St. Enda of Aran

St. Enda is considered the father of Irish monasticism. Even better, his feast day is also my birthday!

Lifetime: ~450 to ~530
Region: Ireland
Patronages: Aran islands; Irish monks
Iconograpy: Cloak (often green); Staff; Stone abbey
Feast Day: March 21

Enda was born an Irish prince in the county of Ulster. As he grew up, he became a fierce warrior, and eventually inherited the throne and became king of Oriel.

However, Enda’s sister, St. Fanchea had become an abbess of a convent, and she was growing concerned about her brother and his violent ways. She begged him to lay down his arms and at least be a peaceful king. Enda thought about it, and made an agreement with his sister. He would put aside his sword and his taste for conquest, but only if she would find one of the sisters in her abbey who would marry him. His sister agreed, and found him a suitable bride, but when Enda arrived to receive his wife, he found the girl had died suddenly. His sister took the opportunity to make him look upon her corpse and reminded him of his own mortality and the importance of living a spiritual life, never knowing when it may end.

Enda was stricken deeply by this experience, and was morose for a long time. He gave up his claim to the throne, and left Ireland for a few years.

When Enda returned home, Fanchea was surprised to learn that he had not only completely given up his warrior ways, and his desires to be king, but even his wishes to marry. He had become a monk and been ordained as a priest, and he had returned to establish a monastery.

Enda visited his brother in law, who was king of Munster, to ask for land for his monastery. The king agreed, and granted Enda land on the Aran islands, where Enda established a monastic settlement, the remains of which can still be visited today.

Enda’s leadership was based on desert hermits in Egypt such as St. Anthony the Great, focused on simplicity and asceticism, as well as a deep love for God. The monks there lived a life of work, prayer, fasting, and scripture study, and no fires were allowed to warm the cold stones of their houses as a sign of dedication and sacrifice.

This monastery is considered to be the first monastery in Ireland, and Enda the father of Irish monasticism, which would thrive throughout the country for hundreds of years following his death. In fact, for many years the church Ireland was the most monastic church in all of Christendom.

Even before his death, the monastery Enda founded became a popular place for pilgrims to visit. St. Brendan the Navigator even visited for a blessing before beginning his famous journey. Soon monasteries mimicking Enda’s began to spring up across the country. Twelve monasteries were built on the Aran islands alone.

Enda died of old age, having raised many who would go on to become saints themselves in his monastery. He was buried on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran islands.

Popular posts from this blog

St. Muirgen the Mermaid

St. Hildegard von Bingen

St. Modomnoc of Ossory