Posted by: anna | August 6, 2009

St. Declan, bishop of Ardmore

St. Declan, bishop of Ardmore (Ireland) (5th c.)

One of the legion of Irish saints today; here is a link to the 1914 English translation of his Life. I think this is the first saint I’ve encountered since starting this series who’s had a full written life! And there is a bit more about him at monasticireland.

David Farmer, in his distinctive laconic style, says: ‘Declan (d. early 5th century), Irish bishop. There is much confusion about the chronology of this saint, but it seems most likely that he was a bishop in the Waterford area, one of the four who lived before Patrick organized Irish Christianity. Declan, according to his Life, was of noble blood, his home was near Lismore, he studied at home and abroad (probably in Wales or Gaul), and founded the church of Ardmore when he had been consecrated bishop. Ancient buildings there indicate the sites both of a monastery and a hermitage: in addition there is both a holy well (restored in 1951) and an ancient St. Declan’s stone on the beach. The week in the year nearest his feast on 24 July is known at Ardmore as ‘Pattern week’ [from ‘patron’] and still attracts numerous pilgrims.’

Bibliography
AA.SS. Iul. V (1727), 590–608; V.S.H., ii. 32–59; P. Power, Life of St. Declan of Ardmore (1914). The Irish Saints, pp.pp. 137–42.

“Declan” The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. David Hugh Farmer. Oxford University Press 2003. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Oxford. 6 August 2009

I am struck yet again that this man, who obviously must have been one of the movers and shakers of his time, travelled to Rome numerous times, founded a monastery and churches, and generally lived a life that was anything but eremitical, is described in the Life (at the Gutenberg Project) as ‘prudent, mild and capable’. Furthermore, he was ‘comely, of good appearance, humble in act, sweet in speech, prudent in counsel, frank in conversation, virtuous in mien, generous in gifts, holy in life and resplendent in miracles.’ He didn’t go looking for followers – he went off with a disciple and they studied together. The Life does not describe him as a tireless missionary – first – but as a dedicated scholar to whom others were drawn for teaching. Other men came to find him and ask for his guidance, and he ended up the founder of a monastery, and a bishop – more features that turn up regularly in the lives of saints.

Sometimes you can almost hear them wishing people would leave them alone to return to their ordered solitary lives of study, fasting and prayer. Then they heave a sigh and get on with the job. The saints well understand the constant tensions we feel trying to live a life in the world but not of it! They remind us that the candlelit hush of a church or the peace of our icon corner are not the only places we are to pray… And the other characteristic that strikes me is the note of Declan’s firm and abiding friendship with Ailbe and Ibar. Many saints are remembered for their detachment from earthly ties, their forsaking all human companionship, but then the Celtic idea of the anam cara – the soul friend – is a very old one. (And are those clearly latinate words Indo-European cognates, or is this a Latin idea?)

Holy St Declan, pray to God for us.
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