St. Donatus of Fiesole, Bishop

22 October

Previous Saint This month Next Saint
[Yesterday's last saint] [back to Calendar] [Today's next saint]

Born in Ireland; died 874-876. Legend has it that Donatus who decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome with his friend Andrew. On his return home about 829, he went to Florence, Italy, and visited nearby Fiesole. Donatus, who was small and unaggressive by nature, slipped into the cathedral just when the people had come together to pray for enlightenment before electing a new bishop.

The moment Donatus entered the cathedral of Fiesole, the bells began ringing. All the cathedral lamps and candles lit of their own accord, without any human help. The Christians present could only conclude that this was a divine sign, indicating that the stranger who had just come in was destined to be their next bishop. Unanimously the puzzled Irishman was elected, and Andrew (f.d. August 22) became his deacon. It could well be that none of the locals would accept the office. Six years earlier the feudal barons had murdered the local bishop by drowning him!

Fortunately, Donatus was a man of exemplary piety and cultivation. In addition to many other works, Donatus authored two separate lives of Saint Brigid of Kildare (f.d. February 1), one in prose and the other in verse, as well as a preface for Coelan's life of Brigid, which Colgan found at Monte Cassino. A manuscript in his own handwriting is preserved by the Dominicans in Rome. He also wrote his own epitaph, which still survives and describes him as a splendid teacher, specialising in grammar and fine writing. The epitaph adds that the bishop loyally advised and served the Frankish King Lothaire of Italy (who had been a pupil of Saint Clement (f.d. March 20)) and the Emperor Louis. Almost certainly he taught them and members of their household for he was ever willing to instruct the young.

For 47 years Donatus shepherded the church of Fiesole. At times he served as a military leader in 840 and 866, raising armies and conducting expeditions against the Saracens. In 844, he attended Lothaire's coronation by Pope Sergius II, and was a judge in the dispute between the bishops of Arezzo and Siena. In 862, he assisted at the Council of Rome convened by Pope Saint Nicholas I (f.d. November 13) against Archbishop John of Ravenna. Before he died he obtained from King Charles the Bald a charter of independence for the bishops of Fiesole with the power to impose taxes and administer their own laws.

He was also a generous supporter of monastic foundations. In 852, he founded a church and a hospice of his beloved patron, Saint Brigid at Piacenza and placed it under the protection of Saint Columban's (f.d. November 23) monastery at Bobbio. In the document of transfer, dated 850, he specified his particular wish that the monastery continue to render particular hospitality to Irish pilgrims. This church was declared a national monument in 1911.

Long after his death, a legend developed that Donatus had an Irish travelling companion who became his archdeacon, Saint Andrew of Fiesole, but there is no satisfactory evidence for Andrew's existence. In 1817, the relics of Donatus were translated to the new cathedral of Fiesole. His altar is in the last chapel on the right behind the high altar (Attwater, Bentley, D'Arcy, Delaney, Fitzpatrick, Gougaud, Kenney, Montague, Tomamasini).

In art he is a bishop with an Irish wolfhound at his feet. Sometimes he is shown pointing out a church to his deacon, Saint Andrew of Ireland (August 22) (Roeder).

Previous Saint This month Next Saint
[Yesterday's last saint] [back to Calendar] [Today's next saint]

Suppliers of Icons of Celtic Saints for the church or the prayer corner at home.

Lives kindly supplied by:
For All the Saints:

These Lives are archived at:

content © 2008, Ambrose Mooney
layout © 2008, Kathleen Hanrahan and Mo! Langdon
Page last updated: 2 January 2009
Please send us comments, corrections, etc. - Kathleen or Mo!.
This page's URL: <>