Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Saint Sinell of Moville, October 1



Today we enter the month of October and I regretfully have to part company from my guide, Canon O'Hanlon. Although he had intended to publish the lives of the Irish saints for the entire year, this was never realized, and although I understand that the archive exists which would make this possible, the remaining volumes were never issued after his death in 1905. Complete volumes for the months January to September were published, I am not sure of the exact status of the October volume, I think it may have been published in part and I will have to see if I can track any of it down.  Whilst the Lives of the Irish Saints is perhaps the single most useful and convenient resource, its absence provides an opportunity to explore some of the other sources. So, let's have a look at a northern saint commemorated today, Sinell of Moville, beginning with a description of his monastery Moville (Magh-Bile, Movilla) in County Down and its founder Saint Finnian:

Moville, or Movilla, is at present the name of a townland less than a mile to the north-east of Newrtownards, at the head of Strangford Lough, in the county Down. This district was in ancient times famous for its great religious establishments. Bangor, to which we shall refer presently, is not quite five miles due north of Moville...Further south, but on the western shore of the same Lough, anciently called Lough Cuan, were the Abbey of Inch, the famous Church of Saul, in which St. Patrick died, and the Church of Downpatrick, in which he was buried with SS. Brigid and Columcille. And in one of the islands in the same Strangford Lough, now called Island Mahee, quite close to the western shore, was that ancient monastery and school of Noendrum, of which we have already spoken. Religious men from the beginning loved to build their houses and churches in view of this beautiful sheet of water, with its myriad islands and fertile shores, bounded in the distance by swelling uplands, that lend a charming variety to this rich and populous and highly cultivated county.

...Finnian is said to have returned to Ireland and founded his school at Moville about the year a. d. 540, that is some twenty years after his namesake of Clonard had opened his own great school on the banks of the Boyne. The name Maghbile means the plain of the old tree, probably referring to some venerable oak reverenced by the Druids before the advent of St. Patrick. At present there is nothing of the ancient abbey-school except a few venerable yews to mark the city of the dead, and an old ruined church on the line of the high road from Newtownards to Donaghadee. This old church, which was one hundred and seven feet in length, in all probability did not date back to the original foundation of the place, although it undoubtedly stands on the site of St. Finnian's original church. The spot was aptly chosen, sheltered by an amphitheatre of hills from the winds of the north and east, and commanding far away to the south a noble prospect of Lough Cuan's verdant islets and glancing waters.

St. Finnian died in a.d. 589, according to the Annals of Ulster, at a very great age.


The 19th-century Anglican writer, Bishop William Reeves, appended a calendar of saints to his work on the northern dioceses of Down, Connor and Dromore which records the feastday of this successor to Saint Finnian as preserved in the Irish Annals:

His cowarbs or successors are noticed by the Four Masters, as follows:-

A.D. 602, " S. Sinell, Bishop of Moville, died on the 1st day of October." Tigernach at 603, calls him, "Muighe epscop": The Chronicon Scotorum, "Maighibile epscop": The Annals of Ulster (at 602), "Episcopus Campi bili".


The Martyrology of Donegal lists 'SINELL, Priest, of Magh-bile' whereas the Martyrology of Gorman simply lists Sinell, but the notes add 'priest, of Mag Bile, and bishop of Mag Bile afterwards'.

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