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Chapter V: St. Mirin and the Patron Saints

Saint Mirin was a pupil of one of the most revered of the Irish saints, Saint Congal, Abbot of Bangor, who was famed for his piety, and who is described in an old Celtic book as a man who fostered and educated many saints, for he kindled and lighted up an unquenchable love of God in their hearts and minds. [6] He is especially said to have been the tutor of the blessed Mirinus. [7] Congal was born in A.D. 517, and in 558 founded the great Monastery of Bangor, in County Down, on Belfast Lough. This institution was famous for the learning and piety of its inmates. It seems to have resembled a town rather than a monastery of later times, and under the rule of Congal it contained no less than three thousand monks at one time. [8] Here Mirin was brought by his parents, and here, after having received his education, he joined the brotherhood, and in due time became their prior. The manner of life at Bangor resembled that of its sister institution at Iona, with which it was in constant correspondence. Its discipline was revered everywhere in Ireland and Scotland. The "rule" of its abbot, in Irish verse, has come down to our day, and was followed by many establishments of a similar kind to that of Bangor. An extract from this rule, as practised by one of its disciples, shews amid what surroundings and under what discipline our Paisley saint was reared:—“Let the monk live under the discipline of one father and in the society of many, that from one he may learn humility, from the other penitence, from the one silence, from the other gentleness. Let him never gratify his own wishes. Let him eat whatever he is bidden. Let him possess only what he receives. Let him perform his allotted task with diligence; only when wearied let him retire to bed; let him be compelled to rise before he has slept sufficiently. When he is required, let him hold his peace. Let him fear the head of the monastery as a master and love him as a father; let him believe that whatever he orders is for his good, and obey him without question, seeing that he is called to obedience and to fulfil all that is right. Let his fare be homely and sparing, sufficient to support life without weighing down the spirit; a little bread, vegetables, pulse or flour, mixed with water,—let this be his diet, as becometh one who professeth to seek in heaven an eternal crown. [9]

The whole mode of life at Bangor was simple in the extreme; studying and transcribing the Scriptures, with manual labour, formed the constant occupation of the brethren. St. Mirin was a contemporary of St. Columba,
[10] and must have been familiar with the great Scottish apostle. Mirin is mentioned as entertaining, when he was Prior of Bangor, St. Finian, of Moville or Maghbile, under whose teaching St. Columba had been reared, and who was the cause of his forsaking Ireland for Iona. [11] Congal was a frequent visitor at Iona, and on one occasion accompanied the saint of that place to Inverness, and it is not improbable, so constant was the intercourse between the Irish and Scottish monasteries, that Mirin as well as his abbot visited the sacred Island of the Hebrides. St. Columba was much attached to the house of Bangor; he remembered it in his prayers. In one of his sacred poems [12] he says, “My visit to Congal was indeed delightful,” and on one occasion, when he and his companions landed at Bangor, Congal washed their feet in token of his reverence for his. holy visitors.

[6] Mart Donegal.—Bp. Forbes's Kalendars, p. 309.
[7] Aberdeen Breviary.
[8] See Montalembert's Monks of the West.
[9] M‘Lear's Apostles of Medieval Europe, Art. Columbanus.
[10] St. Columba died 9th June, A.D. 597..
[11] The whole story is given in Reeves' Life of St. Columba.
[12] See Preface to Reeves' Life of St. Columba.