St. Finnian of Clonard, Bishop
(Finian, Finden, Vennianus, Vinnianus)
Born in Leinster, Ireland, c. 470; died at Clonard (Cluain-Irard) Abbey
in Meath, Ireland, December 12, c. 552 (but the date ranges from
Saint Finnian was an Irish monk who followed in the path of Saint
Patrick, whose disciples, including
Saint Fortchern (f.d. February 17),
instructed him in the essentials of Christian virtue, and himself
initiated a strict form of Irish monasticism. Along with
Saint Enda of Aran (f.d. March 21),
he is regarded as the founder of Irish
monasticism. He had close relations with the British Church.
He is said to have been born into a noble family at Myshall, County
Carlow, Ireland. He probably also received his education in that
district, where he also made his first three foundations at Rossacurra,
Drumfea, and Kilmaglush. Thereafter, he spent several years in Wales,
where he was trained in monasticism by
Saints Cadoc of Llancarfan (f.d. September 25),
David of Menevia (f.d. March 1),
Gildas (f.d. January 29).
He lived on bread, herbs, and water, and on the bare ground with a
stone for his pillow. About 520, Finnian returned to Ireland, armed with
the sanctity and sacred learning to reinvigorate the faith of his
To further God's work, he founded churches and several monasteries,
including Aghowle (County Wicklow) and Mugna Sulcain. His most notable
foundation was Clonard on the Boyne in Meath, which was the greatest
school of the period, renowned for several centuries for its biblical
studies (Finnian was a great Biblical scholar). During his abbacy, he is
said to have gathered 3,000 disciples at Clonard. As each left the
monastery to preach, he took with him a Book of the Gospels, a crozier,
and a reliquary around which he would built a church or monastery.
The rule of Clonard is believed to be based on the Rule of Lerins.
Finnian corresponded with Saint Gildas on matters of monastic
discipline, who had deplored the intrusion of wealth and power into the
episcopal office in Britain. Perhaps this was an influence in
development of a monastic rather than episcopal government within the
He is often called the "Teacher of Irish Saints." At one time his pupils
at Clonard included the so-called Twelve Apostles of Ireland:
Brendan of Birr (f.d. November 29)
Brendan the Voyager (f.d. May 16)
Cainnech (f.d. October 11)
Ciaran of Clommacnois (f.d. September 9)
Columba of Iona (f.d. June 9)
Columba of Terryglass (f.d. today)
Comgall of Bangor (f.d. May 11)
Finian of Moville (f.d. September 10)
Kieran of Saigher (f.d. March 5)
Mobhi (f.d. October 12)
Molaise (Laserian) of Devendish (f.d. August 12)
Ninidh of Inismacsaint (f.d. January 18)
Ruadhan of Lothra (f.d. April 15)
Sinell of Cleenish (f.d. October 12).
(You might note that this is more than 12; this is a very elastic twelve
with different saints added at different times)
He died at Clonard of the yellow plague, which swept the country.
According to his biographer: "As Paul died in Rome for the sake of the
Christian people lest they should all perish in hell, so Finnian died at
Clonard for the sake of the people of the Gael, that they might not all
perish of the yellow pest." His relics were enshrined at Clonard until
they were destroyed in 887.
His monastery at Clonard survived the Viking raids, Norman aggressions,
and native strife, but not the Reformation, at which time it was
suppressed. At one point Clonard was converted into a house of
Augustinian canons, from whom there survives an office of Saint Finnian
with some elements taken from an otherwise unknown source. The
Protestant church of Clonard now houses an 11th-century, grey marble
baptismal font with figures from the Scriptures sculpted on its eight
panels as well as a stone head from the former abbey. All other traces
of Finnian's tomb, church, and abbey have been eradicated.
The contemporary collection of regulations for penitents, ascribed to
Vinnianus, was probably not the work of this Finnian but perhaps by
Finnian of Moville (f.d. September 10; d. c. 579).
This oldest surviving
penitentiary is based on Welsh and Irish sources, as well as on those of
Saints Jerome (f.d. September 30)
John Cassian (f.d. July 23),
influenced a similar work by
Saint Columbanus (f.d. November 23).
The feast of Saint Finnian is observed throughout Ireland
Troparion of St Finnian of Clonard tone 8
Truly thou art the 'Tutor of the Saints of Ireland', O Founder of
Clonard, great Father Finnian.
As thou didst tirelessly teach the faith in thy native land,
so teach us to follow thy example that many may
come to know Christ and be led into the Way of Salvation.
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