Today is the Feast of St. Gobnait. I only learned about St. Gobnait after moving to Ireland and she is one of the few Irish women saints. She is a 5th-6th century monk who fled her home in County Clare and headed first for the island of Insheer. It is not clear why she fled, only that she was seeking refuge on the Aran Islands.
There is a deep and rich tradition among the Irish monks to seek out the place of one’s resurrection. This was done through the practice of peregrinatio, a setting sail without oar or rudder to let the currents of love carry you. This happened in metaphoric ways as well. The story tells us that an angel appeared to Gobnait to instruct her to go on a journey to the place where nine white deer are grazing. Only there would she would find her true place of resurrection. She wandered through Waterford, Cork, and Kerry in search. At first she saw three white deer in Clondrohid and followed them to Ballymakeera where she saw six more.
Finally, when she arrived to Ballyvourney, where there was a small rise overlooking the River Sullane, that Gobnait saw nine white deer grazing all together just as the angel had promised, so she settled there and founded her monastic community.
St. Gobnait is the patron saint of bees and there are several stories recalling her forcing invaders out of Ballyvourney by setting swarms of bees upon them. She is also the patron of the sick and likely that she used honey as a healing medicine which is considered to be one of the three great Celtic healers (the other two being water and labor).
I love this as a story of a woman who was willing to follow the invitation and recognize what she thought was the place she was called to, was in fact just a resting place along the way. In most of these stories we have to enter in with our imagination and flesh out the human drama of it. You can see the hope that this was perhaps it, only to have to carry on and continue the search.
Imagine being called forth to one place, settling there, and then being told in a dream to wander until the sign had been fulfilled. I imagine her wandering the Irish landscape, searching for the white deer, and upon seeing three, and then six, her heart swelling, but continuing on until the right moment. She paid attention to life as it unfolded. She allowed the full ripening of time and the season.
St Gobnait dancing monk icon © Marcy Hall at Rabbit Room Arts
St. Gobnait is featured in our upcoming online retreat The Soul’s Slow Ripening: Celtic Wisdom for Discernment (April 4-May 29, 2016)