Saint Maelrubha of Applecross and Knapdale

Saint Maelrubha (642 CE - 722 C) was founder of the monastery of Abercrossan, well north of Iona and Lismore, within the Pictish Lands of Scotland's Wester Ross. Maelrubha was of the same lineage as Saint Comgall of Bangor, as his mother, Subtan, was that gentleman's niece; on his father's side, he was descended from the ubiquitous Niall of the Nine Hostages. His name is a compound of 2 words: MAEL, or "servant" and RUBHA, or "patience" or "promontory"* although it has many varieties, among which are Maree, Mory, Molroy, and etc. Early Celtic churches were not dedicated to Mary. As Maelrubha's influence faded in time, though, some took "Mory" to refer to Mary. But, in fact, the Knapdale Kilmorys all refer to this 7th century Saint from Apor Crossan. In the matter of fairs, Maelrubha was the most popular Celtic saint in Scotland.****

The place name of "Applecross" is a modern version of the original "Aporcrossan", meaning APOR, "confluence" and CROSSAN, "[river] Crossan'. Maelrubha has been confused with another saint, Ruphus/Rufus, of Capua. All of this is explained by William Reeves, in his excellent 1857 paper, "Saint Maelrubha: his history and churches"

Educated at Bangor monastery, Maelrubha left for Argyll when he was some 30 years of age. He must have been a very energetic and focussed person, because the number of Christian centres he founded in his long life were exceeded only by those of Saint Columba. There are 3 "Kilmorys" in Knapdale alone. Moreover, the monastic centre at Apor Crossan must have been magnificent. This font from Loch Aoineard, Skye, reproduced in an article by Daniel Wilson in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland in 1886, is very beautiful and much more sophisticated than that of Columba's Cave.

What with Vikings, time, modern forestry and the Protestant Reformation, there are very few ancient remains left at modern Applecross. At its heritage centre, however, there are some sections of a stone cross excavated in the 20th century (illustrated here). The Applecross Historical Society has the intention of remedying the past neglect of this major ancient Christian site. This illustration of the cross is from page 88 of Ian Fisher's "Early Medieval Sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands."***

As an aside, Iona was terribly and shamefully ignored in a similar fashion after the Reformation. Thomas Pennant, in his 1772 visit to Iona, offers this report:

The church was fifty-eight feet by twenty: the roof of the east end is entire, is a pretty vault made of very thin stones, bound together by four ribs meeting in the centre. the floor is covered some feet thick with cow-dung...."**

Knapdale's three Kilmorys are described here.

And now, for a great story. Near to Applecross, there is a very long narrow lake, named "Loch Maree." The principal island in the lake, called Inis Maree (ie, Maelrubha's Island) has on it a cemetery, and a well. The well was said to have the property of curing insanity. What follows is from the "Inverness Courier" of November the 4th, 1852 ...

"... on Friday last, confident in the success of the virtuous properties of the fountain, a woman, accompanied by a young lad and an idiot daughter, were conveyed down Loch Maree in a boat, in order to put to the test the restorative powers of the well.... the poor idiot was rowed over to the island, the mother having obtained assistance from several persons. On reaching the spot, the unfortunate creature was dragged to the well, and having been compelled to drink of its water, was put through the ceremonial of ducking, after which she was towed round the island after the boat and after midnight bathed in the loch. The result of all this, it is lamentable to add, has been, that the hitherto quiet imbecile has become a raving maniac."

*note that the surname "MALCOLM" also begins with MAEL indicating in that case, "Servant of Saint Columba."
**Pennant, Thomas. "A Tour in Scotland and voyage to the Hebrides", 1772. Birlinn, 1998.
***Fisher, Ian. Early Medieval Sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands. RCAHMS, 2001.
****Sir James Balfour Paul, "The incidence of Saints' Names in Relation to Scottish Fairs," Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,vol. 52 (1917 - 1918), pp. 159 - 173.