CELT document T201041

Life of St. Findan

Unknown author

Vita Sancti Findani

Edited by Reidar Th. Christiansen

Life of St. Findan

1. Here begins the Life of the holy Findan, Confessor


Incipit Vita Sancti Findani Confessoris

Since Almighty God is wont with supreme compassion to lead on to the practices of the more perfect life his elect, whom he has marked out for eternal life before the foundation of the world, people engrossed in the different cares of this world and engaged in various pursuits; he leads them in ways different indeed but springing from the most pure fountain of his mercy; so we also have thought it fitting to give a short account of a notable man whose life is a pattern for our times to imitate, in so far as the frequent perusal of his deeds may afford us and those who come after us some help towards our betterment.

Thus we shall try, with God's help, to describe in the following pages the incidents by which he attained a life of perfection, and the many trials and toils which were the lot of this man,  p.156 Findan by name, of Irish birth, a native of the province of Leinster. Well, this man's sister, among other women, became a captive of the foreigners who go by the name of Nordmanni, in the course of destructive raids which they made on many parts of the Irish island which is also known as Hibernia. Then the father instructed his son Findan to take a sum of money, ransom his sister and bring her back to him. Accordingly, taking with him some followers and an interpreter he sought eagerly to carry out a father's instructions and obey the urgings of a brother's affectionate heart. But early in the course of this mission, he was waylaid by the foreigners, cast into chains and, as was to be expected, brought straight away to their ships which were moored off the nearby shore. That day and the following night he remained bound in chains without food or drink. Next morning, however, the foreigners held a conference and some, whose attitude was more reasonable and in whom God had inspired, as we believe, humane feelings, argued that people coming from Ireland for the purpose of ransoming others ought not to be forcibly detained. In this way he gained his liberty from them. The most loving God, knowing that his servant, as yet in the garb of a layman, would on all occasions afterwards serve him most faithfully, deigned even then to deliver him from the hands of the enemy. On another occasion also, when a large body of the same enemies was pursuing him, he fled into a house and hid behind a door. Not one of them could find him although they were running to and fro all about him.

We think we ought also mention the circumstances which surrounded his going abroad and how he strove to bring his experience to a noble fulfilment. In the same province of Leinster there arose a violent quarrel between two chieftains. The father of the aforesaid Findan, in the service of one chieftain, killed a man of the opposite faction. The opposing chieftain was excessively angered when he heard the news and immediately sought the abode of Findan's father, supported by a large force, intending by fire and sword to destroy him and all his possessions.  p.157 They came at night, surrounded the house with their forces and threw firebrands onto the roofs. When Findan's father emerged from the flames they slew him. Findan, however, was staying in another house and they likewise set fire to that, but failed to seize him as he bravely defended himself before the exit; in fact he escaped through the midst of fire and enemies almost without a scratch, protected, it seems, by God's favour. They succeeded in killing his brother who had been in the same house. Bitter hatred and relentless hostility arose between the two clans, but after a short time, through the good offices of some followers a considerable sum of money was given to Findan and his people in recompense, and the two sides made peace. In the same year, however, Findan's enemies, fearing his vengeance might descend on them, and that resentment at his father's death might revive in his heart, and equally from a desire of being rid of him, secretly devised a trap in the following manner. They made their plans and prepared a banquet for Findan in a place near the sea. Findan was invited, the Nordmanni arrived and seized him from the midst of the guests, as they had contracted with his enemies to do, bound him in the closest bonds and carried him off. His Nordmann captor did not then intend to return home and, as was customary, sold him to another, who soon sold him to a third party and he again to a fourth. The latter, wishing to visit his own land again, gathered his followers and led Findan, among others, into captivity. When they had gone more than half-way in their journey, some ships belonging to their own nation met them, and a man from these ships, boarding the vessel which carried Findan, asked about the nature of the island and how they had fared there. But there was in the ship a man whose brother the questioner had killed. This man, at once recognizing the newcomer, cut him down. Seeing this, the comrades of the dead man made ready for battle, and the two vessels clashed in a long, bitter engagement. While they struggled thus, Findan, chained though he was, raised himself and strove to help his master and companions. However,  p.158 the crews of the other ships came between and separated the fighters from one another, and thus the ship carrying Findan withdrew undamaged. But the master, mindful of Findan's loyalty in attempting to help though chained, and wishing to reward such devotion, soon freed him from his bonds and promised he would treat him well. After this they came to islands which they call the Orcades, close to the land of the Picts. Those on board went ashore to rest, to roam about exploring, and to wait for a favourable wind. Findan also, availing himself of his freedom, began to explore the physical aspects of the island, and to ponder anxiously the possibility of saving himself by flight. So, coming upon a huge rock in an unknown spot, he promptly hid beneath it. The tide, when it came in, used to reach this rock, and he was at a loss as to what to do or where to turn. On one side the sea hemmed him in, on the other fear of the enemy, who were running to and fro about him and walking over the rock, under which he was hiding, and calling him everywhere by his name, caused him the utmost anxiety. But, preferring to endure the frenzy of the sea rather than to fall into the hands of men who surpassed the beasts in all their savagery, he scorned the huge waves and spent that day and the following night in the place without food. Next day the enemy had moved to another part of the island. The sea ebbed but, fringing the mouth of the cave and driven at times by a blast of wind, it forced its waves into the cavern. Findan, going forth and creeping on all fours through the scrub from fear of the foreigners, scanned the whole area with great care in his efforts to find a way of escape. He thought it was a mainland territory and inhabited by men, but seeing its limits he discovered that on one side the island was bounded by the ocean and on the other by an extensive stretch of water. Lacking as he was in all bodily strength, and beset by excessive ill-health brought on by bonds and hunger, he did not dare to take to the water. He stayed there for three days on end engaged in the double task of traversing the island and looking for a way out, nourished only by herbs and water.  p.159 Finally, on the third morning, when he saw the denizens of the sea and the huge-bodied dolphins playing and turning over near the shore, inspired by God's mercy he reflected on the scene in silence and in tears uttered from the depths of his heart this prayer:

“O God, who hast created both these brute creatures and me, a human being, who hast made the sea passable for them but to me hast granted a safe passage for my feet on land, come to my aid in the present trouble with Thy unfailing compassion. From this hour, O Lord, I dedicate my body and soul to Thy service, and I will never turn my mind back to the lures of this world. For Thee I will seek the territory of Thy apostles, and undertaking a voyage abroad will not return to my own country. With my whole strength will I serve Thee thereafter and following Thee I will not turn aside my eyes.”

So, armed with this steadfast faith, fully clothed as he was, he plunged into the water. Here I have a miracle to relate: at once the divine compassion caused his clothing to become rigid so that he was supported by it and could not sink, and by the swimming motion with which his clothing was endowed, as it seemed to him, he was carried unharmed through the boisterous waves to land. Ascending a very high ridge of mountains to see if he could discover houses anywhere or the smoke of habitaions, he passed two days with a scant diet of herbs as his nourishment. But, when the third dawn had spread its light over the land, he saw men walking far off; whereupon, keenly excited in mind, despite their being strangers, he boldly approached them. They received him kindly and conducted him to the bishop of the region. This man had actually acquired his education in Ireland and was well acquainted with the language of that country. Findan stayed two years with him and enjoyed many tokens of his kindness and generosity. But mindful of his promise, he gathered together some companions and, obtaining the permission of his bishop, prepared for a journey to Gallia. Here he made for the foundation of Martin and afterwards traversed Francia, Alamannia and Langobardia. Travelling on foot he  p.160 eventually reached Rome. Returning from there, he sought out a distinguished man of Alamannia with whom he spent four years exercising his priestly office, excelling as the years passed in the virtue of abstinence and always showing forth fresh patterns of sanctity. Then this elder (patron) caused him to become a monk in the monastery of Rheinau (which he had founded) in the year of our Lord's incarnation 800, and in his own 51st year. 1 Here for five years he advanced through the separate stages of virtue. At last, fired by a greater love of perfection, he shut himself away in a confined place and mortified his flesh by extraordinary abstinence.

When Findan had conceived a wish to lead the life of a recluse and accordingly toiled in fervent prayer to know the will of God a voice came down to him from above saying: “Thou art permitted of God ...” 2

With the permission of his abbot, he freely bestowed on the poor a fourth part of the daily ration of food allotted to him as to the other brothers, doing this over the course of a year. In the second year, stinting himself to a greater degree, he gave away half of his share, and in the third year three-quarters, keeping for himself only a fourth part. While still in the company of the brothers he secretly placed under his body, instead of a mattress, stones camouflaged by a covering cloth and rested for a little while until all were asleep, whereupon he would give himself up to prayer. It happened one night that engrossed in his usual prayers he saw a demon in the likeness of a man, of huge size, with its mouth open and tongue thrust out, its arms outstretched and its eyes flashing threats. When this apparition was intent on attacking him he made the sign of the cross, whereupon it vanished. Findan, however, unafraid, stood in the form of a cross before the altar waiting for the morning office.


When he had withdrawn into a solitary state he was so oppressed with hunger that he longed to eat a whole loaf and more on the feast day of St. Patrick, which day it happened to be. He earnestly begged God to take away from him such gluttony through the saint's intercession. Soon after his prayer and tears, which he used to shed most copiously even over trifling matters, he heard the following divine response uttered in his own language: “Entreat Christ and Patrick of Armagh, on whom is neither plague nor devil, throw off fever and thirst from thee, throw off hunger (?) on the devil.” 3 From this moment the sin of gluttony became the least temptation to him.

In the same way, while in the world outside in the year before he was to enter on the solitary life, he spent every night standing in the church in prayer. So on the night before the relics of St. Blaise had come thither from Rome, praying in his usual manner in the church he perceived suddenly with his bodily eyes that a dove had settled above the altar and had flitted by degrees from there to the crypt and disappeared. Accordingly, on the morrow they placed those same relics over the actual altar above which this bird had come to rest in the sight of the servant of God.

Outside also on an earlier occasion, he was likewise alone in the church at night in order to implore the intercession of the aforesaid martyr in these words: “Saint Blaise, who know yourself to be a stranger in this place, just as I am also, plead with God for my sins!” Repeating this prayer he shed tears most copiously in his usual manner, standing before the altar where the sacred relics had been placed, not bowed down but upright. However, while his gaze, as he used to relate, was darkened for a brief moment, he heard a voice bringing this message: “Your place in heaven is prepared, now that your sins have been forgiven.”

Again having entered into the closest seclusion which, when opportunity offers, we shall attempt to describe, on the morning  p.162 of the day on which the relics of the oft-mentioned martyr were to be moved from the same place to a nearby woodland, the aforesaid servant of God was fired with a great desire to enjoy the privilege of carrying the martyr's relics on his own shoulders. However, he had long set himself in the same spot and had bound himself by a vow never to leave it. Accordingly the Lord, who hears the wishes of the poor and brings them to fulfilment as he says by the prophet, granted the wish of his most devoted servant. That same night it seemed to him that he crossed with a numerous company the bridge over the Rhine by which one leaves the actual monastery (where he lived in seclusion), and that a dove perched on his shoulders and that he carried it, as was his wish; that the bird then flew to others and again flew back to him. Moreover he himself, urged on and almost compelled, be it said, in giving a description of the actual place to us while we were still living in the monastery of —?— and already contemplating this perfection (of the secluded life) he had this to say, that the same place was surrounded by water which by its many channels gave rise to a large number of islands.

On St. Columba's birthday feast he was again harassed by temptation and assailed by doubts as to whether he ought not to bestow on the poor the small ration which was being given to him, as to the other monks, for his daily support. He pondered inwardly, doubtful lest, if he bestowed on the poor food offered to him through the toil of others, he might offend God. Accordingly, by prayers and tears through St. Columba's intercession he sought to know God's will in this matter. At once Providence sent him this reply in a most gentle voice: “Thine own kitchen is everyone's kitchen: everyone's good thine own good.” 4

In the first days when he entered into the place of penance which he had chosen in this world for the love of God, he was exceedingly tempted by the sin of gluttony. He was quite unable  p.163 to wait until the hour when the others took refreshment, and even while the gospel was being read could not refrain from eating. Very much disturbed by this temptation, and blushing to an incredible degree, he had recourse to his usual source of help. On the feast day of St. Aidan, bishop, whose assistance he implored, he heard a voice saying: “Patience by day and by night. Thou shouldst not eat until a Culdee eats before thee, or a man who is older.”  5 This voice had the effect of quelling his temptation on the spot.

However, when he had entered on his life of seclusion, he saw at night time so great a throng of unclean spirits that they seemed to fill both the earth and the trees which at that place the Rhine encloses in its circuit. For a long time they gave vent to horrible cries, but the saintly man's prayers caused them to disappear, and they never again reappeared.

On the feast day of St. Bridget, virgin, he gathered a large crowd of poor people, as was his wont. He ordered that all the meat he had should be cut in pieces to the number of those assembled. This was done but, strangely enough, a further throng, numbering as many as those already assembled, made an unexpected appearance. The holy man gave thanks to God for their arrival and, trusting in God's bounty who multiplied five loaves among five thousand men, he caused the pieces to be distributed which he had ordered to be provided to the number of the first arrivals. But, although the number of those in need had doubled, and though neither he nor anyone else added to the meat provided, nevertheless from that same provision each individual secured his own piece.

So Findan, our patron, shut into a place of the closest seclusion, a place near the northern side of the church of Mary, the mother of God and our Lord Jesus Christ, subdued his flesh for twenty-two years with incomparable zeal. After the first of those years he donned a shirt of hair, never indulged himself at the heat of a fire, neither resting in bed nor entertaining the gentle  p.164 pleasure of baths, but unceasingly engrossed himself in fasts, vigils and prayers. After the first year of his entry he abstained from bread, and after sixteen years from every food that needs to be chewed apart from small fish which he took very sparingly, deriving his strength from the Lord. The other virtues of the aforesaid most holy man, which have become known already through many witnesses who have true knowledge of them, will be carefully recorded in part in another volume of miracles.

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Title statement

Title (uniform): Life of St. Findan

Title (original, Latin): Vita Sancti Findani

Editor: Reidar Th. Christiansen

Responsibility statement

Translated by: Kevin O' Nolan

Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

Proof corrections by: Olan Daly and Beatrix Färber

Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

Edition statement

1. First draft.

Extent: 4055 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2012

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T201041

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT project for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Notes statement

We are very grateful to Emer Purcell, M. Phil., for calling our attention to this story and making available a copy to CELT. We are also grateful to Donnchadh Ó Corráin for supplying manuscript details for the Latin version.

Source description

Manuscript sources (Latin)

  1. St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, C. 23, 10th to 11th century.
  2. Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Augiensis 84, 11th century.
  3. Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 2, olim 1/4, 1143–1197. Manuscript description see P. Benediktus Gottwald, Catalogus Codicum Manu Scriptorum qui asservantur in Bibliotheca Monasterii O.S.B. Engelbergensis in Helvetia, Freiburg im Breisgau 1891, 4–11. The manuscript is available on the Internet at http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/bke/0002 .

Edition of Latin original

  • Oswald Holder-Egger, Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores vol. 15 (Hanover 1887; reprinted 1992) 502–506. (Reprinted in Lochlann article, 148–155)


  1. James F. Kenney, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: an introduction and guide, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press 1929) 602.
  2. Paul Holm, 'The slave trade of Dublin: ninth to twelfth centuries', Peritia 6 (1986) 317–345.
  3. Donnchadh Ó Corráin, 'The Vikings in Scotland and Ireland in the ninth century', Peritia 12 (1998) 296–339.
  4. Donnchadh Ó Corráin, 'The Vikings in Ireland', in: Anne-Christine Larsen, The Vikings in Ireland (Roskilde: The Viking Ship Museum 2001) 17–29
  5. Emer Purcell, 'Ninth-century Viking entries in the Irish Annals: no 'forty years' rest', in: John Sheehan and Donnchadh Ó Corráin (eds), The Viking Age: Ireland and the West: Proceedings of the 15th Viking Congress, Cork, 2005 (Dublin 2010).

The edition used in the digital edition

‘The People of the North’ (1962). In: Lochlann‍. Ed. by Alf Sommerfelt. 137–164: 155–164.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  editor 	 = {Reidar Th. Christiansen},
  title 	 = {The People of the North},
  journal 	 = {Lochlann},
  editor 	 = {Alf Sommerfelt},
  address 	 = {Oslo},
  publisher 	 = {Universitetsforlaget},
  date 	 = {1962},
  note 	 = {137–164: 155–164}


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The present text represents pp. 155–164 of the article. Footnotes are integrated into the electronic edition. The Latin original is available in a separate file.

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Creation: Translation by Kevin O'Nolan

Date: c. 1962

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  • The translation is in English. (en)
  • Some words are in Irish. (ga)
  • Some words are in Latin. (la)

Keywords: religious; prose; medieval; Saint's Life; St Findan; Vikings; translation

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(Most recent first)

  1. 2012-06-07: Header created; file parsed; preliminary SGML and HTML files created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2012-05-15: File proofed (2); basic structural and content encoding applied. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2012-05-01: File proofed (1); page-breaks and footnotes added. (ed. Olan Daly)
  4. 2012-04-30: Text scanned in. (data capture Beatrix Färber)
  5. 2012-04-30: Article donated to CELT. (donation Emer Purcell)

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L201041: Vita Sancti Findani (in Latin)

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  1. The editor of the text has a note: “As easily seen this date is wrong, and ought rather to be 851. The date given for the foundation of the monastery of Rheinau, the middle of the ninth century, corresponds to other indications offered by the Vita.” See Latin text, p. 160  🢀

  2. Rest of meaning uncertain. Thes. Pal. ii, p. 258. 🢀

  3. Thes. Pal. ii, p. 258. 🢀

  4. Thes. Pal. ii, p. 258. 🢀

  5. Thes. Pal. ii, p. 258. 🢀


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