Tag Archives: Holy Land

Symon Semeonis – Franciscan Pilgrim

Another well-travelled medieval figure from Co. Tipperary and one that is closer to home for me is the fourteenth century Franciscan friar Symon Semeonis. In the company of Hugo the Illuminator, he left the Franciscan friary in Clonmel, (which still remains in the heart of the town and retains both the original tower and part of the choir wall) on the 16th March 1323, embarking on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This friar’s travels are recorded in the Itinerarium Symonis Semeonis ab Hybernia ad Reeram Sanctam and survives in one manuscript, MS 407, the library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Leaving Clonmel, the two friars travelled to Dublin and then continue on to Wales. They travelled extensively throughout England, visiting sites such as Chester, Rochester and Canterbury to name but a few. Symon’s descriptions are detailed and reflect his observational skills. The two friars then travel from Dover to France and from there they journey extensively through Europe, Alexandria and Egypt. In Cairo, however, Symon’s companion Hugo dies and he is forced to continue on his pilgrimage alone. Despite this pilgrim’s attention to detail throughout his travels, we are denied a complete depiction of Symon’s reaction to Jerusalem as the manuscript ends abruptly.

Symon’s account of his travels offers the only detailed description of a pilgrimage from Ireland to the Holy Land during the Middle Ages. It provides important details on the economic and social position of both Europe and also Eastern countries while also providing the personal views of an Anglo-Irish Franciscan friar. His desire to place his pilgrimage within the biblical context, a technique often seen with pilgrims (for example the female pilgrim Egeria who reads her bible in specific locations in the Holy land) is seen in his writing, comparing himself with Abraham and wishing to see the actual landscape where Jesus himself walked.

Two years ago, I attended a play entitled “With my Bare Hands” in the Granary Theatre in Cork, drawn in to its reference to medieval pilgrimage. This play, written by Frances Kay, consisted of one character – Symon. This was my first contact with the friar, despite his Clonmel connections and the fantastic production instilled desire to find out more about this globe-trotting Franciscan.

For more information on this play go to http://www.irishplayography.com/play.aspx?playid=3596


Filed under Medieval, Pilgrimage

Saint Cathaldus

Shanrahan cemetery which is situated beside the river Duag, close to the village of Clogheen, Co. Tipperary boasts quite a few historical connections. I have passed it many times myself and was often brought, as child to see the grave of Father Nicholas Sheehy , whose opposition to the Penal Laws of 18th Century Ireland saw him standing trial three times and finally resulting in him being hung, drawn and quartered. This martyred priest, however,  is not the only famous link to this area.

In the 7th century, Saint Cathaldus (Cathal) was born in Capagh, outside Dungarvan, County Waterford to a well-known and affluent family. Having studied and taught at the monastic school of Lismore, he was selected to be Ard Easpog (chief bishop) of the area around Slieve Cua, near Dungarvan. Following this Cathaldus then built a settlement at Rachau or Raghan,  later known as Shanrahan. It is from this place that this Irish saint set out on pilgrimage for the Holy Land.

Plaque marking the place from where Saint Cathaldus left on his pilgrimage in Co. Tipperary

Usually it is the journey outward and the sacred sites which are important to a saint’s story but in the case of Cathaldus, it his journey home which proves to be the most interesting. He was shipwrecked off the coast of Southern Italy and was rescued by the inhabitants of Taranto. He became Bishop of Taranto and stayed in Italy until his death. His feast day in Ireland is the 8th March which marks his death while in Southern Italy, to this day, there is a three day festival celebrating this Irish saint from 8th to 10th May. His popularity in Italy is not only present in these celebrations but also in the numerous churches which bear his name including the cathedral in Taranto. 

He was entombed in his cathedral in Taranto and his remains were moved about several times. In 1071 the saint’s tomb was opened where a cross inscribed with “Cathaldus Rachua” was found, maybe demonstrating that this globe-trotting Irish saint never forgot his settlement beside the River Duag in County Tipperary.

The memory of Saint Cathaldus still leaves in in this peaceful part of South of Tipperary where a stained glass window commemorates this pilgrim’s journey and influence in the local parish church of Clogheen.

Stained Glass Window in Clogheen, Co. Tipperary

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Filed under Irish Hagiography, Medieval, Pilgrimage