Saint Patrick's Islands
CATHOLIC travellers, particularly those with Irish connections, visiting the Cote d'Azur should not miss seeing the Lerins Islands, St. Patrick's "islands in the Tyrrhene Sea."
Once popular as a place of pilgrimage,carryingthe same indulgences as a journey to the Holy Land, they lie silhouetted against the horizon off Cannes: the twin islands of St. Marguerite and St. Honorat.
Motor launches at regular intervals take the visitor out to St. Marguerite in about fifteen minutes. It is covered with a forest of Mediterranean umbrella pines, with a small hamlet on the northern shore facing Cannes, dominated by the now deserted fort of St. Marguerite, the setting of the imprisonment of that fantasy of the imagination of Voltaire and Dumas, the "Man in the Iron Mask."
A feal inmate in more recent times was the corpulent Marshal Bazaine, who was confined here for cravenly surrendering Metz with 150,000 men to the Germans in the war of 1870. Legend relates that he made his escape at the risk of his neck by sliding down a rope, over the ramparts and cliff, to a waiting boat below.
Although guides will show the place where this occurred, it is as apocryphal as the cachot they show as that in which the "Iron Mask" was incarcerated. Bazaine was pardoned, and walked out through the prison gates a free man.
St. Honorat, only about half the size of St. Marguerite, also has a fine pine forest covering its low hills that sweep gently down to wide sandy beadles. It is less spoilt by modern tourism, for it has not the fic
tional attraction as St. Marguerite. Here St. Honorat settled about A.D. 400 because it had an excellent water supply which The larger island lacks,
The saint and his monks cleaned out the undergrowth, cleared the island of snakes and scorpions, and planted vineyards. It was the first real contemplative society of monks in the West, and soon became famous for its learned and holy men.
Among these were St. Lupus of Troyes, to whom Attila the Hun made his cynical remark: "I am Attila, the Scourge of God", and the British Faustus of Rica, Imperial negotiator with Euric, King of the Visigoths.
Near the beach are the little chapels of La Trinite and St. Sauveur, probably built by St. Honorees monks as they are accepted as dating from the fifth century. His monastery resembled those of Celtic Ireland more than the medieval type to which we are acc u s to m e d : beehive-shaped cells grouped around that of the abbot, oratories like La Trinite, and standing crosses, enclosed within a turf wall, which at Lerins was replaced by the circumambient sea.
In the eighth century Moorish corsairs began their raids upon the coasts of Christendom and Lerins did not escape their attention. To provide themselves with a refuge the monks built a fortified monastery. whose donjon-keep still remains.
St. Patrick's connection with the islands is based on one of his sayings preserved by the monk-author of his life, Tirechan. Doubts regarding the authenticity of this have been raised, for the Saint himself makes no mention of his visit in his own writings.
However, a month's journey across France, which he tells us he made with the crew of the ship in which he escaped from Ireland, would have brought him into northern Italy, probably to Milan, where the captain hoped to sell his cargo of wolf hounds.
Then on the way tome, trudging along the Roman highway, as he came down into the bay where Cannes now stands, he would have seen the Lerins islands basking on the shimmering Tyrrhene sea, and heard of the holy men who had made the wilderness into an ark of prayer. He did not reach home until some years later, and nothing is more likely than, glowing with gratitude to God at his recent deliverance from slavery, he turned aside to return thanks in this haven of
peace, so unexpectedly presented to him.