MO-NINNE (D. C. 517 OR 519) (Medieval Ireland)

She is the reputed founder and abbess of Cell Sleibhe Cuilinn or Killevy in County Armagh, a prominent monastery for nuns. Her original name was Darerca (or Sarbile, according to the Martyrology of Oengus), but she is better known by the hypocoristic Mo-Ninne or Monenna. Her feast day is July 6. Killevy was sacked by the Norse in 790 and again in 923; records indicate that it survived as female monastic house well into the twelfth century and afterward. By the sixteenth century, it had become a convent for Augustinian nuns, which was dissolved in 1542.

Almost all of Mo-Ninne’s life and works are legendary; her Lives consist mainly of a series of miracles and wonder-working. Three versions of her Life remain extant; the earliest, by a monk named Conchubranus, dates only from the eleventh century and, like a twelfth-century Irish redaction, is probably based on an earlier Life. Two hymns in honor of Mo-Ninne, perhaps composed at Killevy, date from about the eighth century. A third Life, written by Geoffrey of Burtonin in the twelfth century, is based in part on Conchubranus but is in honor of St. Modwenna of Burton-on-Trent, whom he identified with Mo-Ninne.

Mo-Ninne’s traditions make her a contemporary of Patrick and Brigit. According to her legends, she sought out Patrick for baptism and consecration, along with eight other virgins and a widow, all of whom became her disciples. She adopted the widow’s son, Luger, as her foster-son and eventually saw him ordained as a bishop. For a time, she and her nuns lived under the rule of Ibar, a prominent bishop and teacher. She then visited Brigit and lived for a time at the monastery of Kildare before making her own foundation at Killevy. Mo-Ninne was famous for her rigorous asceticism: she frequently lived as a hermit in the wilderness, in prayer and fasting; she wore a garment of badger skins; she combed her hair only once a year, at Easter; she tilled the ground herself in order to grow her own food. She was compared to two famous biblical desert dwellers, John the Baptist and the prophet Elijah, and praised for her "manly spirit." After her death, her hoe, her comb, and her badger-skin dress were kept as relics at her monastery at Killevy. Her ascetic regime extended to her community; her legends relate how several of her nuns died of fasting and hunger until Mo-Ninne miraculously supplied them with food.

Mo-Ninne’s cult spread to Scotland and to England. She is said to have sent one of her nuns to the monastery of St. Ninian at Whithorn in Scotland for further instruction, and her own legendary travels, as told by Conchubranus, took her to Scotland and England, where she founded several monasteries, and to Rome. After her death, her remains were translated to England.

Next post:

Previous post: