St. Fursey of East Anglia and Lagny Abbot of Burgh Castle, and Peronne Monastery, France

16 January

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Born Island of Inisquin(?), Lough Corri, Ireland; died in France c. 648.

After Saint Columbanus (f.d. November 23), Fursey is perhaps the best known of the Irish monastic missionaries abroad in the earlier middle ages. Born of noble parents, Saint Fursey left home to build a monastery at Rathmat (probably Killursa), attracted throngs of disciples, and then after a time at home began preaching.

Twelve years later, sometime after 630, with his brothers SS. Foillan (f.d. October 31) and Ultan (f.d. May 2), he travelled to East Anglia (England) as a "pilgrim for Christ," and was welcomed by King Saint Sigebert (f.d. September 27) of the East Angles, who was encouraging the work of Saint Felix of Dunwich (f.d. March 8) at just this time. Sigebert gave them the old fortress of Cnobheresburg (Burgh Castle, Suffolk) and its adjacent lands for a monastery.

Fursey, therefore, established a monastery on this land, and ministered from there for about ten years. About 642, on the death of Sigebert in battle against King Penda of Mercia, Fursey left on a pilgrimage to Rome. He never returned. Instead he moved on to Gaul, where he was given land by Mayor Erchinoald of Neustria (into whose household Saint Bathildis (f.d. January 30) had recently been sold). There Fursey founded a monastery at Lagny-sur-Marne, near Paris, c. 644.

Fursey died at Mezerolles (Somme) while on a journey, and was buried at Peronne (Picardy), where his tomb became a place of pilgrimage and the monastery there an Irish centre.

Saint Bede (f.d. May 25) wrote more about Fursey than any other Irish missionary, except Saint Aidan (f.d. August 31). Fursey, says Bede, was 'renowned for his words and works, outstanding in goodness,' and it is Bede who relates the visions of the unseen world of spirits, good and evil, which account for much of Fursey's fame. From time to time he would fall into a trance-like state for a considerable period, during which he would see such things as the fires of falsehood, covetousness, discord, and injustice lying in wait to consume the world. He also had a vision of the afterlife, which Bede recounts--one of the earliest such. Together with those of the English Drithelm (f.d. August 17) (also recorded by Bede), Saint Fursey's visions had considerable influence in the religious thought of western Europe in the later middle ages, notably as expressed in Dante's "Divine Comedy".

Fursey impressed everyone that met him. So many miracles were attributed to him in his own lifetime that he should be counted among the greatest of saints. He initiated his mission in France by restoring to life the son of a local nobleman, Count Haymon, who begged him to build his monastery on the nobleman's land. The saint declined, but this is the very site on which he died. Fursey's sanctity was a topic of conversation and came to the attention of French kings and nobles, who vied with each other to attract him to their territory, even after his death.

Count Haymon intended to inter Fursey in Mezerolles, but the Chancellor of Peronne, Erchinoald, sent a royal guard to seize the remains. His holy body lay in a portico for four years, awaiting the completion of a magnificent new church to receive him. Bede records "concerning the incorruption of his body, we have briefly taken notice so that the sublime character of this man may be better known to the readers."

In 654, Fursey's relics were translated to a shrine "in the shape of a little house," supposedly made by Saint Eligius (f.d. December 1). They were translated again in 1056. King Louis in 1256 declared his desire to be present for the retranslation of his remains to a new shrine at Peronne. On his return from a crusade, Louis went straight to Peronne, where he placed his own seal on the sepulchre. Most of the relics remained until the French Revolution; a head reliquary survived even the Prussian bombing of 1870. French, Irish, and English calendars (especially at Canterbury, which claimed his head relics) attest to his cultus. (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Montague).

In art Saint Fursey is portrayed as an abbot raising from the dead a youth, son of a nobleman. He may also by shown in ecstasy (Roeder). The figure of Fursey is now carried on the banner of the city of Peronne (Montague).

Troparion of St Fursey of Burgh Castle
Tone 5
Establishing thy monastery in a Roman fortress thou didst teach men that the Orthodox Faith is a true bastion
against the onslaughts of every evil force, O Father Fursey.
Wherefore pray to God for us
that we may all be bastions of the Faith
standing firm against the rising tide of falsehood,
that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion of St Fursey
Tone 4
Thou didst need the walls of stone
to defend the Faith against its pagan enemies, O Father Fursey,
but pray for us that we may have a spiritual wall around us
to defend the Faith against its enemies.
Following thee and praising thy eternal memory,
we stand firm against every error, ever singing:
Rejoice, beloved of God, our Father Fursey.

Icon of St. Fursey:

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