Calendar of Scottish Saints – Saint Adamnan, Abbot

detail from a photograph of a stained glass window in Saint John's Church, Isle of Manx, window artist and photographer unknownArticle

A.D. 704. He was of Irish race, and belonged to the same family as Saint Columba. In his 55th year he was elected Abbot of Iona. He is said to have been instrumental in obtaining the passing of “The Law of the Innocents” in the Irish National Assembly of Tara. This statute exempted the Irish women from serving on the battle field, which before that time they had been bound to do. In 701 Saint Adamnan was sent on an embassy to his former pupil, Aldfrid, King of Northumbria, to seek reparation for injuries committed by that King’s subjects in the Province of Meath. It was during this visit to England that he conformed to the Roman usage with regard to the time for keeping Easter, and he was afterwards successful in introducing the true practice into the Irish Church. His efforts in this respect were not successful with his monks at Iona; though his earnest exhortations, and the unfailing charity which he exhibited towards those who differed from him, must have helped to dispose them to conform to the rest of the Church, which they did about twenty years after his death.

Saint Adamnan is most renowned for his life of Saint Columba, which has been called by a competent judge “the most complete piece of such biography that all Europe can boast of, not only at so early a period, but throughout the whole Middle Ages.” He is also the author of a treatise on the Holy Land, valuable as being one of the earliest produced in Europe.

Though the saint died at Iona, his relics were carried to Ireland; but they must have been restored to Iona, as they were venerated there in 1520. He was one of the most popular of the Scottish saints, and many churches were named after him. The chief of these were at Aboyne and Forvie (parish of Slains) in Aberdeenshire; Abriachan in Inverness-shire; Forglen or Teunan Kirk in Banffshire; Tannadice in Forfarshire; Kileunan (parish of Kilkerran) in Kintyre; Kinneff in Kincardineshire; the Island of Sanda; Dull, Grandtully and Blair Athole in Perthshire—the latter place was once known as Kilmaveonaig, from the quaint little chapel and burying ground of the saint. There were chapels in his honour at Campsie in Stirlingshire and Dalmeny in Linlithgow. At Aboyne are “Skeulan Tree” and “Skeulan Well,” at Tannadice “St. Arnold’s Seat,” at Campsie “St. Adamnan’s Acre,” at Kinneff “St. Arnty’s Cell.” At Dull a fair was formerly held on his feast-day (old style); it was called Feille Eonan. Another fair at Blair Athole was known as Feill Espic Eoin (“Bishop Eunan’s Fair” though Saint Adamnan was an abbot only); it has been abolished in modern times. His well is still to be seen in the Manse garden there, and down the glen a fissure in the rock is called “St. Ennan’s Footmark.” There was a “St. Adamnan’s Croft” in Glenurquhart (Inverness-shire), but the site is no longer known.

Ardeonaig, near Loch Tay; Ben Eunaich, Dalmally; and Damsey (Adamnan’s Isle) in Orkney, take their names from this saint. At Firth-on-the-Spey, near Kingussie, is a very ancient bronze bell, long kept on a window-sill of the old church, and tradition relates that when moved from thence it produced a sound similar to the words, “Tom Eunan, Tom Eunan,” until it was restored to its original resting-place in the church, which stands on the hill bearing that name. The tradition points to the dedication of the church to this saint. Few names have passed through such various transformations in the course of ages as that of Adamnan. It is met under the forms of Aunan, Arnty, Eunan, Ounan, Teunan (Saint-Eunan), Skeulan, Eonan, Ewen and even Arnold.

Saint Adamnan’s feast was restored by Pope Leo XIII in 1898.

MLA Citation

  • Father Michael Barrett, OSB. “Saint Adamnan, Abbot”. The Calendar of Scottish Saints, 1919. CatholicSaints.Info. 8 December 2019. Web. 21 January 2020. <>