Saint of the Day – 23 September – Saint Adamnan of Iona or St Eunan of Iona (c 628-704) Relative of Saint Columban. Monk at Drunhome, Donegal, Ireland. Abbot of Iona in 679. President-general of all the Columban houses in Ireland. Hagiographer and Spiritual Writer, Poet, Statesman, Canon Lawyer. Born in c 628 in Drumhome, County Donegal, Ireland and died on 23 September 704 at Iona Abbey of natural causes. Patronages – Donegal, Ireland, County of, Raphoe, Ireland, City of, Raphoe, Ireland, Diocese of. Also known as – Adam, Adamnano, Adomnan, Eunan.
Adamnan was the Author of the Life of Columban, probably written between 697 and 700. This Biography is, by far, the most important surviving work written in early-medieval Scotland and is a vital source for our knowledge of the Picts and an insight into the life of Iona and the early-medieval Gaelic Saint Columban. (His life here: https://anastpaul.com/2018/11/23/saint-of-the-day-23-november-st-columban-543-615/)
Adamnan promulgated the Law of Adamnan or “Law of Innocents” (Irish: The Cáin Adomnáin). He also wrote the treatise De Locis Sanctis (i.e. “On Holy Places”), an account of the great Christian holy places and centres of pilgrimage. Adamnan received much of his information for this work, from a Frankish Bishop called Arculf, who had personally visited Egypt, Rome, Constantinople and the Holy Land and visited Iona after his travels.
Adamnan was a descendant of a cousin of Saint Columban, Colmán mac Sétna. He is thought to have been born into a noble family in what is now County Donegal in Ireland, probably as a younger son. Some historians believe he attained his obviously high level of education by studying at Durrow Abbey, one of Ireland’s most important early Christian Monasteries. He became a Monk at a Columban Monastery in Ireland in about 640 and then, at some later point, transferred to Iona Abbey. Opinions again differ about the date of his move to Iona, ranging from about 650, during the Abbacy of Ségéne, to about 670, after the accession of Abbot Failbe.
In 679, Adomnan became the ninth Abbot of Iona Abbey. As Abbot, he was extremely influential in the wider affairs of a land that was still divided between Gaels, Picts, Britons and Angles. He forged especially, strong links with King Aldfrith of Northumbria. He was also influential in partially bringing the Celtic Church into line with the wider body of the Roman Church when he adopted the Roman dating of Easter. This had been agreed in 664 at the Synod of Whitby and the difference, possibly trivial to modern eyes, had led to a rift between the Roman and Celtic Churches.
Adomnan’s most important innovation came in 697. The Synod of Birr, in Ireland, attracted a highly influential gathering of Irish, Dalriadan and Pictish nobles. Adomnan used it to gain widespread agreement to his “Law of Adomnan.” This “Law of Innocents,” set out to guarantee the safety and immunity of various types of non-combatants in warfare. It was a pioneering initiative in Europe and a remarkable achievement for a cleric on the Celtic fringe of the known world. Many see it as the first step in the process that has since led to the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Adomnan is probably better known, however, for his Life of St Columban. This was really a Biography or a history of his predecessor of a Century earlier as Abbot of Iona. Rather it was a “hagiography” intended to prove Columban’s saintliness and extol his virtues and achievements. It is perhaps the most important surviving record from the areas which later became Scotland at this time. He also wrote a considerable amount of poetry.
Adomnan died in 704, probably on 23 September, the day now celebrated as his feast day. He was subsequently regarded as a Saint of the Irish and Scottish tradition and is considered to have been one of the mos influential participants in this early period of Irish and Scottish Church.
Along with St Columban, he is joint Patron of the Diocese of Raphoe, which encompasses the bulk of County Donegal in the north-west of Ireland. The Cathedral of St Eunan and St Columban (popularly known as St Eunan’s Cathedral), the Cathedral in that Diocese, is in Letterkenny. In 727 the relics of AdAmnan were brought to Ireland to renew the “Law of Innocents” and they were returned to Iona in 730.
In his native Donegal, Adamnan has given his name to several Churches, Institutions and buildings – all under the Irish version of his name Eunan.