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Catholic Heroes… St. Kevin Of Glendalough

May 31, 2016 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Dublin, the largest city in Ireland, lies on the east coast of Ireland, just across the Irish Sea from Liverpool, England. It is the heart of Irish commerce and the gateway for travelers who wish to enter into the heart and soul of the ancient Irish culture of the Emerald Isle.
Traveling south past the Wicklow mountains, the pilgrim will notice a tower in the distance of the valley of Glendalough — the valley of the two lakes. This tower rises from the grounds where many Irish have been buried. It is the tower of a Glendalough monastery dating back more than one thousand years.
At its base there are many Celtic crosses marking the graves, the land dotted with flowering shrubs, ferns, and a tree or two. These crosses — with a circle surrounding the junction of the two bars — have many different carvings. The ring and the cross joined represent the crucified Christ and the cosmic reality: Some of the carvings represent Bible history, or depict saints, or show abstract and intricate designs representing the Trinity.
These hallowed grounds were once the place where St. Kevin of Glendalough spent his life; where many persons came to visit him in his attempted seclusion, and now where many pilgrims come to visit the ruins of the monastery that was once respected as the most influential center of learning in Ireland.
The Glendalough Valley is so remote that it probably would have been unknown had not Kevin come to it to live a solitary life of prayer and meditation. As his reputation for holiness and wisdom spread the numbers of persons coming to him increased.
Kevin was born to Coemlog and Coemell of Leinster nobility in 498 at the Fort of the White Mountain about 58 miles west of Dublin. He was named Coemgen — an Irish name meaning “fair begotten” — and baptized by Cronan of Roscrea.
One legend claims that as the parents took their infant son for Baptism, an angel appeared to them and told them that the child should be called Kevin. When they related their experience to the priest, he remarked, “This was surely an angel of the Lord and as he named the child, so shall he be called.”
Another legend describes a white cow that came to their home every morning to provide the baby with milk for his sustenance. As soon as Kevin was old enough, he was given the responsibility of tending the sheep — a great source of wealth in that time.
One day, as Kevin was tending the sheep, some men came traveling by the flock. When Kevin beheld their impoverished state, he gave them four sheep, a veritable treasure. That night when the lad returned with the sheep and they were all counted, the same number returned as had gone out in the morning.
When Kevin was seven years old, his parents sent him to live with the monks in Leinster. He studied under St. Petroc of Cornwall who had come to Leinster in 492. The young boy stayed there until he was 12 years old. Little is known about his life between this age and the time he was ordained.
After his Ordination by Bishop Lugidus, Kevin left shortly thereafter for the isolation of Glendalough. Reportedly, he was led there by an angel. He went to a cliff overlooking the upper lake of the Glendalough Valley and found a place where he made or found a cave.
A tunnel, only three feet high and less than three feet wide, led to the cave, making its approach difficult. The cave itself was only four feet wide and less than three feet high, leading historians to believe that he only slept there or used it for prayer and meditation. Even today the cave is called St. Kevin’s bed.
For seven years, Kevin lived a solitary life here with only nature, the animals, and the birds for companions. Going barefoot, he wore only animal skins, ate sparingly, and slept on stones. His days, as one would expect, were spent in prayer.
Eventually, word of the hermit spread and disciples gathered around Kevin, attracted to his way of life in the beautiful valley. Soon, a shelter was built surrounded by a wall near the lake. This place became known as Kevin’s cell.
With the arrival of more men and the establishment of the new shelter, a monastic community began to develop. Soon, another building marked the beginning of Glendalough, becoming a center of training for saints and scholars.
As the center’s reputation grew, some of the men went to other places in Ireland to begin similar monasteries. These monasteries also built towers similar to the one in Glendalough. Whenever a traveler saw a tower in the distance, he knew that it marked the site of another monastery.
In 544 Kevin went to visit Saints Columba, Comgall, and Cannich, who were abbots at the monastery on the Hill of Uisneach in County Westmeath near his hometown. Next he went to visit Clonmacnoise to see St. Cieran, but Cieran had died just three days before Kevin arrived there.
With communities well underway in various places, Kevin again returned to a place of solitude for four years. However, at the pleading of the monks in Glendalough, Kevin returned to his beloved valley.
For the next 60 years, Kevin lived in Glendalough, spending his time in praying, fasting, and teaching. He lived well over 100 years, dying in 618. His feast is on June 3 and he is the patron saint of blackbirds and of Dublin.
The Glendalough monastery, despite being plundered and burned by Danes, survived well into the 12th century. In the 13th century, the Normans arrived and destroyed the monastery and it remained in ruins until a major reconstruction was undertaken in 1878, making the Glendalough valley an attraction to both traveler and researcher.
Dear St. Kevin, before you ever began to build monasteries, you spent many years in solitude and prayer. Help us learn how to pray, to quiet our senses, to shut out the many distractions in our lives, that we may learn to listen to God and hear His message to us. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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