Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saint Maelrubha, Celt Abbot of Applecross, Isle of Skye, Scotland

This little-known Saint was one of the most active of the numerous Irish proselytizers who underwent the white martyrdom (self-imposed exile) in what is now Scotland. Unfortunately there is no known extant life or hagiography of this saint, so details of his life must be gleaned from other sources. There are numerous citations of this Saint in various Irish Annals and Martyrologies.
St. Maelrubha was born near Derry, Ireland in 642. His father was of the clan of Eoghan, making the saint eighth in line of direct descent of the famous Niall of the Nine Hostages. According to legend, Niall was responsible for the abduction of St. Patrick to Ireland from Britain. Regardless, this lineage made St. Maelrubha a distant cousin of St. Columcille. His mother was of the Cruithne, a Pictish race that settled in the north of Ireland, and a niece of St. Comgal of Bangor.


St. Maelrubha entered the monastery at Bangor, Ireland in his youth and departed for the land of the Northern Picts in 671 AD. He probably went, initially, to the isle of Islay and worked his way up the west coast of Scotland over the course of the next two years. He eventually settled in Appurcrossan, now known as Applecross, and in 673 AD St. Maelrubha established his famous monastery that was his base in converting the Picts to Christianity.
From his monastery Maelrubba founded many churches in the glens and islands of north-west Scotland, but the Gaelic place names make it difficult to distinguish between the dedications to Maelrubba and those to the honour of Our Lady, the suffix of endearment Mo or Ma almost always being added to his name. His name, shorn of the suffix, means the red priest.
St. Maelrubha fell asleep in the Lord in the year 722 AD at the advanced age of eighty, and although the Irish traditions are that he died of old age, the Scottish assert that he was killed by the Danes, the Black Gentiles. In the Aberdeen Breviary the legend says that he died at Urquart in the Black Isle, on the eastern side of the county of Ross and Cromerty, and for three days he lay severely wounded comforted by angels. A bright light hovering over the dying saint attracted a priest, who was able to give him the viaticum, and later a church was built over the place. His body was buried in his church at Applecross, and a carved stone marks the site of his grave.
Due to the proximity of Applecross to the Isle of Skye and his numerous works on the island, St. Maelrubha is considered to be the patron saint of the southern and central portions of the island (St. Columcille has the upper portion).
According to accounts, in his advanced years St. Maelrubha tried to rise from sitting one day by grabbing hold of a branch of an ash tree. While rising, the tree was uprooted and a spring gushed forth and the water from this spring possessed healing powers. Another tree stood close to the well upon which the Saint would hang a bronze bell to gather the faithful. As with the well, the bell possessed miraculous powers in that it would ring of its own accord when the Saint was preparing to speak. It was also at that location that the Saint would mount the Rock of the Book, known today as the Pulpit Rock. There is another healing spring associated with this Saint on an island in the Loch Maree.
Following the Saint's repose, the land for six miles around his monastery was considered sacred and protected. Today the land is called in Gaelic A'Chomraich, The Sanctuary. The staff of the Saint was believed to have existed at Kilvary in Argyll. Guarding this staff was the duty of the Dewars of Scotland. Unfortunately, the staff disappeared around the time of the Reformation in Scotland.
His death occurred on 21 April, and his feast has always been kept in Ireland on this day; but in Scotland (probably owing to the confusion with St. Rufus) it is kept on 27 August.[1]

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