In Cool Catholics, Jesus League

Saint Enda was a young Irish warrior, intent upon war and the slaughter of his enemies; he had a remarkable sister by the name of Fanchea, the abbess of a convent who would eventually be canonized. His father was Conall Derg of Oriel, and when his father died, he succeeded him as king and went off to fight his enemies.

Coming back from a bloody battle, Saint Enda stopped by his sister’s convent, the victory cries of his soldiers disturbing the convent and distressing his sister. Fanchea faced her brother and told him his hands were dripping with blood and that he should turn his mind to things spiritual. He promised to amend his ways if she would give him one of the young girls in the convent to marry, and Fanchea pretended to agree to his stipulation. Soon after, however, the “promised” bride-to-be died, and Fanchea brought her brother to look upon the corpse.

Faced with the reality of death, and by his sister’s persuasion, Saint Enda decided to study for the priesthood, and Fanchea sent him to Candida Casa in Roman Britain, a great center of monasticism in England. There he took monastic vows and was ordained.

Saint Enda returned to Ireland and received a grant of land in the Aran Islands from Oengus, king of Cashel, his brother-in-law. There he founded a monastery, one of the first in Ireland, and he is considered the patriarch of Irish monks.

Most of the great Irish saints had some connection with Aran: Saint Brendan was blessed for his voyage there; Jarlath of Tuam, Finnian of Clonard, and Saint Columba called it the “Sun of the West.” Aran became a miniature Mount Athos, with a dozen monasteries scattered over the island, the most famous, Killeany, where Saint Enda himself lived. There that great tradition of austerity, holiness, and learning was begun that was to enrich Europe for the next thousand years.

Enda died in his little rock cell by the sea around the year 530, a very old man, and the says that “it will never be known until the day of judgment the number of saints whose bodies lie in the soil of Aran.”

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