St. Coemgen, or Keivin
Bishop and Confessor in Ireland
HE 1 was born of parents of the first rank in Ireland, in 498. He was baptized by St. Cronan, a holy priest, and at seven years of age was put under the tuition of St. Petrocus, a Briton, who spent twenty years in Ireland, to improve himself in virtue and sacred learning. After five years spent with him, by his advice he was placed, in 510, under the care of three holy anchorets, Dogain, Lochan, and Enna, or Æneas, in the same cell. Three years he employed with them in the study of the holy scriptures, before he took the monastic habit. Some time after, he founded a great monastery in the lower part of the valley called Glean-da-loch, 2 situated in the east of Leinster, in the territory of Forthuatha. 3 The reputation of St. Keivin and his monastery, drew hither such a conflux of people, that it soon grew up into a famous and holy city. The founder being raised to the episcopal dignity, erected a cathedral church under the invocation of SS. Peter and Paul, near the church of his abbey. 4 In 549, St. Keivin took a journey to Clonmacnois, to pay a visit to St. Kiaran; but found him dead three days before his arrival, and assisted at his funeral obsequies. St. Keivin lived to a great age, and having some time before resigned the episcopal charge to confine himself to his abbacy, died on the 3d of June in the year 618, of his age one hundred and twenty. He is patron of Glendaloch, where his festival is celebrated on the 3d of June, on which day, numbers of people resort to the Seven Churches. There is also a parish church in the suburbs of Dublin dedicated to this saint. 1
Note 1. Coemgen signifies in the Irish language the fair begotten, pulchrum genitum.
Note 2. Glean-da-loch signifies the Glen, or Valley of the Two Lakes; from whence Hoveden hath taken occasion to call the bishopric of Glendaloch, Episcopatus Bistagnensis; and the bull of Pope Lucius III. mentions it under the title of Episcopatus insularum.
Note 3. Harris is mistaken in thinking it should be Tirthuathail; for the territory of the O’Tooles bore the name of Hy-murray. See the life of S. Laur. O’Toole, 14th of Nov.
Note 4. Both these churches stood about the middle of a long valley, surrounded with very high mountains; from whence the water falls over many craggy rocks, and feeds the two lakes and rivers which run through the valley below; in the most fruitful and agreeable part of which are seen at this day the ruins of many churches and monasteries built of stone, the windows of which were adorned with great variety of curious work. The walls of seven or eight buildings, now called the Seven Churches, are still standing: and one of these, together with its chancel, and a handsome round belfry of stone, with a vaulted stone roof, remain firm to this day. There stands separate from any of the buildings a large round tower, like that at Kildare, ninety-five feet high; and at the west end of one of the buildings, near a quarter of a mile distant from the former, stood another now almost demolished. Among the ruins many crosses and other figures appear to have been curiously carved on a great number of stones. The celebrated bed of St. Keivin is shown on the south side of the lough: it is a cave hewed in a solid rock on the side of the mountain, exceeding difficult in the ascent, and terrible in prospect; for it hangs almost perpendicular over the lough about three hundred feet above the surface of the water, says Harris. Not far beyond this bed, on the side of the same mountain, are to be seen the ruins of a stone building called St. Keivin’s Cell. Probably the saint sometimes hid himself in this cell for a closer retreat; as St. Martin used to do in a like cave on the side of a rock at Marmoutier, near Tours. Glendaloch, now commonly called the Seven Churches, is about twenty-three miles from Dublin, in the county of Wicklow.
The diocess of Glendaloch was of great extent, containing all the country on the south side of Dublin; yet the abbey far exceeded the bishopric in temporal wealth; as we are assured by the author of the life of St. Laurence O’Toole, archbishop of Dublin, (who had been abbot of Glendaloch,) published by Messingham. At that time the see of Dublin was confined within very narrow limits: but when Cardinal John Paparo, legate of Pope Eugenius III. conferred on this see the archiepiscopal dignity, with the pall, in the year 1152, he ordered that upon the death of the Bishop of Glendaloch then living, this see should be for ever united to Dublin. The union of the two bishoprics was afterwards confirmed by the pope, and King of England, and carried into execution upon the death of William Piro, or Peryn, the last legal bishop of Glendaloch, in 1214. It was further confirmed by a bull of Honorius III. to Henry Loundres, archbishop of Dublin, dated October 6, 1216. Notwithstanding this union, so firmly established both by papal and regal authority, some few attempts were made to usurp the see of Glendaloch until the year 1497, since which period, its very name is sunk in that of Dublin. However, to perpetuate the memory of that ancient church, the archdeaconry of Glendaloch is still preserved, and belongs to the chapter of the cathedral of St. Patrick’s. See Harris on Ware’s bishops, from p. 371 to 378. Usher’s Primord. and Colgan in MSS. ad 3 Jun.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VI: June. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. June 3.