Nov 152015


Today is the feast of Saint Malo (also known as Maclou or Mac’h Low, in Latin, as Maclovius or Machutus, born c. 27 March 520 died 15 November 621), the mid-6th century founder of Saint-Malo in Brittany. He is one of the seven founder saints of Brittany. Details of Malo’s career are preserved in three medieval ‘Lives’ (Vitae) which seem to include incidents associated with several different people of similar names. Despite this confusion, it appears that Malo was born about the year 520, probably in Wales.

His name may derive from the Old Breton machlou, a compound of mach “warrant, hostage” and lou (or loh) “brilliant, bright, beautiful,” but this is only conjecture. In any event, literal/linguistic meanings of names are not very important.

Malo is said to have been baptized by Saint Brendan and to have become his favorite disciple. However, serious doubt has been cast on the authenticity of this section of his life. He is said to have been one of those specially selected by Brendan for his famous voyage.


It was traditionally from Llancarfan Abbey that Brendan and Malo, with numerous companions, set forth for the discovery of the “Island of the Blest”. He then put to sea on a second voyage and visited the Island of Cézembre, in the seaward front of St Malo, where he stayed for some time. Supposedly, Maclovius was a dead giant, whom Brendan revived with his holiness. Brendan then baptized him, before allowing him to return to the dead. It was supposedly on the occasion of his second voyage that he evangelized the Orkney Islands and the northern isles of Scotland. It is remarkable that Saint Brendan also labored at Cézembre where he is said to have had a hermit’s cell on a precipitous rock in the sea, whither he often retired. This may be the derivation of the association between the two men, although Sabine Baring-Gould (of werewolf fame) suggests that, in this case, Brendan is a mistake for Branwaladr.

At Aleth, opposite St Malo, Malo placed himself under a venerable hermit named Aaron, on whose death in 544, he succeeded to the spiritual rule of the district subsequently known as St Malo, and was consecrated first Bishop of Aleth.

In old age the disorder of the island compelled saint Malo to leave, but the people soon begged the saint to come back. On his return matters were put right, and the saint, feeling that his end was at hand, determined to spend his last days in solitary penance. Accordingly he proceeded to Archambiac, a village in the diocese of Saintes, where he passed the remainder of his life in prayer and mortification. His death, reported in Archingeay (in the same diocese) is chronicled on 15 November, a Sunday, in the year 621 (although this may have been a different saint named Marcoult).

Due to its famous founder, the city of Saint-Malo is one of the seven stages in the Tro Breizh (“Tour of Brittany”, in Breton), a pilgrimage celebrating the seven founding saints of Brittany. There are also three towns in North America named for St Malo — 2 in Canada and 1 in Louisiana.


Indirectly, the name, Islas Malvinas (Falkland Is), can be traced to Saint Malo, as it is derived from the French name, Îles Malouines, named by Louis Antoine de Bougainville in 1764 after the first known settlers who were mariners and fishermen from the port of Saint-Malo.


Pontoise Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Malo.


Lesmahagow Priory in South Lanarkshire was also dedicated to him, in the Latin form of his name Machutus before it was secularized in the 16th century. Nearby is my father’s last resting place.


Saint-Malo in Brittany is famous for its oysters that come from beds in nearby Cancale. They’re usually eaten on the half shell so I can’t really give a recipe du jour other than to grab a sack of oysters and an oyster knife and have at it. Fresh lemon and black pepper are the typical accompaniments. You’ll have to fork over a fair raft of Euros, but it’s worth it — once. More than with just about any other food, the exact provenance of the oysters, and not the recipe, is the key. My interest in oysters around the world almost rivals my fascination with tripe dishes. Yes, I have special tastes.