Máel Ruba, Máelrubai (Old Irish spelling), Maol Rubha (MoRubha/MaRuibhe) (Scottish Gaelic spelling), or Malruibhe (642–722), sometimes Latinised as Rufus, is a Celtic saint of the Christian Church. Originally from Bangor, County Down, Ireland, he was a monk and founded the monastic community of Applecross in Ross, one of the best attested early Christian monasteries in what is now Scotland.
Máelrubai was descended from Niall, King of Ireland, on the side of his father Elganach. His mother, Subtan, was a niece of Saint Comgall (d. 597 or 602) of Bangor. Máelrubai was born in the area of Derry and was educated at Bangor. In 671, when he was thirty, he sailed from Ireland to Scotland with a group of monks.
For two years he travelled around the area, chiefly in Argyll, perhaps founding some of the many churches still dedicated to him, before settling at Aporcrosan (Applecross) in 673, in Pictish territory in the west of Ross opposite the islands of Skye and Raasay. Thence he set out on missionary journeys: westward to the islands Skye and Lewis, eastward to Forres and Keith, and northward to Loch Shin, Durness, and Farr.
The monastery at Applecross
The Gaelic name of Applecross, "A' Chomraich", 'The Sanctuary', derives from an area of inviolate ground which surrounded the monastery in ancient times. Its limits were originally marked by crosses. Unfortunately, only a fragment of one of these has survived, within the farmyard at Camusterrach, south of Applecross village.
Both Máelrubai's voyage to 'Scotland' and his foundation of Applecross are recorded in contemporary Irish annals, implying that they were considered of great significance at the time. Máelrubai's monastery was a major Christian centre and instrumental in the spread of both Christianity and Gaelic culture amongst the Picts of northern Scotland.
The succession of the abbots ceases to be recorded in the Irish annals during the course of the ninth century. It is likely that this is the result of (unrecorded) raids by Vikings.
A setting of two small stones in the graveyard at Applecross is still pointed out as the (supposed) site of his grave.
According to local tradition, on his last journey he was killed by Danish vikings, probably at Teampull, around nine miles up the Strathnaver from Farr, where he had built a cell; and was buried near the River Naver, not far from his cell, where his grave is still marked by "a rough cross-marked stone". However, 722 may be too early for Scandinavian raiders to have been involved, as the first historically recorded Viking attacks on Scotland and Ireland date to the 790s.
The most reliable sources, contemporary Irish annals, merely record that he 'died' at Applecross in his 80th year.
Máelrubai was, after St. Columba, perhaps the most popular saint of north-west Scotland. At least twenty-one churches are dedicated to him, and Dean Reeves enumerates about forty forms of his name. His death occurred on 21 April, and in Ireland his feast has always been kept on this day; however, in Scotland (probably owing to the confusion with St. Rufus) it has always been kept on August 27. There are several locations named after Máelrubai such as Loch Maree.
Máelrubai's name has given rise to numerous corruptions; for example in Keith, he is referred to as "St Rufus", and in other parts of Scotland, his name was variously rendered as "Maree" (as in the Loch), "Summereve" (i.e., St Maol Rubha) etc. Because his feast day was on August 25 , folk etymology led some people to confuse "Summereve's Fair" with a secular fair celebrating the season.
In the 17th century the Presbytery of Dingwall was disturbed by reports of several rituals, evidently of pagan origin, such as the sacrificing of bulls, on an island in Loch Maree. These revolved round a debased memory of Máelrubai, whose legacy had perhaps become mixed with an ancient pre-Christian cult of 'God Mourie'.
On 5 July 1898, Pope Leo XIII restored his feast for the Church in Scotland, to be kept on August 27.
Areas where he was celebrated
- Applecross and the Loch Broom area.
- Keith, Moray, sometimes referred to anciently as "Kethmalruff"
- Loch Maree, which has Isle Maree/Eilean Maree in it. The island has a well dedicated to the saint.
- Dingwall and Tain, in Easter Ross both of which held fairs celebrating the saint.
- Amulree ("Ath Maol Rubha" = St Maol Rubha's Ford), Perthshire
- Ashaig, on the Isle of Skye
- Wish Tree: associated with the saint's well.
- St Maol Rubha
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Maelrubha". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.