Tuesday, May 10, 2016

St. Comgall, Bishop and Founder of Bangor Monastery

St Comgall, Bishop and Founder of Bangor Monatsery was born in Ulster, Ireland, in 517 AD and died at Bangor, Ireland, in 603 AD. It is said that Comgall was a warrior as a young man, but that he studied under Saint Fintan at Cluain Eidnech Monastery, was ordained a priest before he was 40, and with several companions became a hermit in Lough Erne. The rule he imposed was so severe that seven of them died. He left the island and founded a monastery at Bangor (Bennchor) on the south shore of Lake Belfast, where he taught Saint Columban and a band of monks who evangelized Central Europe. Two other of his monks actively evangelized Scotland, Saint Moluag of Lismore in Argyll and Saint Maelrubha of Applecross in Ross. In time, it became the most famous monastery in Ireland, and Comgall is reported to have ruled over some 8,000 monks there and in houses founded from Bangor. Bangor was one of the principal religious centres of Ireland until it was destroyed by the Danes in 823 AD.

Although he was known for his ascetic life and was said to have only eaten a full meal once a week on a Sunday, many of the miracles ascribed to him concern food. On one occasion, a farmer refused to sell grain to his monks, saying that he would rather his mother-in-law, whom he called Luch, should eat it all rather than the monks. The word luch is the Gaelic for mouse. St. Comgall said, ‘So be it, by luch it shall be eaten,’ and that night a plague of mice ate two piles of corn, which would have been thirty cart loads.
On another occasion, a group of thieves broke into the grounds of the monastery to steal the monks' vegetables, and through the prayers of Comgall they were deprived of their sight until they repented. When they did repent, they were admitted into the community. Yet again, when the monks were short of food, and visitors to the community were expected, St. Comgall prayed to God, and a shoal of fish swam to the shore, so that the brethren might feed their guests.
Comgall went to Scotland for a time, where he lived in a monastery on the island of Tiree. He also accompanied Saint Columba on a missionary trip to Inverness to evangelize the Picts. Columba and Comgall are believed to have journeyed together through the Great Glen and preached before King Brude at Inverness. There he founded a monastery at Land of Heth. The manuscript called the Bangor Antiphonary, written there less than a century after Saint Comgall's death, contains a long hymn in his praise. Comgall died after years of suffering.
St. Fiacre received the message that his friend was dying through an angel and arrived in Bangor in time to see him into the next world. When he returned to Ullard after burying St. Comgall, Fiacre took an arm of the saint back as a relic. Nothing now remains of the great monastery, but the Bell of Bangor is preserved in the heritage museum at Belfast, and in the Ambrosian Library there is the Antiphonary of Bango.
As monasticism changed from solitary to community life, the monks received something of the same privilege of carrying the Eucharist with them. They would have it on their persons when working in the fields or going on a voyage. The Eucharist was either placed in a small receptacle (Chrismal = "Christ-carrier", Old Irish) worn bandoleer-fashion, or in a little bag (Perula) hung around the neck under their clothes. Irish and British manuscripts make frequent mention of the practice. It was not only to have the hosts ready for Communion but also to insure safety against robbers and protection against the hazards of travel.
The life of St. Comgall tells how on one occasion he was attacked by heathen Pietists while working in a field. On seeing the Chrismal around his neck, the attackers did not dare touch him for fear of some retaliation since they assumed that Comgall was carrying his God. The saint was so moved by the experience that he exclaimed, ‘Lord, you are my strength, my refuge, and my Redeemer’ (Psalm 18:2). St Comgall is commemorated on the 10th May[1].

1 comment:

  1. The place where Comgall founded his monastery in the Land of Heth was at Kilmorack Falls, a large natural amphitheatre which would have been an obvious centre of druidical worship and thus a natural target for the Celtic monks. The name Heth is a variant of MacBeth, the name of the king who had his fortress at nearby Inverness. The hill above the falls was called in Gaelic the monks' slope and was included in the lands given to the Valliscaulian monks at Beauly in 1230. I give all the sources, reasoning etc in my book "The First and Lost Iona."

    George F Campbell.