Bl. Marianus Scotus

(D. 1088 A.D.)

When the Germanic peoples poured into western Europe, from the fifth century on, they did much to destroy the Christianized Roman culture and its literary remains. Fortunately, the monks of Ireland had continued to carry on this tradition of learning. When peace was re-established in England and on the Continent, Irish monks became major restorers and rediffusers of Roman Christian culture.

One of the most influential of these scholarly churchmen was Blessed Marianus Scotus, who, with a number of his Irish colleagues, settled at Regensburg, Bavaria.

Marianus came to be called “Scotus” because he was an Irishman, and “Scotus” was the original Latin name for a person from Ireland. The name Marianus was apparently a latinization of his baptismal name. His personal name was Murdoch Mac Groarty (or, as some say, Mac Rafferty). He was a native of County Donegal, in the west part of Ireland’s northern province, Ulster; and since he came from a prominent family, he received a good education, perhaps in some monastic school near his home.

In 1076, Murdoch and several other young Irish laymen, in keeping with a popular Irish devotional custom, set out on a pilgrimage to Rome.

Taking a leisurely route through Germany, they spent a year as hermit-pilgrims in the diocese of Bamberg, on the invitation of the local bishop. Then they moved south to Regensburg. Here the Abbess Emma of Obermuenster welcomed the party as guests. To repay her hospitality, Marianus hand-copied for her a number of books. His great skill as a scribe was one that he had learned back home, and the Abbess was happy to encourage his work in order to build up her monastic library. Soon she provided Marianus and two of his companions, John and Candidus, with cells of their own. John and Candidus would prepare the animal skins (sheep, goat, calf) to create the parchment. Then Marianus would make on these vellum sheets many copies of the Bible, commentaries on scriptures, and other books of learning and devotion.

He wrote with both speed and beauty. Many of the volumes he produced as gifts to poor clerics and widows. At least one of his works is still preserved in the Imperial Library of Vienna, the Epistles of St. Paul, dated 1078. He signed it both as Marianus Scotus and in Gaelic “Muiredach trog Mac Robartaigh”: “Murdoch, the wretched son of Robartaigh”. Those who had seen his skill or experienced his humility and generosity considered him a holy man, truly gifted by the Holy Spirit. It is said that a woman who had the duty of putting a light in all the cells each evening, forgot to do so in his on one occasion. Knowing that Marianus worked at night on his copying, she returned to provide him with the usual lamp. To her surprise, she saw a light coming through the chinks of his cell door. Peeping in, she beheld Blessed Marianus busily writing with his right hand while holding up the other hand. Three bright jets of light came forth from three of the fingers of the left hand, like gaslights from three burners. The room was filled with radiance!

Marianus never did reach Rome. An Irish hermit in Regensburg convinced him that God wanted him to stay on working there. Abbess Emma gave him St. Peter’s Church in that town, and a prosperous Viennese citizen paid for the building of a monastery connected with the church. Having already become a monk at some period, Murdoch, named abbot, sent back to his homeland to invite devout Irishmen to come join his monastery. The call to join this “Irish” monastery in Regensburg brought many vocations. Marianus died on February 10, 1088, but his successors kept up the tradition of receiving only Irish monks. So many came to his abbey that it was enlarged and renamed St. James (St. Jacob) Abbey. Out of this there eventually sprang 12 daughter abbeys, called in German the “Schottenkloester” (“Irish monasteries”). The contribution of their monks to German Christian learning was incalculable.

The monasteries eventually disappeared, although the last of them was closed only a century ago. But if you visit Regensburg you can still see the 12th-century church of St. Jacob. It is known familiarly, even now, as the “Schottenkirche” (the Irish church).

--Father Robert F. McNamara