Kevin of Glendalough, Hermit and Abbot

June 3 is the Commemmoration of Kevin of Glendalough, Hermit and Abbot
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“Saint Cóemgen (modern Irish: Caoimhín), popularly anglicized to Kevin (498 – 3 June 618) is an Irish saint who was known as the founder and first abbot of Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland.

His life is not well documented, as no contemporaneous material survives. His Latin vita (life) maintains that as with St. Columba, Kevin’s family were of the nobility – he was the son of Coemlog and Coemell of Leinster. He was born in 498 at the Fort of the White Fountain He was given the Irish name Coemgen, which means “fair-begotten”, and was baptized by Cronan of Roscrea.

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”. St Kevin’s birth and early years figure prominently in traditional legends. When an infant a mysterious white cow came to his parents house every morning and evening and supplied the milk for the baby. From the age of seven, he was educated by St. Petroc of Cornwall, who had come to Leinster about 492, and lived with the monks until he was 12.
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Kevin next studied for the priesthood under his uncle, St. Eugenius, afterwards Bishop of Ardstraw, who at that time lived at Cell na Manach (Church of the Monks) in Wicklow, where he taught his pupils all the sacred learning which he had acquired in the famous British monastery of Rosnat.

Locals say that it was his monastery that was demolished by developers in the 1970s when building the housing estate that is there today. St. Kevin’s well is all that remains today as the plot was unsuitable for building. It is now surrounded by a garden kept by locals in the saint’s honour. St. Kevin is today the patron saint of the Kilnamanagh parish.
Glendalough, or the Glen of two Lakes, is one of the most important sites of monastic ruins in Ireland. Before the arrival of St. Kevin this glen would have been desolate and remote, and would have been ideal for a secluded retreat.
Kevin was ordained by Bishop Lugidus and following his ordination, he moved on to Glendalough in order to avoid the company of his followers. He lived as a hermit in a cave, a Bronze Age tomb now known as St. Kevin’s Bed, to which he was reportedly led by an angel.
St. Kevin’s Bed can best be described as a man made cave cut in the rock face very close to the edge of the mountain. It overlooks the upper lake from a height of about 30 odd feet (10 metres). The approach to the cave is very difficult, with access to it is through a rectangular space and a short passageway 3 ft. (1 metre) high and 2½ ft. wide. The inner or main part of the cave is just 4 ft. wide (1.5 metres) and less than 3 ft.(1 metre) high. It is reasonable to assume that the cave could only have been used as a sleeping place, and would have been impossible for an adult to stand upright in it, so it is quite likely that St Kevin only used it as his bed, or a place for pious prayer or meditation. Dr. Leask expresses the opinion that this cave was constructed long before Kevin’s time and it was probably the first and oldest piece of work to be undertaken by man in the glen.

There is a legend which claims that St Laurence O’Toole used the “bed” as he frequently made penitential visits to Glendaloch, especially during the season of Lent. Michael Dwyer, the famous Wicklow rebel is reputed to have taken shelter in the “bed” while he was on the run from British soldiers. The story goes that he escaped capture one morning by diving into the lake and swimming to the opposite side. Today, it is highly dangerous to try to approach the “bed” from the side of Lugduff mountain. Visitors, in the interests of their own safety, should be content with a distant view of it from one of the boats which operate during the tourist season.
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Kevin lived the life of a hermit there with an extraordinary closeness to nature, his companions were the animals and birds all around him. He lived as a hermit for seven years wearing only animal skins, sleeping on stones and eating very sparingly. He went barefoot, and spent his time in prayer. Disciples were soon attracted to Kevin and a further settlement enclosed by a wall, called Kevin’s Cell, was established nearer the lakeshore. By 540 Saint Kevin’s fame as a teacher and holy man had spread far and wide. Many people came to seek his help and guidance. In time Glendalough grew into a renowned seminary of saints and scholars and the parent of several other monasteries.

In 544 Kevin went to the Hill of Uisneach in Co.Westmeath to visit the holy abbots, Sts. Columba, Comgall, and Cannich. He then proceeded to Clonmacnoise, where St. Cieran had died three days before. Having firmly established his community, he retired into solitude for four years, and only returned to Glendalough at the earnest entreaty of his monks. Until his death around 618 Kevin presided over his monastery in Glendalough, living his life by fasting, praying and teaching. St Kevin is one of the patron saints of the diocese of Dublin.
He belonged to the second order of Irish saints. Eventually, Glendalough, with its seven churches, became one of the chief pilgrimage destinations in Ireland.
Kevin is remembered in popular culture as an ascetic. This is commemorated in a folk song about him which describes a legend claiming that he drowned a woman who attempted to seduce him. This was recorded and made popular by The Dubliners. the opening verse is as follows “In glendalogh there lived an auld saint, renowned for his learning and piety, his manners were curious and quaint and he looked upon girls with disparity.””

“Our venerable father Kevin of Glendalough, Wonder-worker of Ireland (also Coemgen, Caoimhghin, Coemgenus, and Kavin) was the abbot of Glendalough Monastery. He was born in 498, and fell asleep in the Lord in 618 at the age of 120 years.
Royal 13 B.VIII, f.20
St. Kevin was born in the year 498 in the Irish province of Leinster to noble parents, perhaps even descendant of the Kings of Leinster. Tradition holds that when he was born, his mother felt no labour pains, and the snow that fell on the day of his birth melted as it fell around the house. An angel is said to have appeared during the child’s baptism, telling his parents that the child should be named “Kevin.” St. Cronan, the officiating priest, said, “This was surely an angel of the Lord, and as he named the child so shall he be called.” So the babe was baptised Kevin, Coemgen in the Irish tongue, which means “He of Blessed Birth.” He is the first person in history to be called Kevin. His childhood was marked by a horrible temper and dislike of other people, although he loved animals.

At the age of seven, his parents sent him to the monastery run by St. Petroc in Cornwall. While there, Kevin was kneeling, his arms outstretched in prayer, on the first day of Lent in a small hut in the wilderness when a blackbird landed in his palm and proceeded to construct a nest. Kevin remained perfectly still, so as not to disturb the bird, for the whole of Lent. Kevin was fed by the blackbird with berries and nuts. By the end of Lent, the last blackbird hatchlings had flown from the nest, which now lay empty in his hand, and Kevin returned to the monastery for the Paschal celebration.

After being ordained to the priesthood, Kevin spent seven years as a hermit in the mountains surrounding Glendalough, which comes from the Gaelic words glen (meaning “valley”) and lough (meaning “lake”), meaning “Valley of the Two Lakes.” He lived in a small, five by seven by three foot cave, now know as St. Kevin’s Bed, which was, legend holds, shown to him by an angel. His life was spent in prayer and self denial, and he lived off herbs and fish an otter that lived in the lake would bring Kevin whenever Kevin visited the lake, which he did in the winter, when he would stand up to his neck in the ice cold water to pray. During one of these sessions of prayer in the Upper Lake of Glendalough (which he preferred to the Lower Lake, because it it was much more remote and colder), he dropped his breviary into the lake. An otter appeared from the bottom of the lake with the prayer book, unstained or damaged in any way, in its mouth. Henceforth, the otter would bring fish to Kevin for food.
Kevin, Richard King (-1974)
Kevin returned to society when a farmer, named Dima, followed a cow of his who would continually wander off. The cow would come every day, when the erd was sent out to pasture, to St. Kevin’s cave and lick his clothes and feet while he was in prayer. When the cow returned at evening, she would produced unbelievable amounts of milk. Dima, wondering greatly about this, one day resolved to follow the cow. When Dima stumbled upon Kevin’s cave, and saw what was the cause of this, he fell to his knees in penitence. Kevin raised him up, and, as Dima was a pagan, taught the farmer about Christ and the Gospel. Dima eventually begged Kevin to come out of his isolation and teach his family about Christ. After a day of prayer, Kevin saw that it was God’s will that he return to society to spread the Gospel. He began by teaching Dima’s family, but his tutelage soon grew to dozens of families and he began to attract followers. And so, seeing the need of a central place from which to teach, Kevin decided to establish a monastery.
kevins monastic city
However, Kevin could not establish a monastery, since King O’Tool of Glendalough, a pagan, would not allow it. It happened that the king had a much beloved pet goose, which was now old and grey. As time passed, the goose also became so aged and weak that it was soon unable to fly. As a result, the king was very upset, for he loved the goose very much. 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 of Glendalough, and on that site the monastery was established.

Rocks were plentiful. The farmers pitched in and built Kevin a monastery in the solitude of Glendalough. The workers agreed to work from when the larks woke till the lambs slept. This grueling work schedule began to affect the quality of construction, and Kevin decided to investigate. It turned out that the larks were apt to rise unfashionably early, and so Kevin told them not to. From that day forth, no skylark has ever been heard in Glendalough. The construction continued, and the monastery was complete.

Soon, other monks came to help teach all who would come to learn, old and young, rich and poor alike. More buildings were added to the little settlement. Among them was the famous tower, which still stands today, along with the large hut used by St. Kevin. Many people from far afield came to Kevin for advice, which he gave freely, and the monastery grew to such fame and renown that it was considered equal to a pilgrimage to Rome for a penitent to travel seven times to Glendalough monastery.
kevins bed
It is said of Kevin 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.
Kevin went once, upon the founding of his monastery, to Rome, where he received relics for the monastery. Many years later, his hair and beard white but his eyes sparkling and his step quick and firm, he felt the desire to go once again to Rome. However, he also knew he was bound to the duties of the abbot of the monastery. He went for advice to his old friend, Bishop Kiernan of Clonmacnoise. Kiernan understood Kevin’s longing but he knew that it is better for one missionary to train many others than to leave the others half-trained in order to go to the missions himself. “Birds do not hatch their eggs while they are flying,” Kiernan said.

Kevin saw that not to go was a sacrifice, and he knew now where God’s will lay. So Kevin continued to teach and advise everyone who came to him until the peaceful June night in 618 when his soul sped heavenward to join the angels and saints around God’s throne.
The precise location of Kevin’s grave is lost, although it is said that at dusk, when no-one is about, blackbirds will flock to an unmarked cross above a forgotten grave, the grave of a wild boy who held a blackbird’s nest in his unwavering, outstretched hand for forty days.
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Tone Eight
Thou wast privileged to live in the age of saints, O Father Kevin, being baptized by one saint, taught by another, and buried by a third. Pray to God that he will raise up saints in our day to help, support, and guide us in the way of salvation.

Another Troparion
Tone Four
With hymns of praise let us all bless the noble Kevin, who by his godly love poureth divine grace into the hearts of those who honor him; for he dwelleth now with the saints and angels in heaven, where he standeth before the throne of the Most High, praying unceasingly for us all.

Tone Five
Forsaking thy noble inheritance, and shunning all the crooked ways of this sin-loving world, thou didst apply thine obedient feet to the straight and narrow path of Christ, eagerly hastening throughout thy life toward the heavenly Sion, where with all the saints and the bodiless hosts thou criest aloud in ecstasy: Let every breath praise the Lord!

Ye lofty trees of Ireland, ever move your verdant branches, that with the rustling of your leafs, as with the strings of a multitude of harps, ye may make sweet music for the King of kings; for thus of old did ye delight His faithful servant, the venerable Kevin, with your melodious song, easing the severity of his ascetic life with the beauty of your hymnody, filling his soul with exultation, and causing him to cry aloud: Let every breath praise the Lord! “

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