Faithful Heroes: St. Columba


Saint Columba was an Irish abbot and missionary credited with spreading Christianity throughout Scotland.

He was highly regarded by the ancient Gaels and Picts and is considered a Christian Saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. He is considered the Apostle of the Picts.

Columba was born in modern day County Donegal, Ireland. He was the son of Fedlimid and Eithne of the Cenel Conaill. He was the great-great-grandson of the 5th Century Irish high king, Niall of the Nine Hostages.

Saint Columba

Columba was baptized in the County Donegal parish of Conwal at Temple-Douglas by his teacher Saint Crunathan.
There is great debate among historians if his birth name was Columba, which means dove or something else. One other suggestion from historians is his name was Crimthann, meaning fox.

He entered the monastic school of Moville, at Newtownards. He was about twenty when he left there and entered the monastery of Clonard, which was noted for it’s sanctity and learning.

He became one of twelve students under St. Finnian. This group became known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Columba became a monk and was ordained a priest.

Columba is described as “a striking figure of great stature and powerful build, with a loud, melodious voice which could be heard from one hilltop to another.”

Saint Columba

In 544, a devastating pestilence led the Mobhi disciples to disperse. Columba returned to Ulster.

He then helped to found several important monasteries throughout Ireland. One of these was in the city of Derry, and today he is considered the patron saint of the city.

“Columba himself dearly loved books, and spared no pains to obtain or make copies of Psalters, Bibles, and other valuable manuscripts for his monks.”

In 560, he became involved in a quarrel over a psalter, having earlier obtained his own copy of the gospels. This led to the Battle of Cul Dreimhne, in which many were killed. {Some sources state 3000 were killed.} The synod of clerics threatened to excommunicate him, but on the suggestion of Brendan of Birr, he was sent into exile.

With a troubled heart and advice from a friend, he decided to go into exiles and “win for Christ as many souls as had perished in the terrible battle of Cúl Dreimhne.”

Saint Columba left Ireland for Scotland

He left Ireland and would only return one more time. He was forty-four years when he left Ireland.

In 563, Columba traveled to Scotland with twelve companions, which became known as the Odran of Iona.

According to legend, he first landed on the Kintyre Peninsula, but being able to still see his native Ireland, moved farther up north on the coast of Scotland.

He made his way to the island of Iona, and many believe that his kinsman, Conall mac Comgaill King of Dál Riata, had invited him to Scotland.

He became known as a diplomat among the tribes.

There are many accounts of miracles he performed and an encounter that many believe was the Loch Ness Monster in 565. He even played a major role in the politics of the time.

Saint Columba is said to have vanquished the Loch Ness monster

Columba is said to be very energetic in his work and helped to found several churches in the Hebrides. He also worked to turn his monastery at Iona into a school for missionaries.

“He was a renowned man of letters, having written several hymns and being credited with having transcribed 300 books.” Two of the more than 300 books he is said to have written, have survived to the modern day. These are “The Book of Durrow” and “The Cathach”, which is a psalter.

Adamnan says: “He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work. His voice was strong, sweet, and sonorous capable at times of being heard at a great distance. He inherited the ardent temperament and strong passions of his race. Whatever faults were inherent in his nature he overcame and he stands before the world conspicuous for humility and charity not only towards his brethren but towards strangers also. He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others.”

Saint Columba preaching

Near the end of his life, he returned to Ireland, to found the monastery at Durrow.

In 597, Columba died at his abbey in Iona at the age of seventy-seven. It is said that shortly around midnight on June 8th into 9th, he entered the church, surrounded by his disciples. He sank before the altar and “Breathed forth his soul to God.” He had spent the last thirty-two years of his life spreading the gospel among the Druids and pagan nation of Scotland.

For centuries, Iona was a famous center of Christian learning. His observances were

remains of St. Columba’s church

followed for many centuries.

St. Benedict wrote of him, “He had the face of an angel; he was of excellent nature, polished in speech, holy in deed, great in council. He never let a single hour pass without engaging in prayer or reading or writing or some other occupation. He endured the hardships of fasting and vigils without intermission by day and night; the burden of a single one of his labors would have seemed beyond the powers of man. And, in the midst of all his toils, he appeared loving unto all, serene and holy, rejoicing in the joy of the Holy Spirit in his inmost heart.”

In 849, his relics were removed and divided between Scotland and Ireland.

The Vita Columbae {meaning “Life of Columba”} is the main source about Saint Columba’s life.

Columba’s feast day in June 9th.

Columba is a faithful hero because he lived his life for Christ. He used a tragedy to allow him to win the souls of the lost in Scotland for God.


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