Eithne and Sodelb

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Eithne and her sister Sodelb[1] are two relatively obscure Irish saints from Leinster who are supposed to have flourished in the 6th century. They are commemorated together in the Irish martyrologies on 29 March,[2] though 2 and 15 January were also marked out as feast-days.[3] The 17th-century scholar John Colgan believed that a Life written for them had been witnessed in c. 1490 by Cathal Óg Mac Maghnusa (d. 1498), whom he regarded as the author of additions to the Félire Óengusso (see below).[4] Although nothing of the kind has come to light, they do make cameo appearances in the Lives of two better known 6/7th-century saints, Áedan and Moling, both bishops of Ferns.

Ever since their first appearances in the two earliest Irish martyrologies, the Martyrology of Tallaght and Félire Óengusso (early 8th century), the sisters are typically referred to as the daughters of Baite or Baithe.[5] They appear anonymously by that description in the Félire Óengusso, while a late commentator to the text, often identified as Cathal Óg Mac Maghnusa, names them Eithne and Sodelb.[6]

As Colgan already noted, the Genealogies of the Saints of Ireland describe them as daughters of Cairbre, king of Leinster, son of Cormac, son of Ailill, son of Dunlong (etc.), and sisters to one Cumania.[7] The Life of St Áedan of Ferns, on the other hand, makes them daughters of Cairbre's son and successor Áed.[8] Based on the entry for Cairbre's death in 546 in the Annals of the Four Masters,[9] Colgan dates their floruit to the mid-6th century or later.[10]

Colgan proposes that the name Baite must either refer to their (grand)father Cairbre son of Cormac or represent the Irish noun baide denoting divine affection or charity rather than any personal name or epithet.[11][12][13] This designation he explains as referring to the miraculous act of piety for which they were chiefly remembered, namely their nurturing of the infant Christ.[14] The commentary to the Félire states that they had a vision in which they "used to nurture Christ [...] and Christ used to come in the shape of a babe", so that he was lovingly cradled in their bosom and kissed (in sinu earum et osculabantur eum, et ille babtizauit eas et si apostoli praedicauerint illis tamen plus ab ipso acceperunt fidem quam ab illis).[6]

The church or hermitage of the two sisters is identified by the commentator of the Félire as Tech ingen mBóiti "House of the Baite's daughters" near Swords,[6] i.e. in the barony of Nethercross (Co. Dublin), which the Martyrology of Cashel locates in Fingal, on the plain of Brega.[15] According to the Genealogies, Eithne and Sodelb were (also) venerated at Killnais, the former name of a townland in the same locality.[8]

In one of the legends contained in the Acts of St Moling, Bishop of Ferns, it is told that Eithne and her sister were visited by this venerable saint.[16]


  1. ^ Other forms of their names include Ethne, Eithene and Eithnea (Latinised) and Sodbhealbh, Soidhelbh and Sodelbia (Latinised).
  2. ^ Martyrology of Tallaght, 29 March; Félire Óengusso, 29 March; Martyrology of Gorman, 29 March; Martyrology of Donegal, 29 March ("Eithne and Sodhealbh, two daughters of Bait, by the side of Sord Coluim Cille"); Martyrology of Drummond, 29 March ("Apud Hiberniam sanctae virgines filiae Baite ad Christum perrexerunt").
  3. ^ O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish saints, p. 994, citing the Bollandists.
  4. ^ Colgan, Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae; O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish saints, 995.
  5. ^ Martyrology of Tallaght, 29 March (ingena Baite).
  6. ^ a b c Félire Óengusso, pp. 102–3.
  7. ^ Colgan, Acta Sanctorum, 785; O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish saints, 995. For a modern critical edition, see Pádraig Ó Riain (ed), Corpus genealogiarum sanctorum Hiberniae. Dublin, 1985.
  8. ^ a b O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish saints, 995.
  9. ^ Annals of the Four Masters M546.4 ("Cairbre, son of Cormac, King of Leinster, died.").
  10. ^ Colgan, Acta Sanctorum, 785.
  11. ^ Dictionary of Christian Biography
  12. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Eithene". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  13. ^ For Irish baide, buide "love, affection", see the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL): B, column 13."
  14. ^ Martyrology of Tallaght, 29 March.
  15. ^ O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish saints, 996 and 996 n. 20.
  16. ^ Cullen, "Eithene." Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)

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