Saint Machar

Interior of Cathedral Church of St. Machar, Old Aberdeen.

St Machor was one of the disciples of St Columba, the famous apostle of the Northern Picts and founder of the celebrated monastery of Iona. According to the ‘Aberdeen Breviary,’ “sanctum virum gignit Hibernia, educavit illum Albania, cujus corpus in reverentia Turonensis tenet ecclesia.” He was the son of Syaconus or Fiachna, an Irish kingling, and Synchena or Finchœmia, his wife, both of whom appear to have been Christians. At baptism, a rite which, according to the ‘Aberdeen Breviary’ was performed for him by St Colman, he received the name of Mocumma. St Colman was also his first instructor. Proofs and indications of his sanctity were vouchsafed while he was yet a child. Angels visited him, and hovered around his home and cradle; at the touch of his body his dead brother was restored to life, and twice he was miraculously delivered from death by drowning and by fire. Sent by his father to be instructed by St Columba, he soon became a most devoted scholar and disciple of that saint. When Columba was about to leave Ireland for Scotland, Mocumma refused to be left behind, and resolved to leave his country and home and friends in order to be with him. Overjoyed with the zeal and attachment of his disciple, Columba changed his name from Mocumma to Machor or Machar. When they landed on the island of Iona, Machor was carried ashore by a certain Melluma. After the cells had been built and the community thoroughly established in their new home, St Columba sent Machor to evangelise the island of Mull. There he preached the Gospel over the whole land and healed seven lepers. Returning to Iona after the completion of his work in Mull, he devoted himself to study and to the copying of the Scriptures, one of the chief works in which the disciples of Columba were engaged. One day as he wrote the light failed him, but blowing on “his fyngre-end,” a bright light immediately issued from it, and lighted him until his task was done. The fame which this and other miracles brought him, soon caused great companies to gather around him, offering him gifts, all of which, however, he refused to accept. On the other hand, his fellow-disciples were moved with jealousy, and attempted to poison him. Alarmed for the personal safety of his favourite disciple, Columba advised him to withdraw from the island, and preach the Gospel elsewhere. Machor accepted his advice, and Columba gave him seven, or, according to another account, twelve companions, a bishop’s staff, a girdle, two coats, and a number of books, and then sent him away in a “galay” or boat, but not before his fellow-disciples who had made the attempt on his life had been reconciled to him. Machor landed in the north of Scotland, where a Christian man named Farcare resided, who received him with great joy, and allowed him to choose any portion of his land on which to build his cell. After much searching, he selected a piece in the shape of a bishop’s staff, which answered to the description Columba had given him of the place where he was to fix his dwelling. Here he caused a “costly kirk” to be built, and miraculously provided a supply of water for the thirsty workmen. Here also he collected round him a great company of disciples. St Devenick came to visit him, and the two agreed that St Devenick should preach the Gospel in Caithness, and that St Machor should confine himself to the Picts. St Machor threw himself into his work with great earnestness, and converted a large number of Picts and wrought numerous miracles. He changed a bear, which was destroying the harvest, into a stone; he overcame a heathen sorcerer named Dinon or Dron, and then converted and baptised him; he gave sight to a man that was born blind, and raised Synchenus, who belonged to the kindred of St Columba, from death to life; two young Irishmen, attracted by his fame, having mocked him, came by a violent end; having ploughed a large field which was lean and dry, and seed failing him with which to sow it, he sent to borrow some from St Teman, who sent instead a sack of sand — but sowing this, it sprang up and bore an abundant harvest; a bone which had stuck in the throat of a man Avho had despised him, he safely extracted, and received in return a piece of land on which to build a church. One day St Teman came to visit him; he entertained him, and the two held a long conversation on heavenly things, Machor becoming the instructor of his visitor, and causing him to marvel at his wisdom. As he lay on the point of death St Devenick besought his disciples to carry his dead body to one of the churches of St Machor for burial, and, instructed by a vision, the latter went to meet the funeral procession. He met it near the Hill of Croscan, and accompanied it to Banchory-Devenick, where the saint was buried, and a church erected over his tomb. When St Columba proceeded on his pilgrimage to Rome, Machor accompanied him. Both were graciously received by Gregory the Great, who appointed Machor bishop of the Picts, or, according to another account, bishop of Tours, changed his name to Morice or Mauritius, and instructed him in the duties of a bishop. On their return journey Columba and Machor visited Tours. The clergy of that city were then searching for the body of St Martin. On applying to St Columba for assistance, he promised to help them on the condition that he should have whatever he found with the body. His search was successful and along with the body he found a missal or “a book of the Gospel,” which he treasured all the remainder of his life as a precious relic. St Columba then took his way home, but left Machor, much against his will, though at the earnest request of the people of Tours. For the space of three years and a half St Machor occupied the Chair of St Martin, by whom he was visited. His deathbed was visited by St Martin from heaven, by St Columba from Iona, and by the Son of God, and ever and around it were the company of the Apostles, and a great host of heavenly beings.

The old Latin life from which the six lections in the ‘Aberdeen Breviary,’ November 12, and the passages in Colgan’s ‘Trias Thaumaturga,’ 318, 514, appear to have been taken, is now lost. Besides these, cf. Reeves, ‘Life of St Columba by Adamnan’; Forbes, ‘Kal. of Scottish Saints,’ sub Mauritius; J. Smith, ‘Life of St Columba.’ The narrative given in the Legend is the longest and fullest and most important known. Machor is mentioned in the Arbuthnott and Aberdeen Calendars, and in Adam King’s, where he is said to have lived during the reign of ‘King Soluathius in Scotland.” The ‘Menologium Scotium’ refers to him, January 15 and November 12. and in the Calendar of David Camerarius he occurs under November 13.

His day is November 12.

— John Barbour, Legends of the Saints, ed. W. M. Metcalfe, Vol. III, Edinburgh: Wm. Blackwood and Sons, 1896.

Some Ass of a French G.P.

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1938, National Portrait Gallery, London.
Ronald Arbuthnott Knox by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1938, National Portrait Gallery, London.

[T]he Catholic religion differs from most other religions, differs even from most other denominations of Christianity, in that it was not merely cradled in an atmosphere of the miraculous, but lives and breathes in an atmosphere of the miraculous. Miracles are not always equally abundant, but the faith is always there; when the deacon Peter asks St Gregory in his dialogues why it is that miracles don’t happen nowadays, St Gregory first of all gives reasons why they shouldn’t happen, and then points out that they do. All the discoveries of science about the nature of diseases and so on have not lessened our faith in the possibility of miracle; rather, they have increased it. For, in proportion as medicine grows more exact in its methods and more careful in its habits of observation, in that proportion we can feel more certain, when such and such a cure is effected, that the finger of God was really there. When you hear doctors doubting about the miracles at Lourdes, you will find that the complaint they are making is not one against religion; diagnosis, they say; some ass of a French G.P. didn’t know his own business. If that is so, we can only hope that doctors will get more and more scientific; then the miracles at Lourdes will be more manifest than ever. Ronald Knox, In Soft Garments, A Collection of Oxford Conferences (1953).

Of Columcille and Pope Gregory

The Holy Ghost, depicted as a dove (columba), inspiring Pope St. Gregory the Great's dictation of the Gregorian Chant, Antiphonary of Hartker of the monastery of Saint Gall (Cod. Sang. 390, p. 13).
The Holy Ghost, depicted as a dove (columba), inspiring Pope St. Gregory the Great’s dictation of the Gregorian Chant, Antiphonary of Hartker of the monastery of Saint Gall (Cod. Sang. 390, p. 13).

Brandubh was killed on the morrow, and demons carried off his soul into the air. And Maedhog [abbot of Ferns] heard the wail of his soul as it was undergoing pain, while he was with the reapers. And he went into the air, and began to battle with the demons. And they passed over Hy; and Columkille heard them while he was writing; and he stuck the style [graib, graphium] into his cloak, and went to the battle to the aid of Maedhog, in defence of Brandubh’s soul. And the battle passed over Rome, and the style fell out of Columkille s cloak, and dropped in front of Gregory, who took it up in his hand. Columkille followed the soul of Brandubh to heaven. When he reached it, the congregation of heaven were at Celebration, namely, Te decet hymnus, and Benedic anima mea, and Laudate pueri Dominum; and this is the beginning of the Celebration of heaven. Columbkille did the same as the people of heaven. And they brought Brandubh’s soul back to his body again. Columbkille tarried with Gregory; and brought away Gregory’s brooch [dealc] with him, and it is the hereditary brooch [delg aidechta, literally testamentary brooch, being an heirloom in Hy, as the clog an eadhachta, or testamentary boll, was in Armagh] of the coarb of Columkille to this day. And he left his style with Gregory. ”

Lib. Lecan, fol. 183 a., quoted in Reeves’ Life of St. Columba, 1874.

The legend is transferred from the Irish original in Manus O’Donnell’s Life:

By reason of that curse and of the promise that Columcille had made them that whoever misprized them, he would cut off his life, it befell that Brandubh came not further into Leth Cuinn, and in that same hosting was slain, and devils bare his soul up into the air with them, and they were tormenting it there.

And in that time Maedhog was with the reapers that were cutting corn for him. And he heard the cry of the soul in torment, and by the power of God he went up into the air after the demons. And he was battling with them for the soul of Brandubh.

And they came above Iona of Columcille in Alba. Columcille was writing at that time, and an angel of God revealed the thing to him. And he grieved for the soul in torment, albeit he it was himself that had obtained from God that the life of Brandubh should be cut off because he had not taken the counsel of the holy men of his household forementioned touching the making of peace with Leth Cuinn. And he fastened his cloak with his brooch, and leaped into the air to aid Maedhog to save the soul of Brandubh from the demons. And they were struggling thus until they came above Rome. The brooch of Columcille fell out of his mantle, and dropped to the ground before Pope Gregory. Gregory lifted it and recognized it. Soon the devils rose passing high into the air, fleeing before Columcille. Columcille followed them and went higher above into the ether, so that he heard the singing of the heavenly household. And these were the first words of the psalms they were singing in praise of the Lord: “Te decet u.,” and “Benedic a. m.,” and “Laudate pueri.

And Columcille caused his holy men and monks to recite them at the beginning of their office and singing from that time on. And Columcille obtained from God that the soul of Brandubh, that was all that time in torment from the demons, should be restored to his body again, and that he should repent of his crime, and be a good servant to God and to Columcille thenceforth, and should receive the sacrament from the hands of Maedhog Ferna in the hour of his death as he had promised him.

Columcille went to Gregory for his brooch. But the Pope kept it for himself and left his own brooch to Columcille afterward. And right marvelous were to Gregory the height of gifts, and the wealth of graces, and the multitude of miracles that God granted Columcille to do in that time. And afterward Columcille went back to Iona, and there he left that brooch of Pope Gregory’s to his successor in Iona in witness and in sign of these great miracles.

— Betha Colaim Chille, 219.

Gregorian Masses of Cormac mac Airt

On a time that Columcille was walking by the side of the river that is called the Boyne, the skull of a man was sent to him. And Columcille and the saints marvelled at the size of that skull, for it was far greater than the skulls of the folk of that time. Then said his household to Columcille:

“It is a poor thing for us,” say they, “to be without knowledge of
whose this skull may be, or where is the soul that was in the body wherein it dwelled.”

Columcille answered them and said: “I will not quit this place save
I get knowledge thereof for you from God.”

Then gan Columcille to pray God earnestly to reveal to him this
thing. And God heard that prayer of Columcille, so that the skull spake to him. And it said how it was the skull of Cormac mac Airt son† of Conn of the Hundred Battles, King of Erin and ancestor to himself. For Columcille was the tenth degree from Cormac. And the skull related that albeit his faith had not been perfect, yet such had been the measure thereof, and his keeping of the truth, that, inasmuch as God knew that Columcille would be of his seed, and would pray for his soul, He had not dammed him in very truth, albeit it was in sharp pains that he awaited the prayer of Columcille.

Then Columcille lifted up the skull and cleansed it right worshipfully. And he baptized it and blessed and buried it thereafter. And he left not the place ere he had said thirty masses‡ for the soul of Cormac. And at the last of those masses the angels of God appeared to Columcille, bearing with them the soul of Cormac to Heaven to enjoy glory everlasting through the intercession of Columcille.

Betha Colaim Chille (Life of Columcille),
X. Of Sundry Miracles and Prophecies of Columcille and of Certain Visions, 131; compiled by Manus O’Donnell in 1532; edited and translated from manuscript Rawlinson B. 514 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

† Cormac mac Airt was son of Art mac Cuinn and grandson of Conn Cétchathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles)
‡ The reference to “thirty masses” is likely anachronistic, as the custom of the thirty Gregorian Masses dates from A.D. 590, being established by Pope St. Gregory the Great at St. Andrew’s Monastery in Rome, originally restricted to the high altar of the monastery church, with the privilege later being allowed to other altars in Rome, and only centuries later extended to monasteries and churches throughout the world.