Thursday, 3 October 2013

Saint Nuadu the Anchorite, October 3


On October 3 the Irish calendars record a holy man with one of the most ancient of Irish names, Nuadu or Nuada the anchorite. The Martyrology of Tallaght, the earliest of the Irish calendars, records him simply as Nuadu anchorita, 'Nuadu, the anchorite'. He does not feature among the saints listed at this day in the Martyrology of Oengus but the 12th-century monastic, Marianus O'Gorman, describes him as Nuadu, nuagel, 'fresh-fair Nuadu', in his calendar. A note adds anchoiri, 'an anchorite'. The name is also recorded in the 17th-century Martyrology of Donegal in its more modern form of 'Nuada, anchorite'. Although no further information is given on the calendars, I have recently been reading a paper on 'The Officials of the Church of Armagh to A.D. 1200' in which I encountered Nuadu, an early ninth-century bishop of Armagh who is also described as an anchorite. He is number 33 on the Ancient List of the Coarbs of Patrick compiled by H.G. Lawlor and R.I. Best, where two notices from the Annals of Ulster, the first recording a visit to Connaught and the second recording his repose, are reproduced beside his name on page 323:
811. Nuadha abbas A. migrauit to Connaught cum lege Patricii et cum armario eius. AU.

Nuadu, abbot of Ard Macha, went to Connacht with Patrick's law and his casket.

812. Nuadha of Loch Uamha episcopus et anchorita, abbas A. dormiuit. AU.

Nuadu of Loch nUamac, bishop and anchorite, abbot of Armagh, fell asleep.

Loch nUamac has been identified as Loch Nahoo, in the parish of Drumlease, County Leitrim, by scholar T. M. Charles-Edwards, who also notes 'Drumlease was attached to the Patrician familia, as shown by two documents in the Book of Armagh...It belonged to the minor kingdom of Calraige in north-east Connaught. Nuadu's interest in the province of Connaught is shown by 811.1.. (The Chronicle of Ireland (Liverpool, 2006), note 1, p.271.)

I was hoping that the author of the paper on the officials at Armagh might be able to provide a definition of the term 'anchorite' in the context of early medieval Irish monasticism, but this is all he had to say:
13. Anchorite (Old and Middle Irish ancharaancair, Latin anchorita.) Thirteen mentions of holders of this title are recorded in the chronicles. It first appears in 725 as a designation for Eochaid, the last being Abel and Gilla Muiredag in 1159. This role could be linked with other functions: Nuadu is called bishop and anchorite, Forannán was comarba, bishop and anchorite, Ioseph was bishop, abbot, comarba and anchorite.
Hérold Pettiau, 'The Officials of the Church of Armagh to A.D. 1200' in A. J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh History and Society: Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001) 125.

The later medieval idea of an anchorite was of someone who withdrew from the world entirely and who was differentiated from a hermit by his strict enclosure, as R. M. Clay, author of a study of English anchorites explains:
THE anchorite differed from the hermit in that he lived in stricter seclusion, and was not free to wander at will. He was not merely, as the word αναχωρητης signifies, withdrawn from the world: he was inclusus, shut up in a strait prison, whether in church, chapel, convent, or castle... ('Anchorites in Church and Cloister' in Hermits and Anchorites of England (London: Methuen, 1914).
This later notion of an anchorite, if it also applied in Ireland, would seem to preclude someone from carrying out the duties of a bishop as an inclusus would not be free to undertake a visitation of his ecclesiastical territory as our Bishop and anchorite Nuadu did of Connaught in the early ninth century. I'm thus still uncertain what the term anchorite meant in our context and will have to do some further research.

I remarked at the beginning of this post that the saint Nuadu commemorated today bears one of the oldest of Irish names. This point was made by the author of a book on Irish saints in the 1960s:
Nuada, an anchorite, whose name is found in one of the Three Tragedies of the Gael and one of the oldest legends in Ireland, the Children of Turenn. Nuada in that legend is Nuada of the Silver Hand, so called because he lost his arm at the First Battle of Moytura between the Tuatha de Danaan and the Fomorians, which is held by some authorities to have taken place anno mundi 3303, and was supplied with a silver one by his physician Dianecht instead. It is therefore a name, and a lovely one, of great antiquity.
(Eoin Neeson, The Book of Irish Saints, (Cork, 1967) 176.

Despite the pagan mythological origins of this name, our anchorite Bishop Nuadu is not alone in bearing it in ninth century Christian Ireland. Scholar Clare Downham has brought together the entries from the Irish annals relating to the Vikings and records this entry from the Annals of the Four Masters under the year 845:
AFM 843.10

Sloighedh la Gallaibh Atha Cliath a c-Cluanaibh Andobhair, 7 argain leiss Chille h-Achaidh, 7 martradh Nuadhat mic Seigeni leo.

[A military outing by the foreigners of Áth Cliath to Cluain an Dobor, and the enclosure of Cell Achid was raided; and Nuadu son of Ségíne, was martyred by them.]
There are also various other instances of this name to be found in the annals and calendars, the Martyrology of Donegal, for example, contains two other saints Nuada, one a bishop commemorated at February 2 and the other an abbot at December 2. Sadly, nothing more seems to be recorded of these individuals either. I cannot, of course, definitively identify the ninth-century bishop and anchorite Nuadu with the saint commemorated today, but find it of great interest that this very old name of Irish legend continued to be popular as a Christian name and was borne by men of various ecclesiastical ranks who feature in our native calendars of the saints.

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