Who was St. Mel?
St. Mel’s ancient Cathedral – Ardagh Village (Image used under Commons License)
The Cathedral of Saint Mel is the name given to the ruins of a small,
Early Medieval church in the village of Ardagh, Co. Longford. Church
reform in the 12th century made Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Ardagh
the centre of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, demonstrating the importance of the site as a Cathedral and Diocese. Although
known as Saint Mel’s Cathedral, the ruined church dates from three
centuries after the saint’s death, and predates the introduction of a
diocesan system in Ireland.
According to tradition, a
monastery was founded at
Ardagh by St Patrick, who
made his nephew, St. Mel of
Ardagh, its bishop or abbot.
Although there is no
historical or archaeological
evidence to support such a
claim, St. Mel is generally
regarded as the founder of
the Diocese of Ardagh and
Clonmacnois. The building
was severely damaged in the
midst of warfare in A.D. 1496 and was never restored.
When St. Patrick returned to Ireland after being ordained a bishop,
he didn’t arrive alone. In fact, St. Patrick embarked on his
missionary journey with several of his nephews who were raised by
his saintly sister, Darerca.
One of his nephews was named Mel (Mael) and he travelled with Patrick
throughout the Irish countryside, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to
anyone who would listen. When Patrick established a church at Ardagh,
he ordained Mel as the local bishop.
It is said that Mel was a generous bishop, performing manual labour to
support his ministry and giving all that he had to the poor of the community.
In addiƟon to being the local bishop, Mel was also the abbot of an adjoining
monastery at Ardagh. It is there that Mel received St. Brigid of Kildare, who
made her religious profession before him. Mel also conferred on Brigid
abbaƟal powers, making her an abbess, but also giving her ecclesiasƟcal
authority on par with the local bishops.
Mel died in 488, leaving a ϐlourishing monastery and diocese that would
become one of the most inϐluential locations in Ireland. Shortly after his
death, Mel was regarded as a saint by the local people because of his
authentic witness of the Christian faith. His evangelical ministry was
essential to the establishment of Christianity in Ireland, learning from him
[Taken from Longford Parish Newsletter)