Who was St. Aidan?
Aidan Celtic Missionary Saint
Monasteries in today’s world are places where people go to pray, work and
learn for the rest of their lives. Monks are not wanderers or missionaries;
they are silent devoted types who live in stable communities.
But it was not always so. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, monks
were often called in Latin Pedagrinationes Pro Christo, Wanderers on Behalf
of Christ. This was especially true of the Celtic Monastic Movement. The
Irish/Scottish/Welsh monks went to their great monastic centers for years of
study and prayer and then set off across the British Isles and the European
continent preaching Jesus Christ. It is said that the Celtic Monks owed much
of their spirit to the Christian monasteries of Egypt, which go back to the
second and third centuries.
Aidan was a wandering monk/missionary of this kind. But before we speak
about his life, we first need to know that there were not one but two
Aidan’s, both of whom were renowned missionaries in England.
The most famous Aidan is, we must admit, not the Alpharetta one (sorry).
This Aidan lived in the late 600’s and became a member of the famed
monastery of Iona in Scotland. From there he was sent south to found a
missionary center at Lindisfarne in England. He is still called the “Apostle
of England”. Both Iona and Lindisfarne are there today and are places of
Our Aidan lived about one hundred years earlier, in the late 500’s. His name
means “Son of a Star”. He founded a monastery in a place called Ferns in
County Wexford in Ireland, not far from Waterford, the famous center for
crystal manufacture. Having lived for many years at Ferns, Aidan began his
wandering. He traveled throughout Europe preaching, baptizing and teaching.
Eventually he settled in Wales where he joined the great monastic center
founded by the missionary apostle, David. Aidan lived in that community for
It was at that time that the Saxons made one of their invasions of Briton.
The Britons called upon David to send someone who would intercede for them
in prayer against the heathen Saxon armies. David sent Aidan. The histories
say that God answered Aidan’s prayers and allowed the Britons to defeat the
Saxons “with great slaughter”. History also records that “because of God’s
favor and Aidan’s miracles, no Saxon invaded Briton while Aidan was there”.
Aidan returned to Wales and asked David to allow him to go back to Ferns. He
returned to his first monastery where he died in 626. During his final years
he lived close to nature and, like St. Francis of Assisi, was know for his
gentleness with animals. He even befriended wolves and other wild animals.
For this reason, often the insignia printed on banners dedicated to Aidan is
that of a stag.
In his very early years, Aidan was given a nickname by his family. He was
called Maedoc. The name came from three Celtic words, Mo Aid Oc, meaning “my
little Aidan”. Often, maybe to distinguish this Aidan from the one that
lived in Scotland, he is called St. Maedoc.
In 1994, when our parish began the process of choosing a name, Bishop Frank
Allan gave us ten to consider. Overwhelmingly our parish chose Aidan and the
reason is obvious: Just as David of Wales sent Aidan to Briton as a
missionary, St. David’s parish community of Roswell sent us into Alpharetta
to found a new parish family. So, we picked St. Aidan.
Unfortunately, when you tell people you are from St. Aidan’s parish, they
may say “Oh Aidan of Lindisfarne”. And you will say, “No, we’re the other
one, Aidan of Wales and Ferns”. His feast day is January 31.