Sunday, 21 April 2013

Saint Maelrubha of Bangor, April 21



April 21 is the feastday of a northern saint, Maelrubha, who first enjoyed a career at Bangor monastery but then went on to found his own establishment at Applecross in Scotland. It is interesting to note that the Irish and Scottish sources do not agree in their presentation of this saint. The Irish see him as a monastic founder who carried the Bangor connection across to Scotland where he died peacefully at the age of eighty. The Scottish sources accept the Irish birth and Bangor connection of their saint of Applecross, but go on to make him a martyr of the Vikings and commemorate him on August 27. The scholarly Irish Anglican Bishop, William Reeves, believed that the Scots had confounded the Irish abbot with another saint and laid out a detailed body of evidence in a paper on Saint Maelrubha published in an antiquarian journal in 1862. The paper is too long to be reprinted here, but the volume is available through Google Books and at the Internet Archive. Fortunately the author made a summary of the Irish evidence, both from the calendars and from other sources, which will serve as an introduction to Saint Maelrubha as the Irish saw him:

...April 21 being established as the day of his death, we refer to the Irish calendars, where we find the following interesting notices. And first, the Feilire or Festival-book of Aengus the Culdee, a writer who flourished in the early part of the ninth century; —

"In Alba, in purity.
After abandoning all happiness,
Hath gone from us to his mother,
Our brother Maelrubha."

Upon which is written the following note by an early hand: —

“and it is in Alba he is, i.e., in Conpur Crossan ; and this the festival of his death. Subtan, daughter of Setna, and sister of Comgall of Bennchar, was his mother; and in Aburchresen his church is”

Next in order is the Martyrology of Tamlacht, an ancient calendar, which simply gives under each day the name of the saint and his principal church. At the 21st of April it has the commemoration,

" Of Maelrubha of Bangor."

The Calendar of Marian Gorman, compiled about the year 1167, commemorates, at same day,

" Maelruba the holy."

Upon which is the gloss, "Abbot of Benchar."

Lastly, the Calendar of Donegall, collected from ancient authorities, by the O'Clerys, in the early part of the seventeenth century, thus notices the saint: —

"Maelrubha, son of Elganach, of the race of Eoghan, son of Niall, abbot of Benchar; and he blessed also [a place] in Scotland, i.e., in Apur Crossan, A.D. 721. Eighty years was his age when he resigned his spirit. Suaibhsech the name of his mother. Or, it was Subtan, daughter of Sedna, sister of Comgall, was his mother."

From the above, it may be seen that all the Irish authorities, both Annals and Calendars, are unanimous in referring his death to the 21st of April.

The following is a connected summary of the preceding observations: —

St Maelrubha, son of Elgana and Subtan, descended on his father's side from Niall the Great, through the Cinel Owen race; and by his mother, from the Dalaradian stock, and, through her, nearly related to St Comgall, was born on the 3d of January 642. He received his early training at his kinsman's famous monastery of Bangor, where he rose so much in esteem that, according to some authorities, he became the abbot, or what is more probable, was appointed to the subordinate station of prior. In 671, having attained his twenty-ninth year, he left his native country and withdrew to Scotland. Two years, which were probably spent in choosing a place of abode, having elapsed, he settled in 673, at Apurcrossan, the north-west coast of Scotland, where he founded a church, which became the nucleus of a conventual establishment, following the order of Bangor, and for a long period affiliated to that monastery.

After a presidency of fifty-one years, during which time he enjoyed a character of great sanctity, he died a natural death at Apurcrossan, on Tuesday, the 21st day of April 722, at the age of eighty years, three months, and nineteen days.

Such is the Irish statement of his history, and it is too circumstantial and too well attested to admit of its being called in question. Scottish authorities, while they agree with the Irish in coupling the name and memory of the saint with Applecross, as his principal church, differ very materially from them as to his date, history, and festival. Indeed, it is difficult to avoid the alternative of supposing that they have confounded the acts of two saints, or, that a good deal of what is set down to Maelrubha by them, is gathered from comparatively recent and debased tradition…


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