Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dungal

DUNGAL (fl. 811–827), an Irish monk in deacon's orders, who was compelled by the Danish invasions to abandon Ireland for France, appears first in history as the writer of a letter to Charlemagne in 811. Charlemagne had asked for an explanation of two eclipses of the sun, said to have occurred in 810, and sought an explanation of it from the abbot of St. Denis, near Paris. He applied to Dungal, then known for his scientific attainments. Dungal accordingly wrote to the king, giving him such an explanation as he could of an event which had not really occurred. The rumour is supposed to have arisen from an erroneous calculation, predicting a double eclipse in 810. The letter, however, exhibits a considerable acquaintance with the astronomy of the day. Dungal was evidently not quite satisfied with the Ptolemaic system. ‘Some,’ he says, whose statement is nearer the truth, ‘affirm that these [the fixed stars] also have a proper motion, but on account of the immense time they take to accomplish their revolutions, and the shortness of human life, their movements cannot be discerned by observation.’ He seems, like his countryman Virgilius of Salzburg in the previous century, to have had more enlightened views on the subject than prevailed at the time. About 820 Dungal is generally said to have been in Pavia, at the head of the education of a large district. In a capitular of Lothair's published in 823, the youth from Milan and ten other towns are ordered to repair to Pavia and place themselves under Dungal's instruction. Some years after his settlement here Claudius, who had been appointed bishop of Turin by Lothair, attracted much attention in the north of Italy by his deprecation of pilgrimages to Rome and the veneration of images. He is said to have cast out the images and crosses from the churches, whereupon there arose through all the Frankish territories a cry that he was introducing a new religion. Against him Dungal in 827 wrote his work, ‘A Reply to the perverse opinions of Claudius, Bishop of Turin,’ dedicating it to both kings Louis and Lothair. A summary of his arguments may be seen in Lanigan. They consist chiefly of passages from the Greek and Latin fathers, and copious extracts from church hymns. He asserts that from the beginning of christianity to 820 images were honoured, yet it is only from the latter part of the fourth century he is able to quote instances. He places more reliance on the discovery of relics and such matters, as Schroeckh observes. Muratori expresses some doubt as to whether the author of this work was Dungal the astronomer. The name was a common one, and occurs twenty-two times in the ‘Annals of the Four Masters,’ and the subjects of the two treatises are very different. It is impossible now to decide the question. Dungal had an excellent library, the catalogue of which has been published by Muratori; prefixed to it is a note stating that they are the books which ‘Dungal, the eminent Irishman, presented to the blessed Columbanus,’ or, in other words, to the library of Bobbio, the monastery founded by Columbanus, his countryman. The books were afterwards removed by F. Cardinal Borromeo to the Ambrosian library in Milan, where they still remain. Not the least interesting of them is the Antiphonary of Bangor (in county Down), a hymn-book compiled in the seventh century. It has been inferred with some probability, from the presence of this book, that Dungal was a monk of Bangor, and brought this book with him when leaving Ireland. Some epistles of his to Alcuin are extant, and an acrostic addressed to Hildoald. Mabillon published a contemporary poem in praise of him. He is supposed to have passed the close of his life at Bobbio, after the gift of books to its library. The date of his death is not known.

[D'Achery's Spicilegium, x. 143–53, Paris, 1671; Bibliotheca Patrum, xiv. 196; Schroeckh's Kirchengeschichte, xxiii. 407–14; Muratori Scriptt. Rer. Ital. i. bk. ii. 151; O'Conor's Scriptt. Rer. Hiber. iv. 175; Migne's Patrologia, cv. col. 447 seq.]

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