Skip to content

St. Donan

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.


St. Donan Comments


More Saints






Browse Saints by Category


Popular Saints

Rank

Saint

75.

Image of Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Pope Saint Gregory I, also known as the Great, was the Pope of the Catholic Church between 590 and 604 AD. Gregory was born around 540 in Rome. The exact date of his birth is unknown. ... continue reading

76.

Image of St. Barbara

St. Barbara

Saint Barbara, also known as the Great Martyr Barbara, was an early Christian Greek martyr born mid-third century in Heliopolis, Phoenicia. Barbara was the daughter to a rich pagan named ... continue reading

77.

Image of St. Brigid of Ireland

St. Brigid of Ireland

Saint Brigid was born Brigit, and shares a name with a Celtic goddess from whom many legends and folk customs are associated. There is much debate over her birthparents, but it is widely ... continue reading

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist

John the Baptist was a contemporary of Christ who was known for evangelization and his baptizing of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was born through the intercession of God to Zachariah and ... 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. Christina

St. Christina

Few details are known of St. Christina but she lived during the third century and was the daughter of a rich and powerful magistrate believed to have been named Urbain. He was deep in the practices of heathenism and had a number of golden idols, which he distributed ... 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. Jerome Emiliani

St. Jerome Emiliani

Jerome Emiliani lay chained in the dark dirty dungeon. Only a short time before he had been a military commander for Venice in charge of a fortress. He didn't care much about God because he didn't need him -- he had his own strength and the strength of his soldiers and ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. Joan de Lestonnac

St. Joan de Lestonnac

St. Joan de Lestonnac was born in Bordeaux, France, in 1556. She married at the age of seventeen. The happy marriage produced four children, but her husband died suddenly in 1597. After her children were raised, she entered the Cistercian monastery at Toulouse. Joan ... continue reading



Christian Saints & Heroes

Catherine of Siena: We Need Saints for this Missionary Age

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Father, raise up women like Catherine of Siena for this new missionary age of your Church. Women who are so in love with you, and so conformed to the Image of your Son, they can do for your Church in this hour, what she did in her own. Saints are a gift for the ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes

Never Miss any Updates!

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

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.