Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Fiaker of Ireland, Anchoret and Confessor
[Called by the French Fiacre, and anciently Fefre.] HE was nobly born in Ireland, and had his education under the care of a bishop of eminent sanctity, who was, according to some, Conan, bishop of Soder or the Western islands. Looking upon all worldly advantages as dross to gain Christ, he left his country and friends in the flower of his age, and with certain pious companions sailed over into France, in quest of some close solitude, in which he might devote himself to God, unknown to the rest of the world. Divine providence which was pleased to honour the diocess of Meaux with the happiness of furnishing a retreat to this holy man, conducted him to St. Faro, who was the bishop of that city, and eminent for sanctity. When St. Fiaker addressed himself to him, the prelate, charmed with the marks of extraordinary virtue and abilities which he discovered in this stranger, gave him a solitary dwelling in a forest which was his own patrimony, called Breüil, in the province of Brie, two leagues from Meaux. In this place the holy anchoret cleared the ground of trees and briars, made himself a cell, with a small garden, and built an oratory in honour of the Blessed Virgin, in which he spent great part of the days and nights in devout prayer. He tilled his garden, and laboured with his own hands for his subsistence. The life he led was most austere, and only necessity or charity ever interrupted his exercises of prayer and heavenly contemplation. Many resorted to him for advice, and the poor for relief. His tender charity for all moved him to attend cheerfully those who came to consult him; and he built, at some distance from his cell, a kind of hospital for the reception of strangers and pilgrims. There he entertained the poor, serving them with his own hands, and he often miraculously restored to health those who were sick. But he never suffered any woman to enter the enclosure of his hermitage; which was an inviolable rule among the Irish monks. St. Columban, by refusing Queen Brunehault entrance into his monastery, gave the first occasion to the violent persecution which she raised against him.1 This law St. Fiaker observed inviolably to his death; and a religious respect has established the same rule, to this day both with regard to the place where he dwelt at Breüil, and the chapel where he was interred. Mabillon and Du Plessis say, that those who have attempted to transgress it were punished by visible judgments; and that, in 1620, a lady of Paris, who pretended to be above this law, going into the oratory, became distracted upon the spot, and never recovered her senses. Anne of Austria, queen of France, out of a religious deference, contented herself to offer up her prayers in this place without the door of the oratory, amongst other pilgrims.
St. Chillen or Kilian, an Irishman of high birth, on his return from Rome, visited St. Fiaker, who was his kinsman, and having passed some time under his discipline, was directed, by his advice, with the authority of the bishops, to preach in that and the neighbouring diocesses. This commission he executed with admirable sanctity and fruit, chiefly in the diocess of Arras, where his memory is in great veneration to this day, and he is honoured on the 13th of November.2 St. Fiaker had a sister called Syra, who died in the diocess of Meaux, and is honoured there among the holy virgins. Dempster, Leland, Tanner, and others, mention a letter of spiritual advice which St. Fiaker wrote to her. She ought not to be confounded with St. Syra of Troyes, who was a married woman, and lived in the third century.3 Hector Boetius, David Camerarius, and bishop Leslie,4 relate, that St. Fiaker being eldest son to a king of the Scots, in the reign of Clotaire II. in France, was invited by ambassadors sent by his nation to come and take possession of that kingdom; but answered, that, for the inheritance of an eternal crown, he had renounced all earthly claims. This circumstance, however, is not mentioned in the ancient history of his life. He died about the year 670, on the 30th of August. His body was buried in his own oratory. He seems never to have had any disciples that lived with him. The monks of St. Faros for a long time kept two or three priests at Breüil to serve this chapel and assist the pilgrims; but at length they founded there a priory, which subsists dependant on that abbey. The shrine of St. Fiaker became famous or frequent miracles, and was resorted to from all parts of France by crowds of pilgrims.5 The relics of this saint were translated to the cathedral of Meaux, not in 1562, as Mabillon mistook, but in 1568,6 though a part was left at Breüil or St. Fiakers. The grand dukes of Florence, by earnest importunities, obtained two small portions in 1527 and 1695, for which they built a chapel at Toppaia, one of their country seats. St. Fiaker is patron of the province of Brie, and titular saint of several churches in most parts of France, in which kingdom his name was most famous for above a thousand years. Du Plessis, among innumerable miracles which have been wrought through the intercession of this glorious saint, mentions those that follow.7 M. Seguier, bishop of Meaux, in 1649, and John I. of Chatillon, count of Blois, gave authentic testimonies of their own wonderful cures of dangerous distempers wrought upon them through the means of St. Fiaker. To omit many other persons of rank, both in the church and state, mentioned by our authors, Queen Anne of Austria attributed to the mediation of this saint the recovery of Lewis XIII. at Lyons, where he had been dangerously ill; in thanksgiving for which, according to a vow she had made, she performed, in person on foot, a pilgrimage to St. Fiakers in 1641. She acknowledged herself indebted to this saint for the cure of a dangerous issue of blood, which neither surgeons nor physicians had been able to relieve. She also sent to this saints shrine a token in acknowledgment of his intervention in the birth of her son Lewis XIV. Before that great king underwent a dangerous operation, to implore the divine blessing, Bossuet, bishop of Meaux, began a novena of prayers at St. Fiakers which the monks finished. See St. Fiakers ancient life in Mabillon, sæc. 2. Stilting the Bollandist, t. 6. Augusti, p. 598. Dom. Toussaints Du Plessis, the Maurist monk, Histoire de lEglise de Meaux, l. 1, n. 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71. tom. 1, p. 55; also, t. 2, p. 174, 375. Usher, Antiqu. c. 17, p. 488, who proves him to have come from Ireland, both by an old sequence, and by the saints own words to St. Faro, recorded by John of Tinmouth: Ireland, the island of the Scots, gave me and my progenitors birth.
Note 4. Boet. Hist. Scot. l. 9, fol. 173; Camerar. l. 3, de Scotor. Fortitud. p. 168; Leslæus, De Rebus Scot. l. 4, p. 156. [back]
Note 5. Du Plessis (note 29, t. 1, p. 683,) shows, that the name Fiacre was first given to hackney coaches, because hired coaches were first made use of for the convenience of pilgrims who went from Paris to visit the shrine of this saint, and because the inn where these coaches were hired, was known by the sign of St. Fiaker. This is also, in part, the remark of Menage, (Dict. Etym. v. Fiacre) who, for his skill in the Greek and Roman antiquities, as well as those of his own country, was called a living library, and the Varro of the seventeenth century. (See Abbé Goujet, Bibliothèque Françoise, t. 18, Vie de Menage.) Before the modern invention of spring-coaches, the ancient lofty chariots or cars were chiefly used in war, or on certain solemn occasions only; they being too painful vehicles for ordinary journeys of pleasure. Our queens rode behind their masters of horse; our members of both houses of parliament came up to London on horseback with their wives behind them. In France, in 1585, the celebrated M. de Thou, first president of the parliament of Paris, appeared in the fourth coach which had ever been seen in that kingdom. The military men used horses; but those who belonged to the parliaments, or professed the law, rode on mules. In M. de Thous time, three brothers, all eminent for their honourable employments in the law, had but one mule amongst them. See Boursaults letters. [back]