St. Kevin of Glendalough (513 – 618)
Hell and a Short Life
The old Celtic manuscripts frequently tell of saints who intentionally went to the forests to conduct prayers and special devotions. Kevin however went further in his protection of the forests. “[He] promised hell and a short life to anyone who should burn either green wood or dry from this wood (where he had a special experience in which the trees bowed down at his prayers) till the day of doom.”
~ Charles Plummer, Bethada naem Erenn, Lives of the Irish Saints, Oxford Univ. Press, London, Vol. 1, 1968, p. 123.
The Hunters and the Wild Boar
Another time some hunters were chasing a wild boar with their dogs in hot pursuit. As soon as the boar saw the dogs near him, he raced down the slope to the glen where Kevin was in prayer, to seek the saint’s protection. Kevin protected the boar and commanded the dogs to stop chasing him. As he did so, the feet of the dogs became stuck firmly to the ground, so that they could not move from that spot in any direction. Shortly after that the hunters came running up and into Kevin’s presence. On seeing their dogs fastened to the ground and the boar under Kevin’s protection, they were astonished and filled with wonder. Humbly and penitently they asked Kevin to please release their dogs and they promised him that they would never again hunt this boar. So Kevin let the boar run back into the forest, and the name of God was glorified.
~ Edward Sellner, The Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, “Kevin of Glendalough,” Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, 1993, p. 165.
The Lesson of the Missing Otter
There was a monastery in Cell Eithfin to which an otter used to bring a salmon every day. One day when Cellach, son of Dimma, saw the otter coming with a salmon in his mouth, he thought that the otter’s skin would be profitable to the monks, and therefore thought that he would kill the otter for its pelt. The otter immediately perceived the monk’s intention and dropped the salmon in his mouth, dived into the river, and never showed himself again to the monks. As a consequence the monks experienced a scarcity of food, so much so that they decided they must go in different directions. When Kevin saw this, he prayed earnestly to God to reveal why the otter had forsaken the monastery. God then influenced Cellach to go to Kevin and confess, with regret and penitence, that he was to blame. He told how he had the thought of killing the otter, and that it was at that moment when the otter sensed his intention and dived into the river and permanently left the monks. When Kevin heard this, he sent Cellach away to do penance for the evil intention that had caused so much harm.
~ Edward Sellner, The Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, “Kevin of Glendalough,” Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, 1993, p. 163.
Kevin was born to a noble Leinster family which was ousted from rulership. As a child he was educated by monastics and chose to dedicate his life to God in prayer and adoration. He survived on a frugal diet and slept on stones at the water’s edge. Despite his austere way of life, he lived to a ripe old age of 105. According to one early version of his life, he is reported to have said that “the branches and leaves of the trees sang sweet songs to him, and heavenly music alleviated the severity of his life.” Saint Kevin is known as one of the first advocates of wilderness preservation when he refused an angel’s offer to level the land around his collection of crude huts and to build elaborate monastic facilities. By this act, he demonstrated that human pursuit of the holy should not destroy the rest of God’s created order. Because Kevin would not expand his congregation if it meant degrading the pristine mountains as God created them, he demonstrates the importance of respecting the natural features of the land as a spiritual priority higher than development. His care for animals was legendary and early artists depicted him with his hand out-stretched and an egg on the flat of his palm which a bird laid while he was in the ecstasy of prayer. He is said to have held the egg until it hatched. Numerous legends of Kevin survive, but few of his writings.
A Response to an Angel on Behalf of the Animals
While praying in the rugged Wicklow mountains, about thirty miles from Dublin, an angel appeared to Kevin and offers to make his life more comfortable. The angel says, “I would sweep away these hills and crags and rocks and wooded dells where little grows and no one dwells; I’ll give you pastures lush and green for kine to graze, a winding stream, and gentle fields to grow your grain in place of this uncouth domain.”
Kevin declines this offer, replying, “I pray you humbly, let them stand, the rugged hills, the broken land. For I do love like any child the hunted creatures of the wild; and every bird that climbs the sky is free to wander just as I, or dwell in peace beside the lake, to make them homeless for my sake would grieve me sorely night and day.”
~ Rev. Kevin Daley, speech at the Annual General Meeting, Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare, Nov. 4, 1969, Dublin, Ireland, and quoted by the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare, London.