February 11, 2020

Saint Gobnata of Ballyvourney

St. Gobnata (Feast Day - February 11)

Saint Gobnata (or Gobnait, Gobnet, Deborah, Abigail) was born in County Clare of Ireland at the end of the fifth, or the beginning of the sixth century. Later she fled to the Aran Islands to escape from some enemy. An angel appeared to her one day and told her to leave that place, for it was not to be the place of her resurrection, and to keep walking until she found nine white deer.

She saw three white deer at Clondrohid, County Cork, and decided to follow them. Then at Ballymakeera, she saw six white deer. Finally, at Ballyvourney she came upon nine white deer grazing in a wood. There she was given land donated by the O'Herlihy family for a women’s monastery by her spiritual father Saint Abban of Kilabban, County Laois (March 16), and he installed her as abbess. Excavations in 1951 proved that indeed there had been an early Christian settlement on the site.

Saint Gobnata was renowned for her gift of healing, and there is a story of how she kept the plague from Ballyvourney. She is also famous for her skill as a bee-keeper (Gobnata means "Honey Bee", which is the equivalent of the Hebrew "Deborah"). One day, Saint Gobnata was watching from a hill overlooking a valley as an invading chieftain and his army came through, destroying crops and driving off cattle. She sent the bees to attack them, and they were thrown into such confusion that they left without their plunder.

In fact she seems to have been very able in dealing with brigands. Set in the wall of the ruined church at Ballyvourney there is a round stone, which she is said to have used as a sort of boomerang to prevent the building of a castle by another brigand on the other side of the valley from her monastery. Every time he began building she sent the stone across and knocked down the walls, as fast as he could build, until he gave up in despair.

The holy maiden Gobnata fell asleep in the Lord on February 11. The exact year of her death is not known, but it probably occurred in the sixth century. Although she is regarded as the patron saint of Ballyvourney, she is venerated throughout southern Ireland. There are churches dedicated to her in Waterford and Kerry, for example, and she is also revered in Scotland.

There is a field near to Ballyvourney called the Plague Field commemorating the area she marked out as consecrated ground, across which the plague could not pass. The "Tomhas Ghobnata", which is the Gaelic for Gobnat's measure, a length of wool measured against her statue, is still in demand for healing, and in the church a much worn wooden statue of the thirteenth century is preserved and shown on her festival. At Killeen there is Gobnat's Stone, an early cross pillar that has a small figure bearing a crozier on one side.

A well still exists at Ballyvourney that is named after her. Her grave in the churchyard at Ballyvourney is decorated with crutches and other evidence of cures obtained through Gobnata's intercession. Her beehive has remained a precious relic of the O'Herlihys. The round stone associated with her is still preserved. In art, Saint Gobnata is represented as a beekeeper. Gobnata was originally a patron of ironworkers. Excavation at the church in Ballyvourney yielded considerable evidence of ironworking on the site.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
As a spiritual child of the God inspired Abban, thou didst worthily guide many into monastic virtue, most holy Gobnet. Wherefore we entreat thee to intercede for us that we may be guided aright and be found worthy of the great mercy of Christ our God.

Kontakion in Plagal of the First Tone
Praise and honour are thy due, O physician of bodies and souls, most pious Gobnet. As thou, being blessed with the gift of healing, didst bring to many the wholeness and peace of Christ, pray now for us that our tormented souls may come to know the joy of godly healing.