Posted by: anna | April 30, 2010

St Domnan of Eigg

Today (17 April) we commemorate Hieromartyr Donnan (Donan, Domnan) of Eigg (Ewe) and fifty-two monks with him (616). From Baring-Gould:

‘Saint Domnan, like many other Irish abbots, took boat with fifty-two disciples, and sailed away in quest of some lone isle where they might be with God in solitude. Having first visited St Columba at Iona, they went North, and settled in the island of Ewe, in Loch Ewe on the western coast of Ross-shire, where they were attacked and butchered by pirates.’

Dom Michael Barrett’s A Calendar of Scottish Saints fleshes it out a bit:

‘Like St. Columba, whose countryman he was, St. Donnan left his native Ireland and passed over to Scotland, where he established a monastery on the Island of Eigg, one of the Inner Hebrides. While celebrating the Holy Mysteries on Easter morning the abbot and his monks were surprised by a horde of pirates, possibly Danes, who had been instigated by a malicious woman to put them to death. At the prayer of the monks they granted them a respite till Mass was finished, and then put them all to the sword. The martyrs numbered fifty-three.

‘Many churches, especially in the west, bore St. Donnan s dedication. Among them were Kildonan of Eigg, Arran, South Uist, Kintyre, and Lochbroom. On the island of his martyrdom is the saint’s well. St. Donnan’s abbatial staff existed up to the Reformation ; it was treasured at Auchterless, Aberdeenshire, where “Donan Fair” was held as late as 1851. Another fair used to be held at Kildonan, in Sutherlandshire. The feast of these martyrs was restored to the Scottish Calendar by Leo XI 1 1 in 1898.’


Dear me, piratical Danes again, several centuries early for other Viking accounts. And incited to murder by a vindictive woman, no less, also described as a ‘local pagan queen.’ Good grief. Blame it on the foreign invaders and the ignorant women… I should say that Loch Ewe is a sea loch, not a landlocked one, so sea-going marauders of one sort or another are not a far-fetched notion. And was it Ewe or Eigg? They are quite far from each other, and there’s a Kildonan on Eigg. Ah well.

Saints and Angels at points to an interesting interlude on Iona, which must come from accounts of St Columba, though as usual, maddeningly, they don’t footnote: ‘He crossed to Iona to meet Columba, and according to the story, asked that saint to act as his ‘anamchara’ or ‘soul-friend’, which took the place of the Roman Church’s ‘confessor’. Strangely enough, Columba refused to act as anamchara, saying, ‘I shall not be a soul-friend to a company of red-martyrdom.’ Obviously some explanation must be sought for this abrupt refusal. Dr A. B. Scott, who disliked Columba, saw in it the Goidheal’s refusal to have any friendly intercourse with a Pict, but there could be quite different reasons, such as Columba’s unwillingness to accept the additional responsibility which the duty entailed.’

I think this comment is missing the point. Had Donan and his companions stated their intention of becoming red-martyrs, i.e. dying violently for their faith? Hardly. This looks like a prophecy to me. Also – why would 53 monks go off together if they were looking for solitude? Surely this is a rather healthy number to go tromping around the countryside, it’s more than a coach tour! Where would they stay, how would they travel, how could they be fed? I suspect it is a mythical inflation – perhaps there were ‘5, or 3’ rather than 53. But the bare bones of it are plain enough. Donan and his companions went looking for peace, isolation and the ascetic life, and were violently done to death.

For daily digests of British and Irish saints’ lives, and troparia where they exist, I cannot recommend the [celt-saints] yahoo group highly enough. The moderator and regular poster of saints’ lives is Fr Ambrose, an Orthodox parish priest in New Zealand. I’m enjoying my rather bumbling, indirect aproach, unpicking funny antiquarian sources, and looking at the compilers’ personal agendas, as well as comparing the variants of stories, but [celt-saints] is the business, the best place I’ve found so far for clear, concise brief lives, lists of sources and troparia whenever possible.

There are two images of icons of St Donan at the Western Saints Icon Project.

Holy St Donan and holy fathers of Eigg, pray to God for us.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: