John Lanigan on Saint Ita of Munster

(Extract from "Ecclesiastical History of Ireland.")

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 2, edited by Charles A. Read

St. Ita, who may justly be called the St. Bridget of Munster, was of the princely house of the Desii or Nandesi, in the now county of Waterford. Her father's name was Kennfoelad, her mother's Necta. They were Christians, as appears from St. Ita having been baptized in her childhood. The time of her birth is not recorded; but it must have been some years prior to A.D. 484, if it be true that she had for some time under her care Brendan of Clonfert when an infant. Yet unless we are to suppose that she lived to an extraordinary great age, only a few years can be allowed for this priority of birth. ...

It is related that while she was still very young, a room in which she was asleep seemed to be all in a blaze, and that some persons who hastened to extinguish what they thought to be fire found it uninjured, and observed Ita, on awaking, to exhibit an angelical form of exquisite beauty. Having reached the age fit for choosing a permanent state of life she applied to her mother, and after expatiating on the divine commandments requested of her to procure her father's permission to consecrate herself to Christ. The mother acted according to her request, but the father obstinately refused to comply with her wish, particularly as a noble and powerful young man had just made him a proposal for obtaining her in marriage. Ita then said to some people about her, "Let my father have his own way for a while; I tell you that he will soon not only permit but order me to give myself up to Christ, and will allow me to go whithersoever I please for the purpose of serving God."

Not long after she fasted for three days and nights, during which time she was assailed with constant attacks of the enemy of mankind, which she resisted with invincible firmness. On the third night her father was admonished in a vision not to oppose her inclination any longer; and accordingly, without loss of time, after informing her of what had occurred to him, he advised her to take the veil immediately. Matters being thus settled she repaired to the church and was there in due form clothed with the veil and enrolled in the list of consecrated virgins. Some time after she prayed the Almighty to direct her in what place she might best serve him, and was instructed in a vision to proceed to the territory of Hy-Conaill, and to remain in the western part of it at the foot of the mountain Luachra. Thither she went and fixed her residence in a retired spot, called Cluain-Credhuil, where she was soon visited by a number of pious maidens, who flocked from all parts of the territory to place themselves under her direction. Thus her nunnery was established in a short time, and it was most probably the first in that part of Ireland. The chieftain and other principal persons of Hy-Conaill, on being informed of the extraordinary sanctity of Saint Ita, waited upon her and offered her a large tract of land around the house for the support of her establishment. She refused to accept of more than a small spot sufficient for a garden. As another instance of her disinterestedness it is related that a wealthy man having laid before her as an offering a considerable sum of money, which he could not induce her to receive, she happened to touch it, and then called for water to wash the hand which had been as it were defiled by the contact of corruptible silver. She carried abstinence and fasting to such a pitch that it is said she was cautioned by an angel to be less abstemious for the future, and not to exhaust her frame by such excessive austerity. Several miracles, some of which are of an extraordinary kind, have been attributed to her. One of them is said to have been performed on a man called Feargus, whom she delivered by her prayers from excruciating pains in his eyes and whole body, which had brought him to almost the last extremity.

She was favoured with the gift of prophecy, and with the knowledge of persons whom she had never seen, and of distant and secret occurrences. When Columbanus, a Leinster bishop, was on his way to pay her a visit without his having given her any previous notice of it, she ordered an entertainment to be prepared, and on his arrival sent to ask for his episcopal benediction before she could have known in an ordinary manner that he was a bishop, and mentioned other circumstances which she could not have been apprised of except by supernatural means. . . .

An uncle of hers having died, she sent for his eight sons, who lived in the Nandesi country, and upon their waiting upon her said to them, "Your father, who was my uncle, is, alas! now suffering in the lower regions for his transgressions; and the manner in which he is tormented has been revealed to me. But let us do something for the good of his soul, that he may be delivered. I therefore desire that each of you do give every day during this whole year food and lamps to the poor for the benefit of his soul, and then at the end of the year return to me." They being wealthy acted according to her injunction, and on their returning she said, "Your father is half raised out of his situation through your alms and my prayers. Now, go and repeat your donations during this year, and come to me again." They did so, and then she told them that their father was quite out of the lower world, but that he was still without clothing, "because in his lifetime he had not given clothes to any one in the name of Christ. Now," she said, "let your alms for this year consist of clothes, that he may be clothed." Having obeyed her orders, they returned at the end of the year, and were informed by her that their father was then in the enjoyment of eternal rest.

See also:—

John Lanigan, D.D. (1758-1828)

John Lanigan on Saint Columba