There was in Kildare an ancient monument named the fire-house, wherein Cambrensis saith, was there continual fire kept day and night, and yet the ashes never increased. I travelled, says Stanihurst, of set purpose, to the town of Kildare to see this place, where I did see a monument like a vault, which to this day they call the fire house. (Holinslied’s Chronicles, vol. 6, p. 38. Edit. 1808.)
The secret of this miracle had been lost at Kildare, but had Stanihurst (to use one of his own words) pilgrimaged to the monastery of N. Señora de Valvanera, 257 258 259 260Convent in pilgrimage from Rioja, Buraba, Navarre, Castille, and many other parts. And in a matter which can so easily be seen and brought to the proof, I would not venture to stake my credit (which I shall stand in need of to its full extent for the great history before me) if it were not a thing absolutely certain, notorious, and repeatedly tried and proved.”
Cor. Gen. de S. Benito, T. 1. ff. 287.
The tradition of the country was that St. Athanasius, during the time of his persecution, hid himself in a chapel or hermitage here, and in his humility served as cook to the anchorites and the poor. But as it would have taken up much time and labour to carry away the ashes, God was pleased to invent this miracle for the sake of lessening his trouble, and giving him more leisure for prayer. Upon the faith of this tradition the convent made a festival of the saint’s day, when Yepes wrote, and both the custom and the miracle 261may very possibly have continued till this dreadful convulsion, which, dreadful as it is, has already added more glory to the Spaniards, than the most splendid of all their ancient triumphs. It would be curious to know in what manner the miracle was performed, for mere slight-of-hand, or ordinary deception, will not account for it. It is the more remarkable because at Zaragoza the Jeronimites had the secret of making oil burn without producing smoke; a fact which the Bollandists, in some gnat-straining humour, affected candidly to doubt while they related it, but which Bourgoing witnessed in our own days. This writer was puzzled by it, but instead of attempting to explain it, he contents himself with a sneer at the supposition that God, who had performed no miracle to terminate the French revolution, should condescend to work one in an underground chapel at Zaragoza, where it was as useless as the existence of the monks who exhibited it. An esprit 262fort may be a very weak reasoner. The fact is exceedingly curious. Thirty lamps burnt day and night in the subterranean chapel of St. Engracia where the roof was little more than twelve feet high; the roof was never in the slightest degree sullied with smoke, and M. Bourgoing, who was invited to hold a piece of white paper over one of the lamps, confessed he saw, or thought he saw, that the paper was not blackened.