St. Aidan of Ferns
Feast day: January 31
Bishop and missionary, born in Inisbrefny, in County Cavan, circa 550, who is probably to be identified with Aidan. As a small boy he was held as a hostage by AedhAinmire, High King of Ireland, probably to insure the loyalty of his family. Released, Aidan studied at Kilmuine, in Wales, a famed institute of Christian learning conducted by St. David. In 580, he returned to Ireland, going to the coast of Wexford. He served the area and was honored by Bran Dubh at the synod held to celebrate victory over King Aedh. Ferns, the area in which Aidan conducted his priestly ministry, was elevated at this time to the status of a diocese. Aidan was appointed the first bishop of Ferns and became Ard-Escops or Chief bishop of the region. In time he was called Mogue, "the beloved Aidan." The episcopal seat is no longer in Ferns but in Enniscarthy, where a cathedral was dedicated to Aidan.
Aidan of Ferns
(also known as Aedan, Aedh, Maedoc-Edan, Moedoc, Mogue)
Born in Connaught, Ireland; died 626 or 632.
"Give as if every pasture in the mountains of Ireland belonged to you." --Saint Aidan.
The Irish Saint Aidan loved animals. His fellow Irishmen were fond of hunting. Aidan so protected them that his emblem in art is a stag. Legend has it that as he sat reading in Connaught, a desperate stag took refuge with him in the hope of escaping pursuing hounds. Aidan by a miracle made the stag invisible, and the hounds ran off.
There were several Irish saints named Aidan but this one seems to have been the most important. As a youth he spent some time in Leinster but, 'desirous of becoming learned in holy Scripture,' Aidan went to Wales to study under Saint David (Dewi) at Menevia in Pembrokeshire for several years. His only difference from his fellow monks is that he brought his own beer from his native land.
The inspiration of Saint David caused him to return to Ireland with several other monks to built his own monastery at Ferns, County Wexford, on land given to him by Prince Brandrub (Brandubh) of Leinster together with the banquet halls and champions' quarters of the royal seat of Fearna. He also founded monasteries at Drumlane and Rossinver, which disputed Ferns' claim to his burial site. In addition to abbeys, Aidan is credited with founding about 30 churches in Ireland. One source claims that Aidan became the first bishop of Ferns (which is not that unlikely because many abbots were treated as bishops during the period), which displaced Sletty of Fiach as the bishop's seat. .
Later in life he returned to Saint David's for a time, and it is said that Saint David died in the arms of Aidan. Welsh tradition maintains that Aidan succeeded David as abbot of Menevia, and on that basis Wales later claimed jurisdiction over Ferns because a Welsh abbot founded it. In fact, in Wales they regard Aidan as a native and provide him with a geneaology that includes Welsh nobility. There his great reputation for charity still survives, for he taught his monks to give their last bits of food to those in need.
The written vitae of Saint Aidan are composed mostly of miracles attributed to him. His is attributed with astonishing feats of austerity, such as fasting on barley bread and water for seven years, as well as reciting 500 Psalms daily. An odd tale is related in another. Some spurious beggars hid their clothes, donned rags, and then begged for alms. Knowing what they had done, Aidan gave their clothes to the poor and sent the impostors away with neither their clothing nor alms.
One story reports that he bequeathed his staff, bell (Bell of Saint Mogue), and reliquary to his three monasteries of Ferns, Drumlane, and Rossinver. All have survived the fates of time. The staff can be found in the National Museum in Dublin; the other two in the Library of Armagh cathedral. The bell had been in the hereditary keepership of the MacGoverns in Templeport, County Cavan. Another of his personal belongings, the Breac Moedoc, is in the National Museum. This stamped leather satchel and shrine that encased the relics of Saint Laserian of Leighlin was brought from Rome and given to Aidan, who placed it in the church of Drumlane. A bronze reliquary that contained his remains in the 11th century is preserved in Dublin. In addition to having a cultus in Ireland and Wales, Saint Aidan was venerated in Scotland in the 12th century.