October Oratory

"Come, said Fiacre Colman

Walk gently in my garden,

Meditate under the linden tree,

And listen to the bumble bee.

In my garden you will find

Plants for all of human kind,

Herbs for flavor and for fragrance,

And sometimes for a physic;

Feel the whisper of the air caress

Each fragrant flower in happiness.

Come, walk gently in my garden."*
Saint Fiacre
In October, harvest time is ending and I become aware of an urgent need - to prepare the plants and gardens for the winter, I wish I were as blessed as St. Fiacre, who, as legend tells us, miraculously cultivated a large tract of land in just one day.

According to some sources, Fiacre Colman began life as the eldest son of an Irish king at the end of the 6th century. The name Fiachra is believed to be Irish for "battle king". His mother, a Christian, had him sent to the Bishop of Scotia to be educated in a monastery. As a result, he renounced the throne and his wordly posessions and devoted his life to God.

Monasteries at this time were great repositories of knowledge, particularly herbal knowledge. Common folk turned to monks for healing, both physical and spiritual in nature. Diseases were often thought to be caused by spells, witchcraft, and other nefarious beings or spirits. So it was a natural assumption that holy men would be best for casting out these evil manifestations, thus healing their patients of physical and mental afflictions.

Fiacre had a knack for growing things, and growing them better than others could. He was sometimes referred to as having "green fingers" - his plants grew larger and more flavorful, and his herbs and flowers were earlier to emerge than most. Anyone who could command nature to do his bidding was therefore a logical choice to appeal to when one was in need of healing. He often used his herbs to soothe aches and sores, and to restore health to petitioners. However, Fiacre preferred a life of solitude and meditation, so he moved to France, hoping to return to life as a hermit and concentrate on his spiritual devotion. He built a stone hut and planted a garden. Eventually, he required more land for his plantings, and so he requested the local bishop to grant him more land. Bishop Faro indicated that Fiacre could have as much land as he could enclose with a ditch in one day. The legend tells us that Fiacre took an implement and dragged it behind him. You can take your choice here of what he used - accounts vary, saying he used an ivory cane, a staff, a shovel, or a crosier. Whatever it was he used, however, caused trees, briars, and all manner of plant life to be instantly stripped away, clearing a huge area in an inordinately small amount of time. Some stories claim that a woman, closely watching this spectacle, was horrified, believing that only witchcraft could cause such a situation. She complained to the Bishop, and by doing so, earned Fiacre's disdain and subsequent mandate that women would be forever barred from his sight. This edict has caused people to label St. Fiacre a mysogynist, when in fact, monasteries at this time did not as a rule permit women to enter. There are many reports to contradict this exclusion, with woman being cured of ailments or seeking intercession on behalf of others, so it is most likely not true that Fiacre hated women.

When word of this miracle got out, people of course flocked to this man who was obviously in God's graces. To handle the crowds, Fiacre built a monastery, and proceeded to create a haven for those in need. Many believe he was the first to institute what is now known as horticultural therapy. He allowed people to work in his gardens, tending to the plants and learning of their properties. This growing and nurturing of plants helps heal the mind, easing tensions and stresses and restoring good humor. His "green fingers" brought both ailing plants and people back to good health.

The Catholic faith has claimed the Feast Day of St. Fiacre to be August 30, one of the reported days of his death in 670 a.d. He is the Patron Saint of gardeners and herbalists, as he was so successful in the cultivation of plants and using the healing properties of herbs. I think of him more often in the fall, as the harvest is stored and I am planning for next year's tasks. Statues of St. Fiacre usually depict him in monk's robes, looking downward at the earth as all good gardeners do. He always has a spade and often his foot is atop it, ready to dig. This is the saint to whom we may ask for intercession, if we wish, in clearing weed and brush and stone from our gardens. If nothing else, we can hope for a measure of patience in accomplishing menial tasks. and acceptance in the realization that a gardener's work is never done. He represents the soul of the gardener to me, and I enjoy his presence as I remove yet another rock from the herb bed, or revel in the first green sign of spring. He is with me as I cover my plants for the winter, harvest herbs for my home, or as I gaze about the gardens, content and satisfied.

Have a productive October!
Karen

 

*I believe this quote was penned by Mary Milligan, but I do not have solid proof of that. She was a long time member of the New England Unit of The Herb Society of America, and often lectured on all aspects of herbs and gardening. This quote was on a handout that the Unit had printed to accompany one of their exhibits at the Flower Show.