St. Gelasius of Armagh

Author: Rev. Clifford Stevens


Feast: March 27

In 1169, the English pope, Adrian IV, by the bull <Laudabiliter>, granted sovereignty over Ireland to King Henry II of England, who wreaked havoc in the Irish Church by pillaging monasteries and replacing Irish bishops with Norman bishops. The archbishop of Armagh at the time was St. Gelasius who tried desperately to undo the damage done by the Normans and work for the upbuilding of the Irish Church.

Before the Norman takeover, Ireland was undergoing something of a religious renaissance: literary, artistic, and architectural activity flourished throughout Ireland; the art of illumination was recovered; monastic centers, like Clonmacnoise, were flourishing; Clonfert was rebuilt; Mellifont had been founded; and Irish monks were staffing the remarkable monastery founded by Marianus Scotus in Regensburg.

No one really knows the reason for Adrian IV's "donation of Ireland" to Henry II, but it spelled the end of a uniquely Irish Church.

Gelasius had been abbot of Derry, St. Columba's famous monastery. His father was a bard, an honored profession among the Irish and most probably a teacher at Derry, where Gelasius was educated.

Gelasius called a synod at Armagh in 1170 to try to deal with the Anglo-Norman takeover, but a synod at Cashel in the following year called by the papal legate who supported the Normans made any effort of the Irish useless. Norman usages and customs were imposed on the Irish, many Irish princes submitted to Henry II, and the English king's religious decrees became the law of the land. In 1172, Pope Alexander II confirmed Adrian's "donation" to Henry, with Gelasius trying to undo the harm until his death in 1174. It was a sad time in the history of the Irish Church, and Gelasius died a broken man with a broken heart.

Gerald of Wales thus describes what happened in the time of Gelasius: "The clergy of Ireland are reduced to beggary, the cathedral churches have been stripped of their possessions." It would take almost seven hundred years for Ireland to recover.

Thought for the Day: Sometimes we have to face complete failure, and there is often a mystery of Divine Providence in the work of the Church. God does not always ask us to succeed, only to give our best. When that best is not enough, we have to leave the rest in His hands.

From 'The Catholic One Year Bible': "You must obey all the commandments I give you today. If you do, you will not only live, you will multiply and go in and take over the land promised to your fathers by the Lord.... Obey the laws of your God. Walk in his ways and fear him."—Deuteronomy 8:1, 6

Taken from "The One Year Book of Saints" by Rev. Clifford Stevens published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, IN 46750.