Saint Moluag, The Sun of Lismore in Alba. Apostle of the Picts

Saint Lughaidh, better known by his pet name of Moluag, was an Irish noble of the Dál nAraide (one of the main tribes of the Ulaid in what we now call Ulster). There are various Irish forms of the name, such as Lughaidh (or Lugaid), Luoc and Lua. Latinized they become Lugidus, Lugidius, Lugadius, Lugacius and Luanus. The name, as it has come down the centuries, Moluag or Moluoc, is made up of the honorific mo, plus the original name Lughaidh, pronounced Lua, plus the endearing suffix –oc. Other variants include Lugdach, Malew, Molonachus, Moloc or Molucus. St. Moluag, the founder of over a hundred monasteries, was a bishop active during the period of the First Order of Celtic Saints and known as ‘The Clear and Brilliant, The Sun of Lismore in Alba’. The First Order were ‘most holy: shining like the sun’. This is a clear reference to his membership of the First Order.

St. Moluag was born between 500 and 520. We know that he was a bishop in about 552 and that he ordained St. Comgal, his close kinsman, initially as a deacon then as a priest. Moluag persuaded St. Comgal to found Bangor Abbey, in modern day Ulster.

Having helped St. Comgal set up this abbey, perhaps the greatest of all abbeys of its time, he took the road of red martyrdom and left with twelve followers to lead the life of a missionary. In 562 he founded his great community on the large island of the Lyn of Lorn in Argyll now called the Isle of Lismore (Lios mor is ancient Gaelic for ‘great monastery’).

This had been the sacred island of the Western Picts whose capital was at Beregonium, across the water at Benderloch. Their kings were cremated on the ancient man made ‘burial mound’ of Cnoc Aingeil (Gaelic for ‘Hill of Fire’) at Bachuil, about three miles from the north of the island, near to the site that St. Moluag chose for his first centre.

Lismore was the most important religious spot to the pagan kings of the area. It was therefore the most desirable site for a missionary. The Lismore Abbey lands were once very extensive and included the ancient parish of Lismore which embraced Appin (the Abbey Lands), Eilean Mund and Kingairloch and Morvern districts. It was not until 1891 that the Boundary Commission transferred the Kingairloch and Morvern part of the parish of Lismore to that of Kilmallie. The parish of Eilean Mund covered a large section of Inverness-shire, including Onich, Mamore, and seven merklands and a half of the lands of Glennevis. Appin literally means ‘the jurisdiction of, and hence territory owned or ruled by, an ab or abbot, chief dignitary of a monastic community’.

St. Moluag truly evangelised the Picts. From Lismore, St. Moluag went on to found two other great centres in the land of the Picts at Rosemarkie and Mortlach. These were his three centres of teaching (we would now call them universities), and it is significant that all three were to become the seats of the Roman Catholic Sees of the Isles, Ross and Aberdeen. Rosemarkie was clearly a major establishment during Adomnan’s time and Curetan of Rosemarkie was on of the main supporters of the Law of Innocents that was promulgated at the Synod of Birr in 697. St. Moluag became the patron saint of the Royal House of Lorne and was acknowledged as such by, Somerled, King of Argyll and the Isles, and the later Lords of Lorn and the Earls (now Dukes) of Argyll. From a 1544 charter it can be seen that The Earl of Argyll, having inherited the MacDougall Lordship of Lorn, refers to St. Moluag as his family’s patron saint ‘in honour of God Omnipotent, the blessed Virgin, and Saint Moloc, our patron’.

The House of Lorne became the Kings of Dalriada and eventually united with the Picts to become the Kings of Scots. Moluag was Patron Saint of the Kings of Dalriada, was the Apostle of the Picts so is highly likely to have been the first Patron Saint of Scotland.

St. Moluag was probably also patron saint of Rushen, in the Isle of Man, and, according to Lismore tradition, the whole island. This is plausible as Somerled, a supporter of St. Moluag, married Raghnild, daughter of Olaf, King of Man. Moluag was also the original dedicatee of the Manx monastery of Rushen founded in 1134. In the 12th century, the Isle of Man was united with Sodor or the Sudreys, as the Norse called the ‘southern isles’ of the Hebrides, in the Diocese of Sodor and Man. A very ancient inscription on a paten found at Kirk-Malew (Malew is a corruption of Moluag), preserves the invocation of the patron saint, ‘S. Maloua, ora pro nobi’: St. Moluag, pray for us. Malew is the largest parish in Rushen and includes Castletown, the ancient capitol of the Island.

By the time of his death in 592, five years before St. Augustine arrived at Canterbury, he had founded over 120 monasteries and converted the Picts of Alba. Saints Moluag and Comgall, together with their famous disciples which included, Mael-ruba of Applecross, St. Mirran, first Abbot of Paisley, Moluag’s kinsman St. Catan of Kingarth on Bute and Catan’s nephew St. Blaan had a major influence on the spread of Christianity in North Britain.

The Coarb of a Celtic abbot was the heir of the abbot in his ecclesiastical functions and abbatical mensal territory. The Coarb of St. Moluag was the Abbot of Lismore and the abbots of the 100 or so monasteries which emanated from St. Moluag followed the rule of the Coarb. The Coarbs of St. Moluag provided the authority of the church to support the Kings of Dalriada and the Lords of Lorn, allegedly carrying the Bachuil Mor of St. Moluag as a totem before their hosts.

The Coarbship of St. Moluag is the oldest office in the country: the Abbey of Lismore was founded in 562. In the Celtic tradition it remains an hereditary office. The Church of St. Moluag, although never a daughter of Rome, is an unreformed church of great antiquity and pre-dates the east-west schism of the twelfth century. It was in communion with Rome and the Orthodox Churches at its foundation and that communion continues to this day.

The picture at the top of the page is a stained glass window in the Cathedral Church of St Moluag, his crozier, the Bachuil Mor and his bell shrine

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