Saint of the Day – 31 January – Saint Aedan of Ferns (c 550-632) the First Bishop of the Diocese of Ferns, Ireland, Founded 30 Churches and several Monasteries, miracle-worker. Born in c 550 as Aedat Inisbrefny, Templeport, County Cavan, Ireland and died on 31 January 632 at Ferns, Ireland of natural causes. Patronages – Ferns, Ireland, Diocese of, Wexford, Ireland. Also known as – Aeddan Foeddog, Mo-Aedh-og (= my dear Aedh), Aedh-og, Aidan, Aidus, Edan, Hugh, Maedoc, Maidoc, Maodhóg, Moedhog, Mogue.
The father of the boy who was to become the first Bishop of the Diocese of Ferns, was named Sétna (modern Irish Séanna); he was married to Eithne who was descended from the King of Connacht. The couple were childless for some time and prayed earnestly for a son. For this intention they were generous in almsgiving and also frequented a Monastery at Drumlane in the present County of Cavan.
Their prayers were answered and Eithne gave birth to a boy. The place of his birth was a small island called Inis Bréachmhaí (Breaghwy) in a lake in the present parish of Templeport in County Cavan. The year of his birth has not been accurately determined but it was some time in the middle of the sixth century.
Irish legend says that the “Bell of St Mogue” was given to the infant on his birth by Saint Caillín. When a boat could not be found to take the infant Aedan across the lake to where Caillín waited to Baptise him, Aedan was floated to shore on a slab of stone. The font at St Mogue’s in Bawnboy is said to be made from part of the stone.
We are told that, while still a small boy, he was surrendered by his father as a hostage to the Ard-Rí, Ainmire, the High King of Ireland. Ainmire was so impressed with Aedan that he told him he could stay or go. Aedan said he would go but only if the other hostages were also released, whereupon Ainmire let them all return home
He studied at the great school of Saint Finnian at Clonard Abbey. While at Clonard, Aedan made friends with St Molaise, who would later found the Monastery of Devenish Island on the River Erne.
As he grew to manhood, his fame for sanctity spread and many young men approached him, desiring to embrace the religious life under his direction. Through a spirit of humility and wishing to avoid distinction, Aedan left his native district and eventually crossed to Wales where he placed himself under the direction of St David, David, Bishop of Menevia. Welsh legends, meanwhile, simply place his upbringing with David and go into great detail concerning attempts on his life by David’s steward. Along with Saint Cadoc, he was said to have exterminated an army of Saxons or Irishmen by rolling stones upon their camp in a narrow valley. He was listed in the Welsh triads as one of David’s three most faithful disciples.
Aedan returned to Ireland in 570, landing on the coast of Wexford with hives of honey bees, which he had been told were scarce on the island. He landed as some locals were plundering another group of strangers and his quick response so impressed the local chieftain, who granted him lands for religious communities. He then settled at Brentrocht in Leinster. Aedan is said to have fasted for seven years, during this period he ate only barley bread with water
Aedan built his first Church and established his first Monastery at Ferns in 598 and it is accepted that he was Consecrated Bishop that same year, so he was both Abbot of the Monastery and Bishop. He founded thirty Churches and many Monastic settlements in the area; becoming. in time, the Head Bishop of the area. Besides his first establishment at Fern, he is especially associated with Templeshanbo. As well as in the Diocese which he founded, he is also venerated in the Diocese of Kilmore, particularly at Droim Leathan and at his birthplace,Templeport and at Rossinver, County Leitrim.
Aedan was renowned for his generosity and kindness – on one occasion, seeing them exhausted by their journey, he permitted beef to be given to a visiting delegation of British Bishops during Lent and permitted them to excuse themselves with the claim that the slaughtered cow was merely “milk and vegetables in condensed form” whereas the whey and biscuits, the other Monks consumed, had so many weevils as to occasion “conscientious scruples.” On another, he was pushed into a lake to see whether he would lose his temper; upon his meekly restoring himself, his tormenter confessed their purpose to him.
Aedan died on 31 January 632 on Lough Melvin’s shore in County Leitrim. His relics are claimed by St Edan’s in Ferns. His stone tomb is inside the Cathedral, although his remains are in the original Cathedral crypt below. The Breac Maodhóg (his Shrine) dates from the 9th century and is an example of an early medieval reliquary. It was often used as a sacred object upon which to swear binding oaths. It was acquired by the National Museum of Ireland in the 1890s.
Aedan’s life was replete with miracles. During his sojourn in Wales, he broke a jug while fetching ale for his fellow Monks; making the sign of the cross over the shards, however, it was repaired and he continued on his errand. A yoke given to him by David’s steward purposefully too small to fit the necks of his oxen ,miraculously accommodated them and permitted him to bring the necessary materials for the needs of the Monsastery.
After his return to Ireland, a local begged him for some meal as he was grinding flour and, after receiving some, disguised himself as a blind man to come back and beg for more. Annoyed, the Saint recognising him, cursed him that the generations of his descendants would never lack for a blind member. Another time, wolves devoured a calf at one of his Monasteries; its mother being inconsolable, Aedan blessed the head of his cook and told him to offer it to the heifer, which licked him and thenceforth “loved him like a calf.” When asked by St Fintan to heal the Monks suffering under an epidemic, Aedan was said to have indulged him: first by curing the Monks and then by permitting the sickness to resume when Saint Fintan changed his mind, considering the sickness to be good for their souls. Miraculous blessings from Aidan were credited with various military victories.
In the year 2000 the Anniversary of 1400 years of the Diocese of Ferns was celebrated the 1400, delayed by a couple of years because of the desire not to clash with the Insurrection of 1798 commemorations.