Tuesday, June 25, 2013

St. Columba

St. Columba going to Iona, at Long Tower Church in Derry

St. Columba is known in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, so in my travels, he kept popping up. In Gaelic, he is called Colm Cille (“church dove”). He was born in 521 into a well-off family, the descendant of an Irish king. Ireland was becoming increasingly Christian. Columba studied Latin and theology under St. Finian. He became a monk and later was ordained a priest. He founded a number of monasteries, including in Derry and Kells.

Around 560, Columba and Finnian of Movilla got into a fight over a book of psalms. Columba had copied it and wanted to keep it, while Finnian claimed it belonged to the scriptorium. Their disagreement led to an actual battle in 561. A number of men were killed in the Battle of Cul Dreimhne. Some blamed the deaths on Columba and called for his excommunication; he was allowed to go into exile instead. Columba went to Scotland as a missionary.

In 563, Columba and 12 others went to Scotland to convert the Picts. He was granted land on the island Iona where he founded a monastery. Iona served as a literary center for the region, and Columba served as a diplomat for the various Pictish kings. Iona served as a school for missionaries, and the men there transcribed more than 300 books. The “Book of Kells” was started here before moving to Ireland.

There are lots of little stories about miracles surrounding Columba, but my favorite entails the Loch Ness Monster. In 565, the monster had killed a Pict and tried to attack one of Columba’s followers, so Columba banished the monster to the depths of the River Ness.
St. Columba died on Iona in 597. He is the patron of the city of Derry. His feast day is June 9.

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