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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Dúnán, First Bishop of Dublin

Dúnán, the first bishop of Dublin, appointed under Dublin‘s Hiberno-Norse kings, dies on May 6, 1074. He is known also as Donatus or Donat. The diocese is put on a regular basis, in 1028, at the request of Sigtrygg Silkbeard. In his obituary in the Annals of Ulster, Dúnán is described as “chief bishop of the foreigners.”

It has been traditionally said that Dúnán was consecrated by Æthelnoth, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is now disputed, with scholars saying that his successor, Gilla Patráic, was the first to be consecrated in this way.

Dúnán is an Easterling or Östman, and the first of the line of prelates who occupy the see. James Ware, who mentions several so-called bishops of Dublin of an earlier date, is supported by the Martyrology of Donegal, but John Lanigan is of opinion that there are no sufficient grounds for so regarding them, except in the case of Siadhal or Sedulius, who appears to have been a bishop. Dúnán is, however, termed abbot of Dublin in the Annals of the Four Masters (AD 785), and from this it would seem he is only a monastic bishop. Diocesan episcopacy has not been established in Ireland in his time. Dúnán, therefore, must be regarded as the first bishop of Dublin in the modern sense of the title.

The Annals of the Four Masters term him “ardeasbog”, which Dr. John O’Donovan translates archbishop, but James Henthorn Todd points out that the correct rendering of the word is “chief or eminent bishop,” and that it includes no idea of jurisdiction. His diocese is comprised within the walls of the city, beyond which the Danish power does not extend.

The chief event of Dúnán’s life appears to be the foundation of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, commonly called Christ Church, or more properly its endowment and reorganisation in accordance with the views of the Danish settlers. For it appears, from an inquisition held in the reign of Richard II, that a church is “founded and endowed there by divers Irishmen whose names were unknown, time out of mind, and long before the conquest of Ireland.” This ancient site is bestowed on Dúnán by Sitric, king of the Danes of Dublin, and with it “sufficient gold and silver” for the erection of the new church, and as an endowment he grants him “the lands Bealduleek, Rechen, and Portrahern, with their villains, corn, and cattle.”

Sitric, according to the annalist Tigernach Ua Braín, had gone over the sea in 1035, probably for the sake of religious retirement, leaving his nephew as king of Dublin in his place. This is three years before Dúnán’s appointment, and as the king dies in 1042, it must be when he becomes a monk, if Tigernach is right, that he makes the grant referred to, and therefore the new foundation of Christ Church appears to have taken place between 1038 and 1042.

The site is described in the Black Book of Christ Church as “the voltæ i.e. arches founded by the Danes before the arrival of Saint Patrick in Ireland, and it is added that Saint Patrick celebrated mass in an arch or vault which has been since known by his name.” This story, as it stands, cannot be accepted as authentic history, for Saint Patrick died according to the usual belief in 490, whereas the earliest mention of Danes in Ireland is in 795. In the recent discovery made at Christ Church of a crypt hitherto unknown, some very ancient work is found, which is probably part of the buildings. If so, they may be the remains of the ecclesiastical structures originally occupied by the abbots of Dublin. The legendary connection of the place with Saint Patrick belongs to the period when, as Dr. O’Donovan observes, “the christian Danes refused to submit to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Armagh, and when it was found useful by the Danish party to have it believed that their ancestors had been settled in Dublin as early as the fifth century, and were converted to christianity by Saint Patrick.”

When the church is built, and the secular canons by whom it is to be served are installed, Dúnán furnishes it with a liberal supply of relics, of which a list is given in the Book of Obits of Christ Church, published by Dr. Todd. Other buildings erected by him are the church of St. Michael (now the Synod House), hard by the cathedral, and a palace for himself and his successors. He enters into a correspondence with Lanfranc on some ecclesiastical questions about which he desires information. Lanfranc’s answer is preserved, and is published by Archbishop James Ussher. It is highly probable that this deference to the Archbishop of Canterbury may have something to do with the claim put forward by the latter in a synod held in 1072, two years before Dúnán’s death, in which, on the supposed authority of Bede, he asserts his supremacy over the church of Ireland – a claim which Dúnán’s successor admits in the most explicit manner at his consecration in Canterbury Cathedral.

Dunan died on May 6, 1074, and is buried in Christ Church, at the right-hand side of the altar. There is another who also bears the alternative name of Donat (1085), but he is more generally known as Dungus.


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Death of Vergilius of Salzburg, Churchman & Astronomer

virgilius-of-salzburgVergilius of Salzburg, also known as Virgilius, Feirgil or Fergal, Irish churchman and early astronomer, dies on November 27, 784, in Salzburg, Austria. He serves as abbot of Aghaboe, bishop of Ossory and bishop of Salzburg. He is called “the Apostle of Carinthia” and “the geometer.”

He originates from a noble family of Ireland, where his name is Feirgil, and is said to have been a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Feirgil is likely educated at the Iona monastery.

In the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster he is mentioned as Abbot of Aghaboe, in County Laois, where he is known as “the Geometer” because of his knowledge of mathematics.

Around 745 Vergilius leaves Ireland, intending to visit the Holy land but, like many of his countrymen who seem to have adopted this practice as a work of piety, he settles down in France, where he is received with great favour by Pepin the Short, who is then Mayor of the Palace under Childeric III of Franconia. He serves as an adviser to Pepin. He probably uses a copy of the Collectio canonum Hibernensis, an Irish collection of canon law, to advise him to receive royal unction in 751, to assist his recognition as king Pippin III after the deposition of Childeric. After spending two years at Cressy, near Compiègne, he goes to Bavaria, at the invitation of Duke Odilo, where he founds the monastery of Chiemsee, and within a year or two is made Abbot of St. Peter’s at Salzburg. Among his notable accomplishments is the conversion of the Alpine Slavs and the dispatching of missionaries to Hungary.

While Abbot of St. Peter’s, Vergilius comes into collision with Saint Boniface. A priest, through ignorance, confers the Sacrament of Baptism using, in place of the correct formula, the words “Baptizo te in nomine patria et filia et spiritu sancta.” Vergilius holds that the sacrament has been validly conferred, but Boniface complains to Pope Zachary. The latter, however, decides in favour of Vergilius. Later on, Boniface accuses Vergilius of spreading discord between himself and Duke Odilo of Bavaria and of teaching a doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth, which is “contrary to the Scriptures.” Pope Zachary’s decision in this case is that “if it shall be clearly established that he professes belief in another world and other people existing beneath the earth, or in another sun and moon there, thou art to hold a council, and deprive him of his sacerdotal rank, and expel him from the church.”

Unfortunately we no longer possess the treatise in which Vergilius expounds his doctrine. Two things, however, are certain: first, that there is involved the problem of original sin and the universality of redemption; secondly, that Vergilius succeeds in freeing himself from the charge of teaching a doctrine contrary to Scripture. It is likely that Boniface, already biased against Vergilius because of the preceding case, misunderstands him, taking it for granted, perhaps, that if there are antipodes, the “other race of men” are not descendants of Adam and are not redeemed by Christ.

After the martyrdom of Boniface, Vergilius is made Bishop of Salzburg in 766 or 767. Until his death in 784, he labours successfully for the upbuilding of his diocese as well as for the spread of Christianity in neighbouring heathen countries, especially in Carinthia.

Vergilius is venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. In 1233 he is formally canonized by Pope Gregory IX. Aside from being personally associated with Abbey of Aghaboe and Salzburg Cathedral, a number of parishes around the world are dedicated to him, mostly being founded by small populations of far-flung Irish Catholics, like himself. There is a church still bearing his name dedicated to him in Broad Channel, Queens, New York. A parish in Morris Plains, New Jersey is also dedicated to him.


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Death of Mochta of Louth, Disciple of St. Patrick

st-mochtas-houseMochta of Louth, in Latin sources Maucteus or Mauchteus, the last surviving disciple of St. Patrick, dies on August 20, 535.

Mochta is, like Patrick, a native of Britain. His name is British and Adomnán‘s Life of Columba describes him as “a certain British stranger, a holy man and a disciple of the holy bishop Patrick.” Adomnán presents Mochta as having prophesied the birth of Colm Cille.

According to one account, Mochta is brought to Ireland as a child, along with his parents, by a druid named Hoam. The druid settles in County Louth, where Mochta is brought up as a member of the family. He goes to Rome to continue his studies and there the Pope consecrates him bishop and sends him back to Ireland with twelve companions. The first church he founds is at Kilmore. Departing from Kilmore, he leaves all his possessions to the monks, taking only “the fountain at the door.” He follows a stream, which becomes the River Fane, to Louth.

Mochta founds a monastery in Louth, originally the site of a shrine to the Celtic god Lugh. Mochta’s monastery gains a nationwide reputation. He is an accomplished scholar, especially learned in Sacred Scripture. He writes a rule for monks but no trace of it has survived. He begins a series of annals at Louth, which is continued by his successors, and becomes known as the Book of the Monks. In his old age, Patrick comes and spends some time with Mochta. After Patrick’s death, Mochta takes charge of Armagh for a brief period before turning it over to Benignus.

Both monastery and village are burned and plundered frequently by the Danes in the period 829-968. A round tower built for protection is blown down in 981. There are no physical remains of the early monastery. The ruined buildings at the site today (pictured) are the 13th century church of St. Mary’s Augustinian Priory and the stone roofed oratory known as St. Mochta’s House, which probably dates to the second half of the 12th century.

The Annals of Ulster report Mochta’s death twice, in 535 and 537, which indicates that he is considerably younger than Patrick, whose death the Annals date to 493. Scholars believe that he, the last of Patrick’s disciples then alive, dies at the age of 90. The entry for 535 dates his death to the 13th of the Calends of September, i.e. 20 August, and quotes the opening of a letter written by him: “Mauchteus, a sinner, priest, disciple of St. Patrick, sends greetings in the Lord.” However the remainder of this letter nor any other compositions of Mochta have survived.


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Death of Saint Mo Chutu mac Fínaill

sts-carthage-catherine-patrickSaint Mo Chutu mac Fínaill, also known as Carthach or Carthach the Younger (a name Latinized as Carthagus and Anglicized as Carthage), dies on May 14, 637. Mo Chutu is abbot of Rahan, County Offaly and subsequently, founder and first abbot of Lismore, County Waterford.

Through his father, Fínall Fíngein, Mo Chutu belongs to the Ciarraige Luachra, while his mother, Finmed, is of the Corco Duibne. Notes added to the Félire Óengusso, the Martyrology of Óengus, claim that his foster father is Carthach mac Fianáin, also known as Carthach the Elder, whose period of activity can be assigned to the late 6th century.

Mo Chutu first becomes abbot of Rahan, a monastery which lays in the territory of the southern Uí Néill. He composes a rule for his monks, an Irish metrical poem of 580 lines, divided into nine separate sections, a notable literary relic of the early Irish Church.

According to the Annals of Ulster, he is expelled from the monastery during the Easter season of 637. The incident is connected with the Easter controversy in which Irish churches are involved during the 7th century. Through his training in Munster, Mo Chutu is possibly a supporter of the Roman system of calculation, which likely brought him into conflict with adherents of the “Celtic” reckoning in Leinster.

Following his expulsion, Mo Chutu journeys to the Déisi, where he founds the great monastery of Lismore in modern day County Waterford. The Latin and Irish lives make very little of Mo Chutu’s earlier misfortune and focus instead on the saint’s resistance to the oppressive Uí Néill rulers and his joyous reception among the Déisi. He is portrayed in a heroic light in Indarba Mo Chutu a r-Raithin (The expulsion of Mo Chutu from Rahan).

His foundation at Lismore flourishes after his lifetime, eclipsing the reputation of the saint’s earlier church. It is able to withstand the Viking depredations which plague the area and benefit from the generosity of Munster kings, notably the Mac Carthaig of Desmond. In the 12th century, St. Déclán‘s foundation of Ardmore aspires to the status of episcopal see in the new diocese, but the privilege goes instead to Lismore.

His feast day in the Irish martyrologies is May 14, as well as in the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church. In the present calendar of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in which May 14 is the feast of Saint Matthias, the memorial of Saint Carthage is celebrated on May 15.

The photograph above is from an altar tomb of 1543 in St. Carthage’s cathedral in Lismore and depicts Mo Chutu along with St. Catherine and St. Patrick.