Saint Tutilo, the Irish Monk
Tuathal, as he was known early in his life, was born in Ireland in approximately 850. Little is known of his youth. He was among a group of Irish monks who visited the famous Abbey of St. Gall on their way home from a pilgrimage to Rome. Located in present-day Switzerland, St. Gall is a massive Benedictine monastery, one of the great monasteries of the Middle Ages and a center of music, art, and scholarship.
Tuathal and a few of his companions decided to stay at the abbey. He would remain there for the rest of his life. He became known as Tutilo, the Old Germanic translation of Tuathal. He was described as tall, handsome, athletic and muscular. Several accounts exist of him physically subduing would-be thieves and trespassers on the abbey grounds. He was known to be eloquent and quick-witted, and brought something of the Irish love of learning and the arts to St. Gall.
Tutilo loved the prayerful rhythm of religious life. He devoted himself to painting, sculpture, metal work and architecture. He became one of the monastery’s educators and was the most sought after tutor at the monastic school. In time, he was assigned to take charge of the abbey’s schools. He channeled his creativity and love for art and science into an evangelizing ministry as well, becoming a favorite preacher among the faithful who lived nearby and persuading many people to embrace Christianity.
One of the few saints known for being an artist, Tutilo’s paintings and sculptures can still be found in museums and monasteries throughout Europe. The Gregorian chant manuscripts from the monastery were standardized by Tutilo. They are illustrated in the style of Irish manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, attesting to the Irish influence at St. Gall. All of them are considered priceless works of art.
Music, though, was said to be Tutilo’s greatest love. He composed music for the monastery oratory, played several musical instruments, and was especially gifted as a harpist. He was often obliged to perform in the royal courts of neighboring cities. They considered Tutilo a genius and lamented that this poet-musician, painter, sculptor and architect preferred the solitude of the monastery rather than the fame he would have undoubtedly garnered outside its walls.
Tutilo died in the year 915 at Saint Gall’s, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. His feast day is March 28.