St Fachanan is venerated as the patron saint of Kilfenora diocese. The image shows a mitred bishop in the ruins of its cathedral in the village of Kilfenora.
St Fachanan is venerated as the patron saint of Kilfenora diocese. The image shows a mitred bishop in the ruins of its cathedral in the village of Kilfenora. St Fachanan of Kilfenora is often confused with St Fachtna of Roscarbery, who is also sometimes called Fachanan. Patrick Duffy tells of the abbey associated with him and the diocese of Kilfenora.
Monastic foundation and cathedral of St Fachanan
Little is known about the life of St Fachanan – in fact, in Pádraig Ó Riain’s A Dictionary of Irish Saints (2011) there is no entry under that name, only a mention under St Fachtna of Roscarbery. But Fachanan is associated with a 6th century monastic foundation in Kilfenora, Co Clare. Kilfenora, Cill Fhionnurach in Irish, means “Church of the fair white brow”. Later, Kilfenora became a diocese. Its cathedral was dedicated to St. Fachanan, and built in about 1189 on the site of an early monastery. It contains some fine carvings on grave slabs and on windows and doorways in the form of stone heads. Kilfenora’s importance as a religious centre is underlined by the presence of five High Crosses, the most famous of which is the Doorty Cross.
The Pope’s Diocese?
The diocese of Kilfenora, along with the neighbouring diocese of Kilmacduagh, were set up and had their territories defined by the Synod of Kells in 1152.
However, in 1751 these two dioceses were united. Because Kilfenora was in the ecclesiastical province of Cashel and Kilmacduagh in the province of Tuam, the bishop of Kilmacduagh was made Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora, and it was decreed that the next person with episcopal jurisdiction in Kilmacduagh-Kilfenora would be Bishop of Kilfenora and Apostolic Administrator of Kilmacduagh. This system of alternation continued down to the last bishop, Patrick Fallon, who resigned in 1866. In that year the Bishop of Galway, John MacEvilly, was made apostolic administrator of Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora. In 1883 the united diocese was annexed to Galway and the bishop of that union was made apostolic administrator in perpetuum of Kilfenora (in the province of Cashel), so nominally it retains its separate identity. Because the Bishop of Galway is technically administering Kilfenora on behalf of the Pope, it has been described as the Pope’s diocese. Within the Church of Ireland (Anglican Communion), Kilfenora is united with the diocese of Limerick.