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Saint Columba

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This profile of Saint Columba is part of
Who's Who in Medieval History

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Saint Columba was also known as:

Saint Colum; Saint Columcille. It is important to distinguish Columba from Saint Columban, another Irish saint who did missionary work in Europe.

Saint Columba was known for:

Evangelizing Scotland. He is also, along with Saint Patrick and Saint Bridgid, one of the patron saints of Ireland.

Occupations:

Places of Residence and Influence:

Important Dates:

Born: c. 521
Ordained a priest: 531
Arrives on Iona: May 12, 563
Died: June 8 (or 9), 597

About Saint Columba:

Saint Columba was born in Tyrconnell (present-day County Donegal, Ireland) in about 521 C.E. His father, Fedhlimdh, was descended from the fourth-century Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages. Columba was baptized at Tulach-Dubhglaise (present-day Temple-Douglas) by the man who would become his foster father, a priest named Cruithnechan. Once Cruithnechan had sufficiently tutored Columba in his letters, the boy entered a monastic school at Moville, where he studied under St. Finnian. Here Columba is credited with performing miracles.

When his training at Moville was finished, Columba went to Leinster. There he became a pupil of Gemman, an aged bard, before entering the monastery at Clonard. The monastery was governed by a different Finnian, who had studied in the schools of St. David and who took Columba on as a student. Here Columba became one of a group of "disciples" who would later be known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. It was around about this time, in 551, that Columba was ordained a priest.

Eventually Columba moved on to Ulster, the land of his family, where he proceed to found churches and monasteries in the area, including some at Derry, Durrow, and Kells (the site at which a famous book would later reside). He then planned a pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem, but he was only able to travel as far as Tours.

In 563 Columba decided to go to Scotland to evangelize the pagans there. He and his twelve "disciples" went to sea in a boat constructed from wicker and covered with hides. They landed on May 12 on the isle of Iona. The missionaries received the island as a gift, either from King Conall of Dalriada or the Picts, depending on which source you consult. On Iona, Columba and his companions immediately set about building a humble monastery that included a church, refectory, and cells. This complex would serve as a springboard for their forays into Scotland, and over the years would become a highly-regarded institution to which even the bishops would answer.

For several years Columba worked in Dalriada, converting the Scots to Christianity. He then moved on to the north in an attempt to evangelize the Picts. He evidently encountered resistance when he went to Inverness, but legend has it that the gates of the royal residence, which had been bolted shut, flew open when Columba made the sign of the cross. Thereafter, Columba had no trouble in persuading the king to be baptized, and many Picts followed suit.

In 575, Columba went to Ireland with Aidan, King of Dalriada, and participated in a council that settled the relationship of the rulers of Dalriada and Ireland.

The rest of Columba's life was spent on Iona and in Scotland, doing missionary work. He was already regarded as a saint during his lifetime. Columba died on the night of June 8/9, 597, in his humble monastery.

More Saint Columba Resources:


Saint Columba on the Web

St. Columba
Admiring bio by Columba Edmonds at the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Hagiography
Monasticism
Medieval Ireland
Medieval Scotland



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