Celtic and Old English Saints          11 March

* St. Oengus the Culdee
* St. Constantine of Scotland

St. Oengus (Aengus, Oengoba) the Culdee, Abbot & Bishop
Born in Ireland; died c. 830. The appellation "Culdee," Ceile De, or
Kele-De means "worship of God," which became the name of a monastic
movement otherwise known as the "Companions of God." Oengus was of the
race of the Dalriadans, kings of Ulster. In his youth, renouncing all
earthly pretensions, he chose Christ for his inheritance by embracing
the religious life in the monastery of Cluain-Edneach (Clonenagh) in
East Meath (County Laois). Here he became so great a proficient both in
learning and sanctity, that no one in his time could be found in Ireland
that equalled him in reputation for every kind of virtue, and for sacred

To shun the esteem of the world, he disguised himself and entered the
monastery of Tamlacht (Tallaght Hill), three miles from Dublin, where he
lived for seven years as an anonymous lay brother. There he performed
all the drudgery of the house, appearing fit for nothing but the vilest
tasks, while interiorly he was being perfected in love and contemplation
absorbed in God. After his identity was discovered when he tried to
coach an unsuccessful student, he returned to Cluain-Edneach, where the
continual austerity of his life, and his constant application to God in
prayer, may be more easily admired than imitated. For example, he would
daily recite one-third of the Psalter (50 Psalms) while immersed in cold

He was chosen abbot, and at length raised to the episcopal dignity: for
it was usual then in Ireland for eminent abbots in the chief monasteries
to be bishops. He was known for his devotion to the saints. He left
both a longer and a shorter Irish Martyrology, and five other books
concerning the saints of his country, contained in what the Irish call
"Saltair-na-Rann." The short martyrology was a celebrated metrical hymn
called "Felire" or "Festilogium." The longer, "Martyrology of Tallaght"
was composed in collaboration with Saint Maelruain of Tallaght (f.d.
July 7).

He died at Disertbeagh (now Desert Aenguis or Dysert Enos), which became
also a famous monastery, and took its name from him (Benedictines,
Farmer, Husenbeth, Montague).

* * *

Another Life:

To Aengus many ascribe the reform of Irish monasticism and its emergence
as an ordered ascetic and scholastic movement. He is called the Culdec
because this reform produced the groups of monks in Ireland and
Scotland, who were really anchorites but lived together in one place,
usually thirteen in number after the example of Christ and His Apostles.
The name Culdec probably comes from the Irish Ceile Dee (companion)
rather than the Latin Cultores Dei (worshippers of God). The Culdees
produced the highly decorated High Crosses and elaborately illuminated
manuscripts which are the glory of the Irish monasteries.

Aengus was born of the royal house of Ulster and was sent to the
monastery of Clonenagh by his father Oengoba to study under the saintly
abbot Maelaithgen. He made great advances in scholarship and sanctity
but eventually felt he had to leave and become a hermit to escape the
adulation of his peers. He chose a spot some seven miles away for his
hermitage which is still called Dysert. He lived a life of rigid
discipline, genuflecting three hundred times a day and reciting the
whole of the Psalter daily part of it immersed in cold water, tied by
the neck to a stake. At his dysert he found he got too many visitors and
went to the famous monastery of Tallaght near Dublin, without revealing
his identity, and was given the most menial of tasks. After seven years
a boy sought refuge in the stable where Aengus was working because he
was unable to learn his lessons. Aengus lulled him to sleep and when he
awoke he had learnt his lesson perfectly.

When the abbot of St. Maelruain heard of this monk's great teaching
gifts he recognised in him the missing scholar from Clonenagh and the
two became great friends. It was at Tallaght that Aengus began his great
work on the calendar of the Irish saints known as the Felire Aengus
Ceile De. As for himself he thought that he was the most contemptible of
men and is said to have allowed his hair to grow long and his clothing
to become unkempt so that he should be despised. Besides the Felire one
of his prayers asking for forgiveness survives, pleading for mercy
because of Christ's work and His grace in the saints.

Like all the holy people of God, Aengus was industrious and had a
supreme confidence in His power to heal and save. On one occasion when
he was lopping trees in a wood he inadvertently cut off his left hand.
The legend says that the sky filled with birds crying out at his injury,
but St. Aengus calmly picked up the severed hand and replaced it.
Instantly it adhered to his body and functioned normally.

When St. Maelruain died in 792, St. Aengus left Tallaght and returned to
Clonenagh succeeding his old teacher Maelaithgen as abbot and being
consecrated bishop. As he felt death approaching he retired again to his
hermitage at Dysertbeagh, dying there about 824. There is but scant
evidence of the religious foundations at Clonenagh or Dysert but he will
always be remembered for his Feliere, the first martyrology of Ireland.
He is honoured on 11th March (Walsh, Cross & Flanagan).

The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee

St. Constantine of Scotland, Martyr
Died 576; feast in Cornwall and Wales is March 9. King Constantine of
Cornwall is reputed to have been married to the daughter of the king of
Brittany and to have led a life full of vice and greed until he was led
to conversion by Saint Petroc (f.d. June 4). Upon the death of his
wife, he is said to have ceded his throne to his son in order to become
a penitent monk at St. Mochuda Monastery at Rahan, Ireland. He
performed menial tasks at the monastery, then studied for the priesthood
and was ordained. Constantine became a missionary to the Picts in
Scotland under Saint Columba and then Saint Kentigern, preached in
Galloway, and founded and became abbot of a monastery at Govan near the
River Clyde. In his old age, on his way to Kintyre, he was attacked by
pirates who cut off his right arm, and he bled to death. He is regarded
as Scotland's first martyr. There are two places in Cornwall called
Constantine: one on the Helford River and the other near Padstow. The
church on the first site was the larger and survived as a monastery
until the 11th century. He was also patron of the Devon churches of
Milton Abbot and Dunsford (Benedictines, Delaney, Farmer, Husenbeth).

* * *

Another Life:

Constantine was a king of Cornwall, the son of Padeon, whose conversion
probably dates from a confrontation with St. Petroc who was sheltering a
stag which had taken refuge with him from Constantine's huntsmen.
Constantine married a princess from Brittany who died shortly after the
marriage and the King was so desolated that he left his kingdom and
sought sanctuary, first at S. David's monastery at Menevia and then in
Ireland at Rathin, made famous by St. Carthage and Mochuda. He arrived
at Rathin unannounced and was set to work in the granary, grinding corn
in a stone quern. One day he was heard by one of the monks laughing and
saying to himself, "Is this really Constantine, King of Cornwall, who
wore a helmet and bore a shield, working this handmill? It is the same,
and yet it is not".

This conversation was reported to the abbot who took him into the
community and after a while he was ordained priest. He had spent seven
years at the abbey before he was recognised and by now he was quite an
old man, but he desired to visit Iona and set off with the blessing of
the abbot. St. Columba received him kindly and sent him on to Sr.
Kentigern, whom he may have met when he was at Menevia. While visiting
Glasgow he stayed for some time with St. Mirren at Paisley and the two
became great friends so that Constantine decided to build himself a
monastery nearby at Govan by the river. It is interesting that the
ruined church of St. Constantine, on the shore of the Bay that bears his
name, has the parish of St Merryn adjoining it and the font in St
Merryn's Church comes from St Constantine's.

After St. Constantine had founded his monastery at Govan he still felt
impelled to preach the Faith of Christ to the heathen and he went to
Kintyre with a party of his monks. There, by Campbeltown Loch a party of
robbers came upon him and hacked him and his one attendant to pieces.
The ruins of a church at Kilchouslan is supposed to mark the spot where
the first of the martyrs of Scotland was attacked and left to die,
bleeding to death from a severed arm. His brethren found him and
received his blessing before he died. They took his body back to Govan
and buried him in the church that has his name. His sarcophagus was
discovered in 1855 and has been restored to the church which keeps his
festival on March 11th (Baring Gould, Fisher, Towill, Barret, John).

Troparion of St Constantine Tone 5
Grieving at the loss of thy young spouse,/ thou didst renounce the
world, O Martyr Constantine,/ but seeing thy humility God called thee to
leave thy solitude and serve Him as a priest./ Following thy example,/
we pray for grace to see that we must serve God as He wills/ and not as
we desire,/ that we may be found worthy of His great mercy.

Kontakion of St Constantine Tone 4
Thou wast born to be King of Cornwall,/ O Martyr Constantine,/ and who
could have foreseen that thou wouldst become the first hieromartyr of
Scotland./ As we sing thy praises, O Saint,/ we acknowledge the folly of
preferring human plans to the will of our God.


Baring-Gould,S. The Lives of the Saints (15 volumes: John Hodges, 1882)

Baring-Gould& Fisher, J. The Lives of the British Saints
(4 volumes: Charles J Clarke, 1907)

Barrett, M. A. Calendar of Scottish Saints
(Fort Augustus Abbey Press, 1919)

Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate.
(1947). The Book of Saints. NY: Macmillan.

Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate.
(1966). The Book of Saints. NY: Thomas Y. Crowell.

Delaney, J. J. (1983). Pocket Dictionary of Saints, NY:
Doubleday Image.

Cross, F. L. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
(Oxford University Press, 1958)

Farmer, D. H. (1997). The Oxford Dictionary of Saints.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Flanagan, L. A. Chronicle of Irish Saints
(The Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1990)

Husenbeth, Rev. F. C., DD, VG (ed.). (1928). Butler's
Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints.
London: Virtue & Co.

John, C. R. The Saints of Cornwall (Lodenek Press Ltd, 1981)

Montague, H. P. (1981). The Saints and Martyrs of Ireland.
Guildford: Billing & Sons.

Towill, E. S. The Saints of Scotland
(The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1983)

For All the Saints:

An Alphabetical Index of the Saints of the West

These Lives are archived at:

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