1321205Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 11 — Comgall1887Thomas Andrew Archer

COMGALL, Saint (6th cent.), the founder of the great monastery of Bangor on Carrickfergus Bay in Ireland, is first mentioned in Jonas's ' Life of Columbanus ' (written about 620 A.D. and still preserved in a ninth-century manuscript). From this almost contemporary work we learn that Columbanus, before his journey to Gaul, was educated at Bangor under Comgall, with whom he seems to have spent several years (Jonas ap. A. SS. O.B. ii. 9). Notker (fl. 850), who seems to have preserved the genuine traditions of the monastery of St. Gall, founded by Columbanus's brother, makes Comgall the disciple of St. Columba and the instructor of Columbanus and St. Gall (Martyr. 9 June). Adamnan, however (about 700 A.D.), while recognising the intimacy of Comgall and Columba, has not a word to indicate any such relationship between the two. In a very ancient hymn dating from the seventh or eighth century, and still preserved at Milan, the name of Comgall comes first in the list of the abbots of Bangor (see the hymn quoted by Whitley Stokes, who assigns the manuscript to the eighth century in Academy, December 1885).

Comgall's name appears in what is probably the earliest Irish martyrology extant, the 'Feilire of Oengus the Culdee' (lxxix.) In this work, which Mr. Stokes assigns to the tenth century, he is entered on 10 May, a day which he keeps in most of the other martyrologies. A still earlier document, Celtic by origin, but Latin in language, known as Tirechan's 'Catalogue,' &c., composed 'certainly not later than the middle of the viiith century' (Warren, Lit. of Celt. Ch. p. xiv), makes Comgall belong to the 'catholic priests,' or second order of the Celtic church: that is, to the period of St. Columba and the Brendans, 543-99 A.D. (Tirechan ap. Haddan and Stubbs, ii. pt. ii. 292-3). Comgall's name occurs at the same date in the Drummond Missal (11th or 12th cent.?), but, strangely enough, it is omitted in several of the calendars published by Bishop Forbes (Warren, Lit. of Celt. Ch. pref. pp. ii, iv, 14; Forbes, Cal. of Scot. Saints ad diem). On the other hand, this saint is entered in the Stowe Missal (early 11th century), and in the martyrology of Tamlacht (Stowe Missal, ap. Warrne, pp. 98, 238, 240; A. SS. 579).

Comgall must thus have lived in the latter half of the sixth century, and his memory was preserved in every century from the seventh to the twelfth. At this last date his monastery of Bangor was in ruins, but St. Bernard even then knew that Comgall had founded it, and that St. Columbanus had been one of his disciples here. Jocelin, a few years later, commemorates a still more striking tradition, which he may have derived from the 'Acta Comgalli' to which he refers (Bernard in Vit. Mal. c. 6; Jocelin in Vit. Patricii, cxi. 561, ap. A.SS. March 17). The handwriting of the earliest manuscript life of Comgall seems to date from the next century, the thirteenth, but there can be little doubt that the legends or history contained in this life reach back to a much earlier period. (Hardy, Catalogue, i. 164).

According to his anonymous biographers, Comgall was a native of Dalraidia in Ulster. 'Hence,' says, Dr. Reeves, 'he was a Pict by birth.' His father's name was Sethna, one of the prince of Dalraidia's warriors; his mother's Brigh or Briga. According to the testimony of almost all the Irish annals, his birth must be placed between 510 and 520. His birth (at Magheramorne in Antrim), according to the current legend, was foretold by Macnesius, bishop of Connor (ap. Boll. 3 Sept. 10 May). His early days were spent in military service, from which, however, he was soon released by the prince of Dalraidia, who perceived his call to a spiritual life (Vit. ii. ap. Boll.) After studying letters in his own neighbourhood for a time, he withdrew to the monastery of St. Finian at Clonenagh, who, however, seems to have been born later than his illustrious pupil (ib. i. and ii. with which cf. Dict. of Chr. Biog. ii. 519, according to which Clonenagh was founded about 548 A.D.) Here he stayed for several years before passing on to St. Ciaran's foundation at Clonmacnois, where he likewise remained some time ( Vit. ii.) As St. Ciaran died in 549, we are here involved in a chronological difficulty, more especially if we may trust Dr. Reeves's statement that Comgall, in company with St. Columba and St. Cainnech, was a pupil of St. Finian's at Clonard, and of Mobhi Clairenach at Glasnevin in or before 544 A.D. (Life of St. Columba, pref. xxxv).

On leaving St. Ciaran, Comgall returned to his own country, was ordained deacon and priest by a bishop named Lugidus, and perambulated his native land preaching. He is next found on an island 'quæ dicitur custodiaria' on Lough Erne with a few companions, many of whom the strictness of his rule killed. He was dissuaded from passing over to Britain by the prayers of Lugidus and others, and was content to satisfy his zeal for religion by the foundation of many cells or monasteries in his own country. Of these the most famous was that of Bangor, near the bay of Carrickfergus (Vita, i. ii.) According to the Irish Annals, this latter must have been tounded about 552 A.D. or earlier. Ussher, however, would refer this event to 555 A.D. or 559 A.D., and most modern scholars have practically accepted his decision (558 A.D.) (Ussher, 494-5; with which cf. the various annals sub 602, 601, &c.) From Adamnan we learn that St. Columba and Comgall used to pay each other frequent visits, and that the latter was acquainted with St. Cainnech, St. Brendan, and St. Cormac, in whose company he received the Eucharist from Columba in Henba (Vita Col. i. c. 85, iii. cc. 14, 18). In the second life of Comgall we find that he was Columba's companion on his famous visit to the Pictish king Brude (cf. Adamnan, ii. c. 36). Other friends were Finbarr of Moyville (Vita, ii. 26), St. Lugidus of Clonfert, whom Comgall called from feeding the flocks (A.SS. 4 Aug.), and St. Coemgen (3 June). To this list the 'Dictionary of Christian Biography' adds many other names (i. 608-9). A distinguished penitent who came to spend his last days with Comgall at Bangor was Cormac, the son of Diarmed, king of Kinsellach (south-east of Leinster) (Vita Com. ii. 40; cf. Vit. Fintan, 17 Feb. c. 20). On two occasions we find Comgall practising a very ancient Irish custom: 'Then came St. Comgall to the fort Trachin, and fasted there against the king that night' (Vit. ii. 42, with which cf. 44, and Sir H. Maine, Early Institutions, p. 41, &c.) Towards the close of his life Comgall is said to have suffered extreme tortures. He received the Eucharist from St. Fiachra, and died on 10 May (Vita i.), in the eightieth year of his age, according to the author of 'Vita ii.' The Irish Annals are all agreed in making him die on this day of the month, but they differ as regards the year. The authority of Tighernach and the 'Chronicon Scotorum' is generally preferred (602 A.D.); the Annals of Inisfallen give 597 A.D. All the authorities admit that he ruled Bangor for fifty years (Annals of Tighernach, Inisfallen, and the Four Masters; Chron. Scot.)

It is said that at one period there was a discord between Columba and Comgall, which led to the battle Cul-Raithain (Coleraine or Culdrenny); but it has been suggested that this was a tribal rather than a personal dispute (Dict. of Chr. Biog. i. 608-9). Corngall's other foundations are said to have been Cambas on the Ban (Adamnan), Rathwulfig (Camerarius, ap. Forbes, 12 May), Saynkill (Ussher, pp. 494-5), and a church in Hethar Tiree (Reeves, Adamnan, p. 226 note). To these Bishop Forbes adds Drumcongal or Dercongal (i.e. Holywood in Galloway) from the Breviary of Aberdeen and Durris in Kincardine. Jocelin has preserved the tradition that Luan, one of his disciples, founded one hundred monasteries, and the monks under Comgall's government are said to have been numbered by thousands (Vit. Pat. c. 11; Vit. Comg.) Comgall was one of the greatest fathers of Irish monasticism. His was one of the 'eight great orders of Erin, according to the life of St. Ciaran' the carpenter; and Ussher 'mentions four rules written in the most ancient Irish, and in our days almost unintelligible,' i.e. those of 'Columkille, Comghal, Mochuda, and Ailbe' (Forbes, pp. 308-310). A so-called 'rule of Comgall' is still extant. It is written in Irish, but, though of great age, was probably not composed by this saint. It consists of thirty-six quatrains (Ulster Journal of Archæology, i. 171). It was doubtless a modification of this rule that St. Columbanus and St. Gall took over with them to Gaul and Italy, and which became the foundation of the discipline at Luxeuil, Bobbio, and St. Gall. An ancient antiphonary preserved at Milan contains an alphabetical hymn in honour of this saint (Dict. of Chr. Biog.); Columbanus has quoted a few lines from his old master in his second instruction (Ulst. Journ. i. 171). In 822 Bangor was plundered by the Danes, and the relics of Comgall scattered in accordance with the saint's poetical prophecy (Reeves, Eccles. Antiq. 278). Comgall is sometimes known by the Latin name of Faustus; but another translation makes it equivalent to 'pulchrum pignus ' (Notker, Martyr. 5 Id. June; Ussher, p. 526).

[MS. Lives of St. Comgall are in the Bodleian MS. Ea-wlinson, B 505 (early 15th cent.), 485, ib. in the British Museum, MS. Barley 6576 (15th cent.); in the Liber Kilkenniensis (Dublin, 13th cent.) Two lives of this saint are published in Bollandus, Acta Sanctorum (A.SS.), 10 May, 579-88; Annals of Tighernach, Inisfallen, the Four Masters, and of Ulster in vols. ii. iii. and iv. of O'Conor's Scriptores Rerum Hibernicarum; Lanigan's Ecclesiast. Hist. of Ireland, ii. 20, 61, iv. 568; Chronicon Scotorum (ed. Hennessy in Rolls Series); Bollandi Acta Sanctorum (A.SS.); Acta Sanctorum Ord. Benedict. (A.SS.O.B.), ii.; Notker's Martyrology, ap. Migne's Cursus Patrologiæ, cxxxi. 1103; Oengus the Culdee (ed. Whitley Stokes); Academy, xxviii. 412-13; Haddan and Stubbs's Councils; Literature of Celtic Church (ed. Warren); Missale Drummonde (ed. Warren), ap. Forbes's Kalendar of Scottish Saints; Bernard, ap. Migne; Ussher's Antiquitates Ecclesiæ Brit.; Hardy's Catalogue of MSS.; Adamnan (ed. Reeves).]

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