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Movilla Abbey.

(Plain of the sacred tree.)

Other Ecclesiastical Sites
In County Down

  Situated on the Millisle road B172 just over a mile (1.6 km) southeast of Newtownards. Movilla or Mag-Bile is one of Ulster's most important abbeys, founded in 540 by St Finnian, on the site of an earlier Druidic Collage, Finnian's name means 'White headed' this may stem from his fairness in youth or the colour of his hair in old age. He was a local to eastern Ulster, a royal member of the Dal Fiatach tribe, his grandfather was Ailill a brother of Dichu, who had given Patrick his barn at Saul to use as a church.

He received his early education at Nendrum on the western shores of Strangford Lough then called Lough Cuan, Nendrum was founded by Mochai a grandson of Dichu, he then moved to Candida Casa, now Whithorn in Galloway, this monastery had been founded by Ninnian in 398. After returning to Ireland he founded Movilla which was to become one of Ulster's most important monasteries. Finnian is credited with bringing the first copies of the scriptures to Ireland. St Colmcille received part of his education at Movilla before moving to Clonard in County Meath. Movilla was plundered by the Vikings in 825.

It is interesting to note the close family connections between the founders of the early monasteries, these people were invariably drawn from the family of the ruling clan, who used the church to consolidate their position at the head of society, and further enhance their social standing, as well as giving them unrestricted access to the facilities the monasteries had to offer, not forgetting that they would be seen to be directly connected to the new god.

It was re-founded in the twelfth century by the Normans as an abbey of Augustinian Canons, and survived until the suppression of the monasteries in the 1540's. The ruins visible today date to the second founding, with fifteenth century additions, only one slab remains of St Finnian's church, this bears an inscription asking for a prayer for Dertrend.

In the side wall is set several medieval grave covers or coffin lids, these 13th century coffin lid are to be found in the coastal areas of county's Down and Carlow, occupied by the Anglo Normans, and are particularly prevalent around Newtownards, which may have been the centre of their production the local Scrabo sandstone being ideal for the purpose. They are trapezoidal in shape and carved with foliate crosses some with a swords or shears, the sword indicating the grave of a man and the shears that of a woman.

The abbey along with other in the area were burnt in 1569 by Brian O'Neill to prevent them falling into the hands of the English, under Sir Thomas Smith, who was attempting to take control of east County Down after it had been granted to him by Elizabeth I of England.

Millisle Road
Co Down
Tel +353
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Nothing remains of the claustral buildings.