Posted by: anna | January 28, 2010

St Ita of Killeedy

Today (15 January) we commemorate St Ita. Here is a very short summary from the OCA:
‘Saint Ita, “the Foster Mother of the Irish Saints,” was born in the fifth century. She, like many of the Irish saints, was of the nobility. Her parents were devout Christians who lived in County Waterford. She founded a school and convent at Kiledy (Cille Ide) which still bears her name near Newcastle West in Co. Limerick. A holy well still marks the site of her church.
‘When she decided to settle in Kileedy, a local chieftain offered her a grant of land for the support of the convent. St Ita accepted four acres, which she cultivated. The convent became known as a training ground for young boys, many of whom became famous churchmen. She received St Brendan the Voyager (May 16) when he was only a year old, and kept him until he was six. She also cared for her nephew St Mochaemhoch (March 13) in his infancy. She called him “Pulcherius,” because he was such a handsome child.
‘Many people sought her spiritual counsels, and she also seems to have practiced medicine to some degree. Her life was spent in repentance and asceticism.
‘St Ita once told St Brendan that the three things most displeasing to God are: A face that hates mankind, a will that clings to the love of evil, and placing one’s entire trust in riches (Compare Proverbs 6:16-19).
‘The three things most pleasing to God are: The firm belief of a pure heart in God, the simple religious life, and liberality with charity. ‘
and for those who want it, another quite long article from Miss Dunbar:
St. Ita (1), Jan. 15, c. 480-570, abbess (IDA, IDE, IDEA, ITE, ITHA, ITHEES, ITTA, MIDA, MITA, YSTIA, YTHA, SITIIE, DERTHREA, DEIDRE, DEIRDRE, DOROTHEA, DOROTHY). In Irish the letters d and t were convertible, the sound thick between the two, which accounts for the appearance of the th ; m or mo, literally my, denotes endearment or veneration for the person to whose name it is prefixed : Mita, my own Ita; Ita means thirst (Sc. Gaelic Iotadh), and denotes the thirst this saint had for Divine love. Sithe is probably a corruption of St. Ithe. Derthrea, or Deidre, was her original name, of which others are merely variations; her biographers have rendered it in Latin as Dorothea.
St. Ita ranks next to ST. BRIGID amongst Irish women saints. She is patron of Camello in Limerick; but Kilita, the cell or church of Ita, is the name by which the site of her monastery is now known, and is of itself sufficient to commemorate her. As Deirdre she is probably patron of women called Derder, a name which occurs in mediaeval Scottish records.
Ita was born at Nandesi, now called Dessee, a barony in Waterford. Daughter of Kennfoelad, who was descended from Felim, the law-giver monarch of Ireland (111-119). Ita lived eight generations later. It is supposed that her father and her mother, Necta or Neacht, were Christians, and that Ita was baptized in infancy. Even in early childhood she was remarkable for holiness, and miracles showed that she was destined to become a great saint.
One day when the little girl was left sleeping alone, the room appeared to her parents and the servants to be in a blaze, but when they rushed in to rescue the child, they found her sleeping peacefully. Seeing no trace of fire, but that the radiance proceeded from a supernatural light, they understood that it was an image of the fire of holiness in the infant’s soul.
The maiden grew up beautiful, and a young noble asked her in marriage. Kennfoelad accepted his offer, but Ita refused, and said she wished to serve God in the monastic life. Her father was extremely angry when he heard this, swore he would never consent to it, and tried to force her to marry. Ita, how ever, gained her mother over to her view of the matter, but bade her not thwart her husband openly, saying, ” Never mind, some day he will command me to go to serve Christ where I choose.” Ita soon afterwards observed a rigorous fast for three days and three nights, praying in faith almost incessantly the whole time. She was beset with temptations of the devil until the third night, when the evil one departed from her. At the same time an angel appeared in a vision to her father, and said, ” Why prevent Ita from taking the veil and going where she pleases ? She shall serve God in a distant part of Ireland and be the patron saint of the people who dwell there, and an advocate for many at the day of judgment.”
Kennfoelad accordingly urged his daughter to take the veil ; which she did that very day in a church in the neighbourhood of Nan Desi. She was directed by an angel to go to Cluain Credhuil ni Hy Conail, now called Kileedy or Kilita, near Newcastle, in Limerick. There she was joined by many women who shared her holy purpose, so that in a few years she was at the head of a large community of nuns. The prince of Hy Conail offered her a large tract of land round the monastery, but she would only accept four acres to be cultivated as a vegetable garden. The prince then declared that the monastery would be more richly endowed after the death of the founder than during her life. That might well be, for Ita rejected all valuable gifts and would never touch money.
Beoan or Bevan, a warrior as well as an artificer in wood and stone, was obliged to flee from his own country of Connaught : Colgan says he was killed in battle and raised to life by St. Ita. He came to Hy Conail, and while living there made some additions to St. Ita’s monastery. She had a beautiful young sister Nessa, who had joined her with the intention of becoming a nun, but Ita persuaded her to marry Bevan, and gave him an estate. In answer to the prayers of St. Ita, this marriage was blessed with a saintly son, Mochoemoc or Pulcherius, whom she brought up. At twenty she sent him to Bangor. After some years training there, he returned to Minister and founded the monastery of Liathmore in King’s County.
The Abbess Ita assisted the poor by finding work for them, especially by employing them in the building of her monastery. It was probably as a work of charity in the first instance that she employed the exile Bevan to make additions to it.
Besides St Nessa, Ita had another sister whom sho educated ; her name was Fina.
But especially did she devote much care and time to the instruction of the young Brendan of Clonfort, called the Navigator because he made a seven years voyage in search of the earthly Paradise. She brought him up from the time he was one year old until he was six. It is supposed they were relations, in any case there was great friendship between them. He consulted Ita on points of duty, and once she advised him to go to Brittany, as a penance, for having involuntarily helped to cause the death of a person who was drowned at sea. Some authorities say the little Brendan was brought up in the nunnery, but according to others, Ita’s part in his training was before she took the veil, certainly before she became Abbess of Cluain Credhuil ; it is this which throws back the date of her birth so early as 480. Brendan was brother of ST. BRIGA (4), and died 577.
Ita had so great a reputation for wisdom as well as holiness that persons often went to her for advice on matters of difficulty . Among those who visited her were an abbess and some nuns who came from a neighbouring monastery to refer a difficult question to her decision. The saint became aware of their approach by supernatural means, possibly by second sight, and so prepared baths and a feast for them. As soon as the visitors arrived, all the sisters exchanged the kiss of peace with the Abbess Ita, except one. She hesitated on account of being suspected of theft. She was quite innocent, but as yet had not been able to clear herself. Ita, however, held out her Lands to the poor nun, saying, “Come and kiss me, for I know you are not the guilty one.” All the guests wondered at Ita’s knowing anything of the affair, and concluded that as she knew so much she would be able to tell them who really was the thief, and besought her to do so. The prompt answer was, ” She who is in penance for another fault has also done this,” directing them where to find the stolen article, and foretelling the perdition of the unworthy nun. She soon afterwards abandoned the religious life, and discarded the habit.
Once when St. Ita prayed that she might receive the Holy Communion from the hands of a worthy priest, she was instantaneously led by an angel to Clonmacnoise, a great distance from her own monastery, and there received the Sacrament from a very good and venerable man. The priest and his assistants were not aware of her presence, and did not know what had become of the sacred elements until it was revealed to them by an angel, nor did any one miss the abbess from her place at home. When the holy man discovered what had happened, he and some of his fellow monks took the long journey to Cluain Credhuil to receive Ita’s blessing. By some accident one of these monks became blind on the way, but they all trusted that his sight would be restored by St. Ita, which happened accordingly. She requested the aged priest from whom she had received the Sacrament at Clonmacnoise to say Mass before her. Afterwards she ordered her nuns to present him with the vestments he had worn in her church, and which were made by her and the sisters. However, he declined the gift, on the plea that their abbot Eneas, or Angus, had forbidden them to receive any present from Ita but her prayers and blessing. Her answer was, ” Tell him that when he visited the monastery of the holy virgin Chinreacha Dercaiu she washed his feet and I helped to dry them with a linen towel, then he will not be angry, but will do me the favour to accept my gift.” So they took the vest ments with the abbess’ blessing and returned home. When Eneas was told of the circumstance he remembered it, was satisfied, and accepted the present. (See KAIRECHA.)
On the death of Ita’s uncle in the Nan Desi country, she sent for his eight sons, and told them that their father was suffering in the other world for his sins in this ; she enjoined that each of them should daily give bread with meat or butter to the poor, and also lights, in order to gain repose for their father’s soul. After two years of this, Ita told her cousins that their father was now released from his great sufferings, but was without clothing, because in his lifetime he had given no clothes to the poor in Christ’s name. So they gave alms in clothing during one year, and then Ita told them that their father enjoyed rest, through their alms and her prayers, but especially through God’s mercy, and after giving her eight cousins a strong warning not to lose their souls, through covetousness or love of the world, the abbess blessed them and parted from them.
About 546 or 551, St. Ita obtained by her prayers, a victory for the Hy Conail Sept among whom she dwelt, over an enemy from West Munster, who had a force far more numerous than their own.
This great saint is held in deep veneration, not only for her own holiness, but on account of the vast influence for good she exercised on so many others. Amongst those whom she taught in their youth were many holy women besides St. Nessa and St. Fina. She was the intimate friend of St. Cumine, bishop of Clonfert, of the Abbot St. Congan (Feb. 27), of St. Luchtigern (April 2S) and St. Susrean (Oct. 25). The virtues and miracles of St. Ita are told in the lives of several Irish saints of her time (see ST. EETHNA) ; many of them are cures of blindness and diseases of the eyes. The Decies saints of her family are numerous, and are given in Colgan s appendix to her life, but a more ancient life of Ita than his own was known to Colgan, and was believed to have been written during the lifetime of Pulcherius. St. Ita died Jan. 15, 569, of a painful disease. She has been constantly venerated at Kileedy, otherwise Kilita or Kilardy, and throughout Hy Conail. Her well may still be seen in the burial- ground of Kileedy, a little to the north of Ballagh Gortnadhy mountains. Her church has unfortunately been in some measure modernized ; but a portion of the nave is in the ancient Irish style, and may well be part of the original church built by St. Ita. She is also venerated at Rosmiden, her native place in the Decies country, and at Kilmide, in the barony of upper Camello in county Limerick. The Protestant Church of Kilmeedy is believed to be on the site of part of the old graveyard, but no remains of the ancient church are visible. Iddesleigh in Devon and the neighbouring village of Meeth are supposed to take their name from this saint. Ide is there pronounced Eede.
This doesn’t include the emphasis on her devotion to the Trinity, or her teachings told to St Brendan, but one detail that does interest me is her miraculous Communion with the unwitting priest far from her monastery.
1) what’s a worthy priest? We are all obliged to do our best, and we should want to be our best, but anybody is unworthy in his or her own right! The priest says at confession ‘I, an unworthy priest’ – he is made a worthy priest only through divine grace, and we dare to receive the Eucharist only through the same divine grace. So this is a big thing Ita says here, requesting Communion from a ‘worthy priest’!
2) and therefore – what’s wrong with the priest at her own monastery?? or possibly with those of several in between? Clonmacnoise was the biggest and most famous monastery in Ireland – is Ita being a snob? what is going on?
3) How does it work, sacred elements disappearing when the priest doesn’t know there is a communicant there? Were they offering a private Mass? wouldn’t that have come in later?
4) Nobody missed the abbess from her place at home – I’m thinking of Mechtild von Hackeborn here and her many, many eucharistic visions, which all take place during the Mass. Is Ita doing something similar, participating in the Liturgy in her own church while being taken to receive spiritually somewhere else in time and space? how extraordinary!
– service of commemoration from orthodoxengland
– Brigit at Under the Oak, also here and two subsequent posts
Troparion , Tone VI
Casting aside thy royal rank, and embracing the godly monastic life, thou didst found a renowned school of piety, wherein thou didst nurture the souls of saints in reverence and the knowledge of God; and having thus labored to please thy Bridegroom and Master, thou hast moved all the land of Erin to cry unto Him: Have pity on us, O Lord of all, and grant that we may ever stand with Ita at Thy right hand!
Holy Mother Ita, pray to God for us.


  1. Wow. What a fascinating hagiography.
    It does say, “the priests and his assistants”. And, in reading “The Stripping of the Altars” it was very common, as I understand it, for people to commune only once or twice a year (as happened in Russia as well)

    I'm curious as to your thoughts too!

  2. Infrequent communion was certainly the norm for lay people for much of Christian history, and perhaps for monastics too. By the time you reach 13th century western monasticism, which is the only period I know much about, nuns regularly received communion every Sunday, and could have special permission to receive more often. I meant private in the sense of without a congregation, but it may have been too early for that too. I was wondering about the logistics of invisibly partaking of a Mass with congregants coming up to receive – how does that work? I'm being too literal, but I'd love to see the 'original' of the story. I've read a *lot* of accounts of eucharistic visions, but never one like that.

  3. I guess I'm wondering (thinking out loud) if either there was a congregation gathered, but she was the only one who partook, or if the fact that the priest had assistants with him, it took it out of the realm of “private”? I know I've heard that Orthodox Liturgies cannot be served with a priest alone, but I don't know the answer to the, “if there are a few alter servers there” if it can then be served question.

    I loved this post, and love pondering this too!

    And, I agree, I'd love to see the original too. Do you read Old Irish?

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