Saint Kevin, Abbot

Kevin or Coemghen/Caoimhin (the Fair-begotten and Principal Patron of Dublin Archdiocese) is said to have been born in 498 into a family which belonged to the Dál Messe Corb, a noble Leinster people who lived in what is now West Wicklow. The story of his life is not felt to be reliable as there is little contemporary material available.

He is said to have been baptised by a St Crónán and educated by St Petroc, a Briton, during that saint’s stay in Ireland. He studied for the priesthood in Cell na Manach (Killnamanagh). After Bishop Lugidus ordained him priest he left Killnamanagh and set out to find his own hermitage. On arrival in Glendalough (Valley of Two Lakes), in County Wicklow, Kevin chose the area of the upper lake and settled on the south side of the foot of that lake in what is now known as St Kevin’s Bed, an artificial cave about 30 feet above the level of the lake and which was originally a Bronze Age tomb. Kevin lived the life of a hermit there with an extraordinary closeness to nature. His companions were the animals and birds all around him. He lived as a hermit for seven years wearing only animal skins, sleeping on stones and eating very sparingly.

Disciples were soon attracted to Kevin and a settlement was established enclosed by a wall, called Kevin’s Cell and Reefert Church, situated nearer the lakeshore. All this expansion probably would not have pleased Kevin who never really wanted to change his hermit’s life.

Subsequently he founded the famous monastery of Glendalough, the parent of several other monastic foundations. Eventually, Glendalough, with its seven churches, became one of the chief pilgrimage destinations in Ireland. In time it grew into a renowned seminary of saints and scholars.

By 540, Kevin’s fame as a teacher and holy man had spread far and wide. Many came to seek his help and guidance.

In 544, Kevin went to the Hill of Uisneach in Co. Westmeath to establish a league of brotherly friendship with other holy abbots – Sts Columba, Comgall, and Cannich. From there he proceeded to Clonmacnoise, where St Ciaran had died three days before. Having firmly established his community, he retired into solitude for four years and only returned to Glendalough at the earnest entreaty of his monks.

Until his death about 618, Kevin presided over his monastery in Glendalough, living his life by fasting, praying and teaching. Legend says he lived to the venerable age of 120.

So numerous were Kevin’s followers that Glendalough became a veritable city in the desert. Glendalough became an episcopal see, but is now incorporated with Dublin. And it is now a favourite visiting place for pilgrims and tourists. St Kevin is one of the patron saints of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

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