Samthann was the adopted daughter of an Irish king, Cridan. Like so many of the female Irish saints was delivered from an arranged marriage by a miracle, and then devoted herself to serving God as a nun. She became abbess of the monastery at Clonbroney after its founder, St Fuinech, had a dream of a fiery form resembling Samthann consuming the monastery, which she interpreted to her sisters as follows: ‘Burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit, Samthann will make this place shimmer by virtue of her merits and in the splendour of miracles’.
Various miracles are recorded in later years; she often knew what was in the hearts of others at a distance, and even performed nature miracles. The following story from her life illustrates both:
Once the community of brothers on the isle of Iona sent some of their members to the holy Samthann with a boatload of wool. While they were clearing the level surface (of the sea), the calm of the air changed suddenly. The waves, raised by the heightening of the winds, menaced them angrily with death. A lad among them spoke up foolishly, saying, ‘Let’s throw the granny’s wool overboard lest we sink’. The navigator of the ship refused to allow this, and said, ‘Certainly not, with the old lady’s wool we shall either live or die’. With this remark, such serenity of the sea ensued that the wind disappeared altogether and they resorted to rowing. Then the same boy piped up again, ‘Why can’t the granny provide us any wind now?’ The navigator responded, ‘we believe that God will assist us for the sake of her merits’. At once the wind filled their sails and they capitalized on this gift for three whole days and nights until they reached the harbour at Colptha. When they had arrived at the monastery of the blessed virgin, they saluted her as they entered and kissed her hand. When the aforesaid lad approached her, the virgin said ‘Now what was that you were saying about me at sea when the storm threatened you with death?’ The boy was confounded into silence with shame. She said to him ‘Never doubt this, if ever dangers corner you, call upon me boldly’.
She was known mainly for her wisdom: she gave guidance and advice to many, including the teacher Dairchellach and Maelruin, who wrote a rule for the Ceile De, or Culdees, one of the most significant reform/renewal movements of Irish Christianity, which gave rise to an international movement of devotion (the ruins of the old Culdee chapel in St Andrews are still visible, and we use the site for united worship on Easter morning even now). In the stories told about her, Samthann is often to be found laughing (even ‘giggling’ at one point, although I haven’t checked the Latin).
She died in 739. She was a woman who taught the leading churchmen of her day, and whose holy wisdom repeatedly broke into laughter. Her Life ends with a beautiful story:
On the very night in which her spirit returned to heaven, the holy abbot Lasran, of whom we spoke earlier, awoke and saw two moons, one of which dipped towards him. He was mindful of his own request, for he had asked her that when she passed to the celestial realm she would bend toward him. Recognizing her in the guise of a star, he said, ‘Well done, Samthann, faithful servant of God, for now you are ushered into the rejoicing of the Lord, your spouse.’ In this fashion she faded away, climbing into the sky, where eternal life is enjoyed for ever and ever, Amen.
More details about her can be found here.