Finnian of Movilla

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Finnian of Movilla
San Finnian di Moville.jpg
Born c. 495
possibly Ulster
Died c. 589
Venerated in

Roman Catholic Church

Church of Ireland
Major shrine Movilla Abbey
Feast 10 September
Patronage Ulster[1]
For the other Irish saint of the same name, see Finnian of Clonard.

Finnian[2] of Moville (c. 495–589) was an Irish Christian missionary. His feast day is September 10.

Origins and life[edit]

Finnian (sometimes called Finbarr, "the white head", a reference to his fair hair),[3] was a Christian missionary in medieval Ireland. He should not be confused with his namesake Finnian of Clonard. Nor should Movilla (Maigh Bhile) in County Down be mistaken for Moville in County Donegal.

Traditional scholarship has it that he was a descendant of Fiatach the Fair and born in Ulster, but his lineage has been questioned lately by the American Celticist Thomas Owen Clancy. He apparently studied under Colman of Dromore and Mochae of Noendrum, and subsequently at Candida Casa (Whithorn), whence he proceeded to Rome, returning to Ireland in 540 with a copy of St. Jerome's Vulgate.[4] He returned to found a school of his own and, at a time when books were rare, this text brought honor and prestige to the establishment.[3]


Finnian settled his new school at the head of Strangford Lough, at Maigh Bhile (Movilla)—the plain of the ancient tree, a sacred place, venerated in pagan times.[3] He was the founder of a famous school of Druim Fionn at about this time. Legend has it that he tried to convert Tuan mac Cairill, a mythical figure who was the last survivor of the Partholonian race, and that while doing so had the famous Scéal Tuáin maic Cairell recounted to him. This is a text about takings of Ireland, a source for the famous Lebor Gabála Érenn.


Finnian's most distinguished pupil at Movilla was Columba. Tradition has it that Columba's surreptitious copying of a psalter led eventually to his exile on Iona. What remains of the copy is housed in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.[5] The casket that contained it is now in the National Museum of Ireland. It is known as the Cathach of St. Columba, Cathach, or Battler, and was wont to be carried by the O'Donnells in battle. The inner case was made by Cathbar O'Donnell in 1084, but the outer is fourteenth century work.[4]

Rule and code[edit]

Finnian wrote a rule for his monks, also a penitential code.[4]



  1. ^ Challoner, Richard. A Memorial of Ancient British Piety: or, a British Martyrology, p. 128. W. Needham, 1761. Accessed 14 Mar 2013.
  2. ^ Sometimes given as Uinniau in older sources.
  3. ^ a b c Hammond, David. "St. Finnian's Cregagh"
  4. ^ a b c Grattan-Flood, William. "St. Finnian of Moville." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 19 Jul. 2013
  5. ^


  • Clancy, T. O. "The real St Ninian", in Innes Review, 52 (2001), pp. 1–28
  • MacKillop, James. A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford, 1998.