St. Aidan of Wales and Ferns, 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, or, Wanderers on Behalf of Christ. This was especially true of the Celtic Monastic Movement. The Celtic (Irish, Scottish and 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. Celtic Monks owed much of their spirit to the Christian monasteries of Egypt, which go back to the second and third centuries.

There were not one but two Aidan’s, both of whom were renowned missionaries in England.

The most famous 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 still today places of pilgrimage.

Our Aidan, Aidan of Wales and Ferns, lived in the late 500’s. His name means “Son of a Star.” 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.” He is often called St. Maedoc.

Aidan founded a monastery in Ferns, County Wexford, Ireland. After living many years at Ferns, he began his wandering. He traveled throughout Europe preaching, baptizing and teaching. Eventually he settled in Wales and he joined the great monastic center founded by the missionary apostle, David.

When the Saxons invaded 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. 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, befriending wolves and other wild animals. For this reason, the insignia printed on banners dedicated to Aidan is often that of a stag.

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.

St. Aidan’s feast day is January 31.