This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March 21 -- Feast of Saints Enda & Fanchea

Thou shalt not covet thy brother's pipkin
Saint Enda's story can be divided into the later facts and earlier legend.  Let's get the facts out quickly so we can get to the legend. But first, a bonus vocab word.  PIPKIN: an earthenware pot used for cooking directly over the coals of an open fire.  The hollow handle is for putting a stick in to turn or lift it.  The way that a pipkin fits in the lives of these saints will be made clear at the end.

Ruins of Enda's monastery at Aran
Now the facts.  Enda was an Irish prince who took up religious life.  His work as an early monastic leader is historically attested.  He went to Rome for ordination and then learned about monasticism in western Britain.  Eventually, he made his way back to Ireland, establishing churches and monasteries as he traveled.  He settled on Innish, in the Aran Islands in Galway Bay around AD 484.   There he established the first real Irish monastery in the strict sense of the word, with a very severe Rule.  Agricultural labor, even digging ditches, was done without tools.  So much for the facts. 

As an Irish warrior prince, he was eager to marry a worthy woman.  His sister Fanchea led a community of virginal Christians -- proto-nuns, I guess.  She too is considered a pioneer of Irish monasticism.  Somehow he got the idea to ask her to give him one to become his wife. At this point, the story gets murky.  These things are apparent.
  1. Fanchea selected a woman, perhaps on the assurance that her brother would never wage war again.  
  2. The woman died before Enda could marry her.  
  3. Enda bottomed out emotionally when he learned of his intended's death. 
  4. Fanchea persuaded him to sublimate that grief (guilt?) into a religious life.  
 In one version, there's an implication that Fanchea selected a woman who had just died, or perhaps was dying.  In this way, she seems to have emotionally manipulated her brother.

In another version, the intended bride seems to have heard that she would be handed into marriage rather than maintaining her vow of chastity and dropped dead on the spot.  Fanchea then laid a guilt trip on Enda, impelling him into a vow of chastity.

I prefer to think that the marriage was acceptable to both parties, but that an intervening illness claimed the would-be bride and drove Enda into despondency.  Somehow that's the optimistic view.
St. Fanchea's College U-14 Gaelic Football Team

Okay, back to the pipkin.  Fanchea took three sisters from her proto-convent and brought them to Innish to see how her little brother's monastery was getting along.  The sisters were all impressed with the rigors of the brothers' lifestyle.  Fanchea declared it was unnecessary for one of Enda's brothers to row them back to the mainland.  She simply spread her cloak on the water; it stiffened like a board and each sister stood on a corner.  Then it gently began drifting across Galway Bay.

Mid-course, one of the corners started taking on water.  The sister standing there confessed that she had admired a PIPKIN that the brothers had, and since they needed one at the convent, she had swiped it. Fanchea told her to toss the thing overboard immediately.  Having done so, the cloak re-stiffened and the sisters made it home safely.

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