In Four Things Like Unto Moses

St. Patrick kindles the Paschal Fire on the Hill of Slane, mosaic by Boris Anrep, Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland.
St. Patrick kindles the Paschal Fire on the Hill of Slane, mosaic by Boris Anrep, Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland.

In quatuor rebus similis fuit Moysi Patricius:

I. Primo, anguelum de rubo audivit:
II. quadraginta diebus et quadraginta noctibus ieiunavit:
III. quia annos centum viginti peregit in vita praesenti:
IIII. ubi sunt ossa eius 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 venierunt, et corpus in grabato duo hostes viderunt apud se, et non pugnaverunt. Colombcille, Spiritu Sancto instigante, ostendit sepulturam Patricii, [et] ubi est confirmat, id est in Sabul Patricii, id est in aecclesia juxta mare proxima, ubi est conductio martirum, id est ossuum, Coluimb Cille de Britannia et conductio omnium sanctorum Hiberniae in die judicii.

(Two hostile hands 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 Coluincille from Britain, and the gathering of all the saints of Erin in the day of judgment.)

Book of Armagh, fo. 15, b. 2. from Whitley Stokes, Tripartite Life of Patrick, London, 1887.

St. Senán and the Péist of Inis Cathaigh

Inis Cathaigh (Scattery Island), in the Shannon Estuary, off the coast of Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland.
Inis Cathaigh (Scattery Island), in the Shannon Estuary, off the coast of Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland.

Then came Raphael the Archangel to commune with Senán, and he said: “Come with me, and I will shew thee the place in which thy resurrection will take place; for unto God it seems time for thee to reach it.” Then Senán and the angel went till they were on Mullach Feis. Then said the angel to him: “Behold the island there. Thy resurrection shall be therein, and the resurrection of a great host of saints along with thee. In the west of the world there is no more sacred island. No outrage to God hath ever been committed there. God sent an awful monster to keep it, so that neither sinners nor sons of cursing should dwell therein, but that it should remain in holiness awaiting thee. Yonder monster shall be put forth from the island before thee, so that dwelling along with it may not annoy thy community. For unto God it seemeth time for thee to go and build a church in that island. Noble and venerable will that church be. It will be a head of devotion and a well of wisdom of the west of the world. It will be a protection of prayer to foreigners and to Gael.” Said Senán to the angel: “What seems timely to God seems timely to me; for this is what I seek continually, that which is the will of God.” With that the angels lift him up along with the flagstone on which he was sitting, from Mullach Fessi, and set him down on a high hill in the middle of the island; and thence is Ard na n-Aingel (the Angels’ Height), and Lec na n-Aingel (the Angels’ Flagstone) in Inis Cathaigh. They sing praise to God in that spot, even Senán and the angels, and then they went to seek the monster, to the place in which it abode.

Teampall Naomh Mhuire (Cathedral of St. Mary)  and Round Tower, Inis Cathaigh.
Teampall Naomh Mhuire (Cathedral of St. Mary) and Round Tower, Inis Cathaigh.

When the monster heard them, it shook its head, and its hair stood up upon it, and its rough bristles; and it looked at them, hatingly and wrathfully. Not gentle, friendly, mild, was the look that it bestowed upon them, for it marvelled that any one else should come to visit it in its island. So it went to them strongly and swiftly, insomuch that the earth trembled under its feet. Hideous, uncouth, ruthless, awful, was the beast that arose there. Longer was its body than Inis na h-Urclaide. A horse’s mane had it; an eye gleaming flaming in its head, and it keen, savage, froward, angry, edged, crimson, bloody, cruel, bounding. Any one would think that its eye would go through him when it looked upon him. Two very hideous, very thick feet under it; behind it a mane. Nails of iron on it which used to strike showers of fire out of the rocks of stone wherever it went across them. A fiery breath it had which burnt like embers. A belly it had like the bellows of a furnace. A whale’s tail upon it behind. Iron, rending (?) claws upon it, which used to lay bare the surface of the ground on the path they came behind the monster. Equally did it traverse sea and land when it so desired. Then the sea boiled from the greatness of its heat and from its virulence when it entered it. No boats could catch it: neither from that day to this has any one escaped from it who could tell tidings of it.

Now, when the monster came savagely to the place where Senán was biding, it opened its maw so that, as it drew nigh the cleric, its entrails were clearly seen over the maw. Thereat Senán lifted up his hand and made the sign of Christ’s Cross in its face. Then the monster was silent, and this is what Senán spake to it:

“I say unto thee,” saith he, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, leave this island and hurt no one in the district over which thou wilt go, nor in the district unto which thou wilt come.” The monster went at once at Senán’s word out of the island till it reached Dubloch of Sliab Collain. And it did no hurt to any one, till it came there, nor after arriving; for it durst not oppose Senán’s word.

Now after that Senán and the angels went righthandwise round the island till they came again to the Height of the Angels, after they had consecrated the island. Senán said to the angel: “Savage is the sea that there is around the island: there seemeth a troubled people therein.” “Though it be savage,” saith the angel, “whatever monk with humbleness of heart shall go from thee . . . . he will not be drowned until he shall come back to thee again. God hath granted to thee,” saith the angel, “that he over whom the mould of this island shall go, shall not be after Judgment an inhabitant of hell.”

Then the angel uttered this stave:

A sea high, stormy, past its side,
. . . not a royal element:
No penance but death shall he taste,
He over whom its mould goeth.

Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, trans. Whitley Stokes (1890).

Thou Findest Him Not

Detail of folio 23 verso of the Codex Boernerianus.
Detail of folio 23 verso of the Codex Boernerianus.

Téicht doróim
mór saido · becc · torbai ·
INrí chondaigi† hifoss ·
manimbera latt nífogbái ·

Mór báis mor baile
mór coll ceille mor mire
olais airchenn teicht dó ecaib ·
beith fo étoil · maíc · maire ·

† From a facsimile given by Matthaei in his XIII epistolarum Pauli Codex (1791), folio 23. In the third line the facsimile has INrí chondaigi n hifoss, a dot over n (not reproduced here) being the punctum delens.

— Old Irish poem, a gloss on folio 23 verso of the Codex Boernerianus, a ninth century New Testament codex likely written by an Irish monk at the monastery of St. Gall, Switzerland.

To go to Rome is much of trouble, little of profit. The King whom seekest here, unless thou bring him with thee thou findest not.

Great folly, great madness,  great loss of sense, great folly since thou proposed (?) to go to death, to be under the unwill of Mary’s Son.

— English translation given in Whitley Stokes’ Goidelica, Old and Early-Middle-Irish Glosses, Prose and Verse (London, 1872).

To go to Rome, much labour, little profit: the King whom thou seekest here, unless thou bring him with thee, thou findest him not.

Much folly, much frenzy, much loss of sense, much madness (is it), since going to death is certain, to be under the displeasure of Mary’s Son.

— English translation given in Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus: a Collection of Old-Irish Glosses, Scholia, Prose, and Verse (Cambridge, 1901), edited by Whitley Stokes and John Strachan.

* * *

Folio 23 verso of the Codex Boernerianus contains the text of I Corinthians 2:9-3:3:

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

Columcille’s Nettle Broth

Common -- or stinging-- nettle (Urtica dioica).
Common — or stinging — nettle (Urtica dioica).

Once when he was going round the graveyard in Iona, he saw an old woman cutting nettles for broth for herself. ‘What is the cause of this, poor woman?’ said Colum Cille. ‘Dear Father,’ said she, ‘I have one cow, and it has not yet borne a calf; I am waiting for it, and this is what has served me for a long time.’ Colum Cille made up his mind then that nettle broth should be what should serve him mostly from then on for ever; saying, ‘Since they suffer this great hunger in expectation of the one uncertain cow, it would be right for us that the hunger which we suffer should be great, waiting for God; because what we are expecting, the everlasting Kingdom, is better, and is certain.’ And he said to his servant ‘Give me nettle broth every night,’ said he, ‘without butter or milk with it.’ ‘It shall be done,’ said the cook. He hollowed the stick for stirring the broth and made it into a tube, so that he used to pour the milk into that tube and stir it into the broth. Then the people of the church noticed that the priest looked well, and talked of it among themselves. This was told to Colum Cille, and then he said, ‘May your successors grumble for ever! Now,’ said he to the servant, ‘what do you give me in the broth every day?’ ‘You yourself are witness,’ said the menial, ‘unless it comes out of the stick with which the broth is mixed, I know of nothing in it except broth alone.’ Then, the explanation was revealed to the priest, and he said, ‘Prosperity and good deeds to your successor for ever!’ And this has come true.

— Irish; author unknown; 11th century;
Whitley Stokes, On the Calendar of Oengus (Dublin, 1880), pp. c-ci.