It seems that everyone has heard of St. Patrick, the missionary who more than anyone else was responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity. But there is another founder of great importance to the Islands whose feast is observed on this day, May 10. St. Comgall founded Irish monasticism. As a consequence, he was indirectly responsible for the conversion of much of Europe to Christianity.
Comgall's most famous monastery was Bangor, founded about 552. This is where Columba studied--the Columba (or Columbanus) who became a renowned missionary. Unlike Patrick, who was born in Britain, Comgall was Irish-born. After serving in the military, he studied under St. Finnian and St. Ciaran, then joined with some friends in living a strict monastic life on an island in Ulster. They were so harsh on themselves that seven of them died of cold.
Comgall wanted to leave Ireland, but his bishop talked him into staying. And so Comgall became an apostle of monasticism in his homeland. By his death, about 3,000 monks were under his authority. He wrote their rule, of which this is thought to be a scrap of it: "This is the most important part of the rule; Love Christ; hate wealth."
Bangor was a severe place. Comgall himself ate only once a day. And yet he urged his monks to maintain close friendships, saying, "A man without a soul-friend is a body without a head."
Miracles are claimed for Comgall. For example, it is said he once healed a blind man by smearing saliva on his eyes. Another time, he caused blindness to fall on some thieves.
Among those who sat at his feet was St. Gall, who later conducted mission work in Switzerland. Indeed, it was Irish monks who carried the gospel to Britain and the Continent during the sixth and seventh centuries. They also preserved much of the lore of the west, so that they saved precious knowledge during the barbarian invasions. We have Comgall to thank for this.
After terrible suffering, the Irish monk died May 11, probably in 602, at the Bangor monastery he had founded, first receiving the bread and wine of Christ's body and blood one last time.
- Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish saved civilization: the untold story of Ireland's heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medieval Europe. New York: Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, 1995.
- "Comgall, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- MacCaffrey, James. "St. Comgall." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Mould, Daphne Desiree Charlotte Pochin. The Irish saints ; short biographies of the principal Irish saints from the time of St. Patrick to that of St. Laurence O'Toole. Dublin, Clonmore and Reynolds, 1964.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.