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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume I: January. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

February 23

St. Boisil, Prior of Mailross, or Melross, Confessor

THE FAMOUS abbey of Mailross, which in later ages embraced the Cistercian rule, originally followed that of St. Columba. It was situated upon the river Tweed, in a great forest, and in the seventh century was comprised in the kingdom of the English Saxons in Northumberland, which was extended in the eastern part of Scotland as high as the Frith. Saint Boisil was prior of this house under the holy abbot Eata, both of whom seem to have been English youths, trained up in monastic discipline by St. Aidan. Boisil was, says Bede, a man of sublime virtues, and endued with a prophetic spirit. His eminent sanctity determined St. Cuthbert to repair rather to Mailross than to Lindisfarne in his youth, and he received from this saint the knowledge of the holy scriptures, and the example of all virtues. St. Boisil had often in his mouth the holy names of the adorable Trinity, and of our divine Redeemer Jesus, which he repeated with a wonderful sentiment of devotion, and often with such an abundance of tears as excited others to weep with him. He would say frequently, with the most tender affection, “How good a Jesus have we!” At the first sight of St. Cuthbert, he said to the bystanders: “Behold a servant of God.” Bede produces the testimony of St. Cuthbert, who declared that Boisil foretold him the chief things that afterwards happened to him in the sequel of his life. Three years beforehand, he foretold the great pestilence of 664, and that he himself should die of it, but that Eata, the abbot, should outlive it. Boisil, not content continually to instruct and exhort his religious brethren by word and example, made frequent excursions into the villages to preach to the poor, and to bring straying souls into the paths of truth and of life. St. Cuthbert was taken with the pestilential disease: when St. Boisil saw him recovered, he said to him: “Thou seest, brother, that God hath delivered thee from this disease, nor shalt thou any more feel it, nor die at this time: but my death being at hand, neglect not to learn something of me so long as I shall be able to teach thee, which will be no more than seven days.” “And what,” said Cuthbert, “will be best for me to read, which may be finished in seven days?” “The gospel of St. John,” said he, “which we may in that time read over, and confer upon as much as shall be necessary.” For they only sought therein, says Bede, the sincerity of faith working through love, and not the treating of profound questions. Having accomplished this reading in seven days, the man of God, Boisil, falling ill of the aforesaid disease, came to his last day, which he passed over in extraordinary jubilation of soul, out of his earnest desire of being with Christ. In his last moments he often repeated those words of St. Stephen: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Thus he entered into the happiness of eternal light, in the year 664. The instructions which he was accustomed most earnestly to inculcate to his religious brethren were: “That they would never cease giving thanks to God for the gift of their religious vocation; that they would always watch over themselves against self-love and all attachment to their own will and private judgment, as against their capital enemy; that they would converse assiduously with God by interior prayer, and labour continually to attain to the most perfect purity of heart, this being the true and short road to the perfection of Christian virtue.” Out of the most ardent and tender love which he bore our divine Redeemer, and in order daily to enkindle and improve the same, he was wonderfully delighted with reading every day a part of the gospel of St. John, which for this purpose he divided into seven parts or tasks. St. Cuthbert inherited from him this devotion, and in his tomb was found a Latin copy of St. John’s gospel, which was in the possession of the present earl of Litchfield, and which his lordship gave to Mr. Thomas Philips, canon of Tongres.  1
  Bede relates, 1 as an instance that St. Boisil continued after his death to interest himself particularly in obtaining for his country and friends the divine mercy and grace, that he appeared twice to one of his disciples, giving him a charge to assure St. Egbert, who had been hindered from going to preach the gospel to the infidels in Germany, that God commanded him to repair to the monasteries of St. Columba, to instruct them in the right manner of celebrating Easter. These monasteries were, that in the island of Colm-Kill, or Iona (which was the ordinary burial-place of the kings of Scotland down to Malcolm III.) and that of Magis, in the isles of Orkney, built by bishop Colman. The remains of St. Boisil were translated to Durham, and deposited near those of his disciple St. Cuthbert, in 1030. Wilson and other English authors mention St. Boisil on the 7th of August; but in the Scottish calendars his name occurs on the 23rd of February. See Bede, Hist. l. 4. c. 27. l. 5. c. 10. and in Vitâ S. Cuthberti, c. 8.  2
Note 1. Hist. l. 5. c. 10. [back]