Saint Abban, Missionary and Hermit

March 16 is the Feast of Saint Abban (Latin: Abanus; English: Avon), Missionary and Hermit
Saint Abban in a relief at the west end of the nave in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Michael, New Ross, Co Wexford

“Abban’s background is disputed. Some say he was an Irish missionary, others that he was a secular Briton, the son of a wealthy consul at the Court of High-King Vortigern. Whatever his origins, he is said to have been present at Stonehenge during what was supposed to have been an Anglo-Briton Peace Conference around AD 456. In later years, the occasion become known as the “Night of the Long Knives” because the Saxons massacred all the British nobility gathered there. Abban was one of the few to escape alive. He fled North across the Wiltshire and Berkshire Downs, until he reached the relative safety of the upper Thames Valley. The slaughter he had witnessed so horrified him that Abban decided to settle there and devote his life to prayer. the local King was impressed by his devotion and granted him large tracts of land around Sunningwell. Here, on Boar’s Hill, he built himself a little hermitage, and lived humbly on nuts and berries. At first there was no fresh water, but, in answer to Abban’s prayers, a spring miraculously appeared outside his door. Soon the place became well known as “Abban’s Hill”, and many men came to seek his advice and join him. They built a little chapel to St. Mary on the hill where sixty quire monks lived keeping a continuous round of services. But Abban’s followers grew so vast in numbers that five hundred other monks are said to have lived like him, by their labours, as hermits in the surrounding woods, returning to the chapel only on Sundays and at festivals. It all got too crowded for Abban. He descended from the hill and left for Ireland to seek deeper solitude.

In reality, Abban never existed. He was invented to explain the name of Abingdon, a major medieval monastic town near Boar’s Hill. This was actually named after St. Aebbe of Minster-in-Thanet, the Queen of Magonset, whose kingdom – based on Herefordshire – once stretched out towards the Thames. She also has a church dedicated to her in Oxford. Abban’s supposed Irish roots probably stem from the fact that there were two Irish saints of this name active two generations later.”
abban grave
The Grave of St Abban at Ballyvourney

Coole Abbey is a really interesting site, located about 4-5 miles outside of the scenic town of Castlelyons in Co Cork. The site of an early medieval monastery, founded by St Abban in the 6th century, today all that remains of the early monastery are two churches and a holy well. Of the surviving churches the smaller of the two sits in a field beside the road from Conna to Castlelyons. The larger church is located c. 200m to the northeast in an historic graveyard. Below the church is a lovely holy well. There is little information about the well but it is still in use as a number of statues and votive offerings sit on top of the small corbelled well house that covers the well.
abban well
St Abban was born into the Uí Chormaic (Dál gCormaic ) dynasty in Leinster. He is associated with the churches of Mag Arnaide (‘Moyarney’/Adamstown, near New Ross, Co. Wexford) and Cell Abbáin (Killabban, Co. Laois) . In Munster he established a monastery at Ballyvourney, Co Cork which he later surrendered to St Gobnait. He is also associated with Killagh Abbey near Milltown Co Kerry and Kilcrumper near Fermoy and he founded the church at Coole (Cúil Chollaigne). Abban has two feast days the 16th of March and the 27th October (O’Riain 2012, 51-52; 254).

See also

For “The Life of St. Abban” “Bethada Naem nÉrenn”, vol. II. ed. & trans. Charles Plummer. Oxford: 1922 on-line see

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