Posted by: anna | April 28, 2010

St Ruadhan

Today (15 April) we commemorate St. Ruadhan or Ruadan, hermit and abbot of Lothra (584). Not to be confused with St Ruadan of Cornwall (Quimper), Bishop (June). From Baring-Gould:

S. RUADAN, AB. OF LOTHRA. (6th. cent.) [Irish Martyrologies, as that of Tallaght ; Canisius in his German Martyrology. Authority :—a Latin life written probably in the i2th century. Papebroeck. the Bollandist, says dryly of this life, “The written monuments of this date are all more or less mixed up with fable, and one of these fables, we have here omitted, lest it should cause scandal.”

The marvellous history of this saint, which even the Bollandists declined to publish entire, so full is it of absurdities, may be condensed into a few lines. Ruadan was born early in the 6th century, and as his life was not written for six hundred years after, there was ample time allowed for the accumulation of fable, and the obscuration of fact. He studied under S. Finnian of Clonard, and was reckoned among his chief disciples. He was abbot of Lothra (Lorah) in the barony of Lower Ormond, in Tipperary, before the death of Kieran of Saigher, and had probably founded it about the year 550. King Dermot, son of Kervail, had made peace in all Ireland. One of his heralds, Mac-Lomm by name, being in Connaught, near Tuam, requiring the nobles to open their castles to him in the king’s name, entered them with his spear transversely in his mouth, as an insult, which seems to have been symbolical of placing a bit in the mouths of the princes. One of these, Odo, in a fury, killed the herald, and then, fearing the wrath of the king, fled to bishop Senach, in Muskerry ; as Senach was the son of his mother’s sister. The bishop sent him for greater security to S. Ruadan, who concealed him in an underground cellar beneath his hut, and set a stool over the place. King Dermot having heard that the man was there, came to Lothra, and went in and seating himself, asked Ruadan where Odo was. He knew that Ruadan would not tell a lie,—the saint, shrugging his shoulders, said, ” Unless he is under your chair, I cannot tell.” Then the king went away. But he had not gone far before it struck him that the words of the old man might have had a deeper meaning than he had first given to them, so returning to the cell, he removed the stool, found the trap-door, and discovered Odo, whom he dragged from his hiding-place, and carried away, pursued by Ruadan and all his monks.
On reaching Temorah, or Tarah, the capital, the king threw his prisoner into chains, and entered his castle to feast ; but Ruadan rang his bell, and his monks drew up in the square, and chanted psalms. Dermot took no notice of them next day, but on the second night he dreamt that he saw a great tree chopped down, and when he woke at the crush of its fall, he heard the burst of psalmody under the starry sky before his hall. Thinking that his dream was ominous, he issued forth, and then ensued a truly Hibernian scene of mutual recrimination.
K. Dermot —” Your community will go to pieces, monk!”
S. Ruadan —” I will see your kingdom at an end first, sire ! and none of your sons to sit on your throne after you.”
K. Dermot —” May your place be vacant, and a sow root it up with its snout.”
S. Ruadan —” May Temora, your city, be desolated many hundred years before that, and without an inhabitant for ever.”
K. Dermot —” May your body be polluted, and one of your members perish, and your eye be blinded, that you see not the light.”
S. Ruadan —”Sure, and may your enemies wring your neck for you, and pull off every leg and limb first.”
K. Dermot —” May a wild boar root your steeple up.”
S. Ruadan —” May that leg of yours, stuck up in front of me, never see the grave, and the like to all your body ; and may a man spade sheep-dung over it.”
K. Dermot —”You are a protector and fautor of lawlessness, but I endeavour to keep order in the country. You and the like of you are the confusion of my kingdom. However, as you are the elect of God, go your way, and take the man with you, but pay me his price.”
Here follows a piece of true Keltic folk-lore. From out of the sea rose thirty sea-green horses, which galloped to Temora, and Ruadan presented them to the king who gained a race with one of them. But after a while the green sea-horses returned to their native element. See similar stories of sea horses in Crofton Crocker’s Irish Tales.

But we like absurdities and fables! Who are the Bollandists to bowdlerize tradition? Stories, tell us stories, because a good story always contains truth. Brigid at Under the Oak points to Plummer’s Lives of the Irish Saints vol.2, which provides a much more voluminous version, in English, of the life of Ruadan. (I ♥! Scholarship of all kinds rejoices at the wealth of otherwise often practically unobtainable information made available there, and gives thanks for all the people who take the time and effort to upload texts!)

Holy St Ruadhan, pray to God for us.

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