St. Colman, Abbot in Ireland, Nephew of Saint Columcille
(Elo Colman, Colman Elo, Colmanel)
Born in Glenelly, Tyrone, Ireland, 555; died at Lann Elo (Lynally),
September 26, c. 611. The Irish martyrology names about 300 saints with
the name Colman. In fact, it is said that when Saint Carthage (f.d. May
14) cried out to his monks working by a stream, "Colman, get into the
water!" 12 monks jumped in.
This Saint Colman, of a Meath family, was deeply influenced by his
uncle, Saint Columba (f.d. June 9). After his ordination as a young
man, he visited his uncle on Iona and spent some time at Connor in
Antrim (c. 590). He is primarily known as the austere founder of Lann
Elo at Offaly near Durrow in Meath. He also founded and became the
first abbot of Muckamore and later was bishop of Connor.
He is generally thought to have been the author of "Aibgitir in
Chrabaid" or the "Alphabet of devotion." When Colman suffered for a
time from a memory loss, he said it was a punishment for his
Saint Colman had many wise sayings, but one of the best remembered is
that the three things that are strongest under the sun are the Church,
fire, and water. Irish children often see fire on the bog in early
spring when men are clearing the spreading grounds and they know what a
terrifying sight it is when it becomes a living wall of flame that no
man could quench. Colman-Elo said that the Church was like that: no man
could overcome it. And when he saw the river in flood, uprooting trees
and carrying away bridges, he said the same thing, "See the strength of
that water! The Church is like that"
"Saint Colman and Baithin":
This is a story of how Saint Colman's prayers for one of his students
was answered by God. The little boy's name was Baithin. It was said
that Baithin could never, ever remember anything he learned and he never
remembered an injury. He was a boy with a sunny temperament, which was
nice to have around, but it was frustrating for his teachers that he
couldn't remember his lessons.
So Colman and the boy's teacher determined to do something to make him
remember. First the ten-year-old was warned to pay attention. After
several reprimands, Colman slapped the boy, who stormed out of the
school and into the woods. The saint followed him, but knew it would be
impossible to find someone who wanted to hide in the woods.
When Colman returned to the monastery, he went straight to the chapel to
pray for Baithin's safe return--and that he would learn his lessons.
At first Baithin was happy to have escaped into the sunshine and away
from the stifling classroom. Gaily he pranced through the woods until
he reached a clearing where he found a man with a bundle of stakes on
his back. The man threw his bundle to the ground, picked out one of the
stakes and thrust it deep into the earth. Baithin was curious.
"'What are you doing?'
"'Building a house.'
"'What,' cried Baithin, 'building a house with one stick!
How silly! You'll never do it.'
"'Oh, yes,' said the man, 'I can and I will. If you stay
here with me, you'll see me do it.'"
Glad to have a chance to rest, Baithin sat down and watched.
"Now, let me tell you how they built houses in those far-
off days. First a circle of stakes was made; then more
stakes, or wattles, were woven across through the
standing ones. This made a wall, which was later
plastered over with clay that dried quickly. Then a
thatched roof was put on. A man could sleep in this and
be snug and warm. We build our houses in a different way
today, with cement blocks or brick, but still you must
remember that the grandest and finest house is begun with
just one brick, or one block."
Baithin sat there watching as little by little the man completed a
circle of stakes. He could see how a great thing was made of many small
steps. The idea came to him that maybe, just maybe, if he stuck to his
lessons, he might slowly be able to learn them. He didn't welcome this
thought, because he didn't want to return to the school. To erase it
from his mind, he jumped up and continued on, looking for something more
"All at once the sun went behind a cloud and it began to
rain. The boy ran under an oak tree to take shelter. He
leaned against the trunk and looked up at the green,
leafy roof over him. Then he noticed that there was just
one opening in the leaves where a heavy drop kept coming
through on to the ground. For want of something better
to do, he dug his heel into the ground and made a hole
under the drop, quite a good, deep, round hole to contain
the water. Then he leaned against the tree again and
watched. The water dripped into it, _drip-drop, drip-
drop_, steadily like that, for it was a long heavy
shower. Baithin kept on staring down until the hole was
quite filled with rain. By the time the sun shone out
again, what had been dry earth was now a little pool of
water. And the thought came into the boy's mind,
'Learning is a bit like that, drop by drop and little by
little. Perhaps if I had kept trying to learn like that,
I would know my lessons now.'"
The sun was shining again, but Baithin no longer felt so happy--he was
hungry. Colman may be a stern teacher, but he always saw that the boys
were fed. So, he determined to return to the monastery and try to learn
little by little. Reluctantly he started back. He loved being free, but
now he was determined that he would learn.
When Baithin arrived at the school, he could not find Colman, because
the saint was still praying for him in the chapel. Colman didn't want
to be obliged to tell Baithin's parents that the child had run away. And
he dreaded that thought of something terrible happening to the sunny
little boy. So he continued praying until he received the answer he
sought--Baithin coming to him with apologies.
Baithin told Saint Colman about his adventures in the woods and what he
had discovered. And Colman believed it to be such a good story that he
wrote it down, just as the boy told him, so that Irish boys might always
remember it. The saint thought it might help them to strive in their
lessons as Baithin did, very slowly, with a small beginning, little by
"Baithin was never again punished for lessons. Whenever
he got impatient afterward, thinking the lessons too
long, too hard, too altogether horrid, he remembered the
single stick that had grown into a house, or the single
drop of water that had grown into a pool, and this made
him patient. He, too, became a priest like Colman, able
not only to read books but to write them, too. He became
quite as great as his master" (Curtayne).
"Saint Colman's Pets":
"Now, among the other virtues with which the Holy Ghost
had endowed him, he was a great lover and keeper of
evangelic poverty, and so marvellous a despiser of
transitory things, that he would have no earthly
possessions, nor gifts, nor kept any property of his own
at all, unless you could call property three small
creatures that Ketinus saith he had in friendliness about
him, a cock, a mouse, and a fly.
"The way that he used the cock was that its crowing
wakened him at night to Lauds, as a bell might. But the
offices rendered by the mouse and the fly were the
stranger and more remarkable in that these whom nature
has designed to the fret and annoyance of mankind, the
amazing kindness of God directed, against the weight of
nature, to attend upon His servants.
"For this was the service of the mouse to the man of God,
that it would not allow him to sleep or lie at peace
beyond the fixed hour that he had laid down for himself
in his holy vows: but when his body and his tired limbs,
worn out with vigil and prayer and his other austerities,
would have craved sleep and rest beyond the stern limits
of his vow, the mouse, sometimes by gnawing at his
clothes, sometimes by nibbling at his ear, would drag him
from all quiet. Dear was this office to the man of God,
for by it he saw not only his vows fulfilled, but himself
provoked by a dumb creature to the service of God.
"Yet scarcely less remarkable was the office of the fly.
For when the man of God had leisure to read his holy
books, the fly would trot up and down his codex: and
should some one call him, or he had to go about other
business, he would instruct the fly to sit down upon the
line at which he had halted, and keep his place until he
should return to continue his interrupted reading: which
the fly infallibly would do.
"Marvellous are these condescensions of the grace of God,
and, as one might say, the collusions of Christ with His
saints: yet incredible only to those who have too little
thought for how marvellous is God in His praises, how
gracious and tender His affection for those that
sincerely love Him: and how befitting His ineffable
loving kindness that those who have renounced all
fellowship and service of men that their spirits may be
swifter to serve Him, should themselves receive the good
offices of dumb beasts, and a kind of human ministering:
and the God whose high and tremendous majesty they
acknowledge and adore should yet be found by them a
benign and most indulgent friend.
"And yet it befell, in the ruling of that divine wisdom
that in strange vicissitude now takes its favours from the
servants of God and now bestows them, now will have them
comforted, and now left desolate: it befell, as the
aforesaid Ketinus relates, that these three little
creatures died, and their kind service and company was
lost to the man of God.
"And in heavy sorrow, he wrote of his loss to the friend
of his spirit, St. Columba, Abbot of Iona, at that time
living in austerity, far from his own land. And the
story goes that in reply St. Columba wrote at once in
jest and in wisdom, that 'there is neither lack nor loss
where neither substance nor property is found': as though
to question why a man of God, consecrated to supreme
renunciation and to poverty, should set that heart on
small things, which had renounced and spurned great
things and high" (Colgan).
Troparion of St Colman Elo
Following in the footsteps of thy renowned kinsman Columba, O Father
thou didst bring many in the Celtic lands to Christ by thy
preaching and virtuous life./
Pray that we who hymn thee may be given
grace to follow in thy footsteps that our souls may be saved.
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