Friday, October 11, 2013

Saint of the Month: St. Kenneth!

Stained Glass Windows of the Church of Ireland's
St. Kenneth's Cathedral in Kilkenny, Ireland.

St. Kenneth

AKA: St. Canice, St. Cainnech, Cainnech of Aghaboe, St. Kenny
Not to be Confused With: Kenneth of Wales
Feast Day: October 11 (but August 1 or 15 on the Orthodox Calendar).

Really Existed? Very Probably.
Timeframe: c. 515 - c. 600. Sources that say he was born c.525 probably made a typo.
Place: Ireland; worked in Scotland.

Credentials: Recognized by tradition in both Western and Eastern Christianity. Particularly prominent in the Church of Ireland.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: the shipwrecked.
Symbolism: No artistic tradition that I could find.

Anyone following this feature will recognize that the community of Saints encompasses both extremely well known figures, such as St. Luke and St. Augustine, and vanishingly obscure figures, such as St. Stephen of St. Stephen and St. Socrates fame. St. Kenneth isn’t one of the saints that everybody has heard of, but he’s definitely on the B-list. He’s regionally popular, with followings in Scotland and in Ireland, but he’s also recognized on the international level, not only by Roman Catholicism but in Orthodoxy as well.

What happens a lot with saints of this level of popularity is that different online sources present disparate or even contradictory life stories. Not so with St. Kenneth! All of the online sources seem to be on the same page this time, seeming to follow the lead of the fairly restrained Catholic Encyclopedia article. You have to dig a little to get at the legendary stuff, like his miraculous smooth voyage across storm-angered seas, or his leading the forces of Christianity against Ireland's last Druidic high priest.

Briefly: he was born in sixth-century Ireland. After many years as a shepherd, he studied under and with some other Irish saints before being ordained as a priest when he was about 30. He travelled to Rome to get the Pope’s blessing – which sounds extravagant, but no other reason for the voyage is given – before returning to Ireland to set up a monastery. When he was about 50, he spent some years in Scotland, organizing more monasteries and building the first church on the site where the town of St. Andrews (of invention-of-golf fame) is today.

You may have heard of Kilkenny, the town in Ireland? That’s named for him; the “Kil” part means “church.” You probably haven’t heard of the “Chainnigh Glas,” though. This is St. Kenneth’s commentary on the gospels, and most articles on the saint imply that it is an important, enduring work of mediaeval Christian scholarship. When I tried to find out more about it using a well-known internet search engine, however, the only references I could find were where it was mentioned in articles about St. Kenneth. So I don’t know: maybe it really is an important historical text that the internet hasn’t caught up to yet, or maybe it’s just the padding on St. Kenneth’s vitae.

Happy St. Kenneth’s Day to you and yours!

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