Bangor Abbey.—The name of two famous monastic establishments in Ireland and Wales.
(I) The Irish Abbey of Bangor was situated in the County Down, on the southern shore of Belfast: Lough. Sometimes the name was written “Beannchor”, from the Irish word beann, a horn. According to Keating, a king of Leinster once had cattle killed there, the horns being scattered round, hence the name. The place was also called the Vale of Angels, because, says Jocelin, St. Patrick once rested there and saw the valley filled with angels. The founder of the abbey was St. Comgall, born in Antrim in 517, and educated at Clooneenagh and Clonmacnoise. The spirit of monasticism was then strong in Ireland. Many sought solitude the better to serve God, and with this object Comgall retired to a lonely island. The persuasions of his friends drew him from his retreat; later on he founded the monastery of Bangor, in 559. Under his rule, which was rigid, prayer and fasting were incessant. But these austerities attracted rather than repelled; crowds came to share his penances and his vigils; they also came for learning, for Bangor soon became the greatest monastic school in Ulster. Within the extensive rampart which encircled its monastic buildings, the Scriptures were expounded, theology and logic taught, and geometry, and arithmetic, and music; the beauties of the pagan classics were appreciated, and two at least of its students wrote good Latin verse. Such was its rapid rise that its pupils soon went forth to found new monasteries, and when, in 601, St. Comgall died, 3,000 monks looked up for light and guidance to the Abbot of Bangor.
With the Danes came a disastrous change. Easily accessible from the sea, Bangor invited attack, and in 824 these pirates plundered it, killed 900 of its monks, treated with indignity the relics of St. Comgall, and then carried away his shrine. A succession of abbots continued, but they were abbots only in name. The lands passed into the hands of laymen, the buildings crumbled, and when St. Malachy, in the twelfth century, became Abbot of Bangor he had to build everything anew. The impress of his zeal might have had lasting results had he continued in this position. But he was promoted to the See of Down, and Bangor again decayed. By the Statute of Kilkenny the “mere Irish” were excluded from it, though it did not prosper thereby. In 1469, the Franciscans had possession of it, and a century later the Augustinians, after which, at the dissolution of the monasteries in that part of Ireland, it was given by James I to James Hamilton, created Viscount Clandeboye. An irregular succession of Catholic abbots was still kept up, the last being Abbot MacCormack, who lived in France, but, returning to Ireland during the Reign of Terror, found a refuge at Maynooth College and died there in the early years of the nineteenth century.
Among the Abbots of Bangor few acquired fame, but many of the students did. Findchua has his life written in the Book of Lismore; Luanus founded 100 monasteries and St. Carthage founded the great School of Lismore. From Bangor Columbanus and Gall crossed the sea, the former to found Luxeuil and Bobbio, the latter to evangelize Switzerland. In the ninth century a Bangor student, Dungal, defended orthodoxy against the Western iconoclasts. The present town of Bangor is a thriving little place, popular as a seaside resort. Local tradition has it that some ruined walls near the Protestant church mark the site of the ancient abbey; nothing else is left of the place hallowed by the prayers and penances of St. Malachy and St. Comgall.
(2) The Welsh Abbey of Bangor was situated in Flintshire, not far from Chester, and in the Middle Ages was often confounded with Bangor in Carnarvonshire, which was an episcopal see. The date of its foundation and its founder’s name are equally uncertain. With great confidence and evident conviction, Montalembert declares that its founder was St. Iltud, or Iltyde. But some allowance must be made for French partiality, for Iltud was an Armoric Gaul. His life and acts are narrated in the “Lives of the Cambro-British Saints”; they have been carefully edited by Mr. Rees; and though it is stated that he was an Armorican, and had been a soldier, and married, before he became a monk, it is not said that he was connected with Bangor. It is more probable that the abbey was founded by Dunawd, a Welshman, whence it was often called Bangor Dunawd. And if St. Deiniol was the son of Dunawd, as it is said, this would fix the foundation of the Flintshire abbey at about the beginning of the sixth century, for Bangor in Carnarvonshire was founded by St. Deiniol in 514. It would also dispose of the assertion that Pelagius, the heretic, was at one time its abbot, for he died long before. It is certain that Bangor was the greatest monastic establishment in Wales, having at one time 2,000 monks. The Angles and Saxons had then conquered Britain and had treated the Britons with great severity. A remnant of these latter found refuge in Wales, where they brooded over their wrongs, and, being Christians themselves, refused to preach the Gospel to their conquerors. When St. Augustine came to England, in the last years of the sixth century, he visited the Britons in Wales. Their moral condition was then bad; they clung to the old mode of celebrating Easter, and some errors of doctrine had also crept into their creed. He had a conference with delegates from Bangor, but they refused to cooperate with him in the work of converting the still unconverted English. In punishment, he predicted that, as they refused to preach the way of life to the English, they would at the hands of these same English suffer death. And this came to pass in 603 when Ethelfrid of Northumbria defeated the Britons near Chester. Hearing that the monks of Bangor were praying for his enemies, he turned aside from the battle and put 1,200 of them to death. Extensive ruins of this abbey still remained in the twelfth century, but in Ussher’s time, in the seventeenth century, these ruins had all but disappeared. On the site of the abbey now stands the small town of Bangor-on-the-Dee.