Ireland: Top Saints

Foreign Saints Admired in Ireland

 Saint Catherine of Alexandria, aka Saint Catherine of the Wheel, was a princess, virgin, scholar and evangelist martyred in the early C4th AD at the hands of the pagan emperor Maxentius, and had chapels dedicated to her in Ireland both before and after the attival of the Anglo-Normans.

Saint David (C6th AD), the patron saint of Wales, said to have been baptised by Saint Ailbe / Elvis and to have educated several important Irish Saints, e.g. Saint Aedan of Ferns.  He has churches dedicated to him all over Ireland dating from the C13th (and thus now normally CoI). This is because he commanded great devotion amongst the Anglo-Norman families arriving from Wales, especially the Geraldines.

Saint Edward the Martyr (962-978 AD) and Saint Edward the Confessor (1004-1066) were Anglo-Saxon Kings of England during times of great unrest. Both had medieval and later churches dedicated to them around Ireland. Saint Edward the Confessor was patron saint of England until King Edward III chose to replace him with Saint George in 1350.

Saint Helen, the mother of Constantine, the first Christian ruler of the Roman Empire and founder of the city now known as Istanbul, was reputed to have dreamt of the place where the True Cross was found in Jerusalem in 335 AD. Devotion to her was brought by the Anglo-Normans to the Wexford area.

Saint James is the patron of several RC and CoI parishes around Ireland. It is not always clear if the reference is to Saint James of Jerusalem, called James the Great, James the Just and the Brother of The Lord, or one (the other?) of the two Apostles who bore the name. Actually, the New Testament  is not very clear either!

Saint Lawrence, a C3rd AD Roman martyred during the Persecution of Valerian (258 AD), and patron saint of Lyon in France, has his Feast Day on 10th August. This roughly coincides with the pre-Christian Celtic festival of Lughnasa, celebrated in the Saint’s name in Killorglin in County Kerry and other places around Ireland and Europe.

Saint Martin of Tours (316 – 397 AD), born in Eastern Europe, was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity at the age of 18 and became Bishop of Caesarodunum, now Tours. His shrine became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela. He also had chapels dedicated to him in Ireland both before and after the attival of the Anglo-Normans, and became fashionable again in the C20th.

 Saint Michan, an obscure Danish holy man, had a chapel built in his honour on the north side of the River Liffey by the then mainly Norse inhabitants of Dublin. Rebuilt c.1680, and used thirty years later by Handel for organ practice, St Michan’s is still in use as a parish church (CoI), much visited by tourists curious to see the mummified corpses in the creepy vaults, inhabited by huge hairy spiders.

Saint Nicholas of Myra (270 – 343 AD), the Asia Minor-born Greek bishop, thaumaturge, patron saint of sailors, thieves and children, and model for Santa Claus,  inspired particular devotion among Norman adventurers on the Crusades. He had churches dedicated to him all over Ireland, notably those serving the Dublin parishes of  St Nicholas Within the Walls and St Nicholas Without, divided by the medieval city defences.

Saint Vitalis of Assisi, the patron saint of genital warts, was born in Umbria, Italy, and lived an immoral and licentious youth. In an attempt to atone for his early sins, he later undertook pilgrimages to shrines throughout Europe, eventually entering the Benedictine monastery at Subiaco. After leaving the monastery, he lived the remainder of his life as a hermit near Assisi. It is said that he wore only rags and shunned all material wealth, with the exception of a basket which he used to fetch water from a nearby stream. He died in 1370, and word of his sanctity soon spread due to reports of numerous miracles performed on those with bladder and genital disorders.  Presumably acquired during a family member’s C18th Grand Tour, his severed head was housed in a Queen Anne case in the Smiths’ ancestral home, Annesdale House, Duleek, Co. Meath, until sold at auction on 29th May 2012.

Saint Werburgh (d.699 AD), the English-born abbess of Ely and patron saint of Chester, had a church built in her honour in Dublin in 1178,  shortly after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, and was initially popular with immigrants from Bristol.  Situated on Werburgh St, close to Dublin Castle, it was rebuilt after fire devastated the city in 1300, and totally renovated in 1759. It is still used as a parish church (CoI).

Saint Theresa of Liseaux

Saint Bernadette of Lourdes

Candidates for canonisation popular in Ireland include:

Padre Pio

Fr Jose Mª Escriva, founder of the Opus Dei movement.

Mother Theresa