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Finnian of Clonard
St Finnian of Clonard ('Cluain Eraird') (470 - 549) was one of the early Irish monastic saints. He founded Clonard Abbey in modern-day County Meath and the Twelve Apostles of Ireland studied under him. He might have been born at Myshall, County Carlow. At an early age he was supposedly placed under the care of St. Fortchern, by whose direction, it is said, he proceeded to Wales to perfect himself in holiness and sacred knowledge under the great saints of that country. After a long sojourn there, of thirty years according to the Salamanca MS., he returned to his native land and went about from place to place, preaching, teaching, and founding churches, until he was at last led by an angel to Cluain Eraird, which he was told would be the place of his resurrection. Here he built a little cell and a church of clay and wattle, which after some time gave way to a substantial stone structure, and entered on a life of study, mortification, and prayer. The fame of his learning and sanctity was soon noised abroad, and scholars of all ages flocked from every side to his monastic retreat -- young laymen and clerics, abbots, and bishops.
In the Office of St. Finnian it is stated that there were no fewer than 3000 pupils getting instruction at one time in the school in the green fields of Clonard under the broad canopy of heaven. The master excelled in exposition of the Sacred Scriptures, and to this fact must be mainly attributed the extraordinary popularity which his lectures enjoyed. The exact date of the saint's death is uncertain, but it was probably 549, and his burial-place is in his own church of Clonard. For centuries after his death the school continued to be renowned as a seat of Scriptural learning, but it suffered at the hands of the Danes, especially in the eleventh century, and two wretched Irishmen, O'Rorke of Breifney and Dermod McMurrough, helped to complete the unholy work which the Northmen had begun. With the transference by the Norman Bishop of Rochfort, in 1206, of the See of Meath from Clonard to Trim, the glory of the former place departed forever.
St Finnian of Clonard's feast-day is 12 December.
Site Ireland's Eye :
Saint Finnian Finnian of Clonard is generally regarded as the father of Irish monasticism. He was born in Co. Meath towards the end of the fifth century and it is said that all the birds of Ireland gathered as a portent of the holy life he would lead. As a young man he founded three churches in Ireland before being attracted to monastic life in Wales. He studied under Saint Cadoc at Llancarfan, Glamorganshire, and was much influenced by Cadoc's pupil Gildas, who was critical of the worldliness and wealth of British bishops.
Finnian became convinced that the ascetic life offered the best way of consecrating one's life to God. It was a belief well-suited to Ireland, with its population dispersed in small rural kingdoms. Finnian's first monastery was at Aghowle, Co. Wicklow, but he settled c. 520 at Clonard, Co. Meath, on the River Boyne. Clonard becarne the most famous monastic school of the sixth century, its importance derived from the number of disciples who left to found other monasteries. Finnian's most prominent pupils have been called the twelve apostles of Ireland. The saint died of plague c. 549, but the monastery at Clonard survived until the sixteenth century.
From the Appletree Press title: A Little Book of Celtic Saints.
Site Monastic Ireland :
'The Master of the Saints of Ireland', Finnian is known as a great teacher - Ciarán of Clonmacnoise and Colmcille of Iona are among the many to have trained under him. They and others have taken seeds of knowledge from Finnian's monastery at Clonard, and planted them abroad with great success. As might be expected from such a renowned teacher, Finnian has invested much of his life in his own education. France and Britain have been formative training grounds for him, and have had a direct bearing on the values and culture of his foundation at Clonard. In itself, this is far from unusual, as schooling in foreign lands is the norm for early Christian teachers such as Finnian.
Finnian was born in the latter part of the fifth century, at Myshal in County Carlow, on the slopes of Mount Leinster. His father was Rudraigh, an Ulsterman of noble lineage. His mother was a Leinster woman called Telach.
Finnian's education begins locally, when he is taken to Bishop Fortchernn. This marks his first serious induction into the Christian Church and it awakens a hunger for more learning. It is this which drives Finnian across the sea to Britain, and further afield to France.
The monastery at Tours is his first point of landing, and his experiences there shape his idea of religious life. Tours is noted for its austerity, for its sacrifice of physical comfort for spiritual gain. Finnian finds himself at home in this environment, the more so for befriending an elder called Caemen, with whom he studies.