Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Kevin, the numbers and the birds
The roman church likes numbers and equivalencies, which would explain the precision with which – back in the Dark Ages – seven pilgrimages to Glendalough equaled one pilgrimage to Rome, which equaled one plenary indulgence.
The royal Kevin was seven years old when his parents sent him away to live with the monks. Later, he lived for seven years as a hermit in a Bronze Age tomb inside a cave at Glendolough. It is said that he preferred animals to humans – a not uncommon trait among saints, oddly enough - and his devotion to chastity was so extreme that he once pushed an importuning female into a bed of nettles.
A few years ago when CSB and I visited North Wales, we traipsed around with Tristan Hulse, hagiographer par excellence, and saw many holy wells - often indistinguishable from any other verdant spring but with rags tied to the overhanging branches - and rocky saints' beds. This was not exactly what CSB had signed on for and he exhibited what is often referred to as the patience of a saint. He, alas, is not a saint, but speaking of patience, Tristan did tell us how many hundreds of years ago Kevin stood in a cold stream and prayed with his arms outstretched. A blackbird came and laid her eggs in the palm of his hand, and so he stayed there, still as could be, until the fledglings hatched and safely flew away.
Apparently cold feet are good for longevity, because Kevin of Glendalough lived to be 120, dying in 618 AD.