Posted by: anna | April 17, 2011

St Adrian of May

Today (4 March) we commemorate St Adrian (Ethernan) and his companions, martyrs on the Isle of May, off the northeast coast of Scotland. He is also commemorated on 3 December.
The island features on the Gough Mapof medieval Britain, and it was through a repeat of Dr Alixe Bovey‘s 2008 ‘In search of medieval Britain’ series on BBC Four last October that I came across St Adrian for the first time (and wrote this post).
I couldn’t find much of anything about Adrian – except what was mixed up with St Adrian, bishop of St Andrews, including a reference by Dr Bovey to him as ‘St Adrian of Fife’, and they may well have been either thoroughly mixed up centuries ago or actually the same person – until I came across a no longer available note at, quoting the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, with footnotes leading to another interesting source: AP Forbes’ Kalendars of Scottish saints : with personal notices of those of Alba, Laudonia, & Strathclyde : an attempt to fix the districts of their several missions and the churches where they were chiefly had in remembrance (1872), available online. And searchable. So here is the article on Adrian of May from Forbes:
‘ADRIAN and his Companions, Martyrs. March 4. The account of these Saints in the Breviary of Aberdeen is as follows: S. Adrian was born in the parts of Hungary and province of Pannonia; he was of royal descent, and of episcopal rank ; his diligence in the sacred order being testified by the many clerics and seculars who were his companions. Desiring to benefit other nations, and inflamed with zeal for the Christian religion, he betook himself to the eastern parts of Scotia, then occupied by the Picts, having along with him 6606 companions, among whom the most notable were Glodianus, who was crowned with martyrdom, Gayus, and Monanus, white-robed confessors, Stobrandus and other bishops, adorned with the mitre. The names of the rest are written in purple blood in the book of life. These did many signs and wonders in the midst of the Picts, but at length desiring a habitation of their own, they expelled the demons and wild beasts from the Island of Maya, and there made a place of prayer. They occupied themselves in devotion until the Danes, who had devastated all Britannia, which is now called Anglia, landed on the island, when the holy confessors of God opposed them with the spiritual weapons of the heavenly warfare. The enemy not brooking this, fell violently on the blessed Adrian, the victim of the Lord, with swords, and crowned him with a glorious martyrdom; and in order that concerning them the words of the prophet should be verified anew, where the disconsolate Rachel is said to have bewailed her children, these most cruel executioners made an attack upon that holy and heavenly multitude who persevered in the confession of Christ, and who, like sheep, fell before their swords in the Isle of May, where the martyrs of God, who in this life loved to serve Him together, in death were not separated. There was one spirit in them and one faith. In that Isle of May there was anciently erected a monastery of fair coursed masonry (tabulatu), which was destroyed by the Angles, but the church remains to this day much visited for its miracles by the people, and thither women come in hopes of offspring. There is also a celebrated cemetery, where the bodies of the martyrs repose.
‘It is well known that in A.D. 795 the ravages of the Danes in Ireland, and their attacks on the monasteries, drove into exile many of the ecclesiastics. The Irish clergy were very fond of leaving their homes for foreign parts, and their irregular ministrations were the subject of much church legislation. It is probable that S. Adrian was one of these. Kenneth macAlpin (a.d. 840-855) had transferred the bishopric of the Picts from Abernethy to Cill-Righmonaigh, now the Church of S. Rule at St. Andrews. But it is not likely that an Irishman, in antagonism to a member of the stronger race of the Picts, should have been appointed to the high political office of chief bishop in Pictland. Adrian was doubtless a bishop without a see, according to a discipline then very prevalent in his native country. (Todd’s S. Patrick, pp. 36-48.)
‘One does not see why Pannonia or Hungary should be the locality whence the Irish saint is said to have come, unless, as was not uncommon in those uncritical ages, a confusion arising from similarity of name was the cause. The 4th of March in the kalendars of the Catholic Church is assigned to a S. Adrian of Nicomedia, and in the Brussels Auctarium of Usuardus, we find a S. Gagius, who seems to correspond with the Gayus of the Aberdeen legend. ” Apud Nicomediam natale beati Adriani cum aliis viginti tribus qui omnes sub Diocletiano post multa supplicia crurifragio martyrium consummaverunt. Ipso die passio S. Gagii Palatini in mare mersi et aliorum viginti septem.” (Usuard. ed. Sollerius, Antwerp, 1714, p. 138.) On the 5th of March in Usuardus (ed Molanus, p. 139), there is “Cesarese Palestinse Sancti Adriani martyres.” But the saint with whom we have to do is he whom Usuardus describes as, “in Hibemia, Sancti Moggradonis Episcopi et confessoris hactenus ignoti.” The honorific ” mo” added to the Celtic name Odran gives a name similar to Macgidran, to whom are dedicated the churches of Lindores and Flisk, where he appears as S. Muggins, both within the parochia of S. Andrew.(N. S. A., Fife, p. 601.) Here he appears also as Muckolinus. (Commissary Records, St. Andrews.) He appears in the dedication of a churchnear Dron, Exmacgirdle ; also, possibly, at Mugdrum ; and as Magidrin he appears in Macduffs Cross. There is a S. Odran at March 6th in the Martyrology of Donegal. Fordun makes the number of S. Adrian’s companions to be one hundred. The legend has this measure of corroboration – First, that there was a fight between the Scots and Danes in 875, the very year to which the martyrdom of S. Adrian is referred. Occisi sunt Scoti co Achcochlam (Pict. Chron.) Secondly, the number of bishops – “summi sacerdotes infiala decorati” – is quite in accordance with ancient Irish use. (Todd’s S. Patrick, p. 27.) Mr. Skene draws attention to Boece’s statement that the martyrs were “ex Scotis Anglisque gregarie collectis;” and surmises that the Angles may have represented the Church of Acca, who, driven from Northumberland, had founded a bishopric among the Picts in A.D. 732, and the Scotti or Irish, the Church of Adrian, who, in some of the lists, is placed at the head of the bishops of S. Andrews. (See Records of the Priory of the Isle of May, edited by John Stuart, LL.D., 1868; Notes of Early Ecclesiastical Settlements at S. Andrews, by W. F. Skene, in Proceedings of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. iv. p. 316.)’
Archaeological explorations on the Isle of May
celt-saints, as Ethernan
Holy St Ethernan, pray to God for us.


  1. I recall reading in a book in St Mary’s seminary (Houston) that St Adrian had been entrusted with the valuables of dwellers on the mainland to keep secure against the Vikings. When they came, they demanded loot, and Bishop Adrian refused to tell them where he had hidden it. They threw him into the sea with a large weight tied to his neck. I was impressed that Adrian was willing to lay down his life to protect the property rights of his neighbours.


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