Saint of the Day – 16 October – Saint Gall (c 550–c 646) Monk, Missionary, Hermit – he was a disciple and one of the traditional twelve companions of Saint Columbanus on his mission from Ireland to the continent. He is also known as Callo, Chelleh, Gaaech, Gallen, Gallo, Gallonus, Gallunus, Gallus, Gilianus. Saint Deicolus was the elder brother of Gall. An assiduous preacher of the Gospel, a skilful trainer of people in the work of evangelisation, and a man of remarkable holiness of his life, Saint Gall left an abiding mark on the country in which he worked. His memory has long been revered in the locality of his labours he became known and honoured as the “Apostle of Switzerland.” Patronages – bears, birds, geese, poultry, Sweden, Switzerland, St Gallen and the Diocese of St Gallen, Switzerland.
Little is known of the boyhood of Gall except, that it is generally thought that he showed great piety and interest in the Christian faith. As a young man he went to study under St Comgall of Bangor. St Comgall’s Monastery at Bangor had become renowned throughout Europe as a great centre of Christian learning. Because of the great learning at Bangor, Ireland became known as “the land of Saints and Scholars.” Missionaries went out from Bangor Abbey to all parts of Ireland, the British Isles and the Continent.
Studying in Bangor at the same time as Gall, was St Columbanus who, had become a trusted assistant to St Comgall. St Columbanus, although so established at Bangor, felt a great call to missionary evangelisation. And so he laid before the Abbott Comgall his request to be set free for this work.
Comgall was loath to part with one who had become so great a help and comfort to him but, realising that he had no right to consider only his own convenience, he gave his consent and Columbanus, together with twelve companions, the most noted of whom was Gall, set out about the year 589, bidding a life-long farewell to home and friends in order to face unknown difficulties and danger,s for the glory of God’s Kingdom across Europe.
Columbanus and Gall and their companions settled for a while in Switzerland at Lake Constance. After a while Columbanus felt an urge to go into Italy but Gall was taken sick of a fever and couldn’t go with him, apart from the fact that he was more anxious for a life of solitude. Recovering from his illness, Gall fixed upon a quiet place on the River Steinach for his life of solitude. Having begun with a three day fast there, he erected a small stone hut or cell for prayer, an oratory after the manner usual in Ireland. And so began the Abbey and the City of Saint Gall. Cells were soon added for twelve monks whom Gall carefully instructed.
Saint Gall was soon known in Switzerland as a powerful preacher. He is said to have thrown down images to heathen gods and exhorted the worshippers of these images to return to the true God. As a result of Gall’s work, practically the whole of Switzerland embraced the Christian faith.
When the See of Constance became vacant, the clergy, who assembled to elect a new Bishop, were unanimously in favour of Saint Gall on account of his superior learning and sanctity. He, however, refused, pleading that the election of a stranger would be contrary to Church law but proposed his Deacon John, who was duly elected and consecrated Bishop.
In the year 625, on the death of Eustasius, who was Abbott of Luxeuil, a Monastery founded by Saint Columbanus, six members of that community, all Irishmen, were sent by the Monks to request Saint Gall to undertake the government of the Monastery. He refused to quit his life of solitude and undertake any office of rank which might involve him in the cares of the world.
A miracle about Saint Gall in his solitary life has become well-known. The story tells how a bear became St Gall’s sole/soul friend in the closing years of his life and that the bear used to carry logs to the saint so that he could light his fire. The bear has now become the coat of arms for the town of St Gallen in Switzerland and the bear carrying the logs is depicted on the wall of the great Cathedral there.
Saint Gall died on 16 October in the year 645, at the age of 95 and that date – is now honoured in Ireland each year as Saint Gall’s Day. The tradition in St Gall’s Church, is celebrated with each member of the congregation arriving for Mass with their teddy bear on that day.
After his death, a small church was erected which developed into the Abbey of St Gall, the nucleus of the Canton of St Gallen in eastern Switzerland, the first abbot of which was Saint Othmar. The “Abbey of St Gall,” was named for the saint who had lived in this place and whose relics were honoured there. Below is the world-famous Basilica Cathedral, the renowned Baroque Interior, the Abbey and the very important Library at St Gall’s Abbey.
When Columbanus, Gall and their companions left Ireland for mainland Europe, they took with them learning and the written word. Their effect on the historical record was significant, as the books were painstakingly reproduced on vellum by monks across Europe. Many of the Irish texts destroyed in Ireland during Viking raids were preserved in Abbeys across the channel.