St Maughold and his Afterlife
: Patrician Heritage, Cross-Border Cult Promotion and Pilgrimage in the Isle of Man

  • Ian Faulds

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This longitudinal case study shows that it is possible to ‘rescue’ a lost mediaeval saint’s cult from obscurity. Through a close reading of early and high mediaeval Latin hagiography, monastic texts, legendaries, vernacular verse and liturgy, we can recover narrative: whilst the prosopographical and multi-disciplinary application of archaeology, folklore, linguistics, liturgy, musicology, and sacred geography enables us to establish context. By adopting this approach, we see how a malleable saint can be adapted over time to suit the requirements of a ruling dynasty, used to validate the territorial claims of a community and unite socially disparate groups, how he can be moulded to suit political ends through pilgrimage and ultimately become a national patron. It is equally clear that withdrawal of royal and institutional support can have a potentially devastating effect. A long timeline enables us to see the significance of place and the way in which a cult and the devotional behaviour it engenders can survive successive seismic shocks, from the (Norse) Conquest and the arrival of the reformed monastic orders to the Reformation and beyond. The application of antiquarian history, sometimes preserving lost archaeological and oral evidence, extends the time frame to the present day, where it is apparent that, after 1,500 years, a ‘Celtic’ saint can still act as a powerful carrier of national identity, exerting a mesmerising influence on a generation no longer interested in ‘miracles’. Given prominence by Muirchú in his Vita S Patricii, Macuil/Maughold was once well known and celebrated in early mediaeval Ireland, Scotland, England, and Europe. As bishop of the Isle of Man and Protector of his community, he was at the heart of Irish Sea politics in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, both before and after the incorporation of the diocese of Sodor into the new metropolitan see of Nidaros in 1153. This is the first indepth evaluation of a regional saint with cross-border significance, suggesting that Maughold was a key figure in the cult of St Brigit, being (mistakenly) venerated, until the eve of the Reformation, as the bishop who veiled her. The hagiography of St Patrick provided an ideal medium for the development of Maughold’s foundation legend over a broad chronological period stretching from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries, peaking with a monastic account of an important posthumous miracle that identified him as a ‘national patron’. For ease of reference, he will be referred to primarily as ‘Macuil’. The sources that form the basis of this thesis suggest that Maughold was the fourth in a succession of Manx bishops consecrated by or through Armagh, implying the extension of an Ulaid paruchia to the Isle of Man and continuing Irish interest – a claim that may be supported by linguistic evidence. They also suggest that both the Muirchú account and the later monastic Cronica Regum Mannie et Insularum (Cronica) are linked and may derive from earlier exemplars. Possible external traces of Maughold indicate that his influence was not confined to a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea, where the ruling Norse dynasty adopted him as a powerful symbol, both to further its own political ambitions and to demonstrate historical continuity at a time of transition. Later loss of royal and institutional support as part of a process of ecclesiastical reform probably adversely affected the expansion of the cult, although Maughold is included in The Kalendre of the Newe Legende of England in 1516, and veneration and the significance of place is still noted as late as 1648. This study aims to provide an overview of the developing representation of St Maughold and the way in which his therapeutic well became established as a place of pilgrimage and healing.
Date of Award28 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorTim Thornton (Main Supervisor)

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