I think it’s quite likely that those of us who haven’t lived on Sark all our lives had probably never heard of St Magloire until we came here. And for all of us, I suspect that our knowledge is quite scanty, so I thought St Magloire’s day would be a good opportunity for us to try to get to know a little more about our Island Saint.
Right from the beginning, there is doubt about his place of birth, some accounts giving it as Vannes in Brittany, and others stating he was a Welshman of South Glamorgan.
However we do know that he was born in the early 500s, that his mother was a Welsh Princess, his father a Breton nobleman, and that from the age of 5 he studied at the monastery at Llantwit Major under the tutelage of St Illtud.
Some sources say that he was the cousin of St Sampson and others that he was the nephew of King Arthur.
After his ordination he was made Abbot of a monastery at Lammeur in Brittany and we’re told he governed there with prudence and holiness for 52 years.
At that time his cousin, St Sampson was Bishop of Dol, and when Sampson died, Magloire was elected to replace hm. Despite his hesitation based on his sentiments of unworthiness and incapacity, he accepted, although he was already nearing his seventies.
He remained there for only 2 or 3 years, and then after receiving instructions from a visiting angel, he resigned his post and in 565 withdrew to Sark where he established a community of 62 monks.
Sark became an important centre of Christian learning as pupils were sent from Northern France to be educated on the Island, and it is believed that as many as 600 pupils passed through the monastery during those years.
It’s interesting to note that 2 of them were St Guénault who became the patron saint of Alderney and Tugual who settled on Herm.
Several miracles are attributed to St Magloire and as a result of these, he acquired much land. He had been given the entire Island of Jersey by the Seigneur Count Lois Escon who had been gravely ill and was miraculously cured by Magloire. Then Nivo, the owner of Guernsey asked for his help in curing his daughter who was deaf and dumb, and for this Magloire was granted a third of Guernsey. He was also given half the Island of Sark by Loyesco of Brittany in return for curing his leprosy.
One of the most well known stories about him concerns his rescue of a group of children who were playing on the beach below the monks water mill in an abandoned wreck, when a sudden violent storm swept them out to sea. Hearing their cries for help, Magloire is said to have transported himself out to sea and saved them and their small boat, steering it to the safety of a Breton cove before vanishing.
The children were taken by local fishermen to King Judal, who, believing their story, ordered the boat to be filled with corn, flour, wool and other gifts before putting to sea again. The boat carrying the children found its way back to Sark in 3 days.
Magloire was also reputed to be an adept slayer of dragons, and it is said that he saved Jersey from a “monstrous reptile” by his actions. The community became so self-sufficient in food that when famine hit Northern France in 586 supplies were sent from the estates in Jersey and Guernsey to feed the starving in Brittany, and many refugees including members of the Breton nobility were accepted onto Sark.
We don’t know exactly when St Magloire died, dates varying from 575 – 617. However we do know that he spent his final months in his cell reciting Psalm 27 and it’s said that a visiting angel gave him the last rites, October 24th being designated as his feast day.
St Magloire felt called to come to Sark and set up a community. The main buildings are believed to have been in the area where the Moinerie Hotel now stands. They built a sluice at what is now L’Ecluse and had fish ponds and a water mill, the bay below still known as Port du Moulin.
The community needed to be self-sufficient, as well as coping with visitors, and at this they were so successful they were able to send supplies to the starving continent as well as caring for refugees.
To do this Magloire needed to understand Sark and to appreciate all the things it could supply, fish from the sea and the ponds, cereals for flour and bread, vegetables, and good clean air.
The Island provided solitude, and an inspiring place to study and became an active centre of the Christian faith.
To put St Magloire’s time on Sark briefly into context, St Patrick had died in Ireland 100 years before in 465 and throughout the 500s St David had spent his life as a missionary in Wales founding many monasteries, and dying as a very old man in 601.
Columba had left Ireland in 562 to found the famous monastery on Iona just 3 years before Magloire came to Sark. Columba died in 597, the same year that Pope Gregory sent Augustine to convert the English, and it was almost another 100 years before Aidan went from Iona to Lindisfarne.
So it’s true to say that St Magloire and his monastery on Sark was right at the centre of all missionary activities that were being carried out by the Celtic Saints during those years, and whilst we may not be able to claim quite the status of islands such as Iona or Lindisfarne, there are many who do see Sark as a Holy Island, and we can be very proud of our pioneering early resident, St Magloire, and of Sark’s place in the Christian world.
Given from the pulpit to the assembled congregation by Reader Terry Archer on Sunday 24 October 2010, feast day of St Magloire.