Friday, August 19, 2022

St. Columba

One of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland who studied under Finnian, Columba is best known for his time spreading Christianity in Scotland (you can see him preaching to the Picts in the illustration), and for defeating the Loch Ness monster.

"Columba" was not his given name, about which there is some debate. For the first five years of his life he lived in the village of Glencolmcille. The Abbot of Iona, Adomnán, who wrote a biography of Columba, believed Colmcille was his given name, and the village was later named after him. Other sources state that his given name was Crimthann ("fox"). "Colmcille" is Irish for dove; when writing about him in Latin, "Columba" is chosen because it also means dove.

He studied at a few different places before winding up, in his twenties, at Clonard under Finnian, where he became a monk and was eventually ordained a priest. Returning to Ulster years later, Columba became known for his powerful speaking voice. He founded several monasteries. He also planned a pilgrimage to Rome, but only got as far as Tours, whence he brought back a copy of the Gospels that had supposedly rested on the bosom of St. Martin for a century.

Columba's interest in holy literature turned into a controversy. He made a copy of manuscript in the scriptorium of Movilla Abbey, a place he had studied before his time at Clonard. The head of the Abbey, Finnian of Movilla, disputed his right to keep the copy he had made. Anecdotally, this led to a battle, the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne.

Another controversy in which he became embroiled concerned the concept of sanctuary. Prince Curnan of Connacht was a relative of Columba. When Curnan accidentally killed a rival in a hurling match, he sought sanctuary in the presence of his ordained relative, Columba. King Diarmait of Cooldrevny's men forcibly dragged Curnan away from Columba and killed him. Columba decided he should leave Ireland.

Columba went to Scotland in 563 with twelve companions where he started preaching to the Picts. For his founding of one of the most important centers of Christianity in Western Europe, and his conflict at Loch Ness, come back tomorrow.

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