Died c. 570. Saint Ita is the most famous woman saint in Ireland after
(f.d. February 1),
and is known as the Brigid of Munster.
She is said to have been of royal lineage, born in one of the baronies
of Decies near Drum in County Waterford, and called Deirdre.
An aristocrat wished to marry her, but after praying and fasting for
three days and with divine help, she convinced her father to allow her
to lead the life of a maiden. She migrated to Hy Conaill (Killeedy), in
the western part of Limerick, and founded a community of women dedicated
to God, which soon attracted many young women. She also founded and
directed a school. It is said that Bishop Saint Erc gave into her care
(f.d. May 16),
who would become a famous
abbot and missionary (though the chronology makes this unlikely). Many
other Irish saints were taught by her for years. For this reason, she is
foster-mother of the saints of Ireland.
Brendan once asked her what three things God especially loved. She
True faith in God with a pure heart, a simple life with a
religious spirit, and open-handedness inspired by charity.
An Irish lullaby for the Infant Jesus is attributed to her. Saint Ita's
legend stresses her physical austerities. The principle mark of her
devotion was the indwelling of the Holy Trinity. Like other monastic
figures of Ireland, she spent much time in solitude, praying and
fasting, and the rest of the time in service to those seeking her
assistance and advice.
She and her sisters helped to treat the sick of the area. Many miracles
are also attributed to her including one in which she reattached the
head to the body of a man who had been decapitated, and another that she
lived only on food from heaven.
Although her life is overlaid by much unreliable material, because she
has been so popular and her "vita" was not written for centuries, there
is no reason to doubt her existence. There are church dedications and
place names that recall her both in her
birthplace and around her monastery. She is also mentioned in the poem
Blessed Alcuin (f.d. May 19),
and her cultus is still vibrant
An extract from the entry on St. Ita in Edward Sellner's The Wisdom of
the Celtic Saints.
Ita (also Ite or Ide) is, after Brigit, the most famous of Irish women
soul friends. Her hagiographer even describes her as
a second Brigit.
A sixth-century abbess, Ita founded a monastery in Country Limerick at
Killeedy (which means Cell of Church of Ita). She came from the highly
respected clan of the Deisi, and her father, like Brigit's, was
resistant to her becoming a nun. After gaining his permission, Ita left
home and settled at the foot of Sliabh Luachra, where other women from
neighbouring clans soon joined her. There she founded a monastic school
for the education of small boys, one of whom was Brendan of Clonfert.
She evidently had many students, for she is called the
of the Saints of Erin.
Ita's original, some claim, was Deirdre, but because of her thirst
(iota) for holiness she became known as Ita. This quality may have been
what drew so many women to join her monastery and families to send their
sons to her. Ita wanted her students to become acquainted with the
saints as soul friends. Besides her mentoring, Ita is associated with
competence in healing and with an asceticism that an angel had to warn
Ita died in approximately 570. Her grave, frequently decorated with
flowers, is in the ruins of a Romanesque church at Killeedy where her
monastery once stood. A holy well nearby, almost invisible now, was
known for centuries for curing smallpox in children and other diseases
Her feast day is January 15.
Ita's Qualities as a Child, and the Fiery Grace of God
Ita was born in Ireland of noble lineage, that is, of the stock of
Feidhlimidh Reachtmiher, by whom all Ireland was supremely ruled for
many years from the royal fort of Tara. He had three sons, Tiacha, Cond
and Eochaid. Ita was born of the people called the Deisi, and from her
baptism on she was filled with the Holy Spirit. All marvelled at her
childhood purity and behaviour, and her abstinence on the days she had
to fast. She performed many miracles while she was yet a small child,
and when she could speak and walk she was prudent, very generous and
mild toward everyone, gentle and chaste in her language, and
God-fearing. She consistently attempted to overcome evil and always
did what she could to promote good. As a young girl she lived at home
with her parents.
One day, while Ita was asleep in her room the whole place seemed to be
on fire. When her neighbours came to give assistance, however, the fire
in her room seemed to have been extinguished. All marvelled at that,
and it was said that it was the grace of God that burned about Ita as
she slept. When she arose from her sleep, her whole appearance seemed
to be angelic, for she had beauty that has never been seen before or
since. Her appearance was such that it was the grace of God that burned
about her. After a short interval, her original appearance returned,
which certainly was beautiful enough.
Ita's Dream and the Angel that Helped Discern Its Meaning
Another day when she went to sleep, Ita saw an angel of the Lord
approach her and give her three precious stones. When she awoke she did
not know what that dream signified, and she had a question in her heart
about it. Then an angel appeared to her and said,
Why are you
wondering about that dream? Those three precious stoned you saw being
given to you signify
the coming of the Blessed Trinity to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Always in your sleep and vigils the angels of God and holy visions will
come to you, for you are a temple of God, in body and soul.
saying this, the angel left her.
Ita's Desire to be Consecrated to Christ, and her Parents' Resistance
Another day Ita came to her mother and announced to her the divine
precepts the Holy Spirit had taught her. She asked her mother to seek
her father's permission so that she might consecrate herself to Christ.
But her father was defiantly opposed to what she desired. The request
was also very displeasing to her mother , and when others added their
petitions, Ita's father vehemently refused to give permission. Then Ita,
filled with the spirit of prophecy, said to all:
Leave my father alone
for a while. Though he now forbids me to be consecrated to Christ, he
will come to persuade me and eventually will order me to do so, for he
will be compelled by Jesus Christ my Lord to let me go wherever I wish
to serve God.
And it happened
as she had predicted. This is how it came about.
Not long afterward, Ita fasted for three days and three nights. During
those days and nights, through dreams and vigils, it became clear that
the devil was waging several battles against Ita. She, however,
resisted him in everything, whether she slept or watched. One night,
the devil, sad and grieving, left Ita with these words:
Alas, Ita, you
will free yourself from me, and many others too will be delivered.
Icons of St. Ita: