Life of Saint Coemgen

i. (1) Now it was (foretold) in type and prophecy that there would come a high saint, noble and honourable, in Leinster, namely in Glendalough, to speak particularly, to rescue and repel men from paganism by the preaching of the word of God, for the healing of leper, and blind, and deaf, and lame, and all kinds of sick folk, to raise the dead, to put down the mighty and lift up the wretched, and to drive away plagues and pestilences, to check thieves and crimes and strange monsters, and to instruct all kinds of perverted folk who opposed the will of God. (2) Now Patrick, son of Calpurnius, the chief apostle of Erin, prophesied of this Coemgen thirty years before his birth, and that he would cause a chief city (monastery) to be built in the aforesaid glen, for the refection of companies and strangers, of guests and pilgrims, and that he would bring with him to Glendalough some of the mould and relics of the apostles and righteous men who are at Rome. (3) And it is written in this life that for obtaining remission of sins from God it is the same for any one to visit Rome, and (to visit) the relics and bed of Coemgen, as is customary, with penitence, and humility, and lowliness of heart.

ii. (4) Find mac Cumaill prophesied likewise, that Coemgen would overcome the horrible monster in the lesser lake of the same glen, that was destroying every one, and drive it into the other lake. Therefore men and cattle, and all kinds of sick folk come to be healed and cured in the water of the lesser lake in honour of God and of Coemgen.

iii. (5) When then all these prophesies were fulfilled, the promised one came, to wit, Coemgen son of Caemlug, son of Caimet, son of Rimid, son of Corb, son of Fergus Lamderg (Red-hand), son of Messincorb, son of Cucorb. (6) And his mother became pregnant, namely Caemell daughter of Cendfinnan, son of Cise, son of Lugaid; and this Caemell was mother of Caeman, Sanctlethan, and Nadchaeme of Terryglass; and of Caemell of Cell Caemille; Mincloth mother’s sister to Coemgen; it was of her that Colum son of Crimthann was born.

iv. (7) At the time of Coemgen’s birth no pains of labour nor pangs of childbearing came to his mother, as to other women, for innocent, faithful, righteous was the offspring that she bore. And the high King of righteousness, the King of Heaven, sent twelve angels with golden lamps to his baptsim. And the angels gave him the name of Coemgen (fair birth), that is beauteous shining birth. (8) And the angels told the women to take the child to be baptized to the noble honourable patron saint, Cronan, in the Fortuatha (foreign tribes) of Leinster. And he (Cronan) afterwards baptized him, and offered himself to Coemgen to be of his family, that all others might the more readily believe in him. And he prophesied that kings and chiefs would believe in him, and that he would do mighty works and great miracles.

v. (9) After this the child was taken to the fort in which he was born. And God wrought great wonders and miracles in honour of God and Coemgen in respect of this fort; for however great the frost and snow on every side of it, it never penetrates within, and beasts and cattle in time of cold and snow habitually find grass there.

vi. (10) A brilliantly white cow used to come for the infant’s feeding, and it was not known from what booly or byre it came, nor whither it retired. In times of fasting and abstinence the child would only suck its mothers breasts once (a day). An angel commanded Coemgen to enter an order for monks for instruction, and he submitted to ordination, and became an elect priest.

vii. (11) The angel afterwards told him to go into the desert glen which had been foretold to him, that is to the slope of the lakes. Great was his courage afterwards in separating from the glory and beauty of the present life, and remaining in solitude listening to the converse of the angel who ministered to him. He would lie by night on bare stones on the border of the lake; skins of wild beasts were his clothing. (12) He would cross the lake without any boat to the rock to say Mass every day, and remained without fear or dread above the lake.

viii. (13) There was a horrible and strange monster in the lake, which wrought frequent destruction of dogs and men among the fiana of Erin. Coemgen recited his psalms, and entreated the Lord, and He drove the monster from him into the other lake. That is to say, the lesser lake, in which the monster (originally) was, is the place where now help of every trouble is wrought both for men and cattle; and they all leave their sicknesses there, and the sicknesses and diseases go into the other lake to the monster, so that it does not injure any one. And when the monster turns its other side upwards, the lake rises to the level of the peaks of the mountain, and he who sees it does not live a week. Seven years was Coemgen without food but nettles and sorrel; and for a long period of years he never saw a single human being; and he wold stand up to his waist in the lake saying his hours.

ix. (14) One time when Coemgen was reciting his hours, he dropped his psalter into the lake; and great grief and vexation seized him. And the angel said to him: ‘Do not grieve,’ said he. Afterwards an otter came to Coemgen bringing the psalter with him from the bottom of the lake, and not a line or letter was blotted (lit. drowned). (15) The angel told Coemgen to go to teach and preach the word of God to the peoples, and not to hide himself any longer.

There was a farmer in the Leinster district named Dimma, son of Fergna. He it was who was destined to find Coemgen. One of the farmer’s cows lighted upon the saint, and licked his feet; and its (yield of) milk was extraordinarily greater than that of the other cows. (16) When Dimma heard of this, he sent the herdsman to find out how the cow came to have this abundance of milk. The herdsman found Coemgen in the hollow of a cave, and the cow licking his feet. Coemgen begged him to conceal him. ‘Not so,’ said the herdmsan, ‘I must needs give a true account to Dimma.’ And Dimma extracted the account from him with difficulty; for Coemgen had promised him heaven in return for concealing him.

(17) After this Dimma and his children went to the hollow in which Coemgen was; and they made a litter for him out of respect and honour. And the wood was thick, and it lay down upon the ground, leaving a broad road for the litter to pass; (and when it had passed) it rose up again through the mighty works of the angel. And Coemgen promised hell and a short life to any one who should burn either green wood or dry from this wood till doom. (18) One son of Dimma was a hunting, and did not come to carry the patron saint. His own dogs slew him, and finally ate him. Coemgen brought the son to life again; and told his father and his brothers that they should always form part of Coemgen’s family, and offer themselves to him, both men and cattle; and they were exiles from the region of Meath. (19) Coemgen blessed them after his wrath had passed away at their carrying him out of the hollow by force, as had been prophesied to them. Coemgen ordained that the erenagh in his church should be habitually of the children and posterity of Dimma, though they were exiles from Meath. Then Coemgen inhabited a chief monastery in the glen.

x. (20) In the time of Lent Coemgen went into a wattled hut erected on bare stone, standing in cross-vigil for six weeks for the sake of God. A blackbird perched on the saint’s hand, and built a nest, (remaining there) till she hatched her young. The angel told Coemgen to leave the hut. Coemgen said: ‘It is no great thing for me to bear thus much pain for the sake of Heaven’s King, who bore every pain on behalf of Adam’s seed upon the Cross of suffering.’ (21) ‘Come out of the hut,’ said the angel. ‘I will not come,’ said he, ’till I obtain from God the freedom of my successors and my monks and of my tributaries, and the maintenance of my churches within and without.’ The angel gave to him seven times the full of the glen in the Day of Judgement, and a little spear of red gold in the hand of Coemgen. It is madness and folly in any one who hears the miracles of Coemgen, not to be under tribute to him, for God gave heaven to every one who should be buried in the mould of Coemgen; and God gave to him every Saturday nine to be rescued from the pain of hell, if it be according to desert that it is considered. Every one, however, who shall die on Friday and be buried on a Saturday under the mould of Coemgen, shall receive remission for his soul.

xi. (22) For this cause many kings and chiefs among the kings of Erin, and of Britain, chose to be buried in Glendalough for love of God and Coemgen. There are relics of the apostles hard by Coemgen’s hut to go with him to the judgement of doom in the presence of the Lord. (23) No single saint in Erin ever obtained more from God than Coemgen, save Patrick only; for Coemgen brought mould of Rome with him as I said. Moreover, Glendalough is one of the four best cemeteries (lit. Romes of burial) in Erin.

xii. (24) One day Coemgen saw a young man running towards him, and he was a clerk. He recognized by his voice and appearance that he had committed the crime of murder. Coemgen conducted him back (to the scene of the crime) and found a young man dead, as I said before. And he brought him to life again, and made a monk of him. (25) Moreover, the things which sick and morbid folk had a desire and craving for, Coemgen would supply to them, such as blackberries in winter, apples on willow trees, and (would cause them) to find habitually sprigs of sorrel (growing) on rocks in winter time.

xiii. (26) Some hunters passed through the glen and set their dogs at a wild boar, which rushed to the protection of Coemgen, and the feet of the dogs clave to the ground, so that they could not pursue their natural enemy while under the protection of the saint.

xiv. (27) Now Colman son of Coirpre, son of Cormac, son of Ailill, son of Dunlang, son of Enda Nia, was chief of Úi Muiredach (at this time). And sprites used to carry off his children by druidism. A son was born to him subsequently. He sent him to Coemgen to be baptized, and placed him under the protection of the saint. And Coemgen loved the infant, and took him as his foster-child afterwards.

(28) There was shortness of milk in Glendalough at that time. Coemgen saw a doe and her fawn, and commanded her to give half her milk and lactage to his foster-child, Faelan son of Colman, from whom are (descended) the Clann Tuathail, that is the Úi Faelain. But a wolf came to the doe, and killed her fawn. Then Coemgen wrought great miracles. He commanded the wild wolf to take the place of the fawn with the doe. In the hollow stone which stands above Droichet na h-Eillte (Bridge of the Doe), the doe would leave every day enough of her milk and lactage to satisfy the child; and in this way was Faelan nourished by the wonderful works of God and Coemgen. (29) His tutor said to Coemgen: ‘We will not remain in the same place, for it has been prophesied of thee, that thou wouldest do great wonders.’ So thereupon he went his way.

xv. (30) One day when Coemgen had gone by reason of his youth to tend sheep, there came to him a band of needy starving men, to ask food of him for the honour of God. To protect his honour and modesty he killed eight withers. Yet the number of the flock was none the less.

xvi. (31) Coemgen was in Cell Iffin during Lent. An otter used to bring a salmon every day to the convent for their supply. It occurred to Cellach that a fine, splendid glove might be made of the otter’s skin. The otter, though a (mere) brute beast, understood his thought; and from that time ceased to perform his service to the monks. When Cellach perceived this, he confessed his thought to Coemgen. Coemgen sent him to Cell Cellaig. (32) God saved the modesty of Coemgen at that time. The seed that was sown in Cell Iffin in the morning would be ripe before evening. And thus were his monks supplied.

xvii. (33) Some musicians came to Coemgen to ask food of him, and the saint had no food by him at the time. And he bade them wait for him. And they would not, but began insulting the clerk. Thereupon their wood instruments were turned into stones in punishment for the insult done to the saint; and the figures of them still remain on the causeway to the east of the place.

xviii. (34) Two women were walking in the termon-land of Coemegen. Robbers fell in with them and murdered them, and cut off their heads. Coemgen came upon them, and brought them to life again, and made black (i.e. Benedictine) nuns of them in his own church. (35) Coemgen foretold that treachery and murder would be committed in his church, and he foretold the ravaging of the church and of the congregation. He promised punishment for all these things, to wit, short life, and hell at the last. And he chose four diseases to wreak vengeance of the body of every one who should outrage his church, or his successors, or his congregation; namely tumour, scrofula, anthrax, and madness; and no leech or physician can cure those diseases, save only the Healer, Jesus Christ.

(36) Coemgen’s successor has a right to his school, and folk to carry and guard his relics, and tribute in proportion to their means of every one of the Leinster men, whether high or low. Thus did Coemgen leave the protection of his fair and family (to every one) both high and low, both friends and foes; guarantees, and ownership, and protection to them all in coming and going, without summons, or question, or suit, or judgement, or action for debt by one against another, and so forth.

(Colophon)
(37) From the book of the priest, Roibned Purcell, was this small fragment of the life of Coemgen written the first time in Cloch Uateir nearl Leighlinn, in the province of Leinster, on the 16th day of September, 1629. And the same scribe, the poor friar Michael O’Clery, wrote it out a second time on this paper in the convent of the brethren on the Drowes the 5th day of September, 1629.

From Bethada Náem nÉrenn. Lives of Irish Saints, Charles Plummer (Oxford, 1922), volume 2, pages 121-126. For those unfamiliar with the name, Coemgen (also Caomhin) is the Gaelic spelling of Kevin. The somewhat disjointed and late Life of Saint Kevin above is a prime example of why the Bollandists felt a need to investigate the various texts of the lives of the saints. I should award a prize to whoever would list all the hagiographical and classical allusions in the above life. A more coherent account is found here, and another here. It’s still a fun read, giving one something of a taste of the lively Irish joy in words. Saint Kevin was born perhaps in 498, and, in his 120th year, died on the third of June 618.

6 Comments

  1. Thank you! I’m glad I’m not the only Orthodox who knows about St. Kevin. I’ve always had a connection of some kind to the saints of the Celtic Church. If, God and the bishop will, I become a priest, I fully intend to celebrate the feasts of as many of the Orthodox saints of the west as I possibly can.

    If we are ever to have Orthodoxy be a truly national church in the lands of the west, we must reinstate the celebration of the saints who shone forth in those lands.

    Keep up the great posts!

  2. Great name, there, Kevin the Reader! Very saintly!

    “Reinstate” is perhaps a bit much; “popularize’ would be more fitting, I think. The service by Reader Lambertson seems to indicate that someone is using it in the British Isles. I would certainly like to think that the great saints in every locality have their akolouthia, wherever the Orthodox Church is. More is better!

    Thank you for your compliment!

  3. Again, my lack of eloquence betrays me. I’m really only a reader because I can fake Byzantine chant fairly well 🙂

    In any case, it would be a big step forward if we could name some parishes after these saint. The most I’ve ever seen is a St. Benedict’s and a St. Columba’s. You’d think a name like “St. Kevin’s Church” would be more popular than, say, “St. Barsanuphius Greek Orthodox Church.” Your average person looking for someplace to go on a Sunday morning is more liable to walk into the former than the latter, in my opinion.

    Or, more likely, I could be completely wrong.

    Have a blessed Lent!

    1. Give it time, Reader Kevin! Most non-Irish people have no idea that Kevin is even a saint’s name, whether Orthodox or not. But it’s interesting that you bring up St Barsanuphius. He was an Egyptian saint, a father struggling in the desert, yet he became, over time, a saint recognized by all the Orthodox churches. The Russians are well ahead of anyone else on this front, in incorporating the names of the “forgotten” western saints of before the schism/apostasy into the calendar for commemoration. They are working their way into the calendars of others as well. You can find several in the GOAA calendar. So, give it time. Maybe, once you’re a priest (God willing!), it’ll be your job to found such a parish to Saint Kevin! Ask our mutual namesake to pray to the Lord for this for the glory of his beloved saints, but especially for the greater glory of God, among the modern heathen of our backwards societies!

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