18 December: Saint Samthan

Saint Of The Day

Another remarkable young woman from these islands, Saint Samthan was an 8th century Irish nun. She was a foster child of King Cridan, who found a suitable husband for her, but she was determined to become a nun. The king decreed, We bestow you in marriage and join you to God, the spouse of your choice. After training under St Cognat in Donegal she started a convent in County Longford.

She sounds rather saner than some of her contemporaries in the religious life. Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich described some of the practices in early Irish monasteries: Fasting, silence, curtailment of sleep, repeated genuflections, prayer for long periods with arms outstretched, and corporal punishment with a leather strap were normal forms of mortification or could be inflicted for breaches of Rule.* 

When a monk asked her what was the best attitude for prayer, she answered: “every position – sitting, standing or lying down.”

When another said he wanted to give up study to pray more, she said he would never be able to fix his mind on prayer if he did not study. When a monk said he was going on pilgrimage, she told him: “the kingdom of God can be reached without crossing the sea and God is near all who call on Him.”

St Samthan refused large estates for her convent and lived in poverty with her community and six cows.

I’ve never met a Samthan but I’m sure any Samantha seeking a patron saint could adopt Saint Samthan, a saint with determination!

  • Tomas O Fiaich, Columbanus in his own Words, Dublin, Veritas, 1990, p17-18.

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