Posted by: anna | August 18, 2010

St Gormgal of Ardoilen

Today (5 August) we commemorate St. Gormcal (Gormgal, Gormgalios), confessor, abbot of Ardoilen (d.1016). From Fr O’Hanlon, a little more substance than I can find anywhere else:
An elegant and a pious poem had been composed, and Father John Colgan possessed a copy of this tract, on the Relics and Virtues of St.  Gormgal, Abbot of Ardoilen Monastery. (See Colgan’s ” Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae,” Februarii xx. Alia Vita seu Supplementum Vitae S. Fechini, n.13, p.141.) It was addressed to the monks of  that house, by its author, who is called Corcran. The writer of this tract is supposed to have been Corcran Cleireach, Anchoret, who died at Lismore, a.d. 1040, according to the Annals of the Four Masters. He is said to have been head of the west of Europe for piety and wisdom. The time in which he lived, his learning, austerity and sanctity, induced Colgan to entertain such an opinion. The latter writer remarks, that although Corcran is merely styled anchoret, in the Annals, yet an insinuation is conveyed, that he was also an abbot. Notwithstanding, a different opinion has been entertained, that as Corcran of Lismore is not specially called an abbot, nor even a ‘monk’ although denominated an anchoret but as he has been styled an ecclesiastes, as also a chief master or professor in a public school, in all probability, it has been conjectured, he was a secular priest. … That supposition of Colgan is founded on the practice of many abbots, who were accustomed to live a solitary life, not only before but even after the assumption of their office. This can also be instanced, in several examples, taken from our early Ecclesiastical History. The account of St. Fechin, who lived some centuries before the time of St. Gormgal, and, it is said, on this very Island, appears to be a case in point. Probably, the very cashel [stone ring-fort], church, and cloghans [round tower] used there by the former served the purposes of the present saints. We are informed, by the old writer of St Fechin’s Life, that Inis-Jarthuir had been the more ancient name of that island, which was known as Ardoilen in his day [now High Island, off Galway].
description of ruins…
A community of monks is said to have been on Ard-Oilean, in the tenth and eleventh centuries. There, they seem to have lived, in houses or cells of a circular or of an oval form, having dome roofs, like those of the ancient Greek and Irish Sepulchres, without any application to the principles of the arch, and without the use of mortar. The whole was encompassed by a broad wall, composed of large stones, but placed together without cement.
Over those monks, St. Gormgal presided as abbot, while he lived a most ascetic life. He was considered to be among the most saintly men at his time, of whom Ireland could then boast ; while his reputation, as a spiritual director of conscience, ranked him in the first place. Having been a contemporary with the holy man Corcran already mentioned, it is also probable, that they were intimately acquainted, and united in bonds of a
spiritual friendship. This supposition appears most probable, from the fact that Corcran addressed an elegant and a religious poem to the monks of that island, on which our saint lived. Here a community, on the mixed monastic and anchoretical system, seems to have practised the public and private offices of devotion, according to what we know to have been established in Iona and elsewhere. Thus, in 634, lived Beccan the Solitarius ; and such in Adamnan’s time was Finan the recluse of Durrow, and Fergna of Muirbulemar, in Himba. At Hy, an anchorite held the abbacy in 747 ; an anchorite was abbot elect in 935 ; and another became a bishop in 964. 20 It was probably to enter on such a manner of life, that a contemporary of our saint, and named Muiredhach Ua Cricain, in 1007, resigned the successorship of Columcille.
In all allusions made to him, Gormgal is called an Anmchara, which manifests the high esteem he held in the hearts of the faithful, as a saintly confidant and as a wise adviser. The old Irish term of Anmchara – rendered ” souls-friend ” – served to designate those, who are now called confessors, and whose mission it is to receive the confessions of the faithful ; thus healing through the sacrament of penance those spiritual wounds, inflicted on the soul, after baptism. About the end of the ninth century, some laymen in Ireland were found to assert, that the duty of sacramental confession only regarded clerics, while laymen should be exempt from confessing sins to a priest. Yet, Ussher declares, that it was a custom of the faithful, in our ancient Irish Church, to confess their sins to the priest, that so they might be made partakers of those benefits conferred by the keys, and for the purpose of quieting their troubled consciences.
The Blessed Corcran, or Corcranus, a writer of the eleventh century, in his Panegyric on St. Gormgal, and on other holy hermits of the same island, declares, that the following saints rest with him and are commemorated on this day, in that lone island, viz. : Maelsuthunius, Celecharius, Dubthacus, Dunadach, Cellachus, Tressachus, Ultan, Mgelmartinus, Corcomachus, Conmachus, with many other holy men. The record of this holy anchorite is to be found in our later Calendars. According to Marianus O’Gorman, the Natalis of St. Gormgal was observed on the 5th of August. According to the Martyrology of Donegal, veneration was given to Gormghal, at the 5 th of August.
It is incalculable what benefits are conferred on the souls of men, through the ministry of a wise and holy Confessor, so that whenever true penitents have earnest recourse to him, both young and old are grounded in
their faith and enlightened by the instructions they receive. In the exercise of such useful functions, St. Gormgal spent a great portion of his time ; and, notwithstanding his seclusion from the world, in that remote island where he dwelt, the faithful were attracted from great distances to refresh their pious sentiments, and to practise a devotion, which becomes one of our most important sacramental duties. In the minds and hearts of his penitents, he instilled those maxims, of which he had been a recipient long before he became the master of a spiritual life. Revealing, as in the presence of God, and at the feet of his minister, those vices and frailties to which human nature is ever subject ; seeking grace and light from on high to amend their future conduct and to have an humble distrust of themselves ; many were the sinners he weaned from the error of their ways, and many were the hearts he gained to love and adore the great Author of our being, in whose keeping alone we can truly rest.
Much as I enjoy his architectural maunderings, Fr O’H does have a genius for leaving out the important bits. Could he not provde a translation or precis or something of the ‘Panegyric to St Gormgal’?? Or perhaps Colgan didn’t actually include its text in the Acta sanctorum hiberniae. There’s a copy at Queens – I’m tempted to have a look…
Saint Gormgal and all the holy fathers of Ardoilen, pray to God for us.

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