Posted by: anna | February 6, 2010

St Guasacht

Today (24 January) we commemorate St Guasacht, bishop of Granard (5th C). I think this is the first life so far to be directly connected with that of St Patrick of Ireland, whose feast hasn’t yet come up in the round of the year. The best I can do for Guasacht is to quote celt-saints:

4th century. Guasacht was the son of Maelchu (Miluic), the master under whom Saint Patrick worked as a slave in Ireland. Maelchu set fire to his home, locked the doors, and perished in the flames rather than meet Patrick again. Guasacht, however, was converted by Patrick, whom he helped in the evangelization of Ireland, both as a layman and later as bishop of Granard (County Longford). His two sisters, known as the Emers [or Emeria] (f.d. December 11), also became Christians and lived as monastics (Benedictines, D’Arcy, Montague).

and Hanlon’s Lives of the Irish Saints:

St. Guasacht, Bishop, son of Maelchu, in Granard, County of Longford. Fifth Century. This holy man seems to have been born towards the close of the fourth century, or early in the fifth. He became one of St. Patrick’s earliest companions, for he was a son of Maelchu, or Milcho, with whom the future Apostle of Ireland spent the years of his captivity in Ireland. During this term of servitude, the young Guasacht and his two sisters—both named Emeria—were most affable and kind to the gentle boy, to whom they felt greatly attached. In return for this childlike solicitude, St. Patrick taught them the elements of the Christian doctrine. He greatly edified them by the purity of his morals, and by his holy advice, so that they were early disposed, through Divine grace, to receive the precious gift of faith. Their pagan father had a remarkable vision or dream, and he asked the slave-boy to solve its meaning. St. Patrick declared that the flame which he seemed to light in that house signified faith in the Most Holy Trinity ; while the burning of the house, with its inmates, meant the future illumination and great sanctity of Milcho’s three children, whose relics should cure diseases wherever they were borne throughout Ireland ; yet Milchuo himself must die a miserable death by fire, and in a state of impenitence. In due course, St. Guasacht became one of St. Patrick’s disciples and converts. He renounced the world’s inheritance, and after the necessary preparation for orders, he was promoted to the office of bishop for Granard, in the country of Treffia. With this distinction, in the Martyrology of Donegal,
on this day, his festival has been placed upon record. Guasacht’s promotion seems to have taken place when St. Patrick had returned to Dalaradia, after his missionary tour through Meath, Connaught, and the north-western districts of Ireland. The present holy prelate is entered in the Martyrology of Tallagh, in a nearly similar manner, on the 24th of January, as Bishop Guasacht of Granaritt, now Granard, a town in the county of Longford.’ Marianus O’Gorman has an account of this saint and his festival, for the same date. Duald Mac Firbis notices Guasacht, Bishop of Granard, at the 24th of January. A great effort is made by Colgan to show that this holy bishop lived on to the time of St. Evin, the reputed author of the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick. Therefore a conjecture is offered, that St. Guasacht may have attained the very advanced age of 130 or 140 years, and that he may have survived to a.d. 520 or 530. This calculation, however, is based on the mistaken interpretation of a passage, in which it is stated, that during he writer’s time Guasacht was at Granard—the meaning is, that his remains were there buried. Near Granard there is a very remarkable fort.


Another example of enraged pagans, with the added feature of self-immolation. I was reading about St Maria Skobtsova of Paris lately, and it occurs to me that many of the saints I’ve posted about so far have not exactly been remote from the world, even those who found monasteries and live a monastic life. They have considerable influence and indeed status in the world, which they use. They have families and persisting family relationships. They travel tremendous distances. They communicate with a great many people from all walks of life. Violence is not foreign to their lives, though they tend not to be the ones using it. They have great executive, administrative and often diplomatic ability. But it is their life which is hid with Christ in God that counts. Great abbots are remembered as gently-spoken, kind men of prayer who were obeyed for love, not in fear of harsh discipline. Great abbesses are remembered for their clear spiritual insight and their acts of humility and kindness. The world does not equate these two sets of characteristics; it does not value the latter traits as likely to lead to success. But these examples show that to live a life remembered for such things, whatever its trajectory, rich or poor, high or low, is the only real lasting success, and the life of prayer, which noone else can fully observe, is what fuels their outward energy and creates their inner light. The two apparently opposing sets of characteristics have the same source.

I have two favourite stories so far: the bare-bones anecdote of Donald of Ogilvy, who, on the loss of his wife, withdrew from the world with his nine daughters; and the deaths of Benedict Biscop and his deputy Siegfried, in which the monks bring the two old invalids together to greet one another before taking their last breaths. Both in their way are stories of family.

Holy St Guasacht, pray to God for us.


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