Saints and Stones: Mayo Abbey (Magh Eo)

Mayo Abbey was an important center in the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Christian world in the 7th and 8th Centuries. St. Colman, formerly Bishop of Lindisfarne in Northumbria, founded a monastery here for a group of Saxon monks in ca. 668 A.D.

Colman was a native of the west of Ireland and had recieved his education on Iona. Following the Synod of Whitby in 664 A.D., which established the supremacy of Roman traditions over Celtic monastic traditions, Colman, who had pleaded the Celtic cause, resigned as Bishop of Lindisfarne, and he and thirty Saxon monks and the large body of Irish monks living on Lindisfarne at first retreated to Iona, before setting sail for Ireland. They founded a monastery on the island of Inishbofin, off the coast of County Galway. Disputes arose between the Saxon and Irish monks after a short time. Colman brought his Saxon followers onto the mainland and founded a monastery for them at Magh Eo ("the Plain of Yew Trees"). They were joined here by Gerald and a large community of monks who were living at nearby Rosslee. Gerald was the son of a Saxon prince and a follower of Colman. He, his three brothers and a large group of Picts had left Northumbria following the Synod at Whitby and eventually came to Rosslee, which is in the west of the modern parish of Mayo Abbey, where they founded a monastery. The community was ravaged by plague and many died. They moved to Magh Eo and Gerald was appointed as first abbot of the newly founded monastery. Colman returned to Inishbofin where he died some years later.

The Monastery at Magh Eo grew quickly. The monastic enclosure covered more than 28 acres and Gerald and his monks were endowed with grants of land which eventually amounted to more than 2,000 acres. By the year 700 AD. the monastery had become a famous seat of learning with more than one hundred monks living there. It became known throughout Christendom as "Mayo of the Saxons." For several centuries it remained a Saxon establishment and there are many recorded contacts between it and Iona and Northumbria. Adomnán, the ninth abbot of Iona and biographer of Columba, is reputed to have lived in Magh Eo between the years 797 to 802 AD. Alcuin of York, chief advisor to the Emperor Charlemagne, corresponded with the monks at Magh Eo on several occasions. The importance and size of the monastery is recorded in many chronicles of that period, the most important being the "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" written by The Venerable Bede of Jarrow and The Annals of Ulster.

For more than a thousand years, it remained the most important center in the region becoming in turn a diocese and a Norman town and giving its name to the county. In the late 14th Century, the Abbey of St Michael was founded for the Augustinian Canons, which was dissolved by the Reformation.

There are now no traces of the early monastery. In the graveyard at Mayo, there is a ruin of a church that may be part of the Augustinian Abbey. However, throughout the graveyard, there are stones and carved fragments that indicate the former presence of a large monastic building. Recent excavations have revealed the monastic site at Mayo Abbey, which encloses an area of almost 30 acres with its ancient grave slabs, some dating back over 1000 years.

About Mayo Abbey (Magh Eo)

County Mayo: History of Magh Eo (Mayo Abbey)
Irish Antiquities: Mayo Abbey
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: School of Mayo
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Colman
Wikipedia: Augustinians

Journey to Mayo Abbey (Magh Eo)

Mayo Abbey is a small village in south County Mayo, Ireland situated ten miles to the south of the county town, Castlebar, off of the N60 on a minor road from the village of Balla. The Mayo Abbey Visitor Center is located in the village.

Map Reference: M264795

Visitors Information

Visitors information may be found at the website. General tourist information may be found at the Discover Mayo website.

Additional Photos of Mayo Abbey (Magh Eo)

Descriptive Sign, Mayo Abbey
Descriptive Sign in Visitor Center, Mayo Abbey
Descriptive Sign in Visitor Center, Mayo Abbey
Church Ruins, Site of 7th Century Mayo Abbey
Church Ruins, Site of 7th Century Mayo Abbey
Church Ruins, Site of 7th Century Mayo Abbey
Ballaun Stone in Graveyard of Church Ruins, Site of 7th Century Mayo Abbey

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