Saturday, 29 December 2007

Strange things

There are memes flying around there which involve revealing interesting things about one that people might not know. This isn't a meme, but I've been reminded of four interesting things about my mother's family that aren't widely known, unless you happen to know me well.
The first is that we have a saint in the family; an ancient Irish one. Her name is Findclu (though she is usually known now by her patronymic, which is much better known), and she lived at some indeterminate time between St Patrick and the high middle ages. But apart from the fact that she founded a convent of nuns in the West of Ireland we know nothing else about her, except that she was venerated round about for hundreds of years.
The second interesting thing is that the family have a lake (lough) named after us in the same area.
The third thing is that one of my ancestors was supposed to have fallen in love with and married a swan from the same lough. He displeased her by bringing some undesireable guests home after a day at the races, and she cooked them a meal, then took her feathers out of a chest and went back to the lough, having kissed her children farewell. The lough is still occupied by large numbers of swans.
One last interesting thing is that, my mother's family having a history of weakness of the liver, another saint gave to the eldest male in another family the power of curing the liver problems in my mother's family, but of nobody else's. A sort of private health insurance, one might say. This healing family took it very seriously; there was a kind of ritual involving lots of prayers and, er, a sledge hammer. No, I'm not having you on. I gather the sledge was waved over the body in some arcane way (the chap had to be strong!) and, hey presto, one's liver was cured for life. The last member of my family to have it done was my Aunt Agnes, who died some ten years ago (her liver was fine); all the members of the curing family have now also died, so I guess I'll have to stick with the Alka Seltzer after the excesses (there were not very many) of Christmas.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because today, 29th December, is St Findclu's feast day. And so in our family at least, today she tends to overshadow that other great saint, Thomas of Canterbury.


Anonymous said...


ADV said...

I couldn’t help but comment on the site connected with St.……. Part of my PhD research is connected with in early monastic sites in Ireland. The site has very interesting remains, if it is the one you are referring to. The family connection, I believe, would have included the coarbs of the site as well?

The church (and there are the remains of a round tower) has an unusual example of early stone work found in early Irish church architecture of a ‘pre-Romanesque’ date, where the lintels and jambs feature the surface of stone which has been cut away to leave a shallow raised band or sometimes cross on the lintel, which may be inscribed within a circle or ‘standing’ on the lintels architrave. What is unusual here is that the upper part of the west wall has a double-armed cross with unusual terminals cut away in this form of shallow relief and the bottom part of the cross (a large D – Shaped stone) is situated above what may have been the lintel above the original west door. The dating of this style is not clear but maybe in the 1100’s before the introduction of more elaborate, and what is regarded as typical ‘Romanesque’ architecture, which first appears in the East of the country. What it shows is continuity in the marking of the importance of the west door as an entrance into the scared space of the churches (something found across early medieval Christendom), before the flourish that is seen later with the flowering of the hugely detailed and changing iconography of the western doorways of the ‘classic Romanesque’ style.

Fr Justin said...

Well done, ADV; you've got it! I never would have thought that anyone would have tracked it down from my vague reference. Hardly anyone knows her as Findclu. Forgive my removal of her full name from your comment, but I want to preserve my own anonymity as far as possible, and quite a number of people know my family are from that place.
Another interesting thing in that church is the shelagh-na-gig, but these aren't exactly rare, I suppose.

Fr Justin said...

You also asked about the coarbs business, ADV. I remember that there is supposed to be an old family gravestone with a bell and, I think, a staff, engraved on it in the church alluded to. I have searched but never managed to find it. I faintly remember (and unquestionably you'd know more about this) that this indicates the coarb thing.

ADV said...

That is quite ok Father. I guessed you may want to keep it as anonymous as possible.

The coarbs are a fascinating thing, and something I want to spend more time looking into, though not directly connected to what I am doing.

The symbols that you refer to certainly could tie with that. Though the question of if it relates to the lay coarb or a clerical abbot would of course be up for debate. It is a site I intend to take another look at in time and will remember to look for you too.

On the symbols, it is not an accident perhaps that the bell (in the form of the Irish bell shrine) was reinvented as a symbol of power, lay power, in the case of that used in the Oireachtas.

So much in Irish early and late medieval history/archaeology needs sensible studying. Sadly the middle ages have long been ignore in favour of the so called early 'Celtic' church and society, and the development and influence of nationalist politics has lead to many silly things being written and said about Ireland and her past. This includes the obsession with finding 'pagan' references everywhere, some of which miss the point of the medieval symbolism so completely. The 'shelagh-na-gig' being a case in point.

But perhaps that is moving off the topic a bit to much.

ADV said...

... and about me knowing more... I don't know Father. I swear as I go on the less I seem to know! The one thing I have learnt as I get older and hit the dreaded 30's is that I really know so very little. I hope that I will always listen and observe more than anything else... but you may delete this comment!

Fr Justin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.