Saint of the Day – 22 October – St Donatus of Fiesole (Died 874) Bishop – 9th century Irish Nobleman, Monk, Priest, Poet, Confessor, Writer, Scholar, Professor, Bishop of Fiesole, Adviser to Emperors Louis the Pious and Lothair I, Founder of San Martino a Mensola Abbey and leader of two military expeditions against the Saracens. Born in Ireland and died in Fiesole, Italy. St Donatus is also known as Donat, Donato, Donagh. Patronage – Fiesole.
Donatus was born in Ireland of noble parents towards the end of the eighth century. There is good reason to believe that he was educated in the monastic school of Inishcaltra, a little island in Lough Derg, near the Galway shore, now better known as Holy Island: so he was probably a native of that part of the country. Here he studied with great industry and success. He became a Priest and, in course of time, a Bishop. He was greatly distinguished as a professor. Having spent a number of years teaching, he resolved to make a pilgrimage, visiting many holy shrines and then to arrive at his final destination, in Rome, to venerate the great Apostles who are buried there.
In 816 he achieved his goal and visited the tombs of the Apostles in Rome with his friend, St Andrew Scotus, the brother of St Brigid, both siblings had studied under our Saint. They remained in Rome for a considerable time and then having obtained the Pope’s blessing, set out once more, directing their steps now towards Tuscany, till at length they reached Fiesole, where they entered the hospice of the monastery, intending to rest there for a week or two and then to resume their journey.
He was led by Divine Providence to the Cathedral of Fiesole, which he entered at the moment when the people were grouped around their altars praying for a Bishop to deliver them from temporal and spiritual evils. When Donatus entered, the bells spontaneously began ringing and the candles lit themselves. The people believed God meant this stranger to be their Bishop! They elected him, although some said it’s possible no local wanted the position because the feudal lords had drowned the previous bishop. Raised by popular acclaim to the See of Fiesole, Donatus instituted a revival of piety and learning in the church over which he was placed. Donatus made Andrew his Deacon. This was in or about the year 824.
He founded the Abbey of San Martino di Mensola. He was a teacher in service to the Frankish kings; there is a record, from 850, of his giving a church and hospice, St Brigid’s at Piacenza, to the abbey founded by St Columban at Bobbio. Donatus not only battled sin, he was also a military leader, organising armies to lead two expeditions against the Saracens. He was an adviser to Emperor Louis and Frankish King Lothair I. He judged a disagreement between the Bishops of Arezzo and Siena. He also attended the Roman synod of Pope Nicholas I on 18 November 861.
During the last years of his life he built a church at his own expense in Piacenza and dedicated it to St Brigid. This church he left in his will to the Abbey of Bobbio, with the obligation of maintaining a hospice for Irish pilgrims. The work and constructive ability of St Donatus have always remained an example to members of the Church. He is still remembered in Tuscany and many boys are christened with his name in the provinces of Florence, Pisa, Leghorn and Lucca.
According to St Donatus, St Brigid visited his deathbed to give him spiritual strength and comfort. His story, preserved in manuscript in the Laurentian Library in Florence, tells of this miracle – the great saint flew to his deathbed and before she touched him, she hung her cloak on a sunbeam to dry. He was buried in the Cathedral of Fiesole, where his epitaph, dictated by himself, may still be seen. And here it is:
“Here I, Donatus, sprung from Scottish blood,
Alone in this tomb, among the worms and dust dissolve.
For many years I served the kings of Italy,
Lothair the Great and Louis the Good.’
For more than eight lustrums and seven years
I was ruler in the city of Fiesole;
I dictated exercises in grammar to my pupils,
Metrical schemes and the lives of the blessed saints.
You traveller, whoever you are, for Christ’s sake
Be not unwilling to behold my tomb.
And pray to God, who rules in highest heaven,
That He may grant to me His blessed kingdom.”
The old biographer of Donatus, at the conclusion of his history, adds this prayer : —
” Let us, therefore, all unite and say.
Oh, Saint of God and beloved confessor.
Father and pontiff.
Educator and nourisher, ruler and shepherd.
Help with thy prayers the destitute and fallen.
Have pity on the widow and the captive.
Help the orphan and the weak.
Help those who live today and those who will come after,
Give aid to those who live and those who die;
Refuse not, we beseech thee, to listen to our prayers,
Who, though imprisoned in the bonds of iniquity,
Yet so far as their ignoble nature may permi,.
Make offering of these things to their superiors.
Them we implore with all our might
To amend that which is faulty and to be indulgent to
All that, which is worthless, and to pity our presumption,
And since we cannot of ourselves mount to the pastures of Paradise,
Help us to pray that so we may entreat the aid of Jesus Christ,
To whom, with the Holy Trinity, are all things, world without end.”
The numerous locations and churches incorporating his name, St Donatus, provide evidence of his influence and popularity throughout Tuscany.