About Fiachra’s Hollow

I am the keeper of Fiachra’s Hollow. I am the builder of the oratory, caretaker of the hospice, listener in the cell, guardian in the wilderness, cultivator of the garden. I am a wanderer who has been told to stop. And so I stop here to build a place for weary pilgrims to find some healing, wisdom, and peace.

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One might say this all began in the 7th Century with an Irish monk named Fiachra, known by many as the patron saint of gardeners. He was born in obscurity near the end of the 6th Century and is believed to have died on August 18, 670. Though details are sketchy, it seems clear he joined a monastic community as a youth and was ordained a priest as a young man. Kilfera (or Kilfiachra), just south of  Kilkenny in Ireland near the Nore River, still preserves his memory in its name. There is also evidence that he lived at the hermit’s well at Clontubrid, some 30 kms to the north.

This was the golden age of Irish monasticism, even as a darker age had settled over the European continent. Due to its isolation, Ireland had largely escaped the onslaught of barbarian invasion that had overwhelmed Europe and even the English isle after the fall of the Roman Empire. Celtic groups, largely Christian at this point, were pushed to the extreme west, and the Irish preserved much of western learning in isolated monastic libraries and scriptoriums. Their monastic practices and vision were largely shaped by the wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers of a yet earlier time.

Fiachra grew up in this monastic world, which preserved not just theological and philosophical learning, but also the the love of silence, the joys of community life and genuine worship, and the cultural practices of planting and harvest. Pilgrims often traveled across Europe to the Holy Land and returned carrying seeds and plants from all the known world, enabling them to grow food and medicines back in their monastic gardens. Irish monks, known as lovers of the natural world, often expressed this passion through gardening and farming. Being the growers of vegetables and grains, along with a large collection of culinary and healing herbs, monks often became known as healers not just of the soul, but of the body as well.

Fiachra felt a strong call to a life of solitary worship and decided to establish a hermitage where he could devote himself to prayer. He found a place not far from the monastery along the Nore River where there was woodland for quiet, a cave for meditation, and everything else he needed to live. But as time passed, people began to flock to him. He fed the hungry from his garden, treated the sick with healing herbs and prayer, and he told stories of Jesus and offered prayers and blessings for the people. Soon disciples settled in with him, joining him in his work but also seeking his guidance and spiritual counsel. And so Fiachra was soon surrounded again by the distractions he had earlier sought to escape. So in the year 628, desiring deeper solitude, Fiachra moved on once again, this time leaving Ireland to find God’s calling on the European continent.

During this time in history, many Irish monks left their native land to seek their calling on the continent. They moved from place to place, spreading the good news of God, until they felt called to settle in a particular place. And so Fiachra traveled for a time in this manner, until he arrived in Meaux, France, where Saint Faro was Bishop. Faro and his father’s family had received a blessing from an earlier Irish wanderer, Columbanus, and so Faro warmly welcomed Fiachra and granted him a place for a hermitage at Brogillum (now Breuil) in a forest near the Marne River. And so Fiachra settled there, building an oratory for prayer, a hospice to care for strangers, and a cell for him to live in solitude. Fiachra also planted a garden to grow the food and herbs necessary for his own needs and his works of mercy.

Soon disciples gathered around him, and as the community grew, Fiachra approached the Bishop for more land. It is said that Bishop Faro offered Fiachra as much land as as he could surround with a spadework trench in a single day. As legend would have it, Fiachra surveyed the area he needed for his community, which was far larger than anyone could have marked off with a trench in just one day. Then he went to the oratory and prayed to God for help, and by the next morning the entire area was miraculously marked off.

It is said that a local woman, who opposed Fiachra’s rising influence, went to the Bishop and accused Fiachra of using magic. She was probably an herbalist who had held a strong sway over the people until Fiachra appeared on the scene. But when Faro saw what had taken place, he attributed it to Fiachra as a miracle and proclaimed him a saint. Faro granted Fiachra the entire area, where his garden and influence continued to grow. (It was in France that his name came to be spelled Fiacre.)

So now in this place, I undertake to build an oratory where we all can learn to welcome God into our lives as He has welcomed us into His with significant sacrifice. I undertake to build a hospice to welcome fellow pilgrims to rest and find healing nourishment on their journey. I undertake to build a cell where we can one-by-one learn to grant ourselves the grace God has already offered us. I undertake to cultivate and plant a garden for feeding and healing others. And as I plant there, I hope that, in some small way, we can begin a renewal of our friendship with all our fellow creatures, great and small.

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We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

We believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell. He rose from the dead on the third day. He ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

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Most of the posts on this site are, at least in some sense, reflections on mundane theology. Most people probably know what is meant by the word “theology.” It refers to the activity of thinking about God. No one has ever done this perfectly. Even the greatest theological minds are all bound by the limitations of their place in history, culture, society, and family, let alone the limitations of their particular language, life experience, mind, and physical body. When it comes down to it, whether we like to admit it or not, our thinking about God comes from an extremely limited perspective. We do believe that divine revelation has been miraculously handed to us in the holy Scriptures and through the gift of creation. (The reflections on this site most often focus on the intersection of these revelatory sources.) We also believe in the miraculous intervention and communication of God’s ever-present Spirit, without whom our connection to Truth would be difficult to claim.

The word “mundane” is used to describe our reflections about God, not because we believe them to be boring but because they find their inspiration in the common, in the everyday stuff of life. According to Webster’s, the word “mundane” means: “characterized by the practical, transitory, and ordinary: commonplace.” They offer “earthly” as a synonym; as gardeners, we would like to offer the word “earthy.” So perhaps these musings should be titled “Earthly Theology” or “Earthy Theology.” We use observations from the garden and natural world in our reflections about God. The writers of Scripture did the same, so we know we are in good company. And as with all human beings, we have to do our thinking from the place where we are standing (or kneeling), which is often the garden, or perhaps some quiet place in the woods.

Jesus often used the farm and vineyard to describe our relationship with Him and with the Father. Jesus once said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We present Fiachra’s Hollow from a position attached to that Vine and offer up whatever revelation might flow to us.

“Just ask the animals, and they will teach you.

Ask the birds of the sky, and they will tell you.

Speak to the earth, and it will instruct you.

Let the fish in the sea speak to you. . . .”

(Job 12:7-8)

Reflections on Hospitality

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