Even by a Bird

Phoenix, detail of folio 56 recto, Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library, Univ Lib. MS 24).

Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phœnix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the deed bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.

Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise?

First Epistle of Clement.

Straightway Went He to Bring the Cleric to Life

Ruined church and cross slab, Gartan, Co. Donegal, near to the birthplace of St. Columba.

After his birth he was straightway taken to be baptised by Cruithnechán, son of Cellachán, the noble priest, and he fostered him afterwards, being so bidden by an angel of God.

Now, when came the time for him to read, the cleric went to a certain spaeman, who was biding in the country, to ask him when the boy ought to begin. When the spaeman had scanned the sky, he said, ‘Write for him his alphabet now.’ It was thereafter written on a cake, and in this wise Colombcille ate the cake, to wit, half thereof to the east of the water and the other half to the west of the water. The spaeman said, through the gift of spaedom, ‘So shall the territory of this son be, to wit, half thereof to the east of the sea, that is in Scotland, and the other half to the west of the sea, that is in Ireland.’

Not long thereafter he and his fosterer went at Christmas to Brugach son of Deg, the bishop, to the Ramparts of Mag Enaig in Tir Enda. It was entrusted to his fosterer the cleric to perform a priest’s duties in that place during the hightide. But bashfulness seized him so that he could not (chant) the psalm that came to him to chant: Misericordias Dei was that psalm. Howbeit the gifted son Colombcille sang the psalm in his fosterer’s behoof. And yet theretofore he had read his alphabet only. And God’s name and Colombcille’s were magnified through that great miracle.

At another time he, (Cruithnechán) went to watch by a sick person. As they were going through a wood, the cleric’s foot slipt on the path and thereof he suddenly died. Colombcille put his cowl under the cleric’s head, thinking he was asleep, and takes to rehearsing his lesson, so that certain nuns heard him as far as their cell. The learned compute that there was a mile and a half between them and the sound of his voice was often heard at that distance, ut dixit (poeta):—

  1. The sound of Colombcille’s voice—
    Great (was) its sweetness above every train,
    To the end of fifteen hundred paces,
    Through great the distance, it was clear.

Then came the nuns and found the cleric dead before them, and they told Colombcille to bring the cleric back to life for them. Straightway went he to bring the cleric to life. The cleric arose out of death at Colombcille’s word even as if he had been asleep. Thereafter Colombcille offered (himself) to the Lord of the Elements, and begged three boons of Him, to wit, chastity and wisdom and pilgrimage. The three were fully granted him.

He then bade farewell to his fosterer, and the fosterer gave him leave and a fervent blessing.

On the Life of St. Columba, Anonymous.