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Foillan, Saint

Represented in iconography with a crown at his feet to show that he despised the honours of the world

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Foillan (Irish FAELAN, FAOLAN, FOELAN, FOALAN), Saint, represented in iconography with a crown at his feet to show that he despised the honors of the world. He was born in Ireland early in the seventh century and was the brother of Saints Ultan and Fursey, the latter a famous missionary who preached the Faith to the Irish, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Franks. Foillan, probably in company with Ultan, went with his brother Fursey when the latter, fleeing from his country then devastated by foreign invaders, retired to a lonely island. Fursey soon went among the Anglo-Saxons and built a monastery at Burgh Castle (Cnoberesburg) in Suffolk, between 634 and 650.

Seized again with the desire for solitude, Fursey left the monastery in the care of Foillan, who remained at the head of the community, and had the happiness of once more seeing his brother Fursey, who, having since gone to the kingdom of the Franks, came to visit him about 650. Soon a disastrous war broke out between Penda, the Mercian chief, and Ana, King of the Eastern Anglo-Saxons. Ana having been put to flight, the monastery of Cnoberesburg fell into the hands of the enemies. It was pillaged, and its superior, Foillan, barely escaped death. He hastened to ransom the captive monks, recovered the relics, put the holy books and objects of veneration on board ship, and departed for the country of the Franks, where his brother Fursey was buried. He and his companions were well received at Peronne by Erconwald, Mayor of the Palace. But soon, for some unknown reason, Foillan and his companions left Peronne and went to Nivelles, a monastery founded by St. Ita and St. Gertrude, wife and daughter of Duke Pepin I.

Foillan, like so many other Irishmen who went to the Continent in the seventh century, was invested with episcopal dignity, having doubtless been a monastic bishop at Cnoberesburg. He was therefore of great assistance in the organization of worship, and the holy books and relics which he brought were great treasures for St. Ita and St. Gertrude. As the monastery of Nivelles was under Irish discipline, the companions of Foillan were well received and lived side by side with the holy women, occupying themselves with the details of worship under the general direction of the abbess. Through the liberality of Ita, Foillan was enabled to build a monastery at Fosses, not far from Nivelles, in the province of Namur. After the death of Ita in 652, Foillan came one day to Nivelles and sang Mass, on the eve of the feast of St-Quentin. The ceremony being finished, he resumed his journey, doubtless undertaken in the interests of his monastery.

In the forest of Seneffe the saint and his companions fell into a trap set by bandits who inhabited that solitude. They were slain, stripped, and their bodies concealed. But they were recovered by St. Gertrude, and when she had taken some relics of the saint his body was borne to the monastery of Fosses, where it was buried about 655.

Foillan was one of the numerous Irish travellers who in the course of the seventh century evangelized Belgium, bringing thither the liturgy and sacred vessels, founding prosperous monasteries, and sharing considerably in the propagation of the Faith in these countries. Owing to the friendship which united him with Erconwald, Mayor of the Palace, and with the members of Pepin’s family, Foillan played a preponderant part in Frankish ecclesiastical history, as shown by his share in the direction of Nivelles and by the foundation of the monastery of Fosses. It is not surprising, therefore, that he should be honored and venerated both at Nivelles and Fosses and to find at Le Roeulx (Belgium) a monastery bearing his name. As late as the twelfth century the veneration in which he was held inspired Philippe Le Harvengt, Abbot of Bonne-Esperance, to compose a lengthy biography of the saint. He is the patron of Fosses, near Charleroi. In the Diocese of Namur his feast is celebrated on October 31, in the Dioceses of Mechlin and Tournai on November 5.



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