Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cave of St Molaise

Over the years several islands first captured my attention by something written on the OS map. Something so unusual that it led me to do some research and, in the end, pay a visit to the place marked on the map. Two examples of this are the 'Incised Cross and Well' marked at Aird a Mhorain on North Uist, and 'St Bey's Tomb & Chapel' marked in the interior of Little Cumbrae. 

Another example is what first intrigued me about Holy Island; a note on the map that marked a spot on its west coast that said St Molaise's Cave & Table. Now there are many saint's caves sprinkled about the islands, but the mention of a saint's table was unusual. And so I had to see for myself this cave with furniture. Two weeks ago I posted photos of St Molaise's Table (AKA The Judgement Stone - see the Oct 1 post). The table was strange enough, but the cave was more interesting.

St Molaise's Cave
St Molaise occupied the cave in the early 7th century (he was also known as St Laisren - the flame). In the years since then the stone wall that protected his hermitage from the elements (and the midges) collapsed, and the cave was mostly buried. It was excavated in 1908, and what they found, in this cave carved out of the sandstone cliffs by the sea, is more a grotto than a cave. Measuring 40 by 13 feet, it was paved with stones set above a drain chiseled into the bedrock. At one end there was a fireplace, and several crosses are carved in the wall, so this cave was half dwelling, half oratory.

St Molaise also had fresh water, as just below the cave the clear waters of a spring fill a small pool. 

The well of St Molaise
St Molaise was the grandson of Aedan mac Gabrain, who was ordained king of Dalriada by St Columba in 574 AD. St Molaise also had connections to two other island saints: his uncle was St Blane of Arran (see the October 13, 2014 post), and he was educated in his youth by St Munnu of Eilean Munde (see book 1, chapter 23). After his hermitage time on Holy Island Molaise made two visits to Rome, and eventually became Abbot of the monastery of Old Leighin (50 miles SW of Dublin).

Steps into the cave
As I mentioned earlier, it was just a wee note on the map of Holy Island that read 'St Molaise's Cave & Table' that sparked my interest in the island. A small note that paid big dividends, leading me to learn the story of St Molaise and pay a visit to his hermitage island.

If you are interested in learning more about St Molaise, an excellent book is Molaise: Abbot of Leighlin and Hermit of Holy Island (Colum Kenny, 1998).  For information on visiting Holy Island see the Holy Island website.

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