St. Colman and His Ducks

22 January 19 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Saints

There are seven St. Colmans from Ireland.  St. Colman of the ducks legend came from Connacht.  He served at the old church of Templeshanbo in County Wexford, three miles east of Mt. Leinster.  A few hundred feet from the church is a holy well that was venerated in ancient times.  At the time of St. Colman, a pond was close to the well.  St. Colman was a contemporary of St. Aidan, who appointed him Abbot of Templeshanbo.  St. Colman died on October 27, 595.  His ducks stayed close to the church and pond for many, many years after.  

Gerald of Wales in his Topography of Ireland recorded the stories of St. Colman and his sacred teals almost 600 years after the death of the saint. According to folklore, the ducks could not be harmed.  Illustrations on the lower part of Gerald’s manuscript depict the ducks taking food from the saint, a kite paralyzed by attempting to take a duck as prey and a fox choking on one of the birds.

Gerald of Wales, also called Giraldus Cambrensis was born in 1146.  He was an archdeacon, royal clerk and historian. Gerald entered into the service of King Henry II of England in July 1184.  He visited Ireland on a military expedition (1185-86) with Henry’s son, the future King John.  As a result of the trip he wrote Topographia Hibernica (Topography of Ireland) in 1188 and Expugnatio Hibernica (Conquest of Ireland) in 1189.  

The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis, published in 1905, combined both volumes in one book.  It was translated by Thomas Forester, Sir  Richard Colt Hoare and edited by Thomas Wright. The story below is taken from the book.  

CHAPTER XXIX

Of St. Colman’s Teal, Which Were Tamed By Him, And Cannot Be Injured

There is in Leinster a small pool frequented by the birds of St. Colman, a species of small ducks, vulgarly called teal. Since the time of the saint these birds have become so tame that they take food from the hand, and until the present day exhibit no signs of alarm when approached by men. They are always about thirteen in number, as if the formed the society of a convent. As often as any evil changes to befall the church or clergy, or the little birds themselves, or any molestation is offered to them, they directly fly away, and, betaking themselves to some lake far removed from thence, do not return to their former haunts until condign punishment has overtaken the offenders. Meanwhile, during their absence, the waters of the pond, which were very limpid and clear, became stinking and putrid, unfit for the use of either men or cattle. It has happened occasionally that some person fetching water from this pond in the night-time, has drawn up with it one of the birds, not purposely but by chance, and having cooked his meat in the water for a long time without being able to boil it, at last he found the bird swimming in the pot, quite unhurt; and having carried it back to the pond, his meat was boiled without further delay.

It happened, also, in our time, that Robert Fitz-Stephen, with Dermot, king of Leinster, was passing through that country, an archer shot one of these birds with an arrow.  Carrying it with him to his quarters, he put it in a pot to be cooked with his meat, but after thrice supplying the fire with wood, and waiting til midnight, he did not succeed in making the pot boil, so that after taking out the meat for the third time, he found it as raw as when he first placed it in the pot. At last, his host observing the little bird among the pieces of meat, and hearing that it was taken out of this pond, exclaimed with tears: “Alas me, that ever such a misfortune should have befallen my house, and have happened in it!” Thereupon the meat being put alone into the pot, was cooked without further difficulty. The archer soon afterwards miserably expired.

Moreover, it chanced that a kite, having carried off one of these little birds, and perched with it in a neighbouring tree, behold, all of his limbs immediately stiffened in the sight of many persons, nor did the robber regard the prey which he held in his claws. It also happened that one frosty season a fox carried off one of these birds, and when the morning came, the beast was found in a little hut on the shore of the lake which was held in veneration from its having been formerly the resort of St. Colman, the bird being in the fox’s jaws, and having choked him.  In both cases the spoiler suffered the penalty of death, while his prey was unhurt, the birds returning to the lake without the slightest injury, under the protection of their holy patron.  

 

 

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in the Amazon

14 January 19 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic, Social Justice, Spirituality

On October 22, 2015 one of my Trinity College classmates, Sr. Kathryn Webster, SND, ’74, was invited to give the 10th anniversary lecture for the “Sower’s Seed” program.  Established by Kathy Snider Dunn ’64 and her family, the program highlights alumnae who have incorporated into their lives the traditions of community service and social justice that are central to the Trinity experience and reflect the Catholic tradition that influences Trinity’s mission. These graduates are invited to come to campus to share their stories with Trinity students, in the hope that their stories will inspire new generations to consider community service, either as a volunteer or as a career. 

Kathryn Webster entered Notre Dame at Ilchester, Maryland in 1976.  After her initial formation in 1979 she went to teach sixth graders at the St. Catherine of Genoa school in Brooklyn, New York.  In 1984 the congregation sent her to Brazil.  She has lived there ever since. Sr. Katy has lived in several different towns in the Amazon Basin.  She’s now in Anapu, a city in the Brazilian state of Pará.  She lives with three other SNDs, working as part of a pastoral team visiting communities, holding meetings, and supporting local people in their struggle for land, security and habitat protection.  “My life is a rich and wonderful life,” Katy said, “and I am very grateful for the opportunity to live and work among the people of the Transamazon.”  

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur began their Amazon mission in 1962 with five sisters “imbued with Gospel values and Vatican II perspectives.”  Sr. Dorothy Stang arrived a few years later, and became famous both her advocacy and martrydom.  She was assassinated in Anapu in 2005.  Sr. Dorothy had been outspoken in her efforts on behalf of the poor, small farming families and the environment. “The death of the forest is the end of our life,” she said. She had received death threats from loggers and land owners.  Hired gunmen shot her six times and left her to die on a dirt road.   Mining companies have now moved into the area.  

Sr. Katy worked alongside Sr. Dorothy Strang and has continued Sr. Dorothy’s ministry. Social and environmental justice advocacy in Brazil is “boots to the ground” hard, gritty, dangerous work. “The struggle,” Sr. Katy said, “is for life: of the people, of the land, the forest and the rivers.  We are 50 miles from the Belo Monte complex, a hydroelectric dam that is being built after 30 years of protest because it is a natural disaster, and the energy it will product will not benefit the local population and really is not needed.” 

I didn’t know Katy well at school but I am very proud to be her classmate.  Our Trinity years helped steer both of us into environmental work and shaped our ethics and spirituality.  

 

 

 

St. Gobnait – Patron Saint of Bees and Beekeepers

11 November 18 | Posted in Animals, Garden, Saints

St. Gobnait is a patron saint of bees and beekeepers.  Her fondness for bees suggests a calm and gentle nature. Tradition associates her with St. Abban and suggests she lived during the 6th century.

Gobnait was born in County Clare, but fled to Inis Oirr (Inisheer) the smallest of the Aran Islands to escape a family feud. There an angel appeared to her and told her to continue her journey until she should come to a place where nine deer were grazing. The angel told her this would be the “place of her resurrection.”

She traveled south in search of this place and her many stops are marked by churches and holy wells dedicated to her.  At various stages of her journey Gobnait met with deer of varying numbers but it was only when she reached Ballyvourney in County Cork that she found the nine deer.  They were grazing together on a rise overlooking the River Sullane and looking towards the Derrynasaggart Hills.  This is where she settled, died and was buried “to await her resurrection.”  The “resurrection place” is where the soul leaves the body.  Celtic lore believed the soul left the body as a bee or butterfly.

St. Abban is said to have worked with her on the foundation of the convent and placed St. Gobnait over it as abbess.  The nuns must have kept bees, since there are many stories about bees associated with the saint.  In one story she cured one of her sick nuns using honey. Many accounts exist of how St. Gobnait prevented raiders or robbers from stealing cattle.  Gobnait commanded the bees from the convent hives to drive them away. When a plague threatened the people, Gobnait walked to the village border and drew a line in the earth with her walking stick.  The pestilence halted before reaching Ballyvourney.

The local chieftains, the O’Herlihys sought her help in a border war.  One of her hives into a bronze helmet and the bees turned into soldiers.  The O’Herlihys handed down the bronze helmet from one generation to another until it was lost in the 1700s.  Another version has the beehive turning into a bell which then became Gobnait’s Bell.

For more on St. Gobnait:  Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland and Pixie’s Pocket.

I’m Like a Fish – St. Umilta of Faenza

30 October 18 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Saints, Spirituality

I’m like a fish resting in the ocean. The waves rush over the little fish, and the great storms buffet; but this fish goes on swimming, knowing capture is impossible, and the storms just make this fish leap with more agility.

That’s what I do in this world that is a troubled sea. The great currents arrive, and I sail below them. I take shelter in You, God, and let them pass by. Then my soul finds wings in the two arms of Christ on the cross, and I rush up, Jesus, into your protection and saving grace.

When I stop and remember that I’m with You, I don’t fear the currents, I conquer them by navigating through them in Your Peace, and I come out of all storms unharmed.

St. Umilta of Faenza, (1226-1310), Sermons

 

Porpoise Burial Mystery

27 February 18 | Posted in Animals, Events, Global Catholic, Spirituality

In September 2017 archaeologists were wrapping up an excavation on the English Channel island of Chapelle Dom Hue when they made an unexpected and mystifying discovery. The excavation revealed a carefully cut grave plot, which the archaeologists reasonably assumed would hold the remains of a deceased human. Instead, they found that the grave contained the bones of a juvenile porpoise.  

The grave, carefully cut into the rocky soil on a high point of the island overlooking the sea, was constructed with the same techniques used for human graves.

The discovery was made at the site of a medieval monastic site, which was once occupied by monks searching for solitude. The team believes the bones date to the 13th or 14th century.

Philip de Jersey, a States of Guernsey archaeologist, said: “If they had eaten it or killed it for the blubber, why take the trouble to bury it? It was entirely consistent with a human burial, which is one of the most puzzling aspects,” de Jersey added. “The grave cut has been dug very carefully, with vertical sides and a flat base cut into the underlying bedrock. This has taken some considerable care and effort.”

He said it was the most unusual find in his 35-year career. “It’s very peculiar, I don’t know what to make of it. Why go to the trouble of burying a porpoise in what looks like a grave. It’s a wonderful surprise.”

Perhaps the answer is obvious: a wild porpoise developed a bond with one or more of the monks. Someone may have started to feed it, or found it stranded and helped it back into the sea. Or, the porpoise and the man saw each other at a certain time of day in the same spot and a companionship developed.  When it died, or if it was killed, the porpoise was lovingly buried.  

See the excavation video.