St. Kevin of Glendalough, Abbot(Coaimhghin, Coemgen, Keivin)
Born at Fort of the White Fountain in Leinster, Ireland; died c. 618. Kevin was born of Irish royalty, but that doesn’t tell us much because there were as many kings in Ireland as there were saints in Cornwall. He was baptized as Kevin or Coemgen, which means the “Fair-begotten” by Saint Cronan. As a boy he was sent to be educated at a monastery, where he was fortunate enough to be a pupil of Saint Petroc of Cornwall, who was then in Ireland. Kevin is best remembered as the abbot-founder of Glendalough, County Wicklow, one of the most famous abbeys of Ireland. After his ordination he settled as a hermit in the scenic Valley of the Two Lakes by the Upper Lake, led there by an angel. This is at a place now marked by a cave called “Saint Kevin’s Bed,” which was formerly a Bronze Age tomb that he reused, and the Teampull na Skelling (the rock church). After seven years as a solitary living on nettles and herbs, he was persuaded to founded a monastery at Disert-Coemgen for the many disciples he attracted. He made a pilgrimage to Rome and brought back many relics for his foundation. When the number who gathered around him became too numerous for the site, the monastery was moved after his death (at age 120) down to the Lower Lake. Still more churches were added to the east of the site during the abbacy of Laurence O’Toole. Glendalough has always been a popular pilgrimage site.
Kevin’s extant vita may be based on actual facts although the earliest was recorded about 400 years after his death. He is said to have fed his community for some time on salmon supplied by an otter. (Unfortunately, one of the monks wanted to make a pair of warm gloves out of the otter’s hide; the otter guessed what was on his mind and was careful never to appear again!) He visited Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise just before his death and Ciaran gave him his bell. (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Gill, Montague, White).
“Wandering by himself though lonely places, the blessed Kevin came one day upon a glen set in a hollow of the hills and lovely with running water. For there were two lakes, and clear streams here and there flowing down from the mountains. And he went up the valley to the head of the glen where it narrows; there is a lake there, and the mountains very high above it; it lies at their feet, and they rise from its very verge. This valley used to be called in the Irish Glen De, but now it is called Glen da Lough, that is the glen of the two lakes. And Saint Kevin settled himself beside the lake in a hollow tree and lived in these strait quarters for some while. Now and then he would go out to gather a few herbs and eat them, and drink a little water. And so he lived, for many days.
“Now a herd from a neighbouring farm (the master’s name was Bi) would some days bring his cows to pasture in this valley, where Saint Kevin lived as a hermit. And God, being minded to show His servant Kevin to men, made a cow from that herd come daily to Saint Kevin in his hollow; and it would lick the Saint’s clothes. And towards evening when she would hear the lowing of the herd returning, sated with green grass and well watered, and the high shouting of the herdsmen driving their beasts, she would hurry to the front of the herd, content with her own pasture.
“And every day as the herd made its way from the lap of the mountain into the valley, that cow would steal away from the rest, and come to the man of God. And every day she did as on the first day. And that cow had abundance of milk past belief, from the touch of the garments of the man of God. And the byremen, marvelling at the rich streams of milk from her, spoke of it to the master. And he said to the herdsman, ‘Do you know what has come to that cow?’ The herd knew nothing of it and his master said, ‘Keep a close eye on her, and see where she gets her good favour from.’
“So the next day the herdsman left his charge to the youngsters and himself followed after the cow, wherever she went. And the cow took her wonted track to the hollow tree, in which Saint Kevin lived. And the herdsman, finding her licking the Saint’s coat, stood agape; and then he fell to threatening the cow, and miscalling the man of God as a countryman might.
“And the Saint was ill-pleased, for he feared that the man would betray his presence there. And then the herdsman drove the beasts home to the byre. But when they had got tot he farm, the cows and calves fell into such a frenzy that the mothers did not know their own calves and would have killed them. The herdsman, terrified, told his master what he had seen in the valley, and at his bidding, came straight back to Saint Kevin, and fell on his knees and begged God’s Saint to grant him his forgiveness.
“The Saint adjured him, and he vowed not to betray him; for Saint Kevin did not know that the story was already told. The man had his pardon, and was given holy water; and when he sprinkled it on the cows and calves, they recognised one another with the old love between them, and were tame again on the spot. But the fame of Saint Kevin was carried over the whole countryside. And it came to the ears of some of the older saints, Eogan and Lochan and Enna, that Saint Kevin was in that deserted valley; and they took him away with them, against his will, to his monastery. . . .”
In the end Saint Kevin went back to the place where he had been a hermit in his youth and built a monastery there for those who followed him. He went off by himself, about a mile away, and built a hut for his dwelling. He forbade the monks to visit him unless it was urgent. He had the wild animals for company.
……..Kevin probably discovered this cave when he went to that area to start a new church. When they reached the village then called Cnoc Rua (“RedHill”), they found their way blocked by a woods, and they stopped.
“Why did you stop?” said Kevin.
“There are trees in the way,” they said.
“Don’t worry,” Kevin told them. “Just keep walking.”
They walked toward the woods, and the trees fell down in front of them to make a road. Kevin blessed the wood and promised “hell and a short life to any one who should burn either green wood or dry from this wood till doom”. That is how the village got its name, Holy Wood (“Sanctum Nemus” in medieval records), which by the 16th century became Hollywood. It is also called “Cill�n Chaoibh�n” in Irish, which means “Kevin’s Chapel”.
After seven years Kevin built himself an oratory of osiers and still lived alone. One day the huntsmen of the King of Leinster, Brandubh, came into the glen with hounds following a boar. The boar sought refuge in Kevin’s oratory, but the hounds did not follow him in. Instead, they lay on their chests outside, before the gate.
“And there was Kevin praying under a tree, and a crowd of birds perched on his shoulders and his hands, and flitting about him, singing to the Saint of God. The huntsman looked; and dumbfounded he took his way back with his hounds, and for the sake of the holy solitary’s blessing, let the boar go free. He told the marvel that he had seen to the King and to all of them. And there were times that the boughs and the leaves of the trees would sing sweet songs to Saint Kevin, that the melody of heaven might lighten his sore travail” (Plummer).
“Colman, son of Carbri, chief of the fourth of the men of northern Leinster, in his youth took to wife a woman of rank, but since their habits did in no way agree, sent her away, and took another in her place. Now the woman thus dismissed was wise and dangerous in the magic arts, and being passionate against her husband, Colman, the chief, she brought to death all the children of the other by her incantations; for as soon as she heard that a son or daughter had been born to him, she would come from wherever she was to stand over the dun where the child lay, and sing magic songs, until the little creature was dead.
“So, when a little son was born to him in his old age, he was straightway baptized, lest he should die through her witchcraft unchristened; and he was called Faolain. And then the chief his father sent him to Saint Kevin, that he might protect him by the strength of God from this woman, and bring him up in the ways of the world. And he offered him to Saint Kevin, promising that he and his seed after him should be buried by the house of Saint Kevin for ever, and should serve him, if Faolain should escape alive.
“And so Saint Kevin took the child gladly, and brought him up as a layman should be, even as his father had said; and he loved him dearly. But Saint Kevin knew not where to look for new milk to feed the small babe, because women and cows were far from his monastery; and he prayed to God to give him some assistance in the matter. And God sent Saint Kevin a doe from the mountain near by, and on her milk the babe Faolain was reared. Twice a day until the child was grown, the doe would come to Saint Kevin’s monastery, and there be milked by one of the brethren, and go back in all gentleness to her pasture.
[Another version tells us that the doe was killed by a she-wolf. When Kevin saw this, he commanded the wolf to provide the milk and the wolf obeyed.]
“But there came a day when the brother, milking her out of doors, set down the vessel with the milk on the ground; and up came a greedy rook intent upon a drink, and with its beak upset both pail and milk on the ground. And seeing it, Saint Kevin spoke to the rook.
“‘For long enough,’ said he, ‘shalt thou and thy race do penance for this crime. For on the day of my departure to heaven, there shall be much preparing of beef, and ye shall not eat thereof. And if any one of you make so bold as to touch so much as the blood or the offal of the cattle that shall be slain during those days, he shall die on the spot. And everywhere shall be merrymaking, but ye on the heights of these mountains that stand round us shall be sad, cawing and having the law of one another for very dismalness.’ And this marvel is fulfilled every year unto this day, even as the Saint foretold” (Plummer).
“After these things the Angel of God came to Saint Kevin saying, ‘O Saint of God, God hath sent me to thee, to bring thee to the place which the Lord hath appointed thee, to the east of the lesser lake, and there thou shalt be with thy brethren; for in that place shall thy resurrection be.’
“Saint Kevin said, ‘If it had not displeased my Lord, in this place where I have borne travail for Christ, I would fain have remained until my death.’
“Then answered the Angel, ‘If thou wilt go with thy monks to this place, there shall be many of the sons of life in it until the end of the world, and when thou art gone thy monks shall have a sufficiency of this world’s goods. And many thousands of blessed souls shall rise with thee from that place, to the kingdom of heaven.’
“Said Saint Kevin, ‘Indeed, O holy messenger, it is not possible for monks to dwell in that valley hemmed in by the mountains, unless God should aid them by His power.’
“Then answered the Angel, ‘Hear these words, O man of God. Fifty men of thy monks, if thou wilt have it so, shall God fill with heavenly bread, and naught of earthly sustenance at all, if they remain of one spirit in Christ after thy death; and to each of them that dies shall another succeed in the fear and the love of God, in habit and in vow, until the Day of Judgement.’
“Said Saint Kevin, ‘I like it not that there should be so few monks after me in that place.’
“Then answered the Angel, ‘If thou likest it not that there should be so few in that place, then shall many thousands live there, without stint or poverty, God supplying their worldly store, for ever. And thou from thy heavenly seat shalt rule thy family on earth, even as thou wilt, in Christ. And by God’s aid, thou shalt rule thy monks here and hereafter. For this place shall be holy and revered; the kings and the great ones of Ireland shall make it glorious to the glory of God because of thee, in lands, in silver and in gold, in precious stones and silken raiment, in treasures from over sea, and the delights of kings, and rich shall be its harvest fields. A great city shall rise there. And the burial place of thy monks shall be most sacred, and none that lie beneath its soil shall know the pains of hell. And verily if thou shouldst will that these four mountains which close this valley in should be levelled into rich and gentle meadow lands, beyond question thy God will do it for thee.’
“Said Saint Kevin, ‘I have no wish that the creatures of God should be moved because of me; my God can help that place in some other fashion. And moreover, all the wild creatures on these mountains are my house mates, gentle and familiar to me, and they would be said of this that thou hast said.’ And in such discourse the Angel of God and Saint Kevin made their way across the waters of the lake” (Benedictines).
“At one Lenten season, Saint Kevin, as was his way, fled from the company of men to a certain solitude, and in a little hut that did but keep out the sun and the rain, gave himself earnestly to reading and to prayer, and his leisure to contemplation alone. And as he knelt in his accustomed fashion, with his had outstretched through the window and lifted up to heaven, a blackbird settled on it, and busying herself as in her nest, laid in it an egg. And so moved was the Saint that in all patience and gentleness he remained, neither closing nor withdrawing his hand; but until the young ones were fully hatched he held it out unwearied, shaping it for the purpose. And for a sign of perpetual remembrance of this thing, all the images of Saint Kevin throughout Ireland show a blackbird in his outstretched hand” (Giraldus Cambrensis).
Commemoration (Vespers and Matins) of Our Venerable Father Kevin, Abbot of Glendalough, Wonder-worker of All Ireland
Saint Kevin is one of the patrons of Dublin. His feast is celebrated throughout Ireland.
Troparion of St Kevin tone 8
Thou wast privileged to live in the age of Saints O Father Kevin/ being baptized by one saint, taught by another and buried by a third./ Pray to God that He will raise up saints in our day/ to help, support and guide us into the way of salvation.
Icons of Saint Kevin:
Some articles and photographs of Saint Kevin’s Glendalough:–
1) MONASTIC IRELAND: Glendalough Co. Wicklow
3) The Church of Saint Kevin at Glendalough
4) The Round Tower at Glendalough
5) A Virtual Tour of Glendalough
6) Irish Monastic Sites in photographs
7) St Kevin’s Kitchen, etc
For more stories about Saint Kevin you can visit