Monday, 9 November 2015

Saint Mel of Ardagh (O'Hanlon 1)

From Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints for 6th February:

Sixth Day of February


THE festival, commemorated by the Irish Church, on this day, recalls to our minds, that gratitude we owe to our early Christian missionaries, who helped to gather and labour, in the same field of noble enterprise with St. Patrick. Fervently and eloquently, St. Mel laid before the Irish Gentiles, that depth and richness of Divine love, which he declared had supremely distinguished Jesus Christ. He could not fail, in making a solid and lasting impression, on the minds of his hearers. These had never experienced any better consolations, and they dreamed of no brighter prospects, than what had been gleaned from the dark and unintelligible teaching and mysteries of Paganism. This holy man refuted errors, which prevailed in our island, while the shallow and empty professions of a Druidical priesthood were exposed to merited contempt, and in the course of a few generations they were consigned to utter extinction. This renowned saint is classed among the primitive fathers of our Irish Church. He was a contemporary, and, it has been asserted, a near relative to the great Apostle, St. Patrick. At the very dawn of Christianity in our island, an illustrious champion and preacher of the Gospel had been already prepared, for a strenuous encounter, with the spirit of darkness. He is named Mel or Melus, in old Latin acts; and, this title was typical of those honied stores of Divine wisdom and of saintly qualities, which had been hived within his breast. A special Life of this holy man is not known to exist. From various ancient Acts of St. Patrick, and of St. Brigid, as also from other sources, Colgan has compiled a Life of St. Mel, and he has admirably annotated it. In like manner, the Bollandists have inserted Acts of Saints Mel, Melchuo, Mune, and Rioc, Bishops, at the 6th day of February. From these authorities shall we chiefly draw succeeding materials, to render intelligible the recorded actions of the holy Bishop Mel, the special patron of Ardagh diocese. He seems to have been born, in the earHer part of the fifth century. It is said, Saint Mel or Melus was a nephew to the great Irish Apostle Patrick, and whose sister Darerca is named as Mel's mother. She was daughter to Calphurnius, if we are to credit ancient accounts, and her name, also, is found in the Calendars of our Saints. She was blessed, not alone through her personal virtues and merits, but even through her sainted progeny of children. These she brought up in the fear of God, and their lives were nobly devoted to His service. Her brothers and sisters were distinguished in a remarkable degree, likewise, for their services to religion. Whether by natural or supernatural descent, a race of holy persons derived origin, from these illustrious and saintly progenitors. According to a prevailing hypothesis, the two brothers of Darerca, and consequently the uncles to St. Mel, were St. Patrick, the great Apostle of Ireland, who is said to have been the director and spiritual father of over two hundred holy disciples, and Sannan, who was father to St. Patrick the Younger.

According to another account, Darerca had two sisters, whose names were Tygridia and Lupita. These were older, it is stated, than the mother of our saint. Tygridia is said to have had no less than seventeen sons and five daughters, all of whom devoted themselves to a religious life.'s Darerca is styled mother of the holy bishops, Mel, Moch, or Rioch, and Munis, the travelling companions, and co-labourers with their uncle St. Patrick. Yet, instead of two, as stated by Joceline, Colgan tells us, the greater probability is, that Darerca had four sisters; all of these being distinguished, either for their personal sanctity, or for the holiness of their offspring. There are grave and ancient authors, likewise, who tell us, that the large family of seventeen sons and two daughters belonged, not to Tygridia, but to Darerca, assumed to have been mother of our saint. Again, other hagiological writers say, that St. Patrick, the Irish Apostle, had five sisters, bearing respectively the names, Richella, Lupita, Tigrida, Liemania, and Darerca.

Some nominal variations, however, occur in their enumeration. The last named of these holy sisters is generally allowed to have been the parent of St. Mel. It is stated, that she had been married to Restitutus, a Lombard, and to Conis. Some authors state, she had sixteen other sons, besides Mel, and two daughters. All of these children were distinguished for their eminent sanctity. The father of our saint is called Conis, and he is supposed to have been a Briton. It is probable also, his son, the first bishop of Ardagh, had been a native of Britain. The particular place of his birth is not recorded. Colgan thinks, however, that Conis and Darerca were of Irish birth and descent, as the names themselves are Irish. Dr. Lanigan doubts, if Mel were at all a relation to St. Patrick. Maol is an equivocal word when applied to a man, it has the signification "bald" or "shaved," and when to an irrational animal, it signifies "without horns" or "ears." Thus, his real family origin is left very doubtful. Concerning St. Mel's early education, we have no reliable notices; however, it is related, he became a disciple to his reputed uncle, St. Patrick. He laboured with this illustrious Apostle, on the Irish mission. He taught many early converts of our island the principles of Christianity. Some are of opinion, St. Mel had been a bishop before he came to Ireland. He distinguished himself there so much, as a zealous preacher and as a holy missionary, that other writers assert, St. Patrick considered him worthy of being elevated to the episcopal dignity. It is said, St. Mel had been appointed to the see of Ardagh, when St. Patrick proceeded from Usneach towards that tract of country, now known as Longford. According to another supposition, however, St. Mel had not yet arrived in Ireland, at so early a period.3^ We are told, likewise, St. Mel had been elevated to the episcopal dignity, before the year 454. For, we read in the third chapter of St. Brigid's Life, attributed to St. Ultan of Ardbraccan, that Saints Mel and Melchuo, Bishops, came from Britain, at a time when the great Patroness of Ireland, St. Brigid, was borne in her mother's womb. Dr. Lanigan finds no reason for contradicting the statement, that Mel was bishop about the middle of the fifth century; but, he supposes, that the election of our saint to Ardagh see took place, when St. Patrick journeyed on his way, from Munster towards Ulster. It has been stated, that the great Apostle left his reputed nephew to reside near a high ridge, which bore the peculiar name, Bri Leith, now called Slieve Galree. It lies between Ardagh to the east, where St. Patrick left Bishop Mel, and Dmimchea, to the west, where his sister Lupita lived. This Sliabh Calraighe was so called from an ancient territory known as Calry or Calree, in Teffia, and within the present county of Longford. This mountain, so well defined in the district, was also called Sliabh Callann Bri Leith.

St. Mel built a famous monastery at Ardagh. At this place, also, it is recorded, he exercised the jurisdiction both of abbot and of bishop. Among other celestial endowments, our saint received the gift of prophecy, whereby he was enabled to predict future events. This was exemplified in St. Brigid's case, and soon after he had arrived in Ireland from Britain. He foretold the greatness and sanctity of that holy virgin, while yet carried in her mother's womb. Some time subsequent to St. Brigid's birth, St. Mel administered to her the Sacrament of Confirmation. In conjunction, probably, with his disciple St. Machaille, Mel likewise bestowed the religious veil on that youthful spouse of Christ. AfterAvards, the greatest friendship existed between our saint and the future abbess, as recorded in St. Brigid's Life. In some of St. Patrick's Acts, we find certain fables related, and which are altogether unworthy of credit; yet, perhaps, bearing some relation to matters, connected with Mel's manner of living. It is stated, that St. Lupita, who had devoted herself to a religious life, who was sister to St. Patrick, and aunt to St. Mel, lodged in the house of her nephew. It is possible, this circumstance gave rise to scandalous, but altogether groundless, rumours. Some unwelcome reports having reached the ears of St. Patrick, while in Southern Teffia, he resolved on paying a visit to St. Mel and St. Lupita. We are told, miraculous ordeals convinced the Apostle of Ireland, that the charges preferred were totally without foundation. Then to remove all future cause for suspicion, St. Patrick decreed that consecrated men and women—even although nearly related—should live apart, and in separate habitations, lest the weak might be scandalized, or that any injury might be inflicted on religious decorum, by the existence of possible causes, tending to temptation. We are told, also, that St. Mel had been left by his illustrious director, in Ardagh, which was eastwards from a mountain called Bri-leith ; while St. Lupita remained at a place, called Druimcheo, westward of this same mountain. Both of these places, however, were not far apart.

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