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

Born in Ireland; died c. 830. The appellation "Culdee," Ceile De, or Kele-De means "worship of God," which became the name of a monastic movement otherwise known as the "Companions of God." Oengus was of the race of the Dalriadans, kings of Ulster. In his youth, renouncing all earthly pretensions, he chose Christ for his inheritance by embracing the religious life in the monastery of Cluain-Edneach (Clonenagh) in East Meath (County Laois). Here he became so great a proficient both in learning and sanctity, that no one in his time could be found in Ireland that equalled him in reputation for every kind of virtue, and for sacred knowledge.

To shun the esteem of the world, he disguised himself and entered the monastery of Tamlacht (Tallaght Hill), three miles from Dublin, where he lived for seven years as an anonymous lay brother. There he performed all the drudgery of the house, appearing fit for nothing but the vilest tasks, while interiorly he was being perfected in love and contemplation absorbed in God. After his identity was discovered when he tried to coach an unsuccessful student, he returned to Cluain-Edneach, where the continual austerity of his life, and his constant application to God in prayer, may be more easily admired than imitated. For example, he would daily recite one-third of the Psalter (50 Psalms) while immersed in cold water.

He was chosen abbot, and at length raised to the episcopal dignity: for it was usual then in Ireland for eminent abbots in the chief monasteries to be bishops. He was known for his devotion to the saints. He left both a longer and a shorter Irish Martyrology, and five other books concerning the saints of his country, contained in what the Irish call "Saltair-na-Rann." The short martyrology was a celebrated metrical hymn called "Felire" or "Festilogium." The longer, "Martyrology of Tallaght" was composed in collaboration with Saint Maelruain of Tallaght (f.d. July 7).

He died at Disertbeagh (now Desert Aenguis or Dysert Enos), which became also a famous monastery, and took its name from him (Benedictines, Farmer, Husenbeth, Montague).

Another Life:

To Aengus many ascribe the reform of Irish monasticism and its emergence as an ordered ascetic and scholastic movement. He is called the Culdec because this reform produced the groups of monks in Ireland and Scotland, who were really anchorites but lived together in one place, usually thirteen in number after the example of Christ and His Apostles. The name Culdec probably comes from the Irish Ceile Dee (companion) rather than the Latin Cultores Dei (worshippers of God). The Culdees produced the highly decorated High Crosses and elaborately illuminated manuscripts which are the glory of the Irish monasteries.

Aengus was born of the royal house of Ulster and was sent to the monastery of Clonenagh by his father Oengoba to study under the saintly abbot Maelaithgen. He made great advances in scholarship and sanctity but eventually felt he had to leave and become a hermit to escape the adulation of his peers. He chose a spot some seven miles away for his hermitage which is still called Dysert. He lived a life of rigid discipline, genuflecting three hundred times a day and reciting the whole of the Psalter daily part of it immersed in cold water, tied by the neck to a stake. At his dysert he found he got too many visitors and went to the famous monastery of Tallaght near Dublin, without revealing his identity, and was given the most menial of tasks. After seven years a boy sought refuge in the stable where Aengus was working because he was unable to learn his lessons. Aengus lulled him to sleep and when he awoke he had learnt his lesson perfectly.

When the abbot of St. Maelruain heard of this monk's great teaching gifts he recognised in him the missing scholar from Clonenagh and the two became great friends. It was at Tallaght that Aengus began his great work on the calendar of the Irish saints known as the Felire Aengus Ceile De. As for himself he thought that he was the most contemptible of men and is said to have allowed his hair to grow long and his clothing to become unkempt so that he should be despised. Besides the Felire one of his prayers asking for forgiveness survives, pleading for mercy because of Christ's work and His grace in the saints.

Like all the holy people of God, Aengus was industrious and had a supreme confidence in His power to heal and save. On one occasion when he was lopping trees in a wood he inadvertently cut off his left hand. The legend says that the sky filled with birds crying out at his injury, but St. Aengus calmly picked up the severed hand and replaced it. Instantly it adhered to his body and functioned normally.

When St. Maelruain died in 792, St. Aengus left Tallaght and returned to Clonenagh succeeding his old teacher Maelaithgen as abbot and being consecrated bishop. As he felt death approaching he retired again to his hermitage at Dysertbeagh, dying there about 824. There is but scant evidence of the religious foundations at Clonenagh or Dysert but he will always be remembered for his Feliere, the first martyrology of Ireland. He is honoured on 11th March (Walsh, Cross, Flanagan).

The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee

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