seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Death of Mochta of Louth, Disciple of St. Patrick

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st-mochtas-houseMochta of Louth, in Latin sources Maucteus or Mauchteus, the last surviving disciple of St. Patrick, dies on August 20, 535.

Mochta is, like Patrick, a native of Britain. His name is British and Adomnán‘s Life of Columba describes him as “a certain British stranger, a holy man and a disciple of the holy bishop Patrick.” Adomnán presents Mochta as having prophesied the birth of Colm Cille.

According to one account, Mochta is brought to Ireland as a child, along with his parents, by a druid named Hoam. The druid settles in County Louth, where Mochta is brought up as a member of the family. He goes to Rome to continue his studies and there the Pope consecrates him bishop and sends him back to Ireland with twelve companions. The first church he founds is at Kilmore. Departing from Kilmore, he leaves all his possessions to the monks, taking only “the fountain at the door.” He follows a stream, which becomes the River Fane, to Louth.

Mochta founds a monastery in Louth, originally the site of a shrine to the Celtic god Lugh. Mochta’s monastery gains a nationwide reputation. He is an accomplished scholar, especially learned in Sacred Scripture. He writes a rule for monks but no trace of it has survived. He begins a series of annals at Louth, which is continued by his successors, and becomes known as the Book of the Monks. In his old age, Patrick comes and spends some time with Mochta. After Patrick’s death, Mochta takes charge of Armagh for a brief period before turning it over to Benignus.

Both monastery and village are burned and plundered frequently by the Danes in the period 829-968. A round tower built for protection is blown down in 981. There are no physical remains of the early monastery. The ruined buildings at the site today (pictured) are the 13th century church of St. Mary’s Augustinian Priory and the stone roofed oratory known as St. Mochta’s House, which probably dates to the second half of the 12th century.

The Annals of Ulster report Mochta’s death twice, in 535 and 537, which indicates that he is considerably younger than Patrick, whose death the Annals date to 493. Scholars believe that he, the last of Patrick’s disciples then alive, dies at the age of 90. The entry for 535 dates his death to the 13th of the Calends of September, i.e. 20 August, and quotes the opening of a letter written by him: “Mauchteus, a sinner, priest, disciple of St. Patrick, sends greetings in the Lord.” However the remainder of this letter nor any other compositions of Mochta have survived.

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