St. Angus the Culdee
St. Angus wanted only a humble life of prayer, but his holiness and wisdom brought him fame. His effort to escape notoriety ended up leaving behind an important record of saints.
born near Clonenagh, Ireland, in the middle of the eighth century. He joined the famous monastery near his home, and rapidly advanced in learning and holiness.
People at the time referred to hermits as “Ceile De”—or “Culdee” as we have it now—and Angus loved solitude. It was said that no one in Ireland could match him in virtue or learning, but his renown made him seek more time alone for prayer. He left the monastery to live as a hermit on the banks of a river, but people heard of his holiness and sought him out, so he retreated farther into the countryside. Still being found there, he decided to anonymously join a community at a monastery near Dublin.
As he was traveling to Dublin, he stopped in a church to pray and had a vision of angels singing around a tomb there. He inquired about the tomb from the priest of the parish, who replied that the man buried there was not exceptional in any way, but that his practice was to constantly recall the saints and ask them for prayers. Immediately, Angus was struck with the idea to compose a poem of praise to the saints to help people with this devotion.
He reached the monastery at Dublin, and joined the community as a simple layman and laborer without telling anyone who he was. He spent seven years working and praying there, but eventually his identity was discovered. The abbot, St. Maelruan, capitalized on his education, and the two set out to compose a lyrical hymn to the saints (known as the Félire in Irish, or as Festilogium in Latin). The work is the earliest metrical version of a martyrology—a list of saints and their feast days—to be written in the vernacular. It collected Irish saints and combined them with other known Christian saints. A page from his martyrology is pictured here.
After the death of St. Maelruan, Angus returned to Clonenagh, where he finished the work, and was raised to the position of abbot. The custom of the time made the appointment also a designation as bishop. He died on this date in 824, and his relics rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica. Variations on his name are Aengus and Oengus.
St. Angus, the Irish bishop who collected stories of the saints to help the faithful, pray for us!