St. Moluag’s Lost Abbey Found

Lismore Excavation: Early Christian Finds

St Moulag

Image Credit: Lismore Historical Society

 

St. Moluag, one of the first saints to reach Scotland, arrived on the Isle of Lismore from Ireland around 560 AD to convert the Picts to Christianity. Despite his significant historical presence, evidenced only by the record of his death in 592 in the Annals of Ulster, the location of his monastery on Lismore, near Oban, remained undiscovered. The medieval Cathedral of Argyll on Lismore, dedicated to St. Moluag in the 13th century, hinted at its proximity, yet no concrete evidence was found.

For six years, the Lismore Historical Society’s community archaeology team, operating in an area now home to about 150 people, searched the island for clues. Initial efforts across Lismore yielded little until the team focused on a seemingly unlikely wet field below the parish church. The discovery of an 8th-century burial in 2019 indicated they were on the right track, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted their efforts until 2022.

Recent discoveries by the team point to identifying St. Moluag’s lost monastery, revealing activities related to religion, jewellery crafting, and other crafts dating back over a millennium. An oval stone structure, found and dated to between the 7th and 10th centuries, aligns with the early monastery period. A workshop for precious metals and sites for intricate carvings in stone, wood, bone, and antler were also uncovered.

Dr. Robert Hay of the society highlighted the significance of these findings, placing Lismore alongside renowned early medieval Scottish sites like Iona. The site has shown evidence of high-status metalworking, with about 120 crucibles used for melting precious metals analyzed by the National Museum of Scotland. Moreover, fragments of moulds for crafting penannular brooches and a rare touchstone for testing gold purity were found, underscoring the monastery’s role in creating high-status objects for the church and elite patrons, showcasing its sophistication and influence.

The ongoing analysis and preservation of over 1,500 significant artefacts from the site continue to shed light on early medieval Scottish life.

Sources

  • Milligan, M. (2024, March 27). Monastic site founded by St Moulag discovered on Scottish island. HeritageDaily – Archaeology News. https://www.heritagedaily.com/2024/03/monastic-site-founded-by-st-moulag-discovered-on-scottish-island/151226

  • NewsRoom. (2024, April 2). Monastic settlement founded by St Moulag discovered on Scottish island. Orthodox Times (En); Orthodox Times. https://orthodoxtimes.com/monastic-settlement-founded-by-st-moulag-discovered-on-scottish-island/‌‌

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