Widow’s Hole Preserve, Greenport, NY

14 May 19 | Posted in Events, Spirituality, Stewardship

I recently helped to plant dune grass along the shoreline of Window’s Hole in Greenport.  The grass will help preserve the beach in storms.  The project is sponsored by the Peconic Land Trust, based in Southampton, NY and serving the Twin Forks of Long Island.

Widow’s Hole Preserve lies on top of an old marine Esso station that used to serve the fishing fleet in Greenport decades ago.  It was abandoned, and finally donated to the nonprofit in lieu of cleaning up the old underground tanks. They are probably better off left undisturbed.

Widow’s Hole is a wonderful place to walk and view part of Peconic Bay, Shelter Island, Greenport and the neighboring oyster farm.  The volunteer work was satisfying physically and spiritually. I loved the idea of planting grass that one day I would see waving in the breeze.  It felt good to restore shoreline habitat.  But I liked most of all the spirituality that accompanied the planting, and the wonderful feeling of wholeness and connection in surveying the finished work and bay.

 

St. Bega and Her Holy Arm Ring

16 April 19 | Posted in Saints, Supernatural

St. Bega is an ancient Irish saint whose life is steeped in legend and mystery.  She lived between 700-900 A.D., probably closer to 850 AD and the time of Viking settlement in Ireland.  Bega was the daughter of an Irish king.  She is described as beautiful, virtuous and learned.  Her father had promised her to the son of the King of Norway, but Bega had no intention of marrying.  She consecrated her virginity to Christ.  According to one story, an angel presented Bega with an arm ring inscribed with the cross as a token of her sacred promise.  Arm rings were usually worn by men, not women.

On the night of her wedding Bega was desperate to escape.  All the doors in the palace were locked, and the strongest men of Ireland standing guard, “each with a dagger over his thigh, a double-edged axe over his shoulder and a spear in his hand.” (Very phallic symbols!) After a lengthy invocation by Bega, a holy voice directs her out of the palace while everyone else is drunk at a feast. All of the locks yield at the touch of the holy arm ring, and a boat is waiting for her at the shore.  In another account, Bega is transported across the Irish Sea by a clod of soil.  She arrives safely on the English coast at Cumbria. Settling there, Bega lived in strict seclusion in a hut she built in a grove of trees near the seashore.  She survived on food brought to her by seagulls and gannets.

After some years passed Viking pirates began to raid the coast.  Fearing rape and the loss of her virginity, Bega left her hermitage and traveled inland.  On the advice of King Oswald (later St. Oswald), she professed her religious vows, and established a monastery at St. Bees in Cumbria. 

What became of her magical arm ring?  In one story she leaves her arm ring behind as a future source of miracles. In another her arm ring was preserved as a holy relic at St. Bees.  St. Bega is credited with restoring the sight of a blind Irish boy; gifting a Galloway horse thief with an ass full of arrows, and killing by a disfiguring disease a detachment of soldiers who raped a nobleman’s virgin daughter.

The Registry of St. Bees’ Priory records the swearing of oaths on the “Bracelet of St. Bega” through 1279, and offerings to the arm ring were made as late as 1516.

The arm ring may have disappeared during King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s; or, it may have been looted by the Scottish knight, Lord James Douglas during a raid in 1315.

Read more about St. Bega on these sites:

Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore

St. Bees Village Website

St. Bega – Cumbria and Borders

Baldy Blog – St. Bees Priory

 

Saint Natalis and the Werewolves

2 April 19 | Posted in Animals, Supernatural

Saint Natalis of Ulster (also spelled Naile, Naul, Naal) died in 563 or 564 A.D. He was a monk, abbot and contemporary of Saint Columcille.   Natalis was a student of Columcille (Columba). and founded monasteries throughout Ulster, serving as abbot at St. Naul’s Abbey, Inver,  Kinawley (Cill Naile), Inver Naile at Raphoe, County Donegal; and Devenish Island, County Fermanagh.  The handle of a bell given to him by Saint Columcille was preserved at the church in Kinawley up to the 19th century. 

Saint Natalis appears in the Martyrology of  Donegal (Calendar of Saints) written and compiled by Mícheál Ó Cléirigh around 1630. In the chronicle the stories about St. Natalis allude to his temper.  Frustrated and thirsty, he flung his crozier at a rock pile.  Miraculously, a stream of pure spring water began to flow.  The spot became known as Cill Naile.  The saint was was a dangerous man to cross. He cursed his enemies and people who opposed him.  “I curse that Murchad with his descendants; defect of carving on his carving, and on himself, and on his families after him.”

According to legend, St. Natalis placed a curse on a clan which transformed their members into werewolves.  Here is the tale:

An unnamed priest was traveling from Ulster to Meath on an important mission with his assistant, a young boy. The two stopped for the night near woods at the edge of the See of Ossory. As they lay down to sleep, the priest hears a human voice calling from the nearby forest. He gets up and looking out into the darkness and sees a giant wolf draw near.  The priest and boy draw back in horror, but the wolf speaks in a human voice and tells them not to be afraid.“We are natives of Ossory,” the wolf said, “From there every seven years, because of the imprecation of a certain saint, namely the Abbot Natalis, two persons, a man and a woman, are compelled to go into exile not only from their territory but also from their bodily shape.” “But how came you by this fearsome form?” the priest asked in wonder. “And why must you wear it for seven years?” “I am a member of Clan Allta, a tribe of this region,” the wolf answered, “and like yourself, Father, we are believers in Jesus Christ and in the power of His salvation.  However, in times long past, we were cursed for some ancient sin by the blessed Abbot Natalis.”  The priest had heard of Natalis, who had come to Ireland shortly after the Blessed Patrick to bring the Word of God to a dark and pagan land. He had even read some of the holy man’s works.  From what he had read, he had always imagined Natalis to be exceedingly severe and inflexible in his teachings and one who would brook no deviation from his own interpretations of God’s law.

“The sin which my clan committed has long been forgotten,” said the wolf, “but the curse is still in force.  Every seven years two of us must lose our mortal form to wear the skin of a wild wolf and must live in the deep woods away from our clan. When the seven years are up we shed our animal form and regain our human shape and two others must take our place. It is a terrible burden, Father, and one that will never be lifted, for Natalis is long dead.” 

The wolf asks the priest accompany him into the woods to give the last rites to his mate, the female wolf.  The priest is filled with terror that the wolf will kill him, but follows the wolf into the woods.  He gives the dying wolf communion and blesses her.  The male wolf returns the priest to his campfire and bids him farewell, loping back into the forest.  The priest calls out after him saying he would return. On his way back to Ulster, the priest stopped in the woods of Ossory and searched for the werewolves but did not find any trace of them.

Saint Patrick and Saint Natalis are sometimes confused in the werewolf story.  In one account, “it is told when the holy Patricius (St. Patrick) preached Christianity in that country, there was one clan which opposed him more stubbornly than any other people in the land; and these people strove to do insult in many ways both to God and to the holy man. And when he was preaching the faith to them as to others and came to confer with them when they held their assemblies, they adopted the plan of howling at him like wolves.”

St. Patrick responded by praying to God to punish the clan, resulting in them suffering “a fitting and severe through marvelous punishment, for it is told that all the members of the clan are changed into wolves for a period and roam through the woods feeding upon the same food as wolves; but they are worse than wolves, for in all their wiles they have the wit of men, though they are as eager to devour men as to destroy other creatures.”

Saint Natalis (Naal) and the Werewolves first appeared in Gerald of Wales’ Topographia Hibernica, written in 1185 A.D. The incident with the werewolves and the priest was supposed to have occurred two years before Gerald’s visit to Ireland with King John in 1175 A.D. While he was in Ossory, Gerald was approached by two priests sent by the bishop to ask him his view on this “serious matter.” Gerald met with the Bishop of Ossory and set down the story in writing, which was sent to Pope Urban III. It became one of the first werewolf stories ever recorded. A Norse work written about 1250 A.D., Konungs Skuggsja (King’s Mirror), describes Irish werewolves as being humans who were cursed as a divine punishment for wickedness.  The tale is clearly based on the Ossory werewolves. 

The story of Saint Natalis and the Ossory Werewolves can also be found on Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae, Library Ireland – The Wonders of Ireland, and Dark Emerald Tales.

 

 

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.  

Read more –

Wonders of Ireland – St. Colman’s Ducks

My Albion – The Teal of St. Colman

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.