question the church of that name which undoubtedly existed at Armagh, and which contained relics of the three saints originally brought from Down, but forgotten or hidden there during the wars of the Danes, and the subsequent disturbances in the primatial city?

There are several other arguments put forward in favour of the Saint’s burial at Armagh. One of them, but not the main argument, is based on the assumed identity of our National Apostle with Sen Patrick, who is said to have died at Armagh. This is not a question into which we can now enter; but, inasmuch as no attempt is made to prove this identity, and the epithet itself implies distinction from the great St. Patrick, we may dismiss this argument without further discussion.

Then we are treated to another line of reasoning in favour of Armagh. Both Muirchu and Tirechan, it is said, agree in stating that ‘at the time of his (Patrick’s) death, Armagh claimed to possess his remains.’ We could not find the least foundation for this extraordinary statement. On the contrary, both writers state that at or after the obsequies the men of Orior tried, but tried in vain, to secure the precious treasure. And hence Bishop Reeves, who was so well acquainted with the contents of the Book of Armagh, says that the claim of Down was in the early ages conceded by Armagh; that the Book of Armagh would scarcely introduce a fiction in favour of Down or Saul; and that the church of Armagh would never have acquiesced in a mock translation at Down in the twelfth century, if the general belief had not given sentence in favour of Down. Besides, neither Muirchu nor Tirechan anywhere states that ‘Armagh claimed to possess his remains at the time of his death.’ Muirchu distinctly states that he was buried in Down; and then adds that, through the mercy of God and the merits of Patrick, the sea swelled up between the opposing hosts of Orior and Uladh, so that bloodshed was prevented. ‘Seduced,’ he adds, ‘by a lucky deception, they fancied they had secured the waggon and oxen that bore the Saint’s blessed body, but when they came to the River Cabcenne the body disappeared.” We have already explained Tirechan’s statement at length, in which he declares that the burial-place of Patrick was shown by Columcille to be near Saul, in the church close to the sea, whither the relics of Columcille were also brought from Britain.

But it is urged that frequent reference is made to the shrine of Patrick, which was in the custody of his successors at Armagh during the ninth century. Yes; but it is beyond all reasonable doubt that the shrine in question contained not any part of the Saint’s body, but the celebrated ‘Bell of the Will,’ which, as we have already seen, was given to Armagh by Columcille. That bell was the symbol of the primatial jurisdiction; and it was deemed so sacred and so precious, that it had a hereditary custodian assigned for its preservation. A new shrine was made to contain it, about the close of the eleventh century, and the inscription thereon records that it was made for Domnall M‘Loughlin, King of Erin, i.e., at his expense, and for Domnall M‘Auley, the Comarb of Patrick, and for Cathalan O’Mailchallan, the custodian of the bell. We know also from other sources that these ancient bells were deemed very sacred, and that the violation of an oath, if taken on the bell, was deemed a most terrible crime, which was sure to bring the vengeance of the outraged saint on the head of the perjurer. There can be no reasonable doubt, therefore, that the shrine of Patrick which Artri, Abbot of Armagh, carried into Connaught in 818, and which Forannen the Primate brought to Munster in 841, when driven by the Danes from his primatial city, was the enshrined Bell of the Will, the possession of which was the symbol and the pledge of the jurisdiction which he derived from St. Patrick.

As to the obiter dictum of St. Bernard, where he speaks of the primatial see of Patrick, ‘in which he presided when alive, and rests now that he is dead,’ it is obvious that it is a loose rhetorical expression designed rather to round the sentence than to make any definite assertion regarding the place of St. Patrick’s burial, of which he probably knew nothing. And the same may be said of the statement of another foreign writer, William of Newbridge, who informs us that the primacy was bestowed on Armagh in honour of St. Patrick, and the other indigenous saints whose remains rest there. Such a statement from a foreign source is too vague to weigh for a moment against the explicit testimony of our native annalists.

Lastly, a reference to the tomb of St. Patrick as existing at Armagh, is supposed to be made in the Book of Armagh, although it has hitherto escaped notice—even the great learning and critical acumen both of Todd and Reeves were unable to detect it. In that portion of the Book of Armagh, called the ‘Angel’s Book,’ the following passage occurs:—

The foundation of the prayer on every Sunday at Armagh on going to and returning from the Sarcophagus of the relics is ‘Domine clamavi ad Te’ to the end; ‘Ut quid Deus repulisti’ to the end; and ‘Beati immaculati’ to the end of the blessing, and with the twelve Gradual Psalms it finishes.

It is surprising what a superstructure it is sought to build up on this passage of bad Latin in the original.

The words ‘sargifagum martyrum,’ are glossed in the margin by the Irish du ferti martur—that is, to the ‘Grave of the Relics.’ Now, it is argued, this ‘Grave of the Relics’ must have been a place of pilgrimage, for the prayers of the ‘Station’ are here prescribed. The place which bore the name of the Ferta at Armagh was so called from this grave, and it was the place where St. Patrick established his first church at Armagh. He lived there a long time before he removed to the greater church on the hill; and when he died he must have been buried there, for there seems no other adequate reason for calling it the Grave of the Relics, and for making it a place of pilgrimage, than the fact that it possessed his relics.

It is surprising that the people who argue in this fashion did not first read the Tripartite, where they would find a very clear and simple explanation of the name and of the pilgrimage. Ferta means a grave, but as a proper name it means here the cemetery—in fact, both church and churchyard, as the following passage with reference to this very Ferta clearly shows:—‘In this wise then Patrick measured the Ferta, namely, sevenscore feet in the enclosure, and seven and twenty feet in the great-house, seventeen feet in the kitchen, and seven feet in the oratory.”

The writer then proceeds to tell us that an angel told Patrick ‘this day the relics of the Apostles are divided in Rome for the four quarters of the Globe;’ and thereupon he carried Patrick through the air, and afterwards, with the help of a ship of Bordeaux, brought the Saint to Rome, whence Patrick carried away as much as he wanted of the relics.

Afterwards these relics were taken to Armagh by the counsel of God, and the counsel of the men of Ireland. Three hundred and threescore and five relics, together with the relics of Paul, and Peter, and Laurence, and Stephen, and many others. And a sheet was there with Christ’s Blood, and with the hair of Mary the Virgin. And Patrick left the whole of that collection in Armagh according to the will of God, and of the Angel, and of the men of Ireland.

Furthermore, a letter was brought to him from the Abbot of Rome, directing that there should be ‘watching of the relics with lamps and lights in the night always, and mass and psalm-singing by day, and prayer in the night, and that they should be exposed every year for the multitudes (to venerate them’). These relics were, of course, kept in the only church then to be had at Armagh; that is, the church afterwards called the Ferta, sand which on that account came to be called Ferta Martyr, or the Fertae Martyrum, as Muirchu has it, or the Sarcophagus Martyrum, as the Book of the Angel has it. Thus the simple narrative of the Tripartite overthrows all the ingenious speculations put before the Royal Irish Academy as to the origin of the name. St. Patrick had numbers of churches and altars to consecrate, for which purpose he needed relics; he either sent for them or brought them from Rome; they were kept in his church at Armagh in a Ferta, or sarcophagus, or sepulchre made for the purpose, hence called Ferta Martyrum, which name afterwards passed to the church itself as it became a place of public pilgrimage for the faithful to venerate the relics.

We have seen that there is very conclusive evidence that St. Patrick was buried, not at Saul or at Armagh, but at Downpatrick. Now, there is a very ancient and general tradition that the relics of St. Columcille and of St. Brigid were also enclosed in the same tomb with those of our National Apostle. We now come to examine what historical evidence can be adduced in favour of this wide-spread tradition.

First of all, it is perfectly certain that St. Columba died in his monastery at Iona, about the year 597, in the seventy-seventh year of his age, and that he was buried by his devoted disciples in the monastery where he died. The testimony of his biographer Adamnan, a holy and learned man, with reference to those facts, cannot for a moment be called in question by any competent scholar. His blessed body, rolled up in clean linen, was placed in a busta, or ratabusta according to the common text, and was then buried with all due veneration. Lower down in the same chapter this humatio is described as a sepultio, and in the next section as a sepultura; so that the writer clearly meant that the remains of the saint were enclosed in a coffin, and then buried in the earth; but he nowhere indicates the exact spot where the grave was made. The word ratabusta is not found in Du Cange, nor anywhere else, so far as we know. It is probably an error of the scribe, who wrote ‘in ratabusta’ for ‘intra busta,’ the latter phrase according to its classical usage meaning a grave rather than a coffin. It matters little, indeed, because the meaning is in either case that the body of the saint was buried in an ordinary grave.

Adamnan, however, though so explicit as to the burial, makes no reference to any enshrining, or translation, or disturbance of Columba’s relics; so that it is only natural to assume that, up to the period when he wrote, Columba’s grave was undisturbed. Adamnan became abbot in 679; and the Life of Columba was certainly written during his tenure of office as abbot; but in all probability not before the year 690. After that period he spent most of his time in Ireland; whereas certain references to Iona indicate that the Life was written during his abbacy in that island.

Now, although Tirechan expressly declares that his Annotations were derived from the oral information, or from the book of Bishop Ultan, who died about 657, we need not assume that they were written during the lifetime of his master, and perhaps not even until many years after his death. Tirechan himself most probably lived on to the end of the seventh century: and he might well have composed his Annotations during the last ten years of his life. The statement which he makes, that there was a ‘conductio martirum, id est, ossuum Columcille de Britannia’ to Downpatrick, appears to be an explanation given by Tirechan himself to identify the ‘church very near to the sea,’ as that to which the bones of Columcille were carried from Britain. Bishop Reeves, indeed, thought these words were at first a gloss on Tirechan’s text, which was afterwards inserted in the text by the copyist; but even in that case the gloss must have been there before 807, when the Book of Armagh was copied. Our own opinion is that the words were an explanation given either by Tirechan or his copyist; that they cannot have been written before 690; and possibly may have been added by some copyist during the eighth century, but not later. Hence we infer that the bones of Columcille, or some notable portion of them, were actually transferred to Downpatrick at some time during the eighth century; and most probably about the beginning of that century.

But here several difficulties crop up, which it is necessary to explain.

The question occurs at once, if the relics of Columcille were transferred to Downpatrick so early as the beginning of the eighth century, or perhaps even earlier, how are we to explain certain entries in our national annals of a later date? For instance, when the Danes desolated Iona, in 824, we are told by Walafridus Strabo, who probably got his information from one of the companions of the martyred abbot, that when Blathmac refused to surrender the hidden treasure—

Pretiosa metalla

Reddere cogentes, queis Sanctae Columbae

Ossa jacent, quam quippe suis de sedibus arcam

Tollentes tumulo terra posuere cavato,

Cespite sub denso, guari jam pestis iniquae;

Hanc praedam cupiere Dani.

the saint was most cruelly martyred by the greedy pirates. But how reconcile this story with an earlier translation to Downpatrick?

The answer appears to be that a portion of the saint’s relics were retained at Iona, when the rest were carried to Downpatrick; that this portion was enshrined, as might have been expected, during the eighth century, in a precious shrine—preciosa metalla—an expression that could hardly be used of the plain busta, or wooden coffin, in which they were first interred. In other words, it was the shrine of the relics of St. Columba that was hidden away; a shrine richly adorned, as we know was then the custom, with gold and precious stones, but which at the same time did not contain all the relics of the saint, but only that portion of them preserved at Iona, when the rest were transferred to Downpatrick about the beginning of the eighth, or the close of the seventh century.

It is stated in the Annals of Ulster that some four years later, in A.D. 828, ‘Diarmait, Abbot of Ia, went to Alba with the reliquaries of Columcille.’ This seems to imply that they were carried from Ireland, to which they had been brought in 824, back again to Alba, or Scotland, by the newly-elected Abbot of Iona. Now the word minna, which is used by the annalist, so far as we know, is not applied to designate the corporeal relics of a saint; but it usually designates what may be called the extrinsic relics of the saint; that is, things intimately connected with him during life, but at the same time quite distinct from his bones or ashes. The late learned Bishop Reeves adopted this view as to the meaning of the word minna, as used in the Annals; and, if this be true, the conveyance of the minna of Columcille from Erin to Alba and back again, more than once, does not mean that his blessed bones, or any part of them—the ‘martira’ of the saint—were taken from Downpatrick, but that certain extrinsic relics of Columba—his bell, his psaltery, his cowl, or his staff, it may be—were carried hither and thither by the abbots of Iona. We venture to think that this is the true view of the various translations of the minna of St. Columba reported in the Annals; and it will go far to reconcile the apparently conflicting statements of Tirechan and of the writers who come after him.

All these subsequent writers of the Annals are, in our opinion, to be understood in the same sense. For example, in A.D. 830, the minna of Columcille were again brought back to Ireland; and once more, in 848, the minna of the saint were carried to Ireland, which shows that they must have returned to Iona in the meantime. Again, in 877, the ‘shrine of Columcille, with all his minna, arrived in Ireland to escape the foreigners.’ In all these cases we have reference to a scrin, or shrine, of the saint, containing, it may be, some small portion of the relics of his sacred body; but it is quite evident that its chief contents were the minna, which, according to the usage of the Annals, must not be understood as martra—or martira in Latin—that is corporeal relics, but rather of extrinsic relics connected with the saint during life, of the character which we have already explained. It is quite obvious that all those translations of the minna of Columcille would, in that case, be quite compatible with the quiet rest of his corporeal relics in Downpatrick.

With regard to St. Brigid’s remains there is somewhat more doubt and uncertainty. That she was at first interred in her own church at Kildare, on the left-hand side of the high altar, is beyond question. This is expressly stated in her Life by Cogitosus. He declares that in that church ‘the glorious bodies of both, that is, of Bishop Conlaeth and of this virgin Saint Brigid, repose on the right and left hand of the decorated altar, placed within tombs richly adorned with various decorations of gold and silver, and gems and precious stones, with crowns of gold and silver pendant from above.’ As this passage is very important, and has in our opinion been greatly misunderstood, we have translated it literally, and subjoin the Latin text in the note.

From this passage Petrie makes a very strange deduction He assumes that the ‘monuments’ which are here described were shrines, in which the bodies of the saints, or rather their relics, were enshrined, according to the custom that certainly became very general during the course of the eighth century. And as the Annals of Ulster, under date of A.D. 799, tell us that the relics of St. Conlaeth were placed in a shrine (scrin) in that year, he infers that the Life of Brigid, by Cogitosus, must have been written after that year, but before 835; when, as we know from the same Annals of Ulster, Kildare was plundered by Gentiles from Inver-Dea, and half the church burned. It is clear that the beautiful tombs would not be left intact in that raid, if they existed at the time.

But ‘monumenta’ are not shrines at all. The word, both in classical and mediæval Latin, when used in this connection, means a tomb, monument, or grave, in which the dead were buried. On the other hand, the shrine or scrinium, or scrin, as it is called in Irish, was a small and highly ornamented metal case for containing the relics or some memorial of a saint, of which we have several examples still existing. But they cannot with propriety be called ‘monumenta,’ and we do not recollect that the word has ever been applied to any of them. Then, again, Cogitosus describes the bodies of the saints as resting within the monuments; whereas, whenever there is question of enshrining, the word always used is relics; that is, reliquiae in Latin, and martra (a loan word) in the Irish, to express corporeal relics.

In our opinion, therefore, Cogitosus in this passage describes the tombs in which the saints were buried—where, as he says, their bodies reposed in his time; whence we infer that he must have written before any enshrining took place, and therefore, in all probability, long before the enshrining of St. Conlaeth’s relics in 799, as described in the Ulster Annals. It is much more likely that Cogitosus died, as Dr. Graves thinks, about the year A.D. 670, or perhaps somewhat later. It is certain, however, that in his time the body of St. Brigid was reposing in a splendid monument within her own church at Kildare.

But the next, that is the eighth century, was the great period for enshrining the relics of the saints. We find no less than twelve instances expressly recorded in the Annals during that century. Doubtless, there would be great reluctance to disturb the bodies of the two saints that lay within their splendid tombs on either side of the high altar of the great Church of Kildare—tombs at which wonderful miracles frequently took place—‘quas nos virtutes non solum audivimus, sed etiam oculis nostris vidimus’—says Cogitosus; speaking of his own time.

That reluctance, however, would be overcome at the approach of the Danes. They had been hovering round the Irish coasts for some years. Rechra was burned by the Gentiles in 794; Sci was pillaged and wasted in the same year; Inis-Patraic was burned in 797; the shrine of Dachonna was also broken by them (the Gentiles), and they committed other great devastations both in Erin and in Alba. It was high time, therefore, to put the relics of St. Brigid and St. Conlaeth, as well as the gold, and silver, and precious stones, which adorned their tombs, in a more portable form to save them from the plunderers. So we are told that in 799 “the relics of Conlaeth were placed in a shrine of gold and silver.” But, strange to say, there is no reference here to the enshrining of the relics of St. Brigid. Surely they did not leave her body in the tomb, when they took up and, for greater security, enshrined the remains of her companion saint in a shrine of gold and silver.

We think the only probable explanation of this omission is the fact that the relics of St. Brigid must at that time, or perhaps a very short time previously, have been taken up from the grave and carried for greater security to Downpatrick. At this time, as we know, Patrick, Brigid, and, Columcille, were recognised as the national patrons of the Irish Church, and of the Irish people. The remains of Patrick and Columcille were already reposing together in Downpatrick—what more natural than that, if they were to be disturbed at all, the remains of the third great patron of Ireland should also be carried thither to repose in the same grave? This, however, would be done as quietly as possible, not only for fear of the Danes, but also for fear of the people, who certainly would not readily permit the transfer. So we have no reference to the date of this translation in our annals, as it was not a public fact; but afterwards we find it expressly stated by those who must have known that it was true.

The principal authority for this translation to Downpatrick is the author of the Fourth Life of St. Brigid, as published by Colgan. Colgan himself attributes the authorship of the Life to a certain Animchad, latinised Animosus, who appears to have been first a monk and afterwards Bishop of Kildare, and whose death is assigned in the Chronicon Scotorum to the year A.D. 979. The author of the Life was manifestly, as may be gathered from his prologue, a monk of Kildare, and therefore must have been well acquainted with the tradition of the translation of the saint’s relics then current amongst his community.

In one passage of this Life it is expressly stated that St. Patrick was buried in Down, and that St. Brigid also, and the relics of the Blessed Columcille, were many years after-words placed in the same tomb. This passage, however, is suspiciously like an interpolation in the text of Animosus, and as such has been printed between brackets in the Fourth Life of St. Brigid. But, in the same chapter, there is given an alleged prediction of St. Brigid, that she herself with Patrick and Columcille would arise from the same tomb on the day of judgment; which proves that, at the time of the writer, the bodies of those three saints were supposed to be within the same tomb in Downpatrick. The evidence, indeed, is not quite satisfactory; but still it goes far to show the existence of this belief in Kildare so early as the middle of the tenth century.

It will be observed that we place the translation of the remains both of Brigid and Columcille to Downpatrick at an earlier date than that commonly assigned. However, we have given our reasons, which will doubtless be estimated at their proper value. There is one fact which goes far to show that the remains of St. Brigid were not transferred to Downpatrick until a somewhat later period. It is this, that we find the same ecclesiastic, Ceallach, son of Ailill, was abbot both of Iona and Kildare at the very time that the ravages of the Danes were most severely felt at Kildare. What more natural than that this eminent man should transfer the holy remains to Downpatrick, a place of comparative security, where, as he well knew, the remains of the great apostle of the Picts had already been transferred? There is much plausibility in this view; and the only thing that makes us hesitate to accept it is, that there is no mention of the enshrining of St. Brigid’s relics in 799, when the relics of St. Conlaeth were certainly enshrined. This, in our opinion, goes far to show that the remains of St. Brigid had been already carried elsewhere, although for prudential reasons their destination was not made public at the time.

This brings us to the later Invention and Translation of the relics of our three great national patrons towards the close of the twelfth century.

It is remarkable that our native annalists make no reference to this discovery of the relics of the three saints in Downpatrick. The Four Masters, for instance, although careful to give an account of the visit of Cardinal Papiron, in 1151, and the Synod over which he presided in 1152, and also of Cardinal Vivian’s visit in 1177, make no reference at all to the visit of Cardinal Vivian in 1186. Gerald Barry, however, a contemporary writer, and at that very time in Ireland with Prince John, expressly declares that the bodies of the three saints, Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille, were found in his time in the city of Down—in the very year that Prince John first came to Ireland—hidden, as it were, in a triple hole or cave—Patrick lying in the middle, with the other two on either side. Thereupon, under the direction of John de Curci, then ruling in Ulster, these three noble treasures were by a divine revelation made known and translated.

Cardinal Vivian came to Ireland as Papal Legate in the beginning of the year 1177, and met John de Curci in Down. He afterwards held a Synod in Dublin, on the 13th of March, the first Sunday of Lent, to which the Four Masters refer; but the Masters make no subsequent reference to his reappearance in Ireland in 1186; nor does any other Irish annalist, so far as we are aware. This invention and translation of the relics of the three saints is narrated in minute detail by several modern writers. It is, however greatly to be regretted that the contemporary evidence is very unsatisfactory as to these circumstantial details. Usher quotes John Brompton, Ralph of Chester, and others; but these were English and later writers, who knew very little about Ireland. Gerald Barry’s testimony as to the substantial fact is most valuable; but he gives no details; and the verses usually given as quoted by him are not found in the best MSS. of the Topographia; that is:—

In Burgo Duno tumulo tumulantur in uno

Brigida, Patritius, atque Columba pius.

Messingham, who has collected so many other important documents in his Florilegium, gives us also the Lessons for the Feast of this Invention and Translation, which was first celebrated on the 9th of June, 1186. They furnish, perhaps, the weightiest evidence in favour of the truth of the details connected with this remarkable event. Here is the substance of these historical Lessons:—

It is said [fertur] that at the time of the conquest of Ireland by the English, there was a certain Malachias, a man of great merit, and of holy life and conversation, who was Bishop of Down, where the bodies of the aforesaid saints were buried. This bishop being instant in prayer, almost daily besought the Lord that He would deign to make known to him, in His own time, where that precious treasure, the relics of the aforesaid saints, was hidden. One night, whilst he was thus most earnestly praying in the Church of Down, he saw, as it were, a ray of sunlight beaming through the church up to the place of burial of the bodies of the aforesaid saints. The bishop, greatly rejoicing in this vision, prayed still more earnestly that the ray of light might not depart until he should find the hidden relics. Thereupon, rising up, he took quickly the necessary tools, and going to that bright spot he dug there until he found the bones of the three aforesaid bodies. Then on the spot where the light was shining he enclosed the bones separately in wooden shells [illa in tabulis separatim inserebat], and thus enclosed [tabulata] replaced them under ground in the same spot.

Then the Bishop narrates his vision to John de Curci, the Conqueror of Ulster, ‘a man much given to the service of God,’ by whose advice and assistance supplication was made to the Pope for the translation of the relics. The Pope graciously assented, and sent over John, a Cardinal Priest, under the title of St. Stephen on the Caelian Mount, as Apostolic Legate in Ireland, who, on the 9th day of June, with all due reverence and devotion, transferred the holy relics from the spot in which they were laid by Malachias the Bishop to an honourable place specially prepared for them in the church. There were present at this translation, besides the Legate, fifteen bishops, with very many abbots, provosts, deans, archdeacons, priors, and other orthodox men, who, in solemn assembly, decreed that the festival of this Translation was thenceforward to be observed on the 9th of June, the feast of St. Columba, which latter was to be transferred to the day after the octave of the Feast of the Translation.

It has been frequently insinuated that this Invention and Translation was a political device, arranged by John de Curci and the bishop, to reconcile the Ultonians to the conquest, by giving it a kind of heavenly sanction in their eyes. But John de Curci was not a schemer; and the Bishop Malachias was a native Irishman, who was no friend of the conquest or the conquerors. Indeed, if the bishop were an Anglo-Norman the entire business would look very suspicious; but, as it stands, the narrative is entirely trustworthy, for the revelation is made to this Celtic bishop, and as we Catholics know often happened before, in answer to humble and fervent prayer.

It has been said also that if the remains of Columba and Brigid were carried to Down in the eighth or the ninth century, and were enclosed in the grave of St. Patrick, a spot so sacred could not be utterly forgotten even by the clergy of the church. There is an obvious answer to this: that during the depredations of the Danes, the churches were burnt, not unfrequently burnt to ashes, and the clergy were often all slaughtered. What grave of our early saints is known outside the Aran Islands? Hardly a single one. The same motive, too, that led to bringing the remains to Down would lead to the place where they were buried being kept a profound secret, except from a very few. Thus, in the course of generations, the knowledge of the place might be utterly lost, although it was well known that the sacred remains were hidden somewhere within the Church of Down. Similar events have led, even in more recent times, to the same uncertainty as of old. Hence, although the relics of Patrick, Brigid, and Columba were then buried in Down, no one now can tell the exact spot where these holy relics repose.

There is, indeed, in the cemetery attached to the Protestant Cathedral, or the Abbey, as it is still called by the people, an ancient grave, which is commonly reputed to be the grave of St. Patrick. It is now hollowed out by the excavations of pious Catholics, who, when about to emigrate, always carry away with them a small portion of ‘the clay from St. Patrick’s grave.’ It is said that over this grave there was formerly erected a granite cross to mark the sacred spot, but it was carried off and broken in pieces by certain bigots amongst the Orangemen of Downpatrick, who afterwards, as might be expected, all came to a bad end. No one can regret if St. Patrick showed his power on men like these. This grave, however, could not have been the original grave of St. Patrick, nor that into which the remains of the Trias Thaumaturga were enclosed in 1186; for, in both cases, the grave was within the cathedral, and no church ever stood over the present grave.

But a certain writer in the Ulster Examiner, under date of Feb. 9th, 1870, declared that, thirty years before, a man of the name of Millar told him that he remembered the time when the cathedral was restored (in 1790); that three stone coffins were discovered near the high altar; that these holy remains, supposed to be those of the three saints, were transferred to a new grave in the churchyard, and to mark the spot an ancient market cross was carried there and placed over the grave—that very cross, we must assume, that was afterwards broken to pieces by the Orangemen. It is a point that deserves further investigation, which we must leave to the zeal of the local antiquaries.






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