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Born in Leinster, Ireland, c. 470; died at Clonard (Cluain-Irard) Abbey in Meath, Ireland, December 12, c. 552 (but the date ranges from 549-564).

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), and 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 countrymen.

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 Irish Church.

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) and John Cassian (f.d. July 23), and influenced a similar work by Saint Columbanus. (f.d. November 21) The feast of Saint Finnian is observed throughout Ireland (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, D'Arcy, Delaney, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Healy, Husenbeth, Montague, Ryan).

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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