Barrett/Scottish Saints/St. Egbert
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Dom Michael Barrett
April 21 – St. Egbert, Priest and Monk, A.D. 729.
He was an Englishman of good family, who, after some years of study in the monastery of Lindisfarne, followed the almost universal custom of those days and passed over to Ireland, then renowned for its monastic schools, entering the monastery of Melfont. During his stay there a pestilence broke out which carried off a great number of the inmates. Egbert prayed earnestly to be spared that he might live a life of penance, making a vow never more to return to England, to recite daily the whole psalter in addition to the canonical hours, and to fast from all food one day in each week for the rest of his life. His vow was accepted and his life spared.
After some years Egbert was raised to the priesthood, and his zeal for souls led him to desire to preach the faith to the pagan people of that part of Germany then known as Friesland, In this project he was joined by some of his pious companions. A vessel had been chartered, and all things were ready, when it was revealed to Egbert through a holy monk that God had other designs in his regard; in obedience to this intimation the voyage was at once abandoned.
The later life of Egbert exemplifies the way in which God chooses and preserves the instruments for accomplishing His Will. Entering the monastery of Iona when already advanced in years, he spent the last thirteen years of his life in untiring efforts to induce the monks to give up the Celtic traditions to which they clung, and to conform to the Roman computation of Easter. His sweetness and gentleness were at last rewarded. On Easter Day 729 he passed away at the ripe age of ninety, "rejoicing," as St. Bede says, "that he had been detained here long enough to see them keep the feast with him on that day, which before they had always avoided."
Though the monks of Iona did not then, as a body, accept the Roman custom, yet the seeds sown by Egbert bore fruit eventually in complete conformity with the rest of the Church, St. Egbert thus merits a high place among the saints of Scotland, although but a short period of his life was spent in the country. He also shares with St. Willibrord the renown of converting Friesland to the Faith; for it was by his example and persuasion that the latter was induced to undertake the work which terminated so successfully. On account of his connection with the conversion of the country, the feast of St. Egbert was formerly celebrated in the diocese of Utrecht. Some authors maintain that St. Egbert never took monastic vows, but was a priest living in the monastery; others say, and with good reason, that he was a bishop.