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St. Finnan of Clonard
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St. Finnan of Clonard

Life of Saint Finnian of Clonard

Saint Finnian of Clonard, also known as Finian, Fionan, or Fionnan was an Irish monk who lived from 470 A.D. to 549 A.D.  It is believed that he was born in Myshall, County Carlow.  His father was Rudraigh, a noblemen and his mother was Telach from Leinster.

Saint Finnian studied to become a monk in Wales under the tutelage of St. Cadoc and St. Gildas.  After 30 years in Wales, St. Finnian returned to his native homeland of Ireland.  He traveled throughout Ireland preaching and teaching Christian doctrine.

Saint Finnian Builds a Retreat

An angel appeared to Saint Finnian, leading him to Cluain Eraird around 520.  It was there that Saint Finnian built a church and a cell where he prayed, practiced mortification, and studied known as Clonard Abbey.  Clergymen, laity, and scholars came from all over the country to visit and study with Saint Finnian.  He taught 3,000 monks at his abbey. He became the teacher of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, who became early monastic saints:  St Brendan of Birr, St Brendan of Clonfert, St Canice, St Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, St Ciarán of Saighir, St Colmán of Terryglass, St Colmcille of Iona, St Mobhí of Glasnevin, St Molaise of Devenish and St Ruan of Lorrha.  Saint Finnian became known as the “tutor of the Irish saints”.

The Penitential of Finnian

Saint Finnian wrote “The Penitential of Finnian” as a guide for priests on what type of penance to give a person confessing sins.  Saint Finnian listed 53 types of sin and gave suggested penances.

Saint Finnian ends “The Penitential of Finnian” with these words:

Dearly beloved brethren, according tot he determination of Scripture or the opinion of some very learned men I have tried to write these few things concerning the remedies of penance, impelled by love of you, beyond my ability and authority. There are still other authoritative materials, concerning either the remedies or the variety of those who are to be treated, which now by reason of brevity, or the situation of a place, or from poverty of talent, I am not permitted to set down. But if anyone who has searched out the divine Scripture should himself make larger discoveries, or if he will produce or write better things, we will both agree with him and follow him.

Here endeth this little work which Finnian adapted to the sons of his bowels, by occasion of affection or of religion, overflowing with the graces of Scripture, that by all means all the evil deeds of men might be destroyed.

From: St. Finnian of Clonard. The Penitential of Finnia. Medieval Handbooks of Penance by John T. McNeil and Helen Gamer. New York: Columbia University Press, 1938.

Saint Finnian Feast Day

Saint Finnian died in 549 A.D. from the plague and the feast of Saint Finnian is celebrated on December 12.  Many Irish Catholics wear a Saint Finnian medal or a Saint Finnian pendant in reverence of this early Irish monk who instructed other monks on Christian doctrine.  Because of the efforts of Saint Finnian, Christianity spread throughout Ireland.


 

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