Garden Notes: Patron saint of gardeners spent his life studying plants

This is the story of St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners and a man who knew his way around a shovel.

In the sixth century, a little boy with the ancient Irish name of Fiacre was raised in a monastery near Kilferagh in County Kilkenny.

He was the illegitimate son of a Scottish king. Monasteries were important seats of art, knowledge and devotion in the early days of Christianity, and Irish monasteries protected their treasures and the people living near them.

The monks established wineries and gardens. Strangers knew they could find food and shelter while traveling and often brought new seeds and plant cuttings with them.

Fiacre grew up in monastic silence and became a highly skilled herbalist. He developed such a reputation for healing that sick people from all over Ireland were brought to him.

People with the desire to learn the uses of plants and herbs found their way to his monastery, too.

Fiacre was eventually overwhelmed by the demands of this attention and asked the permission of his abbot to move to a nearby cave. He loved his solitude, but lost that comfort when emissaries arrived from Scotland hoping to have Fiacre assume his deceased father’s throne. He instead asked the abbot for permission to move to France.

He petitioned the Bishop of Meaux to allow him to live in the vast forest surrounding Meaux. Fiacre walked his way back to the forest and, picking up his shovel one morning, plunged it into the ground and walked beside it as it caused trees to fall, bushes to crumple and a furrow to be torn in the earth.

Of course, this caused an ungodly racket in the forest and a curious local woman watched Fiacre as he strode the forest beside his shovel, claiming miles of land for his own. The woman went straight to Bishop Faro to report what she had seen. She accused Fiacre of beguiling the Bishop with witchcraft.

Fiacre built a monastery to shelter the poor, and provide physical and spiritual healing for the suffering. He established riotous gardens of vegetables, herbs and flowers and his monastery was open to all – except women. Because of the woman who accused him of practicing witchcraft, St. Fiacre banned all women from his land along the Marne, although that was a pretty common monastic practice at the time.

St. Fiacre’s icon tells the story of his life. You can see the forests in the background, the hospice he built for travelers, his sixth century flowers and herbs, his watering can and shovel and his big workingman’s hands. The crown at his feet lends credence to the story of his rejection of his father’s kingdom.

Coming up

* 6:30 p.m., March 19, C4C, 793 Monastery Road, Hollidaysburg “Chasing Ice,” a film followed by discussion on climate change.

Contact Teresa Futrick at