Ailbe of Emly

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Saint Ailbe
or Elvis
Born 5th Century
Died 528
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast 12 September[2]
Patronage Munster,[3] the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly, wolves

Saint Ailbe (Irish pronunciation: [ˈalʲvʲə]; Latin: Albeus), also known as Saint Elvis (Welsh: Eilfyw or Eilfw),[4] was a 6th-century Irish bishop, confessor, and saint.[5][6] He was also associated with early medieval Wales, particularly Saint David, whom he was credited with baptizing.

Saint Ailbe is venerated as one of the four great patrons of Ireland. His feast day is 12 September. He is the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly.[7]


The life of Ailbe is included in the Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae (VSH), a Latin collection of medieval Irish saints’ lives compiled in the 14th century. There are three major manuscript versions of the VSH: the Dublin, Oxford, and Salamanca. Charles Plummer compiled an edition of the VSH based on the two surviving Dublin manuscripts in 1910.[8] William Heist compiled an edition of the single Salamanca manuscript in 1965.[9] Oxford professor Richard Sharpe suggests that the Salamanca manuscript is the closest to the original text from which all three versions derive. Sharpe's analysis of the Irish name-forms in the Codex Salamanticensis showed similarities between it and the Life of Saint Brigid, a verifiably 7th-century text, leading him to posit that nine (and possibly ten) of the lives were written much earlier, c. 750–850.[10] Further material is provided by the lives of related saints such as Patrick. All include numerous miraculous events and obvious inconsistencies and anachronisms.[11]

St Elvis today.


Ailbe's early life is contentious. Irish sources make him an Irishman and list him among the pre-Patrician saints of Ireland, in the company of Ciaran, Declan, and Ibar, although the Annals of Innisfallen, records that he died in 528.[12] Abandoned by his parents, he was discovered in the forest by Britons who carried him back with them when they returned to Wales. Welsh sources make him the son of Dirdan of Brittany and Danhadlwen, a descendant of Vortimer the Blessed, making him a cousin of saints David, Cybi, and Sadyrnin.[1]

A tradition held that he went to Rome and was ordained as a bishop by Saint Hilary who was then pope. Ailbe baptized Saint David,[13][14] the patron saint of Wales. In Welsh traditions, he then fostered the boy[1] while serving as bishop of Menevia (present-day St David's) and founder of St Elvis in Pembrokeshire,[11][15] before leaving to missionize southern Ireland.

In Ireland, Ailbhe founded the monastery and diocese of Emly (Irish: Imlech[16]), which became very important in Munster. He was said to have been responsible for King Aengus's donation of island lands for Saint Enda's monastery.[17]


In Irish legend, Ailbhe's father fled King Cronan before the child's birth and his mother's servants—ordered by the king to put the baby to death—instead placed him on a rock in the wilderness where he was found and nursed by a she-wolf.[18] Long afterwards, when Ailbe was bishop, an old she-wolf being pursued by a hunting party ran to the bishop and laid her head upon his breast. Ailbhe protected the wolf and thereafter fed her and her cubs every day from his hall.[5] Ailbhe's British foster-parents were said to have planned to leave him in Ireland when they returned home but were constantly and miraculously unable to make the passage until they consented to take him with them.[19] Upon being ordained in Rome, he was said to have fed the people of the city for three days before returning home.[19] At the end of his life, a supernatural ship came and he boarded to learn the secret of his death. Returning from the faerie world, he went back to Emly to die and be buried.[19]


St Ailbe's Cross in Emly.

In Emly, there is a Catholic church dedicated to St Ailbe which dates to the late 19th century. An ancient and weathered Celtic cross in its churchyard is known as "St Ailbe's Cross". The early 19th-century church of St Ailbe is now used as the village hall. A 9th-century monastic rule, written in Old Irish, bears his name.[12]

Although St Elvis in Wales is now in ruins,[20] there is still a shrine to the parish's namesake at Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found., which bears an inscription concerning his name and connection to St David.[21]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Saint Elvis" in Terry Breverton's Wales: A Historical Companion, pp. 164 f. Amberley Publishing (Stroud), 2009.
  2. Also formerly and in some locations 13 September and 27 February.[1]
  3. Challoner, Richard. A Memorial of Ancient British Piety: or, a British Martyrology, p. 127. W. Needham, 1761. Accessed 14 Mar 2013.
  4. Plummer, Charles (1968) [1910]. Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae [Lives of the Saints of Ireland] (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon. p. 46 ff., vol. 1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Thurston, Herbert (1907). "St. Ailbe". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York City: Robert Appleton Company (print); New Advent (web). Retrieved 25 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Smith, William; Wace, Henry (1880). A Dictionary of Christian Biography. London: John Murray. p. 82.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 "History", Emly Parish.
  8. Plummer, Charles (1968) [1910]. Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae. Lives of the Saints of Ireland. II (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon. pp. xxviii–xxxi, 46–64.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Heist, W. W., ed. (1965). Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae, ex codice olim Salmanticensi nunc Bruxellensi. (Lives of the Saints of Ireland, from the Salamanca manuscript now of Brussels). Subsidia Hagiographica 28. Brussels: Société des Bollandistes.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Sharpe, Richard (1991). Medieval Irish saints' lives: an introduction to Vitae sanctorum Hiberniae. Oxford: Clarendon.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Baring-Gould, Sabine & al. The Lives of the British Saints: The Saints of Wales and Cornwall and Such Irish Saints as Have Dedications in Britain, Vol. I, pp. 128 ff. Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (London), 1911.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Duffy, Patrick. "St. Ailbe of Emly",
  13. Toke, Leslie (1908). "Catholic Encyclopedia: St David". Archived from the original on 21 April 2009. Retrieved 26 May 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. BBC. "Saint David".
  15. "GENUKI: St Elvis".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. The diocese's full name in Gaelic is Imleach Iubhair, the "Border of the Lake of the Yew Trees", a reminder of the pre-Christian history of Emly.[7]
  17. Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly
  18. Ballingarry. "Slieveardagh Parish History".
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "Ailbhe".
  20. The Modern Antiquarian. "St Elvis".
  21. Kelsall, Dennis & Jan (2005). Walking in Pembrokeshire. Cicerone Press. p. 61.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Webb, Alfred (1878). "Wikisource link to Ailbe, Saint". A Compendium of Irish Biography. Dublin: M. H. Gill & son. Wikisource 
  • de Paor, Liam (trans.) (1993). Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age. Dublin: Four Courts Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gougaud, Louis (1932). Christianity in Celtic Lands.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>