The Twelve Apostles of Ireland and Their Legendary Miracles
The original Twelve Apostles in the Christian religion are responsible for taking the faith and spreading it across the Mediterranean World. These are the Twelve Apostles who were among the original Judean followers of Jesus. A lesser known set of twelve saints referred to as apostles are the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, who were renowned for their study of the Bible as well as their devout lifestyle and role in spreading Christianity in Ireland. The Twelve Apostles of Ireland all studied under the same saint, Saint Finian of Clonard.
Who was Saint Finian?
Saint Finian was born around 470 AD. During his early years, he went to Wales to learn more about Christianity and studied under prominent saints in Britain. After this pilgrimage, he returned to Ireland where he wandered through the wilderness until he came to a location along the Boyne River where he was told he would rise during the final resurrection. It is here that he established the monastic school of Clonard. Many laymen, clerics, monks, and even some bishops were drawn to the holy man because of his devout lifestyle and a community built up around him.
Statue of St. Finnian of Clonard, teacher of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. (AFBorchert / CC BY-SA 4.0)
The School of Clonard and the Twelve Apostles of Ireland
The school of Clonard flourished during Saint Finian’s lifetime and it was said that at one time there were as many as 3000 students. People would gather from all over Ireland and elsewhere to learn from the saint and listen to his sermons and lectures. Among these followers were twelve men who would later be called the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.
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Twelve of the most famous of Saint Finian’s students are the following:
Saint Ciaran of Saighir
Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnois
Saint Brendan of Birr
Saint Bendan of Clonfert
Saint Columba of Tir-da-glasi
Saint Columba of Iona
Saint Mobhi of Glasnevin
Saint Ruadhan of Lorrha
Saint Senan of Iniscathay
Saint Ninnidh the saintly of Loch Erne
Saint Lasserian mac Nadfraech
Saint Canice of Aghaboe
These men are known for having founded monasteries, churches, and being miracle workers. Here is just a sampling of stories told about some of them that have been passed down through the centuries.
St. Finnian and his pupils, Twelve Apostles of Ireland, in a stained glass window at the Church of St. Finian in Clonard. (AFBorchert / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Stories of the Miracles of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland
Saint Columba of Iona is said to have been able to turn water into wine. He also wrote 300 books and is said to have been kind to all, even the least intelligent of creatures. Saint Columba of Tir-da-glasi traveled to Tours, retrieved a sacred relic and brought it to Ireland only to die from a plague. Afterwards, he was buried in his own monastery.
Saint Columba, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, known as Apostle to the Picts. (Public Domain)
Saint Branden of Clonfert, also known as Saint Branden the voyager, according to legend, went on a great voyage of seven years. During this voyage, it is said that he discovered a mysterious island paradise that was believed to exist west of Ireland. Saint Branden was accompanied by a company of monks.
This island continued to be searched for by explorers into the Age of Exploration. Originally, it was believed to be just west of Ireland, but as knowledge of the ocean west of Ireland increased, the island became more and more remote. In the early 19th century, the idea of finding his mysterious island was abandoned but it was replaced by an even more extraordinary legend. Instead of simply reaching a paradise island, it was suggested that Saint Branden of Clonfert had reached the Americas and made contact with the Native Americans.
Saint Branden of Clonfert, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, was known as the voyager. (Public Domain)
Another famous saint considered to be one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland is Saint Ciaran of Saighir. Saint Ciaran is said to have studied both at the school of Clonard and in continental Europe, where he was ordained as a priest. Saint Ciaran is said to have had a love for animals. In one story, a hawk caught a baby bird and Saint Ciaran had pity on it and prayed for the hawk to release it. After the baby bird was released the saint healed it using prayer.
According to legend, animals would come to the saint asking to be healed and he would always heal them. Sometimes he would also discipline animals. In one legend, a fox stole his boots and the saint ordered the other animals to bring the fox to him. When the fox was brought to him, the fox confessed, and Saint Ciaran ordered it to fast for penance.
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The Legacy of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland
Irish identity has been strongly rooted in the Christian faith ever since the religion became widespread in Ireland after the 6th century. One of the reasons that it was so successful is that Christian missionaries in Ireland were able to incorporate Celtic elements into their Christianity so that their faith became yet another expression of Celtic religious consciousness rather than a foreign element.
The Twelve Apostles of Ireland were all wonderworkers and sages who were in touch with both nature and the spiritual world. Many also lived as hermits in the wilderness before becoming founders of monasteries and churches. This pattern makes them similar to the pagan druids that preceded them centuries earlier. They were Christian monks, but they practiced their monasticism in a very Celtic way.
Top image: The Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Source: AFBorchert / CC BY-SA 3.0.
By Caleb Strom
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