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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  March 2000

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION March 2000

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Subject:

RE: Oengus

From:

Francine Nicholson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Tue, 21 Mar 2000 18:04:23 -0500

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> From:	Maeve B. Callan [SMTP:[log in to unmask]]
> 
> One should hope so in the course of a century, but I haven't come across
> solid recent work on the Culdees.  A lot of studies mention them, but few
> discuss them in depth, 
> 
	I agree that very little study has been done recently, but I think
that's because there is ongoing a much needed re-evaluation of the
assumptions about early Irish Christianity (by which I mean early
Christianity in Ireland; I'm not trying to suggest everything about Irish
Christianity was unique) on which scholars like Stokes based their work. My
view is that we need to achieve a broader, less subjective understanding of
the sources, the context in which the authors were working, and their
purpose in writing. Any conclusions we make about specific groups need to
grow from our new understanding, and I tend to think that any previous work
done on the Ce/li De/ monasteries and figures needs to be re-examined
closely.

> and I remember thinking O'Dwyer was a start 
> 
	Sorry, could you please tell me which reference you have in mind?

> but much more needs to be done.  If you came across some good work on them
> in the course of writing your MA thesis, I'd really appreciate some
> references.  
> 
	As I think I mentioned, my MA thesis was completed decades ago, but
the subject of hagiography, saints cults, mythology, and pre-Crhistian
remnants all continue to fasci9nate me, in themselves and their possible
relationships to each other.

	In that context, I've been trying to follow the work of Padraig O
Riain. Have you read his article on redating the martyrologies of Tallaght
that appeared in CMCS Winter 1990? I'm trying to get a look at it. I've been
looking at his work on saints' cults and their relationship to pre-Christian
deities and rituals. Of course, O Riain is not the first to look at
this--specifically, Ma/ire Mac Neill discussed the evidence in her study of
Lughnasa and mentioned that her father had looked at the evidence in the
genealogies--but O Riain seems to be making some very interesting
connections.

> I can't remember anyone apart from Stokes and Kenney discussing the issue
> of Oengus's identity as a Culdee, but I thought Stokes' argument
> compelling enough to lodge it in my brain as a possibility for years,
> apparently, and more recent scholars' repetition of the assumption that
> Oengus was a Culdee without at least dealing with Stokes' reservations
> doesn't resolve the issue, for me anyway. 
> 
	I see your point, and I do think the positions of Stokes, Kenney, et
al. merit reconsideration.

> 	Anyway, many years ago, I mapped out the saints 
> 	mentioned by Oengus in the martyrology and the ones mentioned in the
> 
> 	marginalia. I noted a strong correlation between them and the
> monasteries 
> 	identified by Gwynn and Hadcock as strongly influenced by the Ce/li
> De/ 
> 	(though G&H didn't always say why they identified them as such).
> Even more 
> 	to the point, perhaps, the longer and more elaborate the story found
> in the 
> 	marginalia, the more likely it was that the saint was one of the
> Ce/li De or 
> 	a founder of one of their monasteries.  
> 
> Interesting--did you apply it to other works that may have come out of
> Tallaght?  What did you conclude about Samthann, if anything?  Or about
> Oengus's other home, Cluainednach, and its connections to Agha, the church
> Pete was asking about? 
> 
	Oh gee, I'm reaching *way* back into my memory bank, but I think
Samthann was a strong correlation. The correlation with Cluainednach was
strong--that stuck in my mind because it was not a place that was generally
well known or attested--but I don't recall any connection with the church in
Idrone that Pete asked about. There may have been--I just don't recall.
There's also the issue of so many small monastic sites having multiple names
and it wasn't always possible to identify those mentioned in the marginalia.


> That's part of my point--it's (ie, icy bath) so generic for "Irish sts"
> that it lessens the possibility of an actual cult, in my opinion.  
> 
	Hmm, I don't see any correlation between historicity and existence
of a cult. The stories about St. Brigit, for example, are almost all
apocryphal and so generic as to be used for almost any female saint, but she
was and is one of the most popular.

> And my questions about his sanctity do arise from my sense of how medieval
> Irish portrayed their saints.  I'm curious, though, about what you meant
> by "among the Ce/li De/, all of the early reformers were considered saints
> by definition" ---what definition are you assuming?  Do you mean simply a
> person who has led a life of heroic virtue, or that an ascetic reformer is
> ipso facto a st?  
> 
	A bit of both.

> There are myriad understandings of sanctity, and the term sanctus/a was
> often used without the greater trappings of sthood implied, but simply to
> mean a holy person, a good Christian.  The broad definition wouldn't
> necessarily involve a cult and a feast day, or belief in supernatural
> abilities to aid the faithful.  
> 
	Agreed, but that's not the definition one sees at work in the
stories.

> One of the things that struck me about the Culdees was the virtual absence
> of the supernatural--yes they perform amazing feats of asceticism, but
> these are usually very much within the realm of human possibility, whereas
> those with more developed cults could scarcely be bothered by human
> limitations. 
> 
	To some extent I think this was because the saints were based on
pre-Crhistian deities or so little was known about them that the generic
stories were applied (Hughes suggested, credibly in my view, that details
about monastic happenings were not recorded until the second half of the
seventh century).

> At any rate, I don't think Oengus would be considered one of the early
> reformers (even if assuming his status as a Culdee) and to say that he's a
> poet so thus saintly seems quite a stretch, given the many poets, both
> religious and otherwise, that we know of from pre-Norman Ireland who
> weren't considered sts, though they were highly respected as poets. 
> 
	But his poet skill was attributed to his being inspired by the Holy
Spirit. That makes him rather different from someone who gets his
inspiration by performing imbas forsonai to compose an elegy or praise-poem
for a king or warrior. 

> Again, that's part of my interest, especially since Samthann is one of the
> few saints with vitae who did not found a monastery.  Why no Life of
> Máelrúain, founder of Tallaght?  While a Life might not be sine qua non
> for a cult, it certainly helps, and does raise the question for me whether
> he was considered a "saint" by medieval Irish, and if so, what kind of st
> [nb, I am not disputing a claim to sthood in the more basic sense--yes, he
> was widely respected as a holy man, but I don't think anyone claimed he
> could transform those he disliked into otters, or raise the dead, etc, and
> thus how effective would praying to him have been, or patronizing his
> monastery, etc]?  
> 
	He'd be a very good patron saint for a monastic scholar or scribe!

> Also, several of the earlier saints  would see their monasteries radically
> change or disappear as early as the 8th/9th centuries, and yet their vitae
> clearly remained popular down to the 14th century--even in the absence of
> an organization to keep their memory alive, or without claims to another
> monastery's tithes. 
> 
	In the twelfth to fourteenth centuries we see a struggle between the
old monastic scribal order, attempting to keep alive the pre-Norman
traditions--and those that came later. And actually, they continued to use
those old monastic claims to settle land issues, etc.

> Hagiography has been used for such purposes in Ireland since its known or
> at least still extant beginning--Cogitosus' Vita Brigidae is quite a
> useful tool for monastic propaganda and nearly meaningless as a source for
> the st's actual life [presuming she wasn't purely mythical].  It was
> well-developed well before the ninth century--making Patrick so keen on
> Armagh to begin with was quite a coup for Muirchú, et al,  in the 7th cen,
> for example.  
> 
	Agreed.

> Most of the hagiography is virtually impossible to date, 
> 
	Hmm, I think some would contest that thought.

> outside of the most celebrated saints and/or the most celebrated Lives.
> But what exactly does this have to do with Oengus?  Are you arguing for
> his use for a political claim, or against it, and hence no Life? 
> 
	I'm saying that there seemed to be a lot of interest about the
details of Oengus' life in the marginalia. Perhaps there was even a lost
life! But I'm also supporting J.F. Nagy's proposals that the natvie scribes
of this period were trying to establish a new source of tradition--written
and Christian, rather than oral and scular--that would take precedence in
both secular and ecclesiastical matters. To establish credibility for that
tradition, it had to be shown to be old. Therefore the claims of the
earliest saints would be the ones that mattered, not the latter day.

	If memory serves, the stuff on poets contains enough archaisms of
language to suggest that what we have is a later version. Even then, I think
some can be dated to just after Oengus' death. 

> Can you offer a reference for a source that clearly indicates this
> association [poet has direct line to God and thus is a st]?  And if it is
> was such an automatic and intense connection, why the many poets of
> Ireland who have not been claimed as saints?  
> 
	An ecclesiastical poet would be a candidate for sainthood--not just
any poet. 

> Again, I'm not disputing that poets were revered in Ireland, or even that
> their abilities/functions were celebrated as divine, but that doesn't
> necessarily make one a saint.  And it's interesting to note that the poem
> from the Leabhar Breac says little about Oengus's poetic gifts, though it
> is the one source to most clearly suggest his sthood (and the poet would
> have had obvious reasons to extol the virtues of poetry--unless his
> saintly humility stayed his hand ;>). 
> 
	The subject of inspiration and its source and practice were
controversial topics at that time. One passage says that most poetic
practices were banned--by Patrick, no less!--because they involved the
i9nvocation of demons. But the fact that one author chose to emphasize other
virtues only says what that fellow was interested in--one can argue from
absence, but one cannot be sure why something is absent.

	As far as whether Oengus' cult was large or small: most Irish saints
had very local cults. So I'm not sure that says much one way or the other. 

	<snip>The annals refer to many men and women who were celebrated for
their holy lives, and mourn the loss of religious murdered by the Vikings or
by the Irish, yet we have no Lives of these later "saints" and little to no
trace of a cult.  

	Claims fcor a saint as the undisputed soruce of wisdom by definition
require the saint to be early.

> Not that this is a problem only for the late 8th-11th cens; for example,
> we have the names of hundreds of early women saints (and references to so
> many anonymous others), but few can be identified, and only 4 have extant
> medieval vitae, 3 from the 5th/6th cen, and Samthann from the 8th, an
> exception not only among female saints, but all Irish saints with Lives.  
> 
	For the women, there may be a different explanation: who owned the
land. Men's monasteries, by and large, were associated with the local
dynastic family, even if a family member was not a founder. This enabled the
land to be passed on. Most women's monasteries did not survive their
founder's death. I don't think this means the women all suddenly ran off.
Rather, early Irish law, as we know, did not allow women to bequeathe land;
on a woman's death, any land she owned reverted to her kin-group. The
women's monasteries that survived for generations were sites, like Kildare,
that apparently were ritual sites--land not belonging to any
kin-group--before Christianity arrived. 

> But to have no extant Lives and comparatively little to no trace of cults
> for "saints" in the late 8th-11th centuries strikes me as significant and
> worthy of further consideration. 
> 
	Have you read Nagy's _Conversing with Angels and Ancients_?

> Thanks for the musings and apologies for the lengthy ramblings, 
> 
	Ditto. 

	Francine


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