16th January 2023

Today, 16th January is the feast day of St Fursey. Never heard of him? Not to worry, he was barely a name to me, till recently browsing through the Penguin Dictionary of Saints. He was one of the most important Irish missionary monks of the 7th century. Whereas the great St Columba evangelised Scotland a century earlier, Fursey ventured to England, and founded a monastic community in East Anglia near Great Yarmouth. After about 10 years there, he and some of his companions crossed the channel and founded another community near Paris. He died in 648.

The Venerable Bede, great chronicler of the Anglo-Saxon period, says of Fursey that he was ‘renowned for his words and works, outstanding in goodness’. But what really spread his fame both in his lifetime and long after, and all over Europe, were his visions. From time to time he fell into a trancelike state of considerable duration, when he felt he was in heaven surrounded by the chanting angels praising God ­– and also saw the fires of falsehood, covetousness, discord and injustice lying in wait to consume the world. Sounds like someone we could do with today!

But anyone who lapsed into trances like that today might well be judged ‘a bit touched’. Doesn’t that however fit the description of the prophets who felt ‘the hand of the Lord’ heavy upon them? Or Jesus, of whom people once said ‘He’s gone out of his mind’ (Mark 3.21)? The disturbing visions of those who like Fursey see the world as it is, but from another place, could be just what we need.

Keith Clements