Wednesday, June 22, 2016

From Ghosts to Controversy: Saint Colman

As I was browsing through stories of Summers county, WV, I came upon Saint Colman's Catholic Church and yet another unusual story.

This tiny church in a remote corner of Raleigh county near the Summers county line was established as the place of worship for a small Irish immigrant community of farmers. The place they settled, about 1855, became known (and is still known) as Irish Mountain. The church is reportedly log, covered over with white clapboards.
photo from WV Encyclopedia, by David Sibray
According to the local oral tradition, there is one corner of the church cemetery known as the Graveyard of the Lost Souls, where newborn babies and others unbaptized before death were buried--they were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. Today this seems un-Christian and even cold-hearted but it was the custom for many years in the Catholic church. I won't go into details about the controversy, not to mention heartbreak, caused by this policy, but this website and video give a touching insight into one man's efforts to discover the grave of an aunt who died at birth. Such things that are done in the name of religion!

Today the community on Irish Mountain is gone, and their farms lost in the forests covering the land. The name of this church, though, caught my attention. Who was Saint Colman? I'd certainly never heard of him.

The answer to that question was a surprise. Good grief, there are over 300 Irish saints called Saint Colman! So which one was the patron saint of this lonely church? Was it Saint Colman of Kilmacduagh, or Saint Colman of Lindisfarne, or Saint Colman of Mayo, or Saint Colman of Stockerau (my preference, since he is the patron saint of hanged men, horned cattle, and horses and is invoked against plague and for husbands by marriageable girls; and against hanging and gout!)? Or one of the hundreds of others?

According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, this particular church was named after Saint Colman of Kilmacduagh, the abbey he founded in County Galway, Ireland. Below is a photo of the remains of the abbey, from Wikipedia.

By Jerzy Strzelecki - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Colman Mac Duagh was educated on Inishmoor in the Aron islands, and then, seeking more solitude, moved to the Burren in County Clare.There are many legends that have been passed down about him; Wikipedia has several interesting ones about his friendships with a rooster, a mouse, and a fly!
The Burren
So it is fitting after all for this remote little Catholic church to be named after a saint who sought solitude, isn't it? As for the sad graveyard, there are stories of it being haunted and somehow that isn't surprising. I believe it is haunted by the sorrow of those poor mothers and fathers who were not allowed to bury their little ones in the family plot, with a stone to mark their name.

I will have to add this to my list of places to visit next time we're in the south of the state. And I think I'll bring some flowers for those poor lost souls.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

1 comment:

Susan Anderson said...

A sad story, indeed. And yes, I think flowers would be just right.


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