Molaise of Arran

In Scotland’s Firth of Clyde, between the Kintyre Peninsula and mainland Scotland, lies the small, quiet island known as Arran. Arran is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit it and bike around the island back in 1998, an experience I shall never forget. Its winding country lanes, lonely castles and beautiful seascapes are forever etched in my memory as the  loveliest places in a country that already abounds with loveliness.

Slightly off the east coast of Arran sits an even smaller island, which locals simply call the Holy Isle. The tiny island is only 1.9 miles around and can easily be passed over as just another one of western Scotland’s thousands of tiny islands. Holy Isle, however, was once the home of one of Scotland’s early saints, St. Molaise of Leighlin, also known as St. Laisren or St. Laserian.

St. Molaise was an Irish monk of Iona; details of his early life are non-existent but it is possible that he was a disciple of St. Columba. He most certainly met Pope St. Gregory the Great, for he was ordained bishop by the great pope during a trip to Rome sometime around 600 and later returned to Iona as Gregory’s legate to the foundling Scottish churches, supporting the Roman doctrine on images against certain Celts who had iconoclastic tendencies. He also argued for the Roman calculation of Easter against the Celtic practice.

Not much is known of the life of St. Molaise. He spent much of his time as a hermit on the Holy Isle, praying in a cave on the hill of Mullach Mòr. He is the subject of the early Celtic tale the Vision of Laisren, one of the first pieces of Christian Scottish literature. In this tale St. Molaise (called Laisren or Laserian) is terrified by a vision of hell in order that he might return and warn his brother monks who were living in half-hearted obedience to their rule.

St. Molaise died in 639 and his feast day is April 18th. According to a bizarre legend of questionable authenticity, his death came as the result of plucking out some sort of cursed hair from the eyebrow of St. Sillán. This hair had the strange property that anyone who looked upon in the morning it would die; having plucked it and looked upon it in the morning, Molaise immediately died.

Regardless of the historicity of the legends surrounding St. Molaise, he was clearly an important individual in the development of Christianity in Scotland. As a bishop ordained by St. Gregory who argued in favor of the Roman practices, and as a possible convert or disciple of Columba, he is an important link between the primitive foundation of the Scottish church and the later episcopal establishment we read about in Bede. His feast day is celebrated on April 18th.

Phillip Campbell, “Molaise of Arran,” Unam Sanctam Catholicam, July 15, 2012. Available online at https://www.