Monolith In Altered State



“After the coming of Adomnan now, a good woman is not deprived  of her testimony  on earth, if it is secured by righteous deeds. For a mother is a venerable treasure, a mother of saints  a mother is a good treasure, the mother of saints and bishops and bishops and just men, one deserving of the kingdom of heaven and a propagation on earth.”

This section from the 10th or early eleventh century narrative incorporated into a 7th century legal text comes directly after a description of an imagined pre-christian Ireland and its female warrior cast.

“her bag of provisions hung on one side of her, infant on the other side; her wooden pole was on her back, thirty feet , with an iron hook at one end which she would plunge into the hair of another woman of the battalion.”

These contrasting images of daughters of life and daughters of death, are also reflected in Adomnan’s act of life giving, in resurrecting the slain warrior woman in the field of slaughter. Here Adomnan, the head of Iona’s family is presented as a life giver. Iona’s monastic family of monasteries was the prime mover in introducing the cult of Mary across its sphere of influence, the Western Isles of Scotland (extending into the Pictish communities of Mainland Scotland)  and Ireland. Marian cult and its association with birth and life the source of the saints power to transform.


The retrospective nature of the narrative is captured in the altering naming convention of the text. Originaly the law was termed Lex Inoccentium (the law of the Innocents) a legal text seeking to protect non-combatants (women, youths and the clergy), this shifts to the Law of Adomnain with its increasing focus on one particular group of non-combatants.

Adomnan clearly provided the political muscle to enact the Law and is the chief driving force behind the enactment of such measures, the shift in emphasis  of naming convention reflects the movement of Adomnan from life into death, where he alters in status becoming a saint and also transforms physically becoming a relic.

Movement from an emphasis on the plaintive to an emphasis on the saint in the naming conventions of the text reflects an alteration in the institution and ritual practices of the church and the growth of the cult of relics. This movement in ritual practice occurring over the lifetime of the saint.

The physical presence of the saints relics, which move on a circuit throughout Iona’s sphere of influence, dictate the space and the time in which these laws are enacted. Laws referred to as Cain, are temporary enforcement’s the physical presence of the saints relics, reinforces the authority of the church in these created spaces and moments in which it’s order will be enforced.

By the time the narrative is written the law is no longer enacted, the authority of the saint  and his association with and transformation of the role and status of women the emphasized factors.


The Processes of Composition

“Well then Adomnan,” said Ronnat, “it has been given to you now to free the women of the western world. Neither food nor drink will go into you’re mouth until the women have been set free  by you.”

“No living creature can be without food,” said Adomnan. “If my eyes see it, my hands will reach out for it.”

Then Ronnat went to Burgach son of Deda and got a chain from him. She put it around her son’s breast under the bridge of Loch Swilly in Cenel Conaill, the place where the covenant had been made between his mothers kindred, i.e. between Cenel nEndai and (Cenel) Lugdach, so that whoever should fulfill it would dwell with Adomnan in heaven. And she takes a stone which is used for striking fire, it filled her hand. She puts it into one of her sons cheeks, so it was his satisfaction in food and drink.

After that at the end of eight months, his mother came to see him, and she saw the top of his head. “My little son there,” she said, “is like an apple on the wave. Little is his grasp on earth, and he has not a prayer in heaven, but salt has burned him and the gulls have shat on his head. And I see that women have still not been freed by him.”

“Its my lord who ought to carry the blame, dear mother,” he said. “For Christ’s sake, change my suffering!”

This is the change of suffering she made for him, and not many women would do this to their son: she buried him in the chest of stone in Raphoe of Tir Choniall, so that maggots ate the root of his tongue, and the slime of his head burst out through his ears. After that she took him to Carric in Chulinn, and he stayed there another eight months.


G. Markus (ed. & trans.) Law of the Innocents