December 28 is the feastday of an Irish saint, Maughold (Machaldus, Maccuil), whom tradition says was converted from a life of crime by Saint Patrick and went on to become apostle to the Isle of Man. The following account has been excerpted from a 19th-century article on Ireland and the Isle of Man, which quotes many of the hagiographical sources:
Another interesting fact in the life of our apostle is the conversion of St. Machaldus, who, from a Cruithnean chief, became a follower of Christ, and a herald of the Gospel tidings in Man. We will give in full, from the "Book of Armagh," which is one of the most venerable records of our ancient Church, the narration of this event, so important in the ecclesiastical history of the Isle of Man: "There was a certain man in the country of the Ultonians, in the time of St. Patrick, Maccuil of Macugrecca, and this man was very impious, most cruel, tyrannical, so that he was called Cyclops by the more thoughtful; depraved in deeds, in words intemperate, malignant in action, bitter in spirit, quarrelsome in disposition, abandoned in body, cruel in mind, a heathen in life, and void of conscience; sunk into such a depth of impiety that, on a certain day, sitting in a rough and high mountainous place, viz., Hindruim Maccuechach, where he daily exercised his tyranny, committing the greatest enormities, slaying his guests on their journey, with abandoned cruelty and cruel wickedness; seeing also St. Patrick shining in the clear light of faith, sparkling with a certain wonderful glory of the diadem of the heavenly country, firm in the unshaken confidence of his doctrine, walking in a way suitable to his life, him he meditated to slay, saying to his attendants, 'Behold, this seducer and perverter of men comes, whose custom is to practise deceits to entrap many men, and to seduce them ; let us go therefore and tempt him, and let us know if that God in whom he glories has any power.'
"And they tempted the holy man; they tempted him in this way: they placed one of themselves under a cloak, feigning him to be lying in the agony of death, that they might try the saint by this kind of deception; so, on the arrival of St. Patrick with his disciples, they were having recourse to tricks, muttering prayers, and practising witchcraft and incantations. The heathen said to him, ' Behold, one of us is now sick, approach, therefore, and chaunt some of the incantations of your sect over him, if perchance he may be healed.'
"St. Patrick, knowing all their stratagems and deceits, with firmness and intrepidity said, ' It would be no wonder if he had been sick;' and his companions uncovering the face of him that was feigning sickness saw that he was now dead; and the heathens, amazed and astonished at such a miracle, said among themselves, 'Truly this man is from God; we have done evil in tempting him.' But St. Patrick having turned to Maccuil says, ' Why did you seek to tempt me?' The cruel tyrant answered, ' I am sorry for what I have done, whatever you command me I will perform; and now I deliver myself into the power of your supreme God whom you preach.' And the saint said, 'Believe, therefore, in my God, the Lord Jesus, and confess your sins, and be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.' And he was converted in that hour, and believed in the Eternal God, and, moreover, was baptized; and then Maccuil added this, saying, ' I confess to thee, my holy lord, Patrick, that I proposed to kill you ; judge, therefore, how much I owe for so great a crime.' Patrick said, ' I am not able to judge, but God will judge. Do you, therefore, depart now, unarmed, to the sea, and pass over quickly from this country, Ireland, taking nothing with you of your substance, except a small common garment, with which you may be able to cover your body, eating nothing and drinking nothing of the fruit of this island, having a mark of your sins on your head, and when you reach the sea bind your feet together with an iron fetter, and cast the key of it into the sea, and set out in a boat of one hide, without rudder or oar, and wherever the wind and sea shall lead you, be prepared to remain, and to whatever land Divine Providence shall carry you, be prepared to live there and obey the divine commands.'
"And Maccuil said, 'I will do as you have said; but respecting the dead man, what shall we do?' And Patrick said, 'He shall live, and rise again without pain.' And Patrick restored him to life in that hour, and he revived quite sound.
"And Maccuil departed thence very speedily to the sea. The right side of the plain of Inis is reached; having his confidence unshaken in the faith, and binding himself on the shore, casting the key into the sea, according to what was commanded to him, he then embarked in a little boat, and north wind arose and bore him to the south, and cast him on the island called Evonia, and he found there two men very wonderful in faith and doctrine, who first taught the word of God and baptism in Evonia ; and the men of the island were converted, by their doctrine, to the Catholic faith, whose names are Conindrus and Rumilus. But these, seeing a man of the same habit wondered, and pitied him, and lifting him out of the sea, the spiritual fathers received him with joy ; he, therefore, after finding himself in a region believing in God, conformed himself body and soul to their guidance, and spent the remainder of his days with those two holy bishops, till he was appointed their successor in the bishopric.
"This is Maccuil Dimane, abbot and bishop of Arddae Huimhbonii."
We glean some additional circumstances connected with the episcopate of St. Machaldus, from the other ancient records of St. Patrick's life. Thus in the "Vita Tripartita" we read: "St. Machaldus being freed from his chains gave thanks to God, and increasing in holiness he merited the episcopal grade on the death of the aforesaid holy bishops, and he closed his life there, illustrious for his virtues and miracles. There was a city in that island called after him, of no small extent, the remains of whose walls may yet be seen; and in the cemetery of its church there is a sarcophagus of hollow stone, out of which a spring continually exudes, nay, freely floweth, which is sweet to the palate, wholesome to the taste, and affording a sure remedy to divers infirmities, and to the deadliness of poison, for whosoever drinks thereof receives either instant health or instant death. In that sarcophagus the remains of St. Machaldus are said to have been deposited, but nothing is now found therein save the clear water only; and though many have oftentimes endeavoured to remove the stone, and especially the King of the Norwegians, who subdued the island, and was anxious to have at all times such clear water at sea, yet they all have failed in their attempts; for, the deeper they dug to raise the stone, so much the more deeply and firmly did they find it fixed in the heart of the earth."
The "Vita Quarta," which is referred by Colgan to St. Aileran the Wise, also states that Machaldus, being wafted by the winds to the Isle of Man, "Found there two wonderful men named Conindrius and Romulus, under whose guidance the inhabitants of the island had grown up in the love of God, and in the Catholic faith, and who instructed him in the doctrine of life, and in the grace of baptism. He remained with them in the pursuit of divine wisdom, and passed the remainder of his life there, till he was chosen their successor in the episcopate. This was, indeed, a change effected by the right hand of God, and in this the compassionate clemency of our Saviour and his benign mercy are made known, that he who had been a lawless robber should become a holy bishop."
The Irish annalists place the death of St. Machaldus in the year 554, and by his sanctity of life and evangelical labours, during his long episcopate of sixty years, he not only atoned for his former reckless career, but, moreover, won for himself the title, which all subsequent ages have awarded him, of Apostle and Patron of the Isle of Man.
The memory of St. Machaldus was honoured by "many churches" erected in Man under his invocation, as the "British Martyrology" assures us. Jocelyn adds, that "There was in former times a large city in the island, the ruins of whose walls may still be seen, and which bore the name of St. Machaldus." In the "Chronicon Manniae" a fact is mentioned which proves that in the twelfth century the memory of the saint was still cherished in the island. A band of pirates, it is said, had plundered the church of St. Machaldus, in Man, and carried away its treasures; that night the saint appeared to their chief, and, reproaching him for his crime, said, "I am Machaldus, the servant of Christ, whose church you have sought to profane," after which words the saint transpierced the pirate with his crozier.
'On the Early Relations of Ireland with the Isle of Man' in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 5 (1869) 241-261.
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Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.