Donatus of Fiesole

For homonyms, see Donatus (disambiguation).
Saint Donatus of Fiesole

Madonna with Saints John the Baptist and Donatus of Fiesole (1475–83, Andrea del Verrocchio, Pistoia Cathedral)
Born Ireland
Died 876 AD
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Major shrine Fiesole Cathedral
Feast 22 October
Attributes depicted in the garb of a bishop with an Irish wolfhound at his feet; also shown pointing out a church to his deacon Andrew the Scot

Saint Donatus (Donat, Donnchad) of Fiesole was an Irish teacher and poet, and Bishop of Fiesole, about 829–876.


Donatus was born in Ireland of noble parents towards the end of the eighth century. There is good reason to believe that he was educated in the monastic school of Inishcaltra, a little island in Lough Derg, near the Galway shore, now better known as Holy Island: so he was probably a native of that part of the country. Here he studied with great industry and success. He became a priest, and in course of time a bishop: he was greatly distinguished as a professor.[1]

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, in an ancient collection of the Vitae Patrum, of which an eleventh-century copy exists in the Laurentian library of Florence, there is an account of the life of Donatus, which states that about 816 Donatus visited the tombs of the Apostles in Rome with his friend, Andrew Scotus (meaning "the Irishman"). They remained in Rome for a considerable time, and then having obtained the Pope's blessing, set out once more, directing their steps now towards Tuscany, till at length they reached Fiesole, where they entered the hospice of the monastery, intending to rest there for a week or two, and then to resume their journey.[1]

According to tradition, he was led by Divine Providence to the cathedral of Fiesole, which he entered at the moment when the people were grouped around their altars praying for a bishop to deliver them from temporal and spiritual evils. When Donatus entered, the bells spontaneously began ringing and the candles lit. The people believed God meant this stranger to be their bishop. They elected him, although some said it's possible no one local wanted the position because the feudal lords had drowned the previous bishop.[2] Raised by popular acclaim to the See of Fiesole, Donatus instituted a revival of piety and learning in the church over which he was placed. Donatus made Andrew his deacon. This was in or about the year 824.[1]

He founded the abbey of San Martino di Mensola. Supposedly he was a teacher in service to the Frankish kings; there is a record, from 850, of his giving a church and hospice, St. Brigid's at Piacenza, to the abbey founded by St. Columban at Bobbio.[3] Donatus not only battled sin, he was also a military leader, organising armies to lead two expeditions against the Saracens. He was an advisor to Emperor Louis and Frankish King Lothair I. He judged a disagreement between the bishops of Arezzo and Siena. In 862, he was at the Council of Rome, called after Archbishop John of Ravenna refused to submit to papal authority.[2]

According to St. Donatus, St. Brigid of Kildare visited his deathbed to give him spiritual strength and comfort. His story, preserved in manuscript in the Laurentian Library in Florence, tells of this miracle: the great saint flew to his deathbed, and before she touched him, she hung her cloak on a sunbeam to dry.[4] He was buried in the cathedral, where his epitaph, dictated by himself, may still be seen.[5]


A Life of the St. Brigid printed by Colgan is attributed to Coelan, an Irish monk of the eighth century, and it derives a peculiar importance from the fact that it is prefaced by a foreword from the pen of St. Donatus, who refers to previous lives by St. Ultan and St. Aileran.[6]

He himself did not disdain to teach "the art of metrical composition". His Life of Saint Brigid is interspersed with short poems of his own composition. The best known of these is the twelve-line poem in which he describes the beauty and fertility of his native land, and the prowess and piety of its inhabitants. Donatus also composed an epitaph in which he alludes to his birth in Ireland, his years in the service of the princes of Italy (Lothair and Louis), his episcopate at Fiesole, and his activity as a teacher of grammar and poetry.

Like St. Columkille, Donatus always cherished a tender regretful love for Ireland; and like him also he wrote a short poem in praise of it which is still preserved. It is in Latin, and the following is a translation, made by a Dublin poet many years ago:

Far westward lies an isle of ancient fame, By nature bless'd; and Scotia is her name,
Enroll'd in books: exhaustless is her store, Of veiny silver, and of golden ore.
Her fruitful soil, for ever teems with wealth, With gems her waters, and her air with health;
Her verdant fields with milk and honey flow;Her woolly fleeces vie with virgin snow;
Her waving furrows float with bearded corn; And arms and arts her envied sons adorn!
No savage bear, with lawless fury roves, Nor fiercer lion, through her peaceful groves;
No poison there infects, no scaly snake Creeps through the grass, nor frog annoys the lake;
An island worthy of its pious race, In war triumphant, and unmatch'd in peace![1]

  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference joyce was invoked but never defined (see the help page).


His feast day is 22 October.[3] The numerous locations and churches incorporating his name, San Donato, provide evidence of his influence and popularity throughout Tuscany.[5]



External links

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