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E06254: Tírechán, in his Collection, describes how a round ditch (ferta) was built in the manner of the pagans at the burial site of *Ethne and Fedelm (virgins and daughters of King Loíguire mac Néill in Ireland, 5th c., S02332), and how *Patrick (missionary and bishop of Ireland, 5th c., S01962) later built a church there. Written in Latin in Ireland, probably shortly after c. 668.

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posted on 2018-08-27, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Tírechán, Collection (BHL 6496)

For an overview of this text, see E06131.

(1) Deinde autem uenit sanctus Patricius ad fontem qui dicitur Clebach in lateribus Crochan contra ortum solis ante ortum solis et sederunt iuxta fontem, (2) et ecce duae filiae regis Loiguiri Ethne alba et Fedelm rufa ad fontem more mulierum ad lauandum mane uenierunt et senodum sanctum episcoporum cum Patricio iuxta fontem inuenierunt [...]

(13) Et dixerunt filiae si ex uno ore unoque corde "quomodo credere possimus caelesti regi doce nos dilegentissime, ut uideamus illum facie ad faciem. Indica nobis, et quomodo dixeris nobis faciamus". (14) Et dixit Patricius: "si creditis per babtismum patris et matris iecere peccatum?" Responderunt: "credimus". "Si poenitentiam creditis post peccatum?" "credimus". "Si creditis uitam post mortem? Si creditis resurrectionem in die iudicii?" "credimus". "Si creditis unitatem aeclessiae?" "credimus". (15) Et babtitzatae sunt et candida ueste in capitibus earum. Et postulauerunt uidere faciem Christi, et dixit eis sanctus: "nissi mortem gustaueritis, non potestis uidere faciem Christi, et nissi sacrificium accipietis". (16) Et responderunt: "da nobis sacrificium, ut possimus Filium, nostrum sponsum, uidere", et acciperunt eucharitziam Dei et dormierunt in morte, et posuerunt illas in lectulo uno uestimentis coopertas, et fecerunt ululatum et planctum magnum amici earum [...]

(20) Et consumpti sunt dies ululationis filiarum regis et sepilierunt eas iuxta fontem Clebach et fecerunt fossam rotundam in similitudinem fertae, quia sic faciebant Scotici homines et gentiles, nobiscum autem relic... uocatur, id est residuae puellarum. (21) Et immolata est ferta Deo et Patricio cum sanctarum ossibus et heredibus eius post se in saecula, et aeclessiam terrenam fecit in eo loco.

'(1) Then holy Patrick came to the well called Clébach, on the slopes of Cruachu to the east, before sunrise, and they sat beside the well, (2) and, behold, the two daughters of king Loíguire, fair-haired Ethne and red-haired Fedelm, came to the well, as women are wont to do, in the morning to wash, and they found the holy assembly of bishops with Patrick beside the well ...

(13) And the maidens said as with one voice and one heart: 'Teach us with all diligence how we can believe in the heavenly king, so that we may see him face to face. Tell us, and we will do as you say.' (14) And Patrick said: 'Do you believe that through baptism you cast off the sin of your father and mother?' They answered: 'We believe.' 'Do you believe in penance after sin?' 'We believe.' 'Do you believe in life after death? Do you believe in the resurrection on the day of judgement?' 'We believe.' 'Do you believe in the unity of the Church?' 'We believe.' (15) And they were baptized, with a white garment over their heads. And they demanded to see the face of Christ, and the holy man said to them: 'Unless you taste death you cannot see the face of Christ, and unless you receive the sacrament.' (16) And they answered: 'Give us the sacrament so that we may see the Son, our bridegroom', and they received the eucharist of God and fell asleep in death, and their friends placed them on one bed and covered them with their garments, and made a lament and great keening ...

(20) And the days of mourning for the king's daughters came to an end, and they buried them beside the well of Clébach, and they made a round ditch after the manner of a ferta, because this is what the heathen Irish used to do, but we call it relic, that is, the remains of the maidens. (21) And the ferta was made over to Patrick with the bones of the holy virgins, and to his heirs after him for ever, and he made an earthen church in that place.'

Text and translation: Bieler 1979, 143-5.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Ethne and Fedelm, virgins and daughters of King Loíguire mac Néill in Ireland, 5th c. : S02332 Patrick, missionary and bishop of Ireland, 5th c. : S01962

Saint Name in Source

Ethne alba et Fedelm rufa Patricius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles Literary - Hagiographical - Monastic collections (apophthegmata, etc.)


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family Pagans

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - bones and teeth


Tírechán’s now-untitled account of Patrick’s life (Collectanea is a modern editor’s invention) survives in only one 9th century Irish manuscript, the Book of Armagh (Trinity College Dublin Ms 52), where it almost immediately follows Muirchú’s Life of the same saint (E06132). The text as we have it is probably incomplete or unfinished, and its division into two books may not be Tírechán’s own. We are told that Tírechán was a bishop, although not where he held his see. His naming of Ultán of Connor (bishop of Ardbraccan, ob. c. 655) as both his source and mentor would seem to date the work to the second half of the seventh century, while his reference to a recent plague (ch. 25) suggests a terminus post quem of 664-8, although there were further outbreaks in 680 and 700. Bieler suggested in his edition of 1979 that there was no clear indication as to whether Tírechán wrote before or after Muirchú, but ‘there is now a general agreement’ (Sharpe, 1991) that the Collectanea is the earlier work, probably composed not long after the devastations of the 664-8 epidemic. For an overview of Tírechán's Collection, see E06131.


This passage may hint at ways in which pagan cult sites, or at least sites involving overtly 'pagan-style' burials, could have been adapted for use as more conventional Christian relic shrines in the early Irish church.


Edition and translation: Bieler, L., The Patrician Texts of the Book of Armagh (Scriptores Latini Hiberniae 10; Dublin, 1979), 122-67. Further reading: Bury, J.B., "Tírechán’s Memoir of St Patrick," English Historical Review 17 (1902), 235-67. MacNeill, E., "The Earliest Lives of St Patrick," Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 58 (1928), 1-21. Sharpe, R., "St Patrick and the See of Armagh," Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 4 (1982), 33-59. Sharpe, R., Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives: An Introduction to Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae (Oxford, 1991). Swift, C., "Tírechán’s Motives in Compiling the “Collectanea”: An Alternative Interpretation," Ériu 45 (1994), 53-82.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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