I was passing through the village of St Tugen, and so I stopped and looked into his church. It is a beautiful building, full of painted wooden sculpture. There was an information sheet that gave his life story, and there was a glass case with his relics.
According to the information, Tugen was an Irish monk in the 6th century; he lived with his sister Brigid, in a monastery. He seems to have been particularly obsessed with protecting his sister’s chastity; when they went for walks in the countryside he would allow her to have time on her own but he would check first that there were no men around by throwing stones into the bushes, to scare out birds – his reasoning was that if there was a man hiding in the bushes, no birds would be there. So if birds flew out, that proved it was safe for Brigid to walk.
Brigid’s young admirer saw all this, and to get around it, he trapped two thrushes and put them in a cage. He hid in the bushes and waited. When Tugen threw the stones into the bush, the young man released the thrushes, and so Tugen saw the birds and assumed it was safe for Brigid to go off. She enterered the bushes and met up with her admirer.
Tugen was busy praying, and when he finished he could not see his sister. He searched, and heard talking, and found the couple behind a bush. He exclaimed furiously, “My God! It is easier to protect people against Rabies, than to protect a girl against the sickness of love!”
God answered, “Your sister is more sensible than you. Leave her here. Since you think it is so easy, go over the sea to Armorica in Brittany and protect the people there from rabid dogs”
Tugen went to Brittany and lived as a hermit near a holy well. Eventually he was recommended as a successor to Saint Pol de Leon, and to confirm this appointment, the Pope sent him a symbolic key.
The holy well is still there, and acts as a diagnostic for Rabies. If you look in the water for your reflection, you will see your own face if you are safe, but you will see a dog’s face if you are infected.
In the church you can buy little pewter keys as a pilgrim’s token, and as protection against Rabies.
In the glass case there is a silver reliquary in the shape of a key. Inside it is an iron object that is vaguely key-shaped, but the information sheet suggests it is actually the Tau-shaped head of Tugen’s crozier or staff.
His sister, Brigid, entered the monastery of Kildare in Ireland. She is now famous as St Brigid of Kildare. Both Tugen and Brigid have their feast day on 1st February.