Saint Colman and the Wurrum

6 September 10 | Posted in Events, Saints

St. Colman was the first bishop of Dromore in County Down, Ireland.  Catholic sources disagree on on practically all other facts.  In some books his feast day is celebrated on May 7th; in others June 7th or October 27th.  He is also referred to sometimes as Mocholmoc, or Mocholmog.  He may have been born in 450 , 514, or 516 A.D. Again, the sources don’t agree. Part of this confusion may be that there are no less than 120 Irish saints named Colman or Colum, and the stories may have gotten confused. St. Colman was probably interred at Dormore, but though the Breviary of Aberdeen gives Inchmacome as his place of burial.

On one thing all sources agree: St. Colman saved a maiden from a river monster, known as a wurrum or wyrm. 115 wyrms+

The incident is described in the 1896 book, Irish Local Legends by Lageniensis (pen name of Rev. John O’Hanlon):

“Not far from the espiscopal city of Dromore, flow the lazy deep waters of the River Lagan, and often the Patron Saint, Bishop Colman, rambled along its banks in prayer and meditation. Indeed, if tradition speak the truth, often he passed over it with dry feet. But, it was well-known, a great water monster lurked beneath its surface, always in quest of prey. Not withstanding the danger of approaching him, yet, an incautious and innocent young damsel went down the bank, and stood upon some stepping stones to beetle her linen.  The wily monster sailed slowly towards her, and before she was aware of his approach, he suddenly reared his huge head from the deep, opened his tremendous jaws, and at one gulp swallowed the poor maiden alive.  Although her terror was very great, she had the presence of mind to call out, ‘Oh, Holy Colman, save me!’ Her cry was heard by the saint, and he prayed to heaven for her release.  Some of the girl’s companions, who stood on the bank, and who witnessed that fearful doom, set up shouts and screams. But St. Colman approached the river, and commanded the infernal beast to deliver up its prey.  Then the girl he had swallowed was cast unharmed on the bank. There, to this very day, are shown the tracks of the holy bishop’s feet, and that path is called ‘Saint Colman’s-road.’

In one re-telling, St. Colman also recovered from the water the girl’s book of palms, and the young woman subsequently entered a convent.

lotwwIn the book, The Celtic Dragon Myth by J. F. Campbell (1911) Irish antiquarian,  William Reeves, Church of Ireland Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore (1866-1892) commented on the story’s possible occurrence: “The belief,” said Bishop Reeves, “that certain rivers and lakes were haunted by serpents of a demonical and terrible character was current among the Irish at a very remote period, and still revails in many parts of Ireland.”

W. R. Fanu, 19th c. Irish horror writer and folklorist, echoed the belief in his book, Seventy Years of Irish Life:  “The dreadful beast, the wurrum–half fish, half dragon–still survives in many a mountain lake–seldom seen, indeed, but often heard. Near our fishing quarters in Kerry there are two such lakes, one the beautiful little lake at the head of the Blackwater River, called Lough Brin, from Brin or Bran as he is now called, the dreadful wurrum which inhabits it. The man who minds the boat there speaks with awe of Bran; he tells me he has never seen him, and hopes he never may, but has often heard him roaring on a stormy night. On being questioned what the noise was like, he said it was like the roaring of a young bull…Some miles further on, between Lough Brin and Glencar, there is another lake from which a boy while bathing was driven and chased by the dreadful wurrum which dewells in it. It bit him on the back and hunted him all the way home, where he arrived naked and bleeding.”

The story reminds me a lot of the legend of the Lambton Worm.  Read more here.

A funny-scary horror movie, “The Lair of the White Worm” retells the Lambton Worm legend with Pagan vs. Christianity overtones. The movie was based on the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker and published in 1911.  In an interesting coincidence, the novel was illustrated by occult artist Pamela Colman Smith.

Saint Rigobert and the Goose

24 March 10 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints

Saint Rigobert was archbishop of Reims, France.  During a conflict between Charles Martel and some of his enemies, Rigobert refused to open the gates of the city to him for refuge. The saint claimed neutrality for the safety of the city. Unsure of which side would prevail in the conflict, Rigobert didn’t want to anger the other side if Martel lost. The gates stayed closed. This explanation did not sit well with Charles the Hammer. After his victory Martel exiled the archbishop from Reims. 

Eventually the archbishop settled in a nearby village. When on one occasion he had been given a live goose to take home for his dinner, Rigobert put the bird in the arms of a servant-boy accompanying him. Along the way, as Rigobert was reciting the divine office, the bird broke free and flew away. The boy deeply grieved this mishap, but Rigobert comforted him, urging him to trust in God. goose[1]

When Rigobert resumed his prayers, the goose flew back to them. Thereafter, the archbishop kept the goose as a pet. The goose would walk with him to a church, where, as the tame bird patiently waited for him, he celebrated Mass at an altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Saint Rigobert died in 745 AD.  His feast day is celebrated on January 4th.

Treasure Offerings

6 December 09 | Posted in Events, Spirituality

A mystery is gripping Britain’s religious community: Just how did a treasure-trove of rare medallions and coins collected by a former archbishop of Canterbury end up at the bottom of the River Wear?

Many of the artifacts are linked to the late Michael Ramsey, a former archbishop of Canterbury with long-time ties to Durham, where he served as bishop and spent some of his retirement years before his death in 1988. Archbishop_Michael_Ramsey

The coins, medals, goblets and other religious items, some solid gold, have been discovered by amateur divers Trevor Bankhead, 40, and his brother, Gary, 44, a fire service watch officer, over the past two and a half years in the frigid, murky waters that loop Durham Cathedral. The brothers have retrieved over 30 items linked to Ramsey, along with hundreds of medieval and ancient Saxon artifacts.

Among them are gold, silver and bronze medals struck to commemorate the second Vatican council, which must have been presented to Ramsey, who was the most senior cleric in the Church of England from 1961 to 1974, when he met Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1966.

Trevor Bankhead, a former soldier, said: “We believe the Archbishop threw them into the river in 1983 or 1984, by which time he would have had limited mobility. So we chose places which were easily accessible by the water’s edge and threw silver washers in the river to try and trace the trajectory the objects could have taken.”

“It’s my belief that he did this as a votive offering to the river and to the people of Durham, who he loved,” said Bankhead. “They weren’t just chucked by a burglar–they had clearly gone into the water at different times and different places.”

Archbishop Ramsey’s old friend, the Very Rev Victor Stock, dean of Guildford, commented on Bankhead’s assertion: “He used to go for a walk by the river every day, whatever the weather. I think it’s entirely plausible to imagine him making up a little packet, and quietly dropping it into the water.”

The archbishop’s offerings are keeping up a tradition that is at least 3,000 years old and possibly much older.

In 1998 an archaelogical survey of the Thames found the remains of a huge bridge built 3500 years ago not far from the present Vauxhall Bridge. The confluence of the three rivers, where the Tyburn enters the Thames from the north and the Effra from the south, would have made this a sacred site for Bronze Age tribes.

Around the bridge were votive offerings of valuable goods to appease the spirits of the river. The Celts regarded rivers as bestowers of life, health, and plenty, and offered them rich gifts and sacrifices often at the same spots used by pre-Celtic British tribes.

At one time rivers were thought of as deities with powers to cure all kinds of ailments. Ways of appeasing water courses were devised in an attempt to stop them from claiming lives.

In May 1825 the Duke of Sussex led an elaborate ceremony to mark the start of work on Hammersmith Bridge. In front of a large crowd he performed a ritual that involved the fixing of a brass plate (praising the builders and designer) over one of the coffer dams into which had been placed gold coins and a silver trowel. As this was put in place the Duke poured corn over it saying: “I have poured the corn, the oil and the wine, emblems of wealth, plenty and comfort, so may the bridge tend to communicate prosperity and wealth.”

Aventine, The Hermit Saint

24 June 09 | Posted in Animals, Saints

Saint Aventine of Troyes, France (c. 538)

Aventine, of Bourges, France, was schooled in the spiritual life by the bishop of Troyes, Saint Loup. Loup’s episcopoal suceessor, Saint Camelianus, selected Aventine to be Troyes’ steward and almoner, in charge of the cathedral’s possessions and the distribution of alms.

Having served the Church thus with humility, purity and charity, Aventine thereafter obtained permission to withdraw into the woods to live as a hermit. He had a particular fondness for animals, never wanting to kill any of the forest creatures except when necessary.

Whenever he found any tiny fish in a pitcher of water drawn from a nearby brook by a monk who assisted him, he made a point of placing the fish unharmed back into the stream.

When on one occasion a deer pursued by hunters rushed into the cave that served as Aventine’s hermitage, Aventine protected the frightened animal by closing the door in order to hide it from the hunters until they had passed.

He habitually feed the small birds of the forest that flocked onto his fingers as he offered them a handful of crumbs. handtamingwildbirds

Water Buffalo Theology

26 April 09 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Friends, Spirituality

The Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese Christian theologian who was a proponent of contextual theologies rooted in the experiences of everyday people, died March 25, 2009 in Springfield, Mass. Koyama, 79, taught at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

His 1974 book, Water Buffalo Theology, was “one of the first books truly to do theology out of the setting of Asian villages,” said Donald Shriver, president emeritus. kosuke-koyama-2

As a missionary in northern Thailand, Koyama said he was inspired to write the book as he listened to the “fugue of the bullfrogs” while watching farmers working with water buffaloes in the rice fields.

“The water buffaloes tell me that I must preach to these farmers in the simplest sentence structure,” he wrote. “They remind me to discard all the abstract ideas and to use exclusively objects that are immediately tangible. ‘Sticky rice,’ ‘banana,’ ‘pepper,’ ‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘bicycle,”rainy season,”leaking house,’ ‘fishing,’ ‘cockfighting,’ ‘lottery,’ ‘stomachache’–these are meaningful words for them.”  water-buff-3

Directed at the concerns of peasants, the book points out that Christianity and Buddhism do not communicate; rather Christians and Buddhists do. Rev. Dr. Koyama advocated seeing God “in the faces of people” to achieve good neighborliness among religions.  He spoke of trying to “season” the Aristotelian roots of Western theology with Buddhist “salt.”

Besides Water Buffalo Theology, Dr. Koyama wrote 12 other books including Three Mile an Hour God (1980) which reflects his thought that God moves at walking speed through the countryside.

Kosuke Koyama was born on December 10, 1929 in Tokyo.  In 1945, as American bombs rained down on Tokyo, he was baptised as a Christian. He was struck by the courageous words of the presiding pastor, who told him that God called on him to love everybody, “even the Americans.”

Once, in discussing death, Rev. Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He said Jesus would be with others the same way: “Looking into our eyes and heart, Jesus would say: ‘You’ve had a difficult journey. You must be tired, and dirty.  Let me wash your feet. The banquet’s ready.'”