Posted by: anna | August 17, 2010

St Sezni or Sithney

Today (4 August) we commemorate St. Sezni (Sithney, Sezne, Sezin, Synhyni, Sythini, Sitinus, Sinninus) of Sithney in Cornwall and Guisseny in Brittany (ca. 529). From Baring-Gould & Fisher, vol. 4 p.199:
S. SITHNEY (SETNA), Abbot, Confessor
Sithney, in Breton Sezni, is the Irish Setna, who was a disciple of S. Senan. The Latin form of his name is Sidonius.
In the Register of Bishop Stapeldon of Exeter (1310-18) the dedication of Sithney Church, in Cornwall, is given as that of Stus. Siduinus ; in that of Bishop Bronescombe (1276) it is Stus. Sidnius ; in that of Bishop Grandisson (1336), S. Sydnyny, (1363) Ecclesia Sti. Sidnini ; in that of Bishop Brantyngham (1392), Sti. Sidenini ; and in that of Bishop Stafford (1403), Sti. Sithnini.
There is no Vita of S. Setna, but his acts may be collected from those of S. Senan of Iniscathy. A Life indeed is given by Albert le Grand, of S. Sezni, but it is manufactured out of that of S. Piran by John of Tynemouth. Where John of Tynemouth has written Geranus for Kieranus, i.e. the Abbot of Clonmacnois, the adapter has blindly followed him. No reliance therefore can be placed on this Life. S. Senan is also venerated in Brittany, and Albert le Grand gives his acts, and says he was son of Hercan and Cogella. He gives as the parents of Sezni, Emut and Wingella. The true names of S. Senan’s parents, thus mutilated, were Ercan and Coemgella, according to the Metrical Life, Gerrgenn and Coemgell, according to the Irish Life. The father of S. Ciaran or Piran in John of Tynemouth is Domuel, and the mother is Wingella.
Setna was a native of Munster, and had two brother saints, Goban and Multeoc. His father’s name was Erc, and his mother was Magna, a sister of S. David.
He attached himself early to Senan, which is not surprising as his uncle, David, and Senan were intimate and attached friends. Setna was with Senan when this latter saint settled in Inis Mor (Deer Island), at the mouth of the Shannon.
One day he caught a woman washing her child’s linen in the fountain whence all the community drew their drinking water. This was too much for his patience, he flew into a rage, and stormed at the woman, using violent language and wishing bad luck to her and the child. With him joined his fellow pupil, Liberius.
Shortly after, the child disappeared, and the mother concluded that it had fallen over the cliffs into the sea, and, further, that this was due to Setna’s curses. She sped to Senan and accused Setna and Liberius of having ill-wished her child, and thereby caused its death. Senan was very angry with his pupils, and ordered Liberius, as the elder of the two, to go and do penance on a rock in the sea, and he bade Setna row him out to this skerry, leave him there, and not return without the child’s body.
After some hours Setna found the urchin on the beach, paddling in the pools, and he at once conveyed him to his mother. The child had not fallen over the cliffs, but had strayed, and the woman had rushed to conclusions prematurely and unwarrantably.
So Setna was bidden to go after Liberius and take a lesson not to be intemperate in his language for the future.
Setna must have gone to Ciaran of Saighir, for we find that he succeeded him in the abbacy of that place, probably when Ciaran went to Cornwall ; but it can have been only temporarily till Carthagh settled there as permanent ecclesiastical head of the Ossorians. It is due perhaps to this temporary presidency of Setna over Saighir that the mistake arose, and the acts of Ciaran were attributed to him.
It was whilst Setna was a member of the community of Saighir that an incident occurred which, though fabulous, is picturesque.
He had gone on a visit to S. Molua of Clonfert. They sat talking of heavenly matters, and time flew unnoticed, till Setna started up with an exclamation. The sun was declining, and he feared he could not reach Saighir before it fell dark, and there would be risk in crossing the Shannon after nightfall. Then Molua bowed his head over his hands and prayed. Setna started, and the sun did not set till he had reached his monastery. The distance was from fifteen to twenty miles. The story has been developed out of a very simple occurrence. Setna succeeded in crossing the Shannon before the light was quite withdrawn, and as the season was midsummer it was not dark throughout his journey, and he got home without accident.
There are several Setnas in the Irish Calendars. One at Killany in Louth is a distinct personage. But it is not so certain that Setna, the disciple of Senan, was not the deaf and dumb boy set to keep cows on Slieve-Bloom, whom S. Columba of Tir-da-glas saw, pitied, blessed, and he recovered hearing and speech ; not only so, but he also obtained the gift of prophecy.
Columba died in 549. The date of S. Ciaran’s retirement from Saighir we do not know, but it was about 500. Senan of Iniscathy died in 554. S. Molua, Setna’s friend, died in 608.
In the Rawlinson MSS. in the Bodleian Library (B. 512) is a poetical dialogue between S. Findchu and S. Setna, in which the latter foretells the calamities that were to befall Ireland. It cannot have been composed before 1350, for it fairly correctly gives the succession of events in Irish history up to that date, after which it goes hopelessly wrong. The conclusion of Setna’s story comes to us from Brittany. When Carthagh assumed the rule in Saighir, to which he was entitled as belonging to the conquering and intrusive family from Munster, Setna had to retire, and probably deemed it advisable to follow his master Ciaran to Cornwall, where he founded the church of Sithney. Then he went on to Brittany. Here the Breton Life probably may be trusted. He landed at Kerlouan in Leon. Near this he established himself on rising ground above a pleasant little bay, and formed for himself as well a place of retreat and solitude, now the Peniti-san-Sezni. His main establishment was at Guic-Sezni, and there, says the author of the manufactured Life, he lived till he was aged a hundred and twenty-seven.
His Life based on that in Albert le Grand has formed the topic of a Breton ballad, that is given in the edition of 1837, but not in that of 1901.
The Bretons pretend that so many miracles were wrought by the body of S. Sezni, that the Irish sent a fleet, and carried it off. This means no more than that the Bretons did not possess his relics, because he did not die in Armorica. In fact, he was buried in Kinsale. He probably died at the close of the sixth century.
In the Irish Martyrologies two Setnas are entered on March 9, but they belong to a later period. Another, probably the Setna, disciple of S. Senan and S. Ciaran, on March 10. In Brittany his feast is September 19 – MS. Missal of Treguier, fifteenth century. Breviary of Leon, 1516, and Albert Le Grand. At Sithney the feast is on August 3. The statues representing him in Brittany give him no distinguishing
attributes, but he is shown vested as a bishop.
Did you know that the RC diocese of Quimper is also known as the Diocese de Cornouailles? (Diocesis Corisopitensis in Latin) This is the area where the Arthurian legend comes alive, where the Cornish-Breton connection (just look at the place names) makes all these saints’ coming and going upon the waters, more than a thousand years ago, sound entirely likely – there’s lots written about this from the hagiographical, linguistic, folkloric and fantastical points of view on both sides of La Manche, but two of my favourites are AS Byatt’s Possession and a recent post by Rima at the Hermitage (see chapter 3). Isn’t Brocéliande a wonderful name for an enchanted forest?

Troparion of St Sithney Tone 4

Thou wast clothed in humility,/ patient in adversity and diligent in thy preaching,/ O Hierarch Sithney,/ and as a model of chastity and lover of austerity/ teach us to reject the glamour of worldliness,/ for love of Christ,/ that at the last we may receive mercy for our souls.
Holy St Sithney, pray to God for us.

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