Fintan (d.634) (DNB00)

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FINTAN or MUNNU, Saint (d. 634), of Tech Munnu, now Taghmon, co. Wexford, was son of Tulchan, a descendant of Conall Gulban, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, his mother, Fedelm, being of the race of Maine, son of Niall. He used to leave his father's sheep to go for instruction to a holy man named Cruimther (or presbyter) Grellan, who lived at Achad Breoan. The sheep did not suffer, and it was even rumoured that two wolves were seen guardingthem. St. Comgall of Bangor on his way from Connaught met with him at Uisnech (now Usny), in the parish of Killare, barony of Rathconrath, co. Westmeath. Comgall allowed the boy to join him, and on the first day initiated him into his discipline by refusing to allow him a draught of water until vespers in spite of the heat.

Fintan is said to have gone next to the school of St. Columba at Cill mor Ditraibh ; but this seems inconsistent with the dates of his life. His regular studies were carried on under Sinell of Cluaininis, an island in Lough Erne, who is described as 'the most learned man in Ireland or in Britain.' With him he continued nineteen years, studying the Scriptures in company with nine others. In making their bread they were not permitted to separate the chaff from the wheat ; but all being ground together, the flour was mixed with water and baked by means of stones heated in the fire.

On the completion of his studies he went to Hy to enter the monastery, but found that St. Columba was dead, and Baithin, his successor, refused to accept him, alleging that St. Columba had anticipated his coming, and directed him not to receive him. 'He will not like this,' he added, 'for he is a rough man ; therefore assure him that he will be an abbot and the head of a congregation.' This story, which is not only found in his lives, but in Adamnan's 'Life of Columba,' is stated in the latter to have been communicated to the author by Oissene, who had it from the lips of Fintan himself. Fintan is described as fair, with curly hair and a high complexion. On his return to Ireland he took up his abode in an island named Cuimrige or Cuinrigi, where he founded a church at a place called Athcaoin ; but having ascended a mountain to pray he was so disturbed by the cries and tumult at the battle of Slenne (perhaps of Sleamhain, near Mullingar, A.D. 602) that he left the island. He next passed on to his own neighbourhood in the territory of Ely, but did not visit or salute any one. Here he built Tech Telle (now Tehelly), in the north of the King's County, where he remained five years. He permitted his mother to visit him with his two sisters, but said that if she came again he would depart to Britain. Probably in allusion to this a poem attributed to Colum Cillé, says : 'The mother that bore thee, O Fintan, Munnu, bore a son hard to her family.' Soon afterwards a virgin with five companions presented herself at Tech Telle, and said to the steward : 'Tell the strong man who owns this place to give it to me, for he and his fifty youths are stronger than I and my five, and let him build another for himself.' Fintan complied, ordering his pupils to bring only their axes, books, and chrismals with their ordinary clothing, and the two oxen which drew the wagon with the books. But he refused to bless her, and told her that the church would not be associated with her name, but with that of Telle, son of Segein. He and his party then proceeded to the Ui Bairrche (now the barony of Slieve Margy in the Queen's County), where there was a monastery of Comgall of Bangor, over which one of his pupils named Aed Gophan (or Guthbinn ?) presided. He was obliged to go away into exile for twelve years, and left Fintan to take charge during his absence. Meanwhile, Comgall having died, 'the family' of the monastery came to Fintan, but he refused their several requests either to accept the abbacy of Bangor, or to become one of the monks there, but said that he would leave the place if he could surrender it to Aed Gophan, who entrusted it to him. Then they said : 'You had better go and seek for him, even if you have to go to Rome, and we will wait your return.' He therefore set out with five companions, but after crossing one field he met with Aedh returning after twelve years of exile. Leaving Ui Bairrche, Fintan came to Achad Liacc, in the barony of Forth, co. Wexford. Here one day when in the woods he met three men clothed in white garments, who told him, 'Here will be your city,' and they marked out in his presence seven places in which afterwards the chief buildings of his city should be erected, and Fintan placed crosses there. The chieftain of the country of Forth, named Dimma, who had offended him by unseemly rejoicing over a homicide, repenting, 'offered him the land where his city Taghmon now is.' He asked for a reward, and when Fintan promised him the kingdom of heaven, said: 'That is not enough, unless you also give me long life and all my wishes, and allow me to be buried with your monks in holy ground.' All these requests Fintan granted to him. The community of Fintan consisted of fifty monks, and their daily food was bread with water and a little milk. Dimma, chieftain of the territory, had placed his two sons in fosterage—one, Cellach, at Airbre in Ui Cennselaigh with St. Cuan; the other, Cillin, with Fintan at Taghmon. The father going to visit them found Cellach dressed in a blue cloak, with a sheaf of purple arrows on his shoulder, his writing tablet bound with brass, and wearing shoes ornamented with brass. Cillin, in a cloak of black undyed sheep's wool, a short white tunic, with a black border and common shoes, chanting psalms with other boys behind the wagon. The king was displeased, but Fintan told him that Cellach would be slain by the Leinster people, while Cillin would be 'the head of a church, a wise man, a scribe, bishop, and anchorite,' and would go to heaven.

Fintan's rugged character is illustrated in an imaginary dialogue between him and the angel who used to visit him. Fintan asked why another, whom he mentioned, was higher in favour than himself. Because, was the reply, 'he never caused any one to blush, whereas you scold your monks shamefully.' 'Then,' Fintan indignantly replied, 'I will go into exile and never take any more pains with my monks.' 'No,' said the angel, 'but the Lord will visit you.' That night Fintan became a leper, and continued so for twenty-three years. This is referred to in the 'Calendar' of Oengus, where he is called 'crochda,' crucified or bearing a cross.

Fintan's most remarkable appearance was at the council of Magh Ailbe or Whitefield, where the propriety of adopting changes made on the continent in the Rule of Easter was discussed. Laisrean or Molaisse of Leighlin, with his friends, defended the new system and the new order. Fintan and all others maintained the old. The king of Ui Bairrche, impatient at Fintan's delay in coming, spoke tauntingly of his leprosy. When he arrived the king asked him to speak. 'Why,' said Fintan, turning fiercely to him, 'do you ask me, a leprous man, for a speech? When you were abusing me Christ blushed at the right hand of the Father, for I am a member of Christ.' Fintan proposed the ordeal by fire and then by water, or a contest in miraculous power; but Laisrean would not risk the danger of defeat. Dr. Lanigan is not accurate in saying that 'Fintan soon after withdrew his opposition, and agreed with his brethren of the south,' for the 'Codex Salmanticensis' states that the council broke up, assenting to his conclusion: 'Let every one do as he believes, and as seems to him right,' words which fairly express the tolerant spirit of the Irish church. It is added by the writer of his 'Life' that whenever he addressed a guest in rough or hasty language he would not eat until he had apologised, saying: 'At that moment I was the son of Tulchan according to the flesh, but now I am spiritually the son of God.' Lanigan does not allow that he was at Clonenagh; but Bishop Reeves, following Colgan, holds that he was 'fourth in a succession of Fintans there.' He has given his name to a Taghmon, also in Westmeath, and is commemorated at Kilmun in Cowall (Scotland), where he is buried according to the 'Breviary of Aberdeen.' There was also a church in Loch Leven called after him. In the 'Litany' of Oengus 'one hundred and fifty true martyrs' who lived under his rule are invoked, and two hundred and thirty-three are referred to in the 'Martyrology' of Tamlaght; but this does not imply that they were all living at one time. The name Mundu or Munnu is interpreted in the 'Lebar Brecc' as a contraction of mo-Fhindu, the F in the compound becoming silent; Fintan is also a contraction of Findu-án. His day is celebrated 21 Oct.

[Acta Sanct.Hiberniæ ex codice Salman ticensi, London, 1888; Calendar of Oengus, clix.; Lanigan's Eccl. Hist. ii. 404-8; Ussher's Works, vi. 503; Reeves's Adamnan, pp. 18, 27; the Rev. James Gammack, in Dict. of Christian Biography, ii. 520.]

T. O.