Ailbe of Emly

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"Ailbhe" redirects here. For other uses, see Ailbhe (disambiguation).
Saint Ailbe
Born 5th Century
Died 528
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church
Feast 12 September
Patronage Munster,1 the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly, wolves

Saint Ailbe (Irish pronunciation: [ˈalʲvʲə]; also spelled Ailbhe, Elfeis, Ailfyw, Ailvyw, Elveis,2 Latinized as Albeus, sometimes anglicized as Elvis3) was a sixth-century Irish bishop.4


He is sometimes claimed as one of the pre-Patrician Saints, with Ciaran, Declan, and Ibar, but the annals note his death in 528 (i.e. after the death of Saint Patrick in 460). A tradition held that he went to Rome and was ordained bishop by the Pope. He founded the monastery and Diocese of Emly (in Irish: Imlech), which became very important in Munster. The full name of Emly in the Irish language is Imleach Iubhair which means "The Border of the Lake of the Yew Trees". The reference to the yew tree is a reminder of the pre-Christian history of Emly.5 A ninth-century Rule, written in Old Irish, bears his name.

Ailbe baptised St David,67 patron saint of Wales. There was a church dedicated to Saint Ailbe in the hamlet of Saint Elvis near Solva,8 Pembroke, Wales, UK,9 near St David's; it is long in ruins.10 There is still a shrine to St. Elvis11 which bears an inscription making the connection between the two variants of the name, and confirming that St. Elvis baptised St. David.12


Ailbe was the child of a clandestine union. The father, fearing King Cronan, fled before the child was born. The King ordered that the baby be killed but his servants left him near a rock where, it is said, a wolf nursed him.13 Long afterwards, when Ailbe was bishop, an old she-wolf, pursued by a hunting party, fled to the Bishop and laid her head upon his breast. Ailbe protected his old foster-mother, and every day thereafter she and her little ones came to take their food in his hall.4

Britons living in Ireland found and fostered him. When they wished to return to Britain, they refused to let Ailbe come with them. However, they were unable to make the crossing without him and he sailed with them the next day. He then crossed to Gaul, with difficulty, because he wished to go to Rome. He was educated and ordained in Rome by a Saint Hilary [male], then sent to the pope to be made a bishop. The hagiographer claims that he fed the populace of Rome for three days after his consecration and then went home to Ireland. There he became involved with local royal politics and founded the See of Emly. At the end of his life, a supernatural ship came and he boarded to learn the secret of his death. After returning from the other world, he went back to Emly (Imlech) to die and be buried.14

One account tells how Ailbe petitioned King Aengus of Munster on behalf of St Enda, asking him for a site for monastery. Aengus was unaware of the islands in his domain until he dreamt of them and acceded to grant them to Enda.15

Manuscripts and dating

The vita, or "life," of Ailbe is included in the Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae (VSH), a collection of medieval Irish saints’ lives in Latin compiled in the fourteenth century. There are three major manuscript versions of the Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae (VSH): Dublin, Oxford, and Salamanca (Codex Salmanticensis), all compiled in the 14th century. Charles Plummer compiled an edition of the VSH based on the two surviving Dublin manuscripts in 1910. William Heist compiled an edition of the single Salamanca manuscript (Codex Salamanticensis) in 1965. Oxford professor Richard Sharpe suggests that the Salamanca manuscript is the closest to the original text from which all three versions derive. Sharpe analyzes the Irish-name forms in the Codex Salamanticensis and, based on the similarities between it and the Life of Saint Brigid (a verifiably seventh-century text), posits that nine, possibly ten, of the lives in the Salamanca Codex were written much earlier, circa 750 - 850.16


St. Ailbe is venerated as one of the four great patron of Ireland.17 His feast day is 12 September.


St. Ailbe is patron saint of the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly5


  1. ^ Challoner, Richard. A Memorial of Ancient British Piety: or, a British Martyrology, p. 127. W. Needham, 1761. Accessed 14 Mar 2013.
  2. ^ Smith, William; Wace, Henry (1880). A Dictionary of Christian Biography. London: John Murray. p. 82. 
  3. ^ Plummer, Charles (1910; 2nd ed. 1968). Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae [Lives of the Saints of Ireland].. Oxford: Clarendon. p. 46 ff., vol. 1. 
  4. ^ a b Thurston, Herbert (1907). "St. Ailbe". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York City: Robert Appleton Company (print); New Advent (web). Retrieved 25 August 2008. 
  5. ^ a b "History", Emly Parish
  6. ^ Toke, Leslie (1908). "Catholic Encyclopedia: St David". Archived from the original on 21 April 2009. Retrieved 26 May 2009. 
  7. ^ BBC article about Saint David
  8. ^ Baring-Gould, Sabine; Fisher, John (1911). The Lives of the British Saints; The Saints of Wales, Cornwall and Irish Saints, v. 2. London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion. p. 147. 
  9. ^ "GENUKI: St Elvis". 
  10. ^ The Modern Antiquarian
  11. ^ 51°52′12.68″N 5°10′43.2″W / 51.8701889°N 5.178667°W / 51.8701889; -5.178667
  12. ^ Kelsall, Dennis and Jan (2005). Walking in Pembrokeshire. Cicerone Press. p. 61. 
  13. ^ "Slieveardagh Parish History", Ballingarry
  14. ^ article with references
  15. ^ Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly
  16. ^ Sharpe, Richard (1991). Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives: An Introduction to the Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae. Oxford: Clarendon. 
  17. ^ "Patron Saint", St. Ailbe Catholic Church, Chicago, Illinois