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The Honan Chapel Saints

Saint Brigid (Harry Clarke)

Saint Brigid is one of Ireland’s most famous and popular saints. Her feast day occurs on February 1st. Throughout the early Christian period, hagiography was widespread in monastic communities. There were two lives written for Brigid. The Life of Saint Brigid was written by Cogitosus in the 7th century. This work is not a biography, but a collection of miracle stories dealing with the natural and animal world and the multiplication of food. Most of the stories take place in Kildare. One miracle story is known as "Of the Bacon she let go with the dog." As Brigid was meditating and praying, a dog ran off with a large piece of bacon. The bacon was found intact a month later. According to the story, the dog did not dare to eat what had been entrusted to the holy virgin, and showed himself to be tamed by divine power. The other life, also written in the 7th century, was by an anonymous individual and is entitled Vitae Prima Sanctae Brigidae. This life has a biographical structure and describes the saint’s travels around Ireland. Brigid’s popularity was not confined to Ireland. In Scotland during the 6th century, Nechtan-Mor offered Abernathy to God and to Brigid, making her the patron saint of the entire Abernathy territory.

Saint Ailbe (Sarah Purser)

Ailbe is a 6th century Munster saint associated with the monastery of Emily in Co. Tipperary. He is famous because he is regarded as a pre-Patrician saint. The Life of Ailbe was written in the early 8th century and recalls many miracle stories concerning the natural and animal worlds, food and mythological figures. One such story is "Ailbe’s prayer provides fish in a Connacht river." It tells the story of a river barren of fish, in the territory of Connacht. The local people requested St. Ailbe to bless the river in the name of God. St. Ailbe carried out the request and showed the people five places along the stream in which they might catch fish. That very day the river was filled with an abundance of fish. The people were confirmed by St. Ailbe and built five churches in honour of him.

Saint Ita (Harry Clarke)

Saint Ita is regarded as the first mother of both the Catholic faith in Ireland and of the many saints who enrolled in her convent in their early childhood. Among them was the more renowned St. Brendan. According to popular legend, the infant Jesus appeared to her. There is an old Irish lullaby attributed to her in which she sings to Isogán, her name for the Divine Child. Two translations of the Gaelic poem are given in Hoagland’s 1000 Years of Irish Poetry. St. Ita’s convent at Killeedy vanished from all records after her death. In later references, it had become a monastery of men. The well and ruins of a Romanesque church in Killeedy occupy the presumed site of her monastery. Her grave is believed to be situated in these ruins and is frequently decorated with flowers. A few miles away is Boolaveeda (a corruption of the Irish for St. Ita’s milking place). Confidence in St. Ita’s intercession remained strong long after her death, and was not confined to Ireland. Communities in Cornwall dedicated churches and chapels to her, and on the Continent, ancient litanies can be found which invoke her name.

Saint Columcille (Harry Clarke)

Columcille was born in Co. Donegal circa 521AD. St. Columcille is one of the few Irish saints to have a noble background. He was a royal prince and the great-great-grandson of King Niall of the Nine Hostages. His tutor was St. Finian who had a monastery at Moville on the shores of Lough Foyle. St. Columcille is also known as Columba. Both names can be loosely translated from the Irish as dove of the church. St. Columcille was a lover of nature, knowledge and people. He established monasteries at Durrow in County Offaly, Kells in County Meath, Swords in Dublin, and Moone in County Kildare. However, the place primarily associated with St. Columcille is Iona, one of the Inner Hebridian islands off the coast of Scotland. St. Columcille established a monastery on the island in 563, and died there on 9 June, 597.

Saint Patrick (Harry Clarke)

Saint Patrick’s window is located between those of Ss. Brigid and Columcille, and is lauded as one of the most beautiful examples of stained glass work in Ireland. It depicts St. Patrick in episcopal robes, holding a shamrock in his right hand. Born in Britain, St. Patrick was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. He escaped six years later and fled to the continent, where he received his religious training. According to legend, St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Irish and banished snakes from the country. In many pagan religions, the serpent was a common and sometimes sacred symbol. Perhaps this legend reflects the abandonment of such pagan practices in the wake of Christian influence. Although it is now doubtful that Patrick was the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, he remains a symbolic figurehead of Irish faith. A popular legend associated with St. Patrick recalls his use of the shamrock to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Although the details of St. Patrick’s life and death cannot be conclusively ascertained, he is believed to be buried at either Glastonbury or Downpatrick, Co. Down, along with Ss. Brigid and Columcille.

Saint Finnbarr (Harry Clarke)

Saint Finnbarr, who is known to have lived circa 460 AD, is the patron saint of Cork. The Honan Chapel is dedicated to him, partly because he is renowned as a great church builder. St. Finnbarr founded a church and monastery in the area known as Corcaigh which later became known as Cork. Before St. Finnbarr was born, his parents were sentenced to burn at the stake as punishment for disobeying the king. A great hurricane, however, extinguished the fire and they were saved. This legend is depicted in the top of the window. St. Finnbarr’s consecration is shown in the lower panel. The main panel shows St. Finnbarr with his right hand raised whilst wearing a brightly glowing glove. According to legend, the Saviour took St. Finnbarr by the hand as he knelt in prayer. Thereafter St. Finnbarr’s hand shone brilliantly, which necessitated his having to wear the glove.

Saint Colman (Sarah Purser)

Saint Colman was a friend and contemporary of St Ita. He is depicted in the window as a wandering Celtic poet. In the lower panel of the window he asks permission from Aodh Caomh, King of Cashel to convert to Christianity and to devote himself to the service of God. Also depicted on the glass is St. Brendan, who converted him. St. Colman is associated with Co. Westmeath. Little is known about St. Colman. Most of St. Colman’s biograhpy is drawn from the Life of Colman which was written in the 12th century. This recounts many of the miracles he performed throughout Ireland. In the Life we learn that when St. Colman visited Rome, he brought back some soil to Ireland for his mother, so that she could spread this soil on the grave of her two sons. It was believed that being buried in the soil of Rome was the equivalent of being buried in Rome itself and therefore one was closest to God. In the Annals, in the year 1122, it is reported that the lost shrine of St. Colman was found. The Life may have been written to accompany the relic.

Saint Carthage (Sarah Purser)

This saint is also known as St. Mochuda. He founded a monastery at Rahan, Co. Offaly. Hostile relations in the north of Ireland, however, forced King Blathmac to banish the saint. At this time in Ireland there was a great division between monks and political officials. According to legend, on one of his many journeys, St. Carthage met a holy woman who prophesied that he would establish a "lios mór," or "great fort." Thus, eventually St. Carthage arrived in Munster and founded the powerful monastic town of Lismore in Co. Waterford in 633AD. Alfred the Great was one notable graduate of the monastic school at Lismore. Despite the fame of his monastery at Lismore, St. Carthage only remained there for two years, before retreating to a nearby cave, where he spent the last eighteen months of his life in contemplation. He died in May 637. St. Carthage remains the patron saint of Lismore.

Saint Flannan (Sarah Purser)

Saint Flannan, who lived in the 7th century, is the patron saint of the Diocese of Killaloe. So many miracles are associated with St. Flannan, that when St. Lua (of whom Flannan was a disciple) heard of them he gave his church and monastery to St. Flannan. St. Flannan was consecrated as a Bishop by Pope John IV circa 640 AD. On his return to Ireland, St. Flannan governed the diocese of Killaloe. The upper panel of the window shows the saint bearing the host to his father. The lower panel depicts St. Flannan erecting the foundation stone of the cathedral of Killaloe in Co. Clare.

Saint Gobnet (Harry Clarke)

Saint Gobnet, a 6th century saint, was born in Galway. She spent much of her life in Ballyvourney, Co. Cork, where she is remembered by the commemoration of Whit Sunday. There are many legends associated with her life in Ballyvourney, the most famous of which are depicted in the Harry Clarke window. The window illustrates the story of how St. Gobnet let loose her bees to ward off robbers who had attacked her community. St. Gobnet is the patron saint of bees.

Saint Fachtna (Sarah Purser)

Saint Fachtna was strongly influenced by St. Ita. He founded the monastic school of Ross. The second panel from the top depicts one the legends associated with St. Fachtna. He was known to pray on a hilltop near his monastery. On one particular day he left his prayer book behind and the next morning the angels had built a shrine over it to protect it from the weather. A border of leaves surrounds this window. This symbolises the name of the diocese of Ross, which derives from the Irish word Ros, meaning a shrubbery or a bush.

Saint Albert (Harry Clarke)

Saint Albert is the patron saint of Cashel. He was consecrated as the bishop of the diocese, though he subsequently left his post to travel to Bavaria. The upper panel illustrates St. Albert preaching to the Germans. The central panel shows St. Albert preaching the doctrine of the Trinity and the Crucifixion of Christ whilst sitting on a throne. The lower panel depicts him walking solemnly in procession, with a bishop bearing the Sacred Host and a queen carrying a cross.

Saint Declan (Harry Clarke)

Saint Declan is credited as the founder of Ardmore. He is reputed to be have been a pre-Patrician bishop, although this seems very unlikely. The border of the window contains images of him and the other three supposed pre-Patrician saints, Ss. Ailbe, Ciarán of Saighir, and Ibar. In the main panel, St. Declan bears a model of Ardmore cathedral. With him is his disciple, Runanus, who was the official keeper of the sacred bell. Runanus was unfortunate enough to forget the sacred bell on a trip from Wales to Waterford, but a prayer from St. Declan, resulted in the bell floating out across the water and leading the boat into land. The lower panel shows Declan meeting St. Patrick in Italy before the latter came to Ireland.

Saint Munchin (Sarah Purser)

Saint Munchin is the patron saint of Limerick, and founder of the early mediaeval monastery of Mungret in Co. Limerick. The upper panel of the window illustrates the story of the Wise Women of Mungret. According to legend, a group of learned foreign monks once came to the monastery at Mungret to hold a friendly scholarly competition with the local monks. The Mungret monks disguised themselves as washer women, and went to the nearby River Shannon to await their visitors’ approach. As the visitors passed by, the monks chatted amongst themselves in Greek and Hebrew. This erudition caused the visitors to fear the intellectual might of the monks, and so they beat a hasty retreat. In the central panel the saint is shown standing by the Shannon. In his right hand is the Torch of Learning and in his left the monastic church of Mungret. The blessing of the king in the lower panel symbolises the saint’s patronage of the O’ Briens, Kings of Thomond.

Saint Brendan (Harry Clarke)

Brendan, who was born circa 583, is particularly associated with Munster. He was a navigator with a strong attachment to the sea. The central panel in the window depicts him holding an oar, while the top panel shows the commencement of his great seven-year voyage. The exotic birds depicted on the window, as well the animal imagery and sea-faring quests all reflect the places St. Brendan discovered. The most famous manuscript written about St. Brendan is the 8th century Navigatio Brendani. The Navigatio was translated into six European languages and can be found in all the great European libraries. It tells the story of the saint’s sea adventures and relates some of Brendan’s encounters on the Land of Promise, the Island of Sheep, and the Border of Hell. In 1429 Christopher Columbus sailed to Galway to research the life of St. Brendan. St. Brendan’s followers numbered almost three thousand monks. One of his converts was Colman MacLeini, the Royal Bard of Cashel, who became the founding bishop of Cloyne. St. Brendan died at Annaghdown and is buried at Clonfert Cathedral at Loughrea, which he founded.