Saint of the week: St Ita (January 15)

Known as the “foster mother of the saints of Erin”, Íte ingen Chinn Fhalad is believed to have been born in 480AD at a time when Ireland had just recently been Christianised.

She was raised in Drum, Co Waterford. Some genealogies claim she was a cousin to Ireland’s patron, St Bridget, although in a period of sparse knowledge we cannot know for certain.

Ita is regarded as the embodiment of the six virtues of Irish womanhood – wisdom, purity, musical ability, gentle speech and needle skills. She turned down a good marriage offer to live as a consecrated Religious and at the age of 16 moved to what is now Killeedy in Co Limerick, founding a small community of nuns. According to legend, Ita was led there by three heavenly lights. Turning down the offer of a large plot of land from a local king, she focused on prayer, fasting and teaching. Among her pupils was St Brendan the Navigator, who is said to have visited her in between his various risky trips to far-flung parts of the world.

A popular spiritual director, Ita played a major role in the early Irish Church, at a time when the Celtic Church was more advanced than its neighbours and much of Britain had reverted to paganism.

St Ita died around 570, at a greatly advanced age, and perhaps her longevity was connected to her reputation for austerity. Her grave in Killeedy was, alas, destroyed by the Vikings, but remains a popular spot for pilgrims. It features a now dried-up holy well supposed to have been capable of curing