Celtic and Old English Saints          4 September

* St. Monessa of Ireland
* St. Ultan of Ardbraccan
* St. Birinus of Dorchester-on-Thames
* St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne
* St. Rhuddlad of Anglesey

St.Monessa of Ireland, Virgin
Died 456. According to tradition, Saint Monessa was the daughter of an
Irish chieftain who was baptized by Saint Patrick. Immediately after
rising from the water, she died in a state of grace. Nothing else is
known about her
(Benedictines, Encyclopaedia, Montague).

St. Ultan of Ardbraccan, Bishop
7th century. Ultan is a popular name among Irish saints; this one is
said to have been the first bishop of Ardbraccan (Meath), Ireland, and
apostle to the Desi of Meath. He had a special place in his heart for
children, especially orphans and foundlings for whom he provided for
founding a school, where he educated and fed them. He is also reported
to have collected the writings of Saint Brigid and wrote her vita. No
life of Saint Ultan has survived, but there is a long notice in the
Martyrology of Oengus and a poem praising him (Benedictines, Farmer,

Through the prayers of St Ultan and of all the Saints of Ireland,
Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!

As we saw from O'Hanlon's account, Saint Ultan is said to be the author of a 
hymn to Saint Brigid, Brigit Bé Bithmaith, and was believed by Colgan to be 
the author of one of her Lives. Saint Ultan is only one of a number of 
suggested authors for this hymn, which came into public view again in the 
19th century with the publication of the two-volume work The Irish Liber 
Hymnorum. This hymnbook of the early Irish church, contains a number of 
hymns traditionally associated with various Irish saints, prefaced with 
accounts of their supposed authorship and date. The translation below of 
Brigit Bé Bithmaith and its preface are taken from Goidelica, an anthology 
of texts and translations by Whitley Stokes. The preface starts by listing 
four other potential authors besides Saint Ultan. The first candidate is 
Saint Columcille who composed the hymn as a protection in a storm. 
Alternatively, there is the possibility that three of Saint Brigid's own 
monastic familia composed it as a protection against poison while travelling 
to Rome, or Brocc the squinting, to whom is attributed another famous hymn, 
Ní car Brigit, may have been the author. Next comes a charming tale of Saint 
Brendan the Navigator, who is somewhat put out to find that Saint Brigid's 
reputation for sanctity is more feared by the monsters of the sea than his 
own and decides to find out why. Finally, Saint Ultan's claim is staked, and 
his monastery of Ardbraccan given as the place of composition. Note that 
Stokes himself calls the text 'Ultan's Hymn in Praise of Brigit'. It is 
clear from the preface that no matter who the original author was, the hymn 
was used a powerful lorica of protection, asking for the intercession of 
Saint Brigid against the principalities and powers while praising her 
burning brightness. Brigit, excellent woman! Who will argue with that?

(Lib, Hymn, 166.)

The Preface

Brigit excellent woman! It may be Colum-cille that made this hymn, and in 
the time of Aed son of Ainmire he made it ; in . (?) he made it. This is the 
cause of making it. A great storm came to Colum-cille when he was going over 
sea, and he came into Breccán's Caldron, and besought Brigit that a calm 
might come unto him, and he said 'Brigit bé bithmaith'.

Or it is Brocc the squinting that made it, and at the same time as 'Ní car 
Brigit' was made.

Or it is three of Brigit's family that made it. They were going to Rome and 
reached Placentia, and a man of the city met them outside and asked them 
whether they needed hospitality. They said that they needed it. Then he took 
them with him to his house, and a student, on his way from Rome, met them 
there and asked them whence they came and why they came. They said "for 
hospitality." " It is a mistake," says he, "for that is the custom of this 
man to kill his guests," and they asked that through the student's teaching. 
So poison was given to them in ale, and they praised Brigit for the saving 
of them, and they sang Brigit bé bithmaith. They drank the ale with the 
poison, and it did no harm to them. So the man of the house came to see 
whether the poison had killed them, and he beheld them alive, and he beheld 
a comely virgin amongst them. Thereafter he came in, and was seeking the 
virgin, and found her not, and he asked of them, "Why has the virgin gone?" 
And they said they had not seen her at all. Then a chain was put upon them, 
that they might be killed on the morrow unless they would disclose the 
virgin. Then the same student came to them on the morrow to see them, et 
invenit, &etc

Or it is Brenainn that made this hymn navigans mare etc.

Now came Brenainn thereafter to Kildare to Brigit that he might know why the 
monster in mare had given honour to Brigit beyond the saints besides.

Now, when Brenainn reached Brigit he asked her to confess in what wise the 
love of God was with her. Said Brigit to Brenainn, "Give thou, O cleric, thy 
confession prius and I will give (mine) thereafter." Said Brenainn, " From 
the day I took orders I never went over seven furrows without my mind 
(being) on God." " Good is the confession," quoth Brigit " Do thou, now, O 
nun," quoth Brenainn, " give thy confession." . " By the Son of the Virgin," 
quoth she, " from the hour I set my mind on Him I never took it from Him." " 
By God, O nun," quoth Brenainn, " the monsters are right though they give 
honour to thee beyond us"'

Or it is Ultan of Ardbreccáin who made this hymn. For Brigit's praise he 
made it. For he was of Dal Conchobair, and so it was with Brigit's mother, 
namely, Broicsech daughter of Dallbrónach. In the time, however, of the two 
sons of Aed Sláne it was made besides, for it is they that killed Suibne son 
of Colman Mór on one hand of Ultan. In Ardbreccan, moreover, it was made.

The Hymn

Brigit, excellent woman, a flame golden, delightful,
May (she), the sun dazzling splendid, bear us to the eternal kingdom!
May Brigit save us beyond throngs of demons!
May she overthrow before us (the) battles of every disease!
May she destroy within us our flesh's taxes
The branch with blossoms, the mother of Jesus!
The true virgin, dear, with vast dignity :
May I be safe always, with my saint of the Lagenians!
One of the pillars of (the) Kingdom with Patrick the pre-eminent,
The vesture over liga, the Queen of Queens!
Let our bodies after old age be in sackcloth
With her grace may Brigit rain on us, save us !

Whitley Stokes (ed.) Goidelica - Old and Early Middle-Irish Glosses, Prose 
and Verse, 2nd edition,(London, 1892), 133-7.


Translation of the Relics of St.Birinus,
Bishop of Dorchester-on-Thames and Enlightener of Wessex
See 3 December

Translation of the Relics of St. Cuthbert,
Bishop of Lindisfarne
See his Life, 20 March

St. Rhuddlad, Virgin of Anglesey, Wales

Lives kindly supplied by:
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