My daughter had to go to hospital for major surgery. Naturally, as a parent, I was very worried about her. What if something went wrong? Of course I trusted the doctors, surgeons and other medical staff. I knew that they were the best in their field. But I needed more than that. I needed some kind of special divine power to intervene.
Then I heard about Ultan of Arbraccan, the patron saint of paediatricians. All his life was dedicated to caring for children and he founded a school to educate and feed the poor children. There were a lot of orphans then, too. Despite the hardships of Early Medieval life, the seventh century suffered bouts of Justinian’s Plague, which seemed to affect many more adults than children. Ultan took them in and created his version of cows’ teats (bottles I suppose we’d call them now) to enable the very young children to drink milk, according to Katherine McCormack in The book of Saint Ultan.
Ultan was also known as Ultan the Scribe. This was because he wrote hymns and collected the writings of his niece, Saint Bridget. He copied them out and decorated them with wonderful doodles. In those days, doodling was called illuminating.
As all great saints and healers have, there is Ultan’s holy well inside church grounds. After the First World War a hospital was built in Dublin to care for the high number of sick children. Women doctors were concerned about the level of infant mortality at this time and named the hospital Saint Ultan’s. Unfortunately the hospital closed in 1984. We can take from this that children’s health had improved by then.
As for my own daughter, her operation lasted more than five hours but it was successful and she made a speedy recovery. So for her, and all the other sick children, I remember the seventh century saint on his feast day, 4 September. As he sort of invented the milk bottle, I celebrate by having some milk pudding. Seems right.
© 2016 A.J. Sefton http://www.ajsefton.com