CILIAN, Saint (d. 697), apostle of Franconia, whose name is also written Kilian, Ghillianus, Gselianus, Quillianus, was an Irish bishop who was martyred at Wiirzburg, at about the age of fifty-three, in 697. No Irish life of him has been printed, and the Latin lives have no early Irish characteristics. He was born, according to local tradition, in the southern part of the kingdom of Breifne, and present county of Cavan. The sacred spot is believed by the inhabitants to be a level piece of ground, at the foot of a long ridge of pasture, on the boundary of the townlands of Cloghwallybeg and Longfield, and on the left of the road leading from the Gates of Mullagh to Virginia. Some traces of a cairn among the roots of an old thorn tree mark the site of a well, and near this was a very ancient church dedicated to St. Cilian, and built like that of St. Gregory at Rome, on the site of the house of the saint's father. The thick wall, a few yards from the site, though of ancient appearance, was built by Henry Brooke the novelist, and no traces of the church exist. When after the war of 1641 the church of Virginia was built, the great blocks of stone which formed its walls were removed for use in that structure. Some of these large squared stones may be traced in the existing church at Virginia, and they are of the kind used in the very early Irish churches. Children born in the district are sometimes called after the saint, and the local legend of his life agrees with the lives in the Acta Sanctorum (Acta SS. Antwerp, 1721, July, vol. ii.) He was already a bishop before he left Ireland about 689 (Baronius, xii. 89).
He converted the ruler of Franconia and his subjects, but was killed by the sword by order of the ruler’s wife, whose repudiation Cilian had required because she was in the position of Herodias. The day of his martyrdom was 8 July. It is still kept in Würzburg, where his name is common both as a baptismal name and as a surname. The lives all make Cilian the son of a king of Ireland, but the local tradition does not, and as there are no signs of a dun or rath on the site of his father’s dwelling, it is probable that his father was not a great man, though of course related to the nearest king, as every tribesman was. The famous Codex Paulinus of Würzburg is a very ancient manuscript, but can hardly have belonged to Cilian, though its scribe may have lived within two centuries of his martyrdom.
[Bollandist Acta Sanctorum, Antwerp, 1721, July, vol. ii.; Baronius’s Annales Ecclesiastici, Lucæ, 1742, xii. 89; Stephen White’s Apologia pro Hibernia. ed. Kelly, Dublin, 1849, pp. 130, 151, &c.; H. Zimmer’s Glossæ Hibernicæ, Berlin, 1881. The isolated district of Cavan where Cilian was born retained much of Irish learning till a recent date. The exact tradition of the birthplace was related to the writer of this article by Patrick Connell, a carpenter and a scholar, and confirmed independently by James Connell of Fartha and Terence Osborne, farmers and scholars, all old men and pupils of the famous Irish schoolmaster of Mullagh, Matthew Monaghan.]