“It is a mystery why a church in land locked southwest Missouri, a parish in the rocky Missouri Ozarks was named for an Irish patron saint of sailors who died in 530 AD. Parishioners may never know if the name came from the Irish railroad workers who built the iron road into the Ozarks, from some of the first parishioners, from a priest or even from the Bishop Hogan who dedicated the church but St. Canera Catholic Church in Neosho, Missouri remains the sole church dedicated to this Irish holy woman.”
St. Canera: Patron Saint and Early Irish Feminist
In the 6th century, was a monastic center from which missionaries spread out to convert much of Northern Europe. Gaelic was the native language of the island and was a rich land, with many natural resources to support its’ people.
After St. Senan founded a monastery on Inis Craig or Scattery Island in southern Clare, word spread of the community. St. Canera experienced a vision in which she saw a pillar of light ascending into heaven from Inis Craig from St. Senan’s monastery. To her, that meant that it must be an exceptionally holy sight and since she believed she was near death, Canera made the decision to travel to the island monastery.
She made the arduous journey on foot and arrived only to learn that Senan would not allow any woman to enter his conclave. Since Inis Craig is located at the mouth of the River Shannon and is an island, she had to cross water to reach it. In some stories, she is carried across the water by an angel but in others Canera is said to have walked on water because no one would take her across to the all male religious community.
Although Canera told Senan of her vision, he would not allow her to enter and suggested that she go to his mother’s home, a kinswoman. Canera refused and told him of her vision. Her words are reported to have been,
“Christ is no worse than yourself. If he could find comfort in the presence of women, so should the monks. Christ came to redeem women no less than to redeem men and if women gave service and tended to Christ and his Apostles, why should the monks distance themselves from women?”
Although in the same time period monasteries that offered sanctuary to both men and women existed in , Senan and his brother monks would not allow Canera to join them. Their belief was that celibacy prohibited all contact with women.
Despite being unable to join with the monks, Canera remained on the island until her death which was imminent. Senan gave her the Last Rites of the Church and buried her as she wished, on the very edge of the island. Although he had warned her that the waves would wash away her grave, she had replied, “Leave that to God.”
Irish sea captains and sailors often carried pebbles from Inis Craig in the belief that St. Canera would deliver them from shipwreck. For centuries, Irish sailors have saluted her final resting place as they passed at sea. A 16th century poem translates from Gaelic to ask St. Canera to “Bless my good ship, protecting the power of grace.”
Thomas Moore remembered elusive St. Canera in one of his Irish melodies and today pilgrims reflect on her solitary life near her grave on Inis Craig.
In a parish named for this remarkable, independent woman, it’s important to celebrate her spirit, her devotion to God, and her unfailing walk as a holy woman in early Christian times.
St. Canera Church is located within the Springfield-Cape Giradeau Diocese in southern Missouri and in the small city of Neosho. The church can be found at Hill and Wood Streets in Neosho.
St. Canera: Patron Saint and Early Irish Feminist. 2017. St. Canera: Patron Saint and Early Irish Feminist. [ONLINE] Available at: http://sumonova.com/st-canera-patron-saint-and-early-irish-feminist/. [Accessed 31 January 2017].
“According to the legend, one night Cannera saw all the churches Ireland emitting rays of light; but the greatest blaze was made by that of Senan. She at once went to visit him on his island. What follows is from the Life in the Book of Lismore “Senan went to the harbour to meet her, and gave her welcome. ‘You see, I have come,’ said Cannera.’ ‘Go,’ replied Senan, ‘to your sister who dwells in yon isle to the East, for I cannot receive you here.’ ‘I have come to abide here,’ retorted Cannera. ‘Women are not suffered to enter this isle,’ rejoined Senan. ‘How canst thou say that?’ asked Cannera. ‘Art thou better than Jesus Christ? He came to redeem women no less than men. He suffered on the Cross for women as well as men. He opens the kingdom of heaven to women as surely as to men. Why then dost thou shut women out from this isle?’ ‘You are an obstinate woman,’ said Senan. ‘Come now,’ said Cannera,’ give me a place where I may be buried and give me the Sacrament.’ ‘I will give thee a place of resurrection on the sea-brink,’ said Senan. ‘But mind you, the sea will eat it away, and carry off your bones.’ ‘God will grant, ‘said she, ‘that the spot where I shall lie may not be the first to be swept away by the waves.’ ‘Very well, then,’ said Senan, ‘come ashore’”
From The Lives of the British Saints by S. Baring-Gould: Society of Cymmrodorion (London England) p. 192.