Bangor

When we think of the monastery at Bangor, Saint Columbanus is the most obvious character who, springs to mind. The founder, however, was a man called Comgall, who served under Fintan of Clonenagh in Co Laois. Fintan was the father of the most austere tradition in Irish monasticism, and his ideals passed undiluted into the Rule of Bangor.

 

As we encounter Bangor in the age of Comgall and Columbanus, it is no more than a collection of wooden huts built around a small church, with a surrounding embankment. In Ireland at this time, the monastery means the community of people rather than the buildings.
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The monks live two to a cell, with the older monks - the seniores - helping in the direction of the community and the training of the novices. The abbot is assisted by a private secretary known as the minister; in Comgall's case, a man named Crimhthann.

The daily life of the monks is a constant round of prayer, manual labour, study and mortification. They work on the farm, ensuring the self-sufficiency of the monastery. They attain a high standard of Latin, less so of Greek. The monks are deeply versed in the scriptures.For nourishment, the brethren have bread, vegetables and water.

They wear sandals and a long white tunic, covered by a coarse woollen outer garment and hood. It is hardly an easy life, and yet its uncompromising nature is just what attracts so many idealistic young men.

 

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Iron discipline is cultivated through fasting, silence, and curtailment of sleep, and prayer for prolonged periods with arms outstretched. Corporal punishment is administered with a leather strap on the palm of the hand. As a regime, it is recognised as one of the hardest of any Irish monastery.

   

And yet for all its harshness, it is successfully exported to continental Europe, through the tireless work of Columbanus. For modern day readers, the real heritage of Bangor lies in France and Italy, rather than the northeast of Ireland.

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St. Columbanus
 
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