« Collyridians Columba (1) Columcille Columbanus, abbat of Luxeuil and Bobbio »

Columba (1) Columcille

Columba (1) Columcille, June 9. The life, character, and work of this saint have been exhaustively treated by an Irish and a French author, Reeves and Montalembert. St. Columba was the son of Fedhlimidh, son of Fergus Cennfada, and thus descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, monarch of Ireland, his great-great-grandfather. Born at Gartan, a wild district in co. Donegal, on Dec. 7, most probably in 521, he was baptized at Tulach-Dubhglaise (now Temple-Douglas, about halfway between Gartan and Letterkenny), under the name, first, of Crimthann (wolf), and then of Colum (dove), to which was afterwards added the suffix cille, as some say, from his close attendance at the church of his youthful sojourn, and as others, from the many communities founded and governed by him. His chief instructor was bp. Finnian of Moville (by whom he was ordained deacon). While at Clonard with St. Finnian he was ordained to the priesthood by bp. Etchen of Clonfad, to whom he was sent by St. Finnian for that purpose. Why he was never raised to the episcopate is a matter of speculation: in the Scholia on the Felire of St. Aengus the Culdee there is a legend relating how the order of the priesthood was conferred by mistake in place of that of the episcopate (Todd, St. Patrick, 70–71; Book of Obits of C. C. Dublin, Dubl. 1844, p. liv.; Colgan, Acta SS. 306 n 17). Bp. Lloyd supposes a political reason, and Lanigan thinks he applied only for the office of chorepiscopus. But Dr. Reeves is of opinion that he really shrank from the responsibilities and many obligations of the highest ecclesiastical rank. In and about a.d. 544 we have probably to place the many ecclesiastical and monastic foundations attributed to him in Ireland, his chief favourites being Durrow and Derry. The reasons usually given for his afterwards leaving Ireland are various. But whatever they may have been, he is said to have used his influence to excite a quarrel between the families of the north and south Hy Neill, and the consequence was the battle fought in the barony of Carberry, between Drumcliff and Sligo, on the borders of Ulster and Connaught, a.d. 561, and gained by the Neills of the North, the party of St. Columba. In consequence of St. Columba's participation in this quarrel, a synod was assembled at Teltown in Meath to excommunicate him for his share in shedding Christian blood, and if the sentence of excommunication was not actually pronounced, it was owing to the exertions of St. Brendan of Birr and bp. Finnian of Moville on his behalf. Whether by the charge of the synod of Teltown, that he must win as many souls to Christ by his preaching as lives were lost at Cul-Dreimhne, or through his own feeling of remorse, or his great desire for the conversion of the heathen he left Ireland in 563, being 42 years old, and, traversing the sea in a currach of wickerwork covered with hides, landed with his 12 companions on the small island of I, Hy, I-colmkille, Iova, or Iona, situated about 2 miles off the S.W. extremity of Mull in Argyllshire. There, on the border land between the Picts and Scots, and favoured by both, St. Columba founded his monastery, the centre from which he and his followers evangelized the Picts and taught more carefully the Scots, who were already Christians at least in name. Hy was henceforth his chief abode, but he frequently left it for Scotland, where he founded many churches, penetrating N. even to Inverness, and probably farther, and E. into Buchan, Aberdeenshire, sending his disciples where he himself had not leisure to go. His connexion with Ireland was not broken; and in 575 he attended the synod of Drumceatt, with his cousin king Aidan of Dalriada, whom he had crowned in Iona in 574. From Iona as a centre he established Christianity on a firm basis to the N. of the Tay and Clyde. Unfortunately, valuable as St. Adamnan's Life of St. Columba is, it is written rather to extol its subject than to present a picture of the time, and so gives little chronological sequence to the events of the thirty years and upwards of his sojourn in Iona. We gather, however, that in his monastery he was indefatigable in prayer, teaching, study, and transcription of the Scriptures; people came to him from all quarters, some for bodily aid, but most for spiritual needs; and soon smaller societies had to be formed, as at Hinba (one of the Garveloch Islands), Tyree, etc., for the requirements of the monastery. He visited king Bruide at Craig-Phadrick, beside Inverness, and established the monastery of Deer in the N.E. corner of Aberdeenshire, where he left St. Drostan, so that his churches are traced all over the N. of Scotland (Book of Deer, pref.). He also frequently visited Ireland on matters connected with his monasteries, the superintendence of which he retained to the last. He manifested the greatest favour for the bards and national poetry of his country, being himself accounted one of the poets of Ireland, and 200poems attributed to him are preserved and quoted by Dr. Reeves and Montalembert (see also Misc. Arch. Soc. 1 seq.). In a.d. 593 he seems to have been visited by sickness, and the angels sent for his soul were stayed but for a time. As the time approached, and the infirmities of age were weighing upon him, he made all preparations for his departure, blessing his monastery, visiting the old scenes, and taking his farewell of even the brute beasts about the monastery. On a Sat. afternoon he was transcribing the 34th Psalm (Ps. xxxiii. E.V.), and coming to the verse, "They who seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good," he said, "Here I must stop—at the end of this page; what follows let Baithen write." He then left his cell to attend vespers, and, returning at their close, lay down on his couch of stone, and gave his last injunctions to Baithen, till the bell at midnight called them to the nocturnal office. St. Columba was the first to enter the oratory, and when the brethren followed with lights they found the saint prostrate before the altar, and he soon passed away, with a sweet smile upon his face, as though he had merely fallen into a gentle sleep. This, according to Dr. Reeves's computation, was early in the morning of Sun. June 9, 597. Ireland justly mourned for one of the best of her sons; Scotland for one of her greatest benefactors. The Life of St. Columba, written by Adamnan, ninth Abbat of that Monastery, by W. Reeves, D.D. (Dubl. 1857); a more modern ed. giving Lat. text ed. with intro., notes, glossary, and trans. by Dr. J. T. Fowler (Oxf. Univ. Press); Les Moines d’Occident, par le Comte de Montalembert, vol. iii. (Paris, 1868). See also The Life of St. Columba, ed. by John Smith, D.D. (Edinb. 1798). In his preface Dr. Reeves gives a full bibliographical account of the Irish and Latin Acts and Life of St. Columba, with a notice of the MSS., codices, authors, and edd. Cf. Lanigan, Eccl. Hist. Ir. ii. 107.


Columba occupies in missionary history the entire generation preceding the arrival of Augustine (a.d. 597). The Celtic apostle of Caledonia died the very year in which the Roman mission set foot in the south of Britain. The first abbat of Iona laboured much longer, in a far wider sphere, and personally with more success, as well as prodigiously more romance, than the first archbp. of Canterbury. [Adamnan.]


« Collyridians Columba (1) Columcille Columbanus, abbat of Luxeuil and Bobbio »
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