Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Short Cuts

Author and Publisher - Catholic Online

Image of St. Donan

Facts

Feastday: April 17

Patron of Eigg

Death: 617


ST. Donan a remarkable fact about the widespread work of the Celtic missionary saints from the fifth century onwards is that scarcely any cases of violent opposition or martyrdom are recorded until the Viking and Danish raids began at the end of the ninth century. The pagan Celts accepted the missionaries even when they did not accept their religion and pagan and Christian symbols are found side by side on the great pictish stones.

Donan (or Donnan) deserves a note in these pages not only because of the extent of his journeyings but because he and his fellow monks on the island of Eigg provide the most dreadful case of martyrdom in the history of the Celtic Church. He and fifty-two of his followers were butchered within the refectory of the monastery. The only other martyrdoms recorded seem to be those of Constantine of Kintyre and of Kessog, and the latter is doubtful.

Unfortunately the mediaeval Life of Donan is lost, and what little we know of him is limited to the brief comments in such ancient martyrologies as Tallaght, Donegal and Oengus. The date of his birth is not known but he was contemporary with, or a little younger, than Columba. We presume that he was Irish and early in adult life crossed to Galloway. Thereafter we only know him through a chain of Kildonans up the west coast of Scotland, beginning with a Kildonan at Kirkmaiden and a Chapel Donan at Kirkcolm, and terminating at Kildonan on the island of Little Bernera in the Outer Hebrides.

The story of Donan's martyrdom was by no means unknown in mediaeval Scotland and some commemorations might be due to later interest and veneration. But the plotting of the place-names suggests a logical route of missionary progression northwards. The only St Don- nan's east of the Great Glen is at Auchterless in Aberdeenshire, and it has been suggested that Donan had a special connection with this parish-there are several place-names and we know his 'bachail' or staff was kept there till the Reformation. Perhaps for this very reason the saint's personal connection with Auchterless is more open to doubt, as the possession of the bachail in mediaeval days might well lead to the name instead of vice versa.

Only one incident is recorded as happening during these missionary years. He crossed to lona 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 unwilling-ness to accept the additional responsibility which the duty entailed.

Donan eventually formed his community on the small island of Eigg, with the monastic buildings on the side facing Arisaig. It had become a large community by the date of the massacre-fifty-two is the number of monks given in the record, although for some unknown reason only fifty names are listed. It has been suggested that the monks are fictional but Dr Scott was sure he had traced local place-names deriving from them. Did Donan cross from lreland with the nucleus of such a group ready formed? Did he start with one or two and build to over fifty? Any answer to such questions would be as vague as the reason for the sudden unprecedented attack. On this subject scholars have made much of an obscure statement in the martyrologies that the monks' keeping sheep on the island hadangered a local woman of importance. Scott draws the unwarranted conclusion that when the local folk refused to take action she deliberately bribed a group of pirates to make the attack. It cannot, of course, be proved that she did not do so, so the reason for the brutality must remain conjectural. Pirates were by no means unknown but it is doubtful that they would take time to raid an obscure, penniless and inoffensive group of monks. It is more likely to have been a very early group of 'Black Gentiles' from Jutland or Denmark.

Details of the raid differ. Donan, it is said, was celebrating the Sacrament when the intruders broke in. When he begged for respite till mass was completed, they agreed and he led the monks across to the refectory 'that the place where God had been worshipped in spiritual joy might not be polluted with their blood'. The Martyrology of Donegal then states that 'he was beheaded and 52 of the monks with him' while that of Oengus suggests that the building was set on fire and they all perished in the flames. The traditional year of the massacre was 618.

Donan's festival is 16 or 17 April. From the book SAINTS OF SCOTLAND by Edwin Sprott Towill, publishers: St. Andrew's Press.


More about St. Donan from Wikipedia

St. Donan Comments



More Saints






Browse Saints by Category


Popular Saints

Rank

Saint

7.

Image of St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

Saint Anthony was born Fernando Martins in Lisbon, Portugal. He was born into a wealthy family and by the age of fifteen asked to be sent to the Abbey of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, the then ... continue reading | shop

8.

Image of St. Sebastian

St. Sebastian

Nothing is known about St. Sebastian's youth other than the fact he may have come from southern France and he was educated in Milan. He joined the Roman Army in 283 AD, ostensibly to be of ... continue reading | shop

9.

Image of St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Ávila was born Teresa Ali Fatim Corella Sanchez de Capeda y Ahumada in Ávila, Spain. Less than twenty years before Teresa was born in 1515, Columbus opened up the Western ... continue reading | shop

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of St. Fillan

St. Fillan

Fillan, son of Feriach and St. Kentigerna, was also known as Foelan. He became a monk in his youth and accompanied his mother from Ireland to Scotland where he lived as a hermit near St. Andrew's ... continue reading

More Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day by E-Mail

Saint of the Day newsletter icon

Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5,000 saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints. 7 days / week. See Sample


Required


Female Saints

Image of St. Abigail

St. Abigail

Irish abbess and disciple of St. Abban. When St. Abban founded a convent in Ballyvourney, County Cork, Ireland, Gobnata was placed in charge. A well there bears her name. continue reading

More Female Saints



Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts

Angels

Image of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel isn't a saint, but rather he is an angel, and the leader of all angels and of the army of God. This is what the title "Archangel" means, that he is above all the others in rank. St. Michael has four main responsibilities or offices, as we ... continue reading


Image of St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel is an angel who serves as a messenger for God to certain people. He is one of the three archangels. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. First, in the Old Testament, Gabriel appears to the prophet Daniel to explain his ... continue reading



Saints Fun Facts

Saints Fun Facts for St. Christopher

St. Christopher

Saint Christopher is one of the most popular, yet most enigmatic Catholic figures. He is considered a saint, although he is not in the official canon of the saints. He is listed as a martyr, possibly named Reprobus, who died under the Roman Emperor Decius, in 251 AD. ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. Jude Thaddaeus

St. Jude Thaddaeus

St. Jude, known as Thaddaeus, was a brother of St. James the Less, and a relative of Our Saviour. He was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus and his attribute is a club. Images of St. Jude often include a flame around his head, which represent his presence at Pentecost, ... continue reading



Christian Saints & Heroes

Image of Let us remember to give thanks for this day the Lord has made.

Quotes of the Saints - Five saints have a message for you on this Thanksgiving holiday

By Marshall Connolly, (California Network)

If you are an American, today is Thanksgiving. Hopefully today you have made a point to attend Mass and to give thanks to God for all His blessings. If you are not American, today's holiday is a reminder that God deserves thanks from all His creation. We pray you will ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Hebrews 7:25--8:6
25 It follows, then, that his power to save those who come to God through ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 40:7-8, 8-9, 10, 17
7 then I said, 'Here I am, I am coming.' In the scroll of the book it is ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 3:7-12
7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lakeside, and great crowds ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 19th, 2017 Image

St. Fillan
January 19: Fillan, son of Feriach and St. Kentigerna, was ... Read More