As an atheist and borderline antitheist, I don’t really have a cornucopia of favorite saints lying about, overflowing with God’s helpers. But there is one saint whom I especially like, and that is Saint Odhran.
He was one of twelve men who went with St Colmcille to the island of Iona off the western coast of Scotland. When a chapel was being built there, whatever had been constructed during the day, collapsed at night. The task seemed impossible. I wonder how many days they tried before somebody asked whether it were worth it. Me, personally, I’d probably be raising the point on day three or so.
Finally, St Columba heard a voice that instructed him that the only way that the chapel could be completed would be if someone were buried alive beneath it. I might, you know, give up at this point, or investigate the benefits of an open air service, but St Odhran, Columba’s son, volunteered for the horrible honor and was promptly buried under the foundation, after which the chapel was successfully built.
Here’s where it gets interesting, though. One day, Odhran raised his head, pushing it through the wall, and said, “There is no Hell as you suppose, nor Heaven that people talk about.” Columba was so alarmed, afraid that Odhran might leak more secrets of the afterlife, that he had his son’s body exhumed and buried in a proper cemetery, after which Odhran never again troubled the people of Iona.
I admit, I like this story because of the mystery. Imagine if you were a devout follower of any religion, or even no religion, and someone whom you personally buried came through the wall and told you that everything you think you know about what happens after death is wrong. And then St Columba exhumes him to get him to shut up! Wouldn’t you be curious? “Hey, you know that Heaven thing you’re so excited about? Yeah, everything people say about it is wrong.” I’d be curious! I’d want to ask a few questions and maybe learn more about that. I feel that this could be an excellent story, but you’d need to come up with good things for St Odhran to share.
I just like the thought of this lone voice, trying to tell humanity the truth of the afterlife, and being silenced for it. It feels so heroic, so dramatic, don’t you think? It’s a shame Columba shut him up. I’d love to know what else Saint Odhran would have said.
EDIT: I found a better rendition of the story here. One interesting thing is that Odhran arose three days after his death, which seems kind of blasphemous, don’t you think? I’m kind of curious about how this legend began. It just seems so fascinating to have this saint in Christian mythology who not only does what Jesus did, return from the dead after three days after sacrificing himself for the greater good, but who came back to say, essentially, “Heaven and Hell are lies and you’re all wrong about the afterlife.” In one version he even says that there’s no god!