St. Angus (Oengus, Aengus) of Keld
many ascribe the reform of Irish monasticism and its emergence as an
ordered ascetic and scholastic movement. He is called the Culdec
because this reform produced the groups of monks in Ireland and
Scotland, who were really anchorites but lived together in one place,
usually thirteen in number after the example of Christ and His
Apostles. The name Culdec probably comes from the Irish Ceile Dee
(companion) rather than the Latin Cultores Dei (worshippers of God).
The Culdees produced the highly decorated High Crosses and elaborately
illuminated manuscripts which are the glory of the Irish monasteries.
"Aengus was born of the royal house of Ulster and was sent to the
monastery of Clonenagh by his father Oengoba to study under the saintly
abbot Maelaithgen. He made great advances in scholarship and sanctity
but eventually felt he had to leave and become a hermit to escape the
adulation of his peers. He chose a spot some seven miles away for his
hermitage which is still called Dysert. He lived a life of rigid
discipline, genuflecting three hundred times a day and reciting the
whole of the Psalter daily part of it immersed in cold water, tied by
the neck to a stake. At his dysert he found he got too many visitors
and went to the famous monastery of Tallaght near Dublin, without
revealing his identity, and was given the most menial of tasks. After
seven years a boy sought refuge in the stable where Aengus was working
because he was unable to learn his lessons. Aengus lulled him to sleep
and when he awoke he had learnt his lesson perfectly.
"When the abbot of St. Maelruain heard of this monk's great teaching
gifts he recognised in him the missing scholar from Clonenagh and the
two became great friends. It was at Tallaght that Aengus began his
great work on the calendar of the Irish saints known as the Felire
Aengus Ceile De. As for himself he thought that he was the most
contemptible of men and is said to have allowed his hair to grow long
and his clothing to become unkempt so that he should be despised.
Besides the Felire one of his prayers asking for forgiveness survives,
pleading for mercy because of Christ's work and His grace in the saints.
"Like all the holy people of God, Aengus was industrious and had a
supreme confidence in His power to heal and save. On one occasion when
he was lopping trees in a wood he inadvertently cut off his left hand.
The legend says that the sky filled with birds crying out at his
injury, but St. Aengus calmly picked up the severed hand and replaced
it. Instantly it adhered to his body and functioned normally.
"When St. Maelruain died in 792, St. Aengus left Tallaght and returned
to Clonenagh succeeding his old teacher Maelaithgen as abbot and being
consecrated bishop. As he felt death approaching he retired again to
his hermitage at Dysertbeagh, dying there about 824. There is but scant
evidence of the religious foundations at Clonenagh or Dysert but he
will always be remembered for his Feliere, the first martyrology of
Ireland. He is honoured on 11th March" (Walsh, Cross & Flanagan).