Fursa (DNB00)

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FURSA, Saint (d. 650), of Peronne in France, was an Irishman of noble birth. Two pedigrees of him are given in the ‘Book of Leinster,’ and also in the ‘Lebor Brecc.’ One traces his descent from Rudraidhe Mac Sitri, ancestor of the Clanna Rudraidhe, of the race of Ir; the other from Lugaidh Laga, brother of Olioll Olum of the race of Heber; but they evidently refer to different persons, and Colgan has shown that there were two saints named Fursa, the first of whom flourished about 550. The ‘Martyrology of Donegal,’ as well as the ‘Lebor Brecc’ notes to the ‘Calendar of Œngus,’ clearly regards the first pedigree as that of Fursa of Peronne, but Colgan with Keating regards the Fursa of the second as the saint of Peronne, and this is clearly right, as Sigebert, king of East Anglia, received him in 637. His father was Fintan, son of Finlogh, a chieftain of South Munster; his mother, Gelges, was daughter of Aedh Finn of the Hui Briuin of Connaught. He was probably born somewhere among the Hui Briuin, and baptised by St. Brendan. His parents having returned to Munster, the child was brought up there, and from his boyhood he ‘gave his attention to the reading of the Holy Scriptures and monastic discipline.’ He retired to study in the island of Inisquin in Lough Corrib, under the abbot St. Meldan, called his ‘soul-friend.’ He afterwards built a monastery for himself at a place called Rathmat, which appears to be Killursa (Fursa's Church), in the north-west of the county of Clare.

After this he set out for Munster to visit his relatives. After his arrival he had the first of several remarkable cataleptic seizures, during which he had visions of bright angels, who raised him on their wings, and soothed him by hymns. In one trance famine and plagues were foretold. This evidently refers to the second visitation of the plague known as the Buidhe Connaill, ‘the yellow or straw-coloured plague,’ which visited Ireland about fourteen years after Fursa's death. The chief visions appear to have taken place in 627. Deeply impressed by them, Fursa travelled through Ireland, proclaiming what he had heard. At Cork he had a vision of a golden ladder set up at the tomb of St. Finn Barr [q. v.] and reaching to heaven, by which souls were ascending.

For ten years, in accordance with angelic directions, he continued ‘to preach the word of God without respect of persons.’ In the notes on the ‘Calendar of Œngus’ a strange story is told of his exchanging diseases with St. Maignen of Kilmainham. To avoid admiring crowds and jealousy, Fursa went away with a few brethren to a small island in the sea, and shortly after, with his brothers Foillan and Ultan, he passed through Britain (Wales), and arrived at East Anglia, where he was hospitably received by King Sigebert. After another vision—twelve years since his last seizure—he hastened to build the monastery Cnoberesburg or Burghcastle, in Suffolk, on land granted by the king. Then, committing it to the charge of Goban and Dichull, he went away to his brother Ultan, with whom he lived as a hermit for a year.

Owing to the disturbed state of the country he had to go to France and take refuge with Clovis, king of Neustria. The king being a child, the government was in the hands of Erchinoald, mayor of the palace, who gave him land at Latiniacum, now Lagny, on the Marne, six leagues from Paris. Here he erected a monastery in 644. According to the account in the ‘Codex Salmanticensis,’ it was when travelling with Clovis and Erchinoald that his last illness came on. He died on 16 Jan. probably in 650, at Macerias, now Mazeroeles. He was buried at Peronne, in the church built by Erchinoald, and with this place his name has since been associated. He was reputed to have performed miracles in his lifetime, and even his pastoral staff, if sent to a sick person, was supposed to have a healing power. The brethren whom he took with him formed the nucleus of an Irish monastery, and the succession appears to have been kept up by emissaries from Ireland, as we read in the ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ at 774, that ‘Moenan, son of Cormac, abbot of Cathair Fursa (the city of Fursa, i.e. Peronne) in France, died.’ Fursa's visions were placed on record soon after his death in ‘the little book’ to which Bæda refers, and which Mabillon considers to be the life published by Surius at 16 Jan. Bæda describes the agitation of a monk who, when describing what he heard from Fursa's lips, though it was the severest season of the year, and he was thinly clad, broke out into a profuse perspiration from mere terror.

[Codex Salmanticensis, p. 77 (London, 1888); Bedæ Eccl. Hist. lib. iii. cap. 19; Lanigan's Eccl. Hist. ii. 448–64; Annals of the Four Masters, A.D. 774; Calendar of Œngus, p. xxxv; Dr. Todd's St. Patrick, p. 406.]

T. O.