mercredi 3 juin 2015

Saint KEVIN (COEMGEN) de GLENDALOUGH, ermite et abbé

Saint Kevin

Abbé de Glendalough ( 618)

Kelvin, Kelvyn ou Caoimhín

Chez les irlandais, il ne le cède en popularité qu'à saint Patrick. Il fonda dans un site admirable le célèbre monastère de Glendalough, près de Dublin. Ceux qui s'y rendaient sept fois en pèlerinage gagnaient autant d'indulgences que s'ils faisaient le pèlerinage des sept basiliques romaines. 

En anglais:

- Paroisse Saint-Kevin de Glendalough, archidiocèse de Dublin

- Site de la commune de Glendalough, Monastic City

À Glendalough en Irlande, l’an 622, saint Kévin ou Coemgen, abbé, qui fonda un monastère, où il fut le père et le chef d’un grand nombre de moines.

Martyrologe romain


Kevin of Glendalough, Abbot (AC)

(also known as 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, supposedly led there by an angel. This is probably 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 Saint Laurence O'Toole. Glendalough has always been a popular pilgrimage site. Kevin's extant vita are romantic, untrustworthy legends, which may be based on actual facts although the earliest was recorded about 400 years after his death. Most were written to further the claims of Glendalough, which was already an important monastery and diocese. 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!) It is also claimed that he visited Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise just before his death and that Ciaran gave him his bell. A few of the stories are repeated below: (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, 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 neighboring 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 favor 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 herd, 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 recognized 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. . . ." (Plummer).

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.

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 Judgment.'

"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" (Plummer).

"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).

Saint Kevin is one of the patrons of Dublin. His feast is celebrated throughout Ireland.


St. Kevin (Coemgen)

Abbot of Glendalough, Ireland, b. about 498, the date being very obscure; d. 3 June, 618; son of Coemlog and Coemell. His name signifies fair-begotten. He was baptized by St. Cronan and educated by St. Petroc, a Briton. From his twelfth year he studied under monks, and eventually embraced the monastic state. Subsequently he founded the famous monastery of Glendalough (the Valley of the Two Lakes), the parent of several other monastic foundations. After visiting Sts. Columba, Comgall, and Cannich at Usneach (Usny Hill) in Westmeath, he proceeded to Clonmacnoise, where St. Cieran had died three days before, in 544. Having firmly established his community, he retired into solitude for four years, and only returned to Glendalough at the earnest entreaty of his monks. He belonged to the second order of Irish saints and probably was never a bishop. So numerous were his followers that Glendalough became a veritable city in the desert. His festival is kept throughout Ireland. Glendalough became an episcopal see, but is now incorporated with Dublin. St. Kevin's house and St. Kevin's bed of rock are still to be seen: and the Seven Churches of Glendalough have for centuries been visited by pilgrims.


O'HANLON, Lives of Irish Saints (Dublin, 1875), VI, 28 sqq.; HEALY, Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars (Dublin, 1890); LANIGAN, Ecclesiastical Hist. or Ireland (Dublin, 1829), II; OLDEN in Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v.

Edmonds, Columba. "St. Kevin (Coemgen)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 3 Jun. 2017 <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by David Cheney.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Saint Kevin of Glendalough

Also known as
  • Caoimhghin
  • Coemgen
  • Coemgenus
  • Comegen
  • Keivin
  • Kevin of Glen da locha

Son of Coemlog and Coemell, Leinster nobility. Baptized by Saint Cronan of Roscrea, and educated by Saint Petroc of Cornwall from age seven. Lived with monks from age 12. Studied for the priesthood in Cell na Manach (Killnamanagh). Student of Saint Eonagh. Priest, ordained by bishop Lugidus. Monk. Acquaintance of Saint Comgall, Saint Columba, Saint Cannich, and Saint Kieran of Clonmacnois.

Following his ordination, he lived as a hermit for seven years into a cave at Glendalough, a Bronze Age tomb now known as Saint Kevin’s Bed, to which he was reportedly led by an angel. He wore skins, ate the nettles and herbs that came to hand, and spent his time in prayer. Word of his holiness spread, and he attracted followers, including Saint Moling. Founded the monastery at Glendalough, which included relics brought back during a pilgrimage to Rome, Italy. This house, in turn, founded several others, and around it grew a town which became a see city, though now subsumed into the archdiocese of Dublin. Served as abbot for several years. When he saw that the monastery was well-established, he withdrew to live as a hermit. Four years later, however, he returned to Glendalough at the entreaty of his monk, and served as abbot until his death at age 120. King Colman of Ui Faelain entrusted Kevin with raising his son.

Noted as a man who did not always like the company of men – but was at home with the animals, as some of the legends surrounding him show.
  • During a drought, Kevin fed his monks with salmon, a symbol of wisdom, brought to him by an otter. When one of the monks considered making gloves out of the otter’s pelt, it left and never returned.
  • Once during Lent, while he held his arms outstretched in prayer, a blackbird laid an egg in the Kevin’s hand. He remained in that position until the baby bird hatched.
  • A cow which habitually licked Kevin’s clothes while the saint was in prayer gave as much milk as 50 other cows.
  • Lacking milk to feed the son of King Colman, Kevin prayed for help. A doe arrived to provide for the baby. When the doe was later killed by a wolf, Kevin chastised the killer; the wolf then provided the milk herself.
  • A young man with severe epilepsy received a vision that he would be cured by eating an apple. There were, however, no apple trees about. Kevin, seeing the lad’s need, ordered a willow to produce apples; twenty yellow apples appeared on the tree.
  • In his old age, King O’Tool of Glendalough made a pet of a goose. As time passed, the goose also became aged and weak, and finally unable to fly. Hearing of Kevin’s sanctity and power, the pagan king sent for him, and asked that he make the beloved goose young. Kevin asked for a payment of whatever land the goose would fly over. As the goose could no longer take flight, O’Toole agreed. When Kevin touched the bird, it grew young, and flew over the entire valley that was used to found the monastery of Glendalough.
  • A boar was being chased by a group of hunters with their dogs. It ran to where Kevin sat praying under a tree, and cowered beside him for protection. When the dogs saw the saint in prayer, they laid on their stomachs, and would not approach the boar. When the hunters decided they would ignore the man and kill the boar, a flock of birds settled in the tree above the praying saint. The hunters took this as a sign, and left man and beast alone.
  • c.498 at the Fort of the White Fountain, Leinster, Ireland

St. Kevin - founder of Glendalough
by Bridget Haggerty

As with St. Columba, Kevin's family were of the nobility - he was the son of Coemlog and Coemell of Leinster. At his birth in 498 at the Fort of the White Fountain, he was given the name of Coemgen, which meant "beautiful shining birth. He also came into the world without the usual pains of labour.

St. Kevin’s birth and early years figure prominently in traditional legends. An angel is said to have appeared as Kevin was about to be baptised and told his parents that the child should be called Kevin. The priest - Father ronan of Roscrea - who performed the ceremony said, “This was surely an angel of the Lord and as he named the child so shall he be called”. So Kevin received the name which in Latin means pulcher-genitus or the fair-begotten. He is the first person in history to carry the name and it is also said that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of St. Patrick - that he was the one to come who would evangelize the region of Ireland just south of Dublin.

From the age of seven, he was educated by St. Petroc of Cornwall and he lived with monks until he was 12. Called to the monastic life, he studied for the priesthood and was tutored by St. Eonaghan. His earliest tutor was St. Petroc of Cornwall, who had come to Leinster about 492, and devoted himself with considerable ardour to the study of the Sacred Scriptures, in which his pupil also became proficient.

Kevin next studied under his uncle, St. Eugenius, afterwards Bishop of Ardstraw, who at that time lived at Kilnamanagh in Wicklow, where he taught his pupils all the sacred learning which he had acquired in the famous British monastery of Rosnat.

Kevin was ordained by Bishop Lugidus and following his ordination, he lived as a hermit in a cave at Glendalough, a Bronze Age tomb now known as St. Kevin's Bed, to which he was reportedly led by an angel. He went barefoot, wore skins, ate the nettles and herbs that came to hand, and spent his time in prayer.

It was a lonely life; still we are told that "the branches and leaves of the trees sometimes sang sweet songs to him, and heavenly music alleviated the severity of his life." Perhaps it was in this cave, too, that Kevin learned to play that harp of his that would long remain a treasured relic. When he later wrote his monastic rule, it was composed in verse. Possibly, he even set it to music on the harp.

Kevin was blessed with good looks, and unconsciously he won the affections of a beautiful maiden named Kathleen who is said to have had “eyes of most unholy blue.” Ignoring the fact that he was bound by holy vows, the bold Kathleen followed Kevin into the woods; when he felt her presence, he threw himself into a bed of nettles; he then gathered a handful of the burning weeds and scourged the maiden. One biographer cites Kevin as saying, "The fire without extinguished the fire within.” 

In this writer’s opinion, it seems out of character for a person as gentle as Kevin to have acted so violently. But the scourging is nothing compared to how the poets Gerald Griffin and Thomas Moore dramatised the meeting. The two works , colourful though they are, appear to be totally imaginative and to have little bearing on the incident. Would Kevin be likely to “Hurl the maiden from the rock into the black lake shrieking” as Griffin’s poem suggests? Or would he have “Hurled her from the beetling rock” into the lake, as indicated in Moore’s verse? Very unlikely. Especially when one considers that Kathleen sought Kevin’s forgiveness and is said to have become a very holy woman, noted for her great sanctity. 

As with many hermits, St. Kevin had a special love for birds and animals, which is illustrated in numerous stories. The “Acta Sanctorum” which is based on an ancient manuscript contains a number of legends. The author of a commentary on this manuscript, Fr. Francis Baert, S.J., explains, “that although many of the legends given to this work are of doubtful veracity; it was decided to let them stand in favour of the antiquity of the document which is placed as having being written during or before the 12th century”.

The legends include one about a blackbird laying an egg in Kevin’s hand when his arms were outstretched in prayer. The saint remained in this position until the baby bird hatched. (Seamus Heaney writes a poem about this event and explores the relationship between meaning and myth).

Long before his time in the cave, strange miracles were part and parcel of Kevin’s life. When an infant, a mysterious white cow came to his parent’s house every morning and evening and supplied the milk for the baby. When Kevin was old enough he was put to tending sheep. One day some men came to him and begged him to give them some sheep. He was touched by their poverty and gave them four sheep. When evening came, however, and Kevin’s sheep were counted. the correct number were still there.

On a day in autumn,, Kevin was working in the kitchen. Meals were being prepared for harvesters who were busy gathering crops in the fields when a number of pilgrims called and asked for food. Kevin, filled with compassion, gave them the harvesters’ dinner. He was rebuked by his superiors for his action. He then told the attendants to fill all the ale jars with water and gather together all the bare meat bones. Then he prayed alone and, it is said, the water turned to ale and the bones were covered with meat again.

In another story, a boar was being chased by a group of hunters with their dogs. It ran to where Kevin sat praying under a tree, and cowered beside him for protection. When the dogs saw the saint in prayer, they laid on their stomachs, and would not approach the boar. When the hunters decided they would ignore the man and kill the boar, a flock of birds settled in the tree above the praying saint. The hunters took this as a sign, and left man and beast alone. 

Perhaps one of the most interesting legends is about a pet goose which belonged to King O'Toole of Glendalough. Both the king and the goose were getting on in years and as time passed, the goose became weak and unable to fly. Hearing of Kevin's sanctity and power, the king sent for him, and asked that he make the beloved goose young. Kevin asked for a payment of whatever land the goose would fly over. As the goose could no longer take flight, O'Toole agreed. When Kevin touched the bird, it grew young, and flew over the entire valley that was used to found the monastery of Glendalough. 

So how did the he great monastery come about? History tells us that after seven years in the cave, a farmer named Dima discovered the skin-clad hermit in his hideout. Kevin yielded to Dima's persuasion to go to the place in the valley that came to be known as Disert Coemgen. Here disciples soon gathered around Kevin and they talked him into being their spiritual leader. For a while, as the story, goes, a friendly otter would daily bring a salmon to feed Kevin and his monks. Then, one day the thought entered the head of farmer Dima's son that he could make a fine pair of gloves out of the otter's pelt. The otter seems to have sensed peril, for after that day he disappeared and the monks had to seek provisions elsewhere.

Perhaps it was lack of available food that persuaded Kevin to move farther up the glen, at the junction of two sparkling streams. Here, he established his permanent monastery. He is also reported to have made a pilgrimage to Rome around this time to bring back the blessing of the Pope to his community.

It was at the new site that Kevin and his monks started to erect the first rough churches, cells and round tower that would make the settlement a center of pilgrimage, and its very ruins a memorable sight even up to the present day.

In his time, the charismatic and kind St. Kevin attracted numerous visitors to Glendalough and many stories are still told of his legendary way with animals. One tale tells us that King Colman of the Faelain, having lost his earlier sons by deaths that he blamed on evil spirits, entrusted his next infant son, Faelan, to the care of the saintly abbot. Now, the monastery had no cows to provide milk for the child. But Kevin, encountering a doe, commanded her to nurse the little prince along with her fawn. The doe obeyed. When that source of nourishment ceased, somehow St. Kevin ordered a she-wolf to take over the task. The wolf also complied. As a result, Colman's son grew up strong and healthy.

Other boys were likewise sent to the monks to be educated. On a certain day one of them asked for an apple. The monastery had no more apple trees than it had cows, but St. Kevin blessed a clump of willow trees and the willows began to bear apples. Four centuries later these miraculous trees were still producing "St. Kevin's apples," and they were in demand all over Ireland.

Kevin also planted a yew tree at the door of what would be, from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, the cathedral church of Glendalough. This yew was revered as a special heritage of the saint until 1835, when a neighboring landowner chopped it down for use in making furniture. Devotees of St. Kevin hastened to collect every last chip of the wood as relics of the venerable founder.

Still another story is told about the actual construction of the cathedral. Folklorists tell us that when the cathedral was being built the labourers and masons agreed to work as long a day as possible and to “rise with the lark and lie with the lamb”. These long hours soon had the men exhausted and when Kevin investigated he found that the local larks started their day extremely early. He prayed for an answer to the problem and from that day, according to tradition, the skylark ceased singing in Glendalough.

As Word of Kevin’s holiness spread, Glendalough became the “parent” of several other monastic foundations. After visiting Sts. Columba, Comgall, and Cannich at Usneach in Westmeath, Kevin proceeded to Clonmacnoise, where St. Cieran had died three days before, in 544. Having firmly established his community, he retired into solitude for four years, and only returned to Glendalough at the earnest entreaty of his monks. He belonged to the second order of Irish saints and probably was never a bishop. So numerous were his followers that Glendalough became a veritable city in the desert. Glendalough was later an episcopal see, but is now incorporated with Dublin. St. Kevin's house and St. Kevin's Bed of rock are still to be seen: and the Seven Churches of Glendalough have for centuries been visited by pilgrims from all over the world. 

Widely noted though he was, St. Kevin was always a hermit and a pilgrim at heart, and disliked being tied down. Even in his old age he had a yearning to make just one more pilgrimage. However, when he mentioned his desire to a wise old man, the aged one replied, "Birds do not hatch their eggs when they are on the wing." Kevin took that as a sign from God that he should stay where he was.

St. Kevin died in 618 of natural causes and he was canonized in 1903. His feast day is celebrated on July 3rd in both Orthodox and Western calendars. In Ireland it is celebrated on June 3rd. The Feast of St. Kevin is also sometimes known as Pattern Day in Glendalough or simply "Pattern" which is the general term for a designated date honouring the local patron saint. After the British all but destroyed the celebrated community in 1398, the Irish and others still came and prayed in the name of St. Kevin. After the Dissolution of the Monastaries in 1539, when the community was closed down as an official church site, the ever-faithful followers of St. Kevin came every June 3, the anniversary of his death, in memory of the great teacher and holy man.  In fact, the Feast of St. Kevin became a riotous event by the 18th and 19th centuries - the peak of the St. Kevin's Day frenzy. The church, which frowned on such joyous revelry - at least officially - banned the festival in the 1890s.

As might be expected, the “St. Francis of Ireland” is the patron saint of blackbirds.He is also honoured as such in Dublin and Glendalough.


O'Hanlon's Lives of Irish Saints (Dublin, 1875), VI, 28 sqq.; Healy's Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars (Dublin, 1890); LLanigan, Ecclesiastical Hist. of Ireland (Dublin, 1829), II; Olden, in Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v. 

Essay by Stuart Astill

Essay by Fr. Robert F. McNamara

San Kevin (Coemgen) Abate di Glendalough

Leinster, Irlanda, 498 c. - 3 giugno 618

Nobile di Leinster in Irlanda, battezzato da San Cronan ed educato da San Petroc. Fondò il monastero di Glendalough.

Martirologio Romano: A Glandáloch in Irlanda, san Coemgen, abate, che fondò un monastero, nel quale si ritiene sia stato padre e guida di molti monaci.

Kevin, questo nome molto diffuso nei Paesi anglosassoni è pressoché sconosciuto da noi, deriva dal celtico gwen o kwen, che significa ‘bianco’ e ‘puro’. 

Kevin nacque in Irlanda nel 498 nella contea di Wicklow, discendente di stirpe reale; a sette anni fu affidato alle cure di s. Petroc, con cui rimase cinque anni. Da lì passò sotto la disciplina dello zio paterno Eogan abate del monastero di Kilnamanagh, dove divenuto giovane, ricevé l’ordinazione sacerdotale dal vescovo Lugaidh. 

Quando lo zio Eogan, dovendo spostarsi nell’Irlanda settentrionale, voleva nominarlo abate del monastero, Kevin se ne scappò e si nascose nel deserto detto ‘La valle dei due laghi’, l’odierna Glendalough. 

Visse per un certo tempo in solitudine e vita eremitica, finché un pastore non lo scoprì; attirati dal suo ascetismo vari giovani si associarono a lui al punto che verso il 549 costruì un grande monastero con annessa una scuola. 

In breve tempo la fondazione divenne per tutta l’Irlanda orientale, un centro di ascetica, un tempio di santità e di sapere, dove la pratica delle virtù si affiancava alle arti liberali. Diresse il grande complesso monastico per oltre 60 anni, conducendo una vita di penitenza, guidando i monaci con la parola e con l’esempio verso la difficile via della santità. 

Secondo gli ‘Annales Ultonienses’ morì il 3 giugno 618 all’età di 120 anni e sepolto nella chiesa del monastero di Glendalough, che divenne uno dei quattro luoghi principali per i pellegrinaggi in Irlanda. 

Molto venerato, nella devozione e culto popolare irlandese viene subito dopo i tre grandi patroni nazionali: s. Patrizio, s. Brigida, s. Columba. 

La sua festa ricorre il 3 giugno e in tale data è ricordato nel ‘Martirologio di Tallaght’.

Autore: Antonio Borrelli