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Saint Columba - June 9th

St. Columcille (Columba, Colum, Columbus, Combs, Columkill, Colmcille) of Iona: Feast day June 9 Alone with none but Thee, my God, I journey on my way; What need I fear when Thou art near, Oh King of night and day? More safe am I within Thy hand, Than if a host did round me stand --Attributed to Saint Columba Born in Gartan, County Donegal, Ireland, c. 521; died June 9, 597.

In art, Saint Columba is depicted with a basket of bread and an orb of the world in a ray of light. He might also be pictured with an old, white horse (Roeder). He is venerated in Dunkeld and as the Apostle of Scotland (Roeder). Legend tells us that his original name was Crimthann ("fox") and that when he was trained as a priest he changed it to Columb, ("dove"), later known to all as Colum Cille: "dove of the church." It has become something of a tradition in modern times to view the saint through the twin lenses of these names: the astute fox on the make, and the peacemaking and peaceable dove. Ireland has many saints and three great ones: Patrick, Brigid, and Columba. Columba outshines the others for his pure Irishness. He loved Ireland with all his might and hated to leave it for Scotland. But he did leave it and laid the groundwork for the conversion of Britain. He had a quick temper but was very kind, especially to animals and children. He was a poet and an artist who did illumination, perhaps some of those in the Book of Kells itself. His skill as a scribe can be seen in the Cathach of Columba at the Irish Academy, which is the oldest surviving example of Irish majuscule writing. It was latter enshrined in silver and bronze and venerated in churches.


You can purchase The Life of St Columba at our online bookstore here - THE LIFE OF ST. COLUMBA | Irish Nuntii


About the time that Patrick was taken to Ireland as a slave, Columba was born. He came from a race of kings who had ruled in Ireland for six centuries, directly descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, and was himself in close succession to the throne. From an early age he was destined for the priesthood; he was given in fosterage to a priest. After studying at Moville under Saint Finnian and then at Clonard with another Saint Finnian, he surrendered his princely claims, and became a monk at Glasnevin under Mobhi and was ordained. He spent the next 15 years preaching and teaching in Ireland. As was the custom in those days, he combined study and prayer with manual labour. By his own natural gifts as well as by the good fortune of his birth, he soon gained ascendancy as a monk of unusual distinction. By the time he was 25, he had founded no less than 27 Irish monasteries, including those at Derry (546), Durrow (c. 556), and probably Kells, as well as some 40 churches. Columba was a poet, who had learned Irish history and poetry from a bard named Gemman. He is believed to have penned the Latin poem Altus Prosator and two other extant poems. He also loved fine books and manuscripts. One of the famous books associated with Columbia is the Psaltair, which was traditionally the Battle Book of the O'Donnells, his kinsmen, who carried it into battle.

The Psaltair is the basis for one of the most famous legends of Saint Columba. It is said that on one occasion, so anxious was Columba to have a copy of the Psalter that he shut himself up for a whole night in the church that contained it, transcribing it laboriously by hand. He was discovered by a monk who watched him through the keyhole and reported it to his superior, Finnian of Moville. The Scriptures were so scarce in those days that the abbot claimed the copy, refusing to allow it to leave the monastery. Columba refused to surrender it, until he was obliged to do so, under protest, on the abbot's appeal to the High King Diarmaid, who said: Le gach buin a laogh or To every cow her own calf, meaning to every book its copy. An unfortunate period followed, during which, owing to Columba's protection of a refugee and his impassioned denunciation of an injustice by King Diarmaid, war broke out between the clans of Ireland, and Columba became an exile of his own accord. Filled with remorse on account of those who had been slain in the battle of Cooldrevne, and condemned by many of his own friends, he experienced a profound conversion and an irresistible call to preach to the heathen. Although there are questions regarding Columba's real motivation, in 563, at the age of 42, he crossed the Irish Sea with 12 companions in a coracle and landed on a desert island now known as Iona (Holy Island) on Whitsun Eve. Here on this desolate rock, only three miles long and two miles wide, in the grey northern sea off the southwest corner of Mull, he began his work; and, like Lindisfarne, Iona became a centre of Christian enterprise. It was the heart of Celtic Christianity and the most potent factor in the conversion of the Picts, Scots, and Northern English. Columba built a monastery consisting of huts with roofs of branches set upon wooden props. It was a rough and primitive settlement. For over 30 years he slept on the hard ground with no pillow but a stone. But the work spread and soon the island was too small to contain it. From Iona numerous other settlements were founded, and Columba himself penetrated the wildest glens of Scotland and the farthest Hebrides, and established the Caledonian Church. It is reputed that he anointed King Aidan of Argyll upon the famous stone of Scone, which is now in Westminster Abbey. The Pictish King Brude and his people were also converted by Columba's many miracles, including driving away a water "monster" from the River Ness with the Sign of the Cross. Columba is said to have built two churches at Inverness. Just one year before Columba's migration to Iona, Saint Moluag established his mission at Lismore on the west coast of Scotland. There are constant references to a rivalry between the two saints over spheres of influence, which are probably without foundation. Columba was primarily interested in Gaelic life in Scotland, while Moluag was drawn to the conversion of the Picts. While leading the Irish in Scotland, Columba appears to have retained some sort of overlordship over his monasteries in Ireland. About 580, he participated in the assembly of Druim-Cetta in Ulster, where he mediated about the obligations of the Irish in Scotland to those in Ireland. It was decided that they should furnish a fleet, but not an army, for the Irish high-king. During the same assembly, Columba, who was a bard himself, intervened to effectively swing the nation away from its declared intention of suppressing the Bardic Order. Columba persuaded them that the whole future of Gaelic culture demanded that the scholarship of the bards be preserved. His prestige was such that his views prevailed and assured the presence of educated laity in Irish Christian society. He is personally described as a man well-formed, with powerful frame; his skin was white, his face broad and fair and radiant, lit up with large, gray, luminous eyes. . . . (Curtayne). Saint Adamnan, his biographer wrote of him: He had the face of an angel; he was of an excellent nature, polished in speech, holy in deed, great in counsel . . loving unto all. It is clear that Columba's temperament changed dramatically during his life. In his early years he was intemperate and probably inclined to violence. He was extremely stern and harsh with his monks, but towards the end he seems to have softened. Columba had great qualities and was gay and loveable, but his chief virtue lay in the conquest of his own passionate nature and in the love and sympathy that flowed from his eager and radiant spirit. On June 8, 597, Columba was copying out the psalms once again. At the verse, They that love the Lord shall lack no good thing, he stopped, and said that his cousin, Saint Baithin must do the rest. Columba died the next day at the foot of the altar. He was first buried at Iona, but 200 years later the Danes destroyed the monastery. His relics were translated to Dunkeld in 849, where they were visited by pilgrims, including Anglo-Saxons of the 11th century.

The Prophecies of Columcille: Saint Columba left a series of predictions about the future of Ireland. These were published in 1969 by Peter Blander under the title, The Prophecies of Saint Malachy and Saint Columbkille (4th ed. 1979, Colin Smythe, Gerrards Cross Buckshire). It was extracted from the book, "The Prophets and Our Times," by Fr. Gerald Culleton, 1941, pages 128-130, Imprimatur. 70a. "Hearken, thou, Until I relate things that shall come to pass in the latter ages of the world. Great carnage shall be made, justice shall be outraged, multitudinous evils, great suffering shall prevail, and many unjust laws will be administered. The time will come when they shall not perform charitable acts, and truth shall not remain in them. They will plunder the property of the church, they will be continually sneering at each other, they will employ themselves at reading and writing. They will scoff at acts of humanity, and at irreproachable humility; there shall comes times of dark affliction, of scarcity, of sorrow, and of wailing; in the latter ages of the world's existence, and monarchs will be addicted to falsehood. Neither justice nor covenant will be observed by any one people of the race of Adam; they will become hard-hearted and penurious, and will be devoid of piety. The clergy will become fosterers, in consequence of the tidings of wretchedness, (that will reach them); churches shall be held in bondage, (i.e., become private property), by the all-powerful men (Freemasons) of the day. Judges will administer injustice, under the sanction of powerful, outrageous kings; the common people will adopt false principles, oh, how lamentable shall be their position! Doctors of science shall have cause to murmur, they will become niggardly in spirit; the aged will mourn in deep sorrow, on account of the woeful times that shall prevail. Cemeteries shall become all red (dug up), in consequence of the wrath that will follow sinners; wars and contentions shall rage in the bosom of every family. Excellent men shall be steeped in poverty, the people will become inhospitable to their guests, the voice of the parasite will be more agreeable to them than the melody of the harp touched by the sage's finger. In consequence of the general prevalence of sinful practices, humility shall produce no fruit. The professors of science shall not be rewarded, amiability shall not characterize the people; prosperity and hospitality shall not exist, but niggardliness and destitution will assume their place. The changes of seasons shall produce only half their verdure, the regular festivals of the Church will not be observed; all classes of men shall be filled with hatred and enmity towards each other. The people will not associate affectionately with each other during the great festivals of the seasons; they will live devoid of justice and rectitude, up from the youth of tender age to the aged. The clergy shall be led into error by misinterpretation of their reading; the relics of the saints will be considered powerless, every race of mankind will become wicked! Young women will become unblushing, and aged people will be of irascible temper; the kine will seldom be productive, as of old; lords will become murderers. Young people will decline in vigour, they will despise those who shall have hoary hair; there shall be no standard by which morals may be regulated, and marriages will be solemnized without witnesses. Troublous shall be the latter ages of the world, the dispositions of the generality of men I will point out, from the time they shall abandon hospitable habits - with the view of winning honour for themselves, they will hold each other as objects for ridicule. The professors of abundance shall fall through the multiplicity of their falsehoods; covetousness shall take possession of every glutton, and when satiated their arrogance will know no bounds. Between mother and daughter anger and bitter sarcasms shall continually exist; neighbors will become treacherous, cold, and false-hearted towards each other. The gentry will become grudgeful, with respect to their trifling donations; and blood relations will become cool towards each other; Church livings shall become lay property. Such is the description of the people who shall come in the ages to come; more unjust and iniquitous shall be every succeeding race of men. The trees shall not bear the usual quantity of fruit, fisheries shall become unproductive and the earth shall not yield its usual abundance. Inclement weather and famine shall come and fishes shall forsake rivers. The people oppressed for want of food, shall pine to death. Dreadful storms and hurricanes shall afflict them. Numberless diseases shall then prevail. Fortifications shall be built narrow during those times of dreadful danger." 70b. "Then a great event shall happen (3 Days of Darkness Chastisement). I fail not to notice it: rectitude shall be its spacious motive, and if ye be not truly holy, a more sorrowful event could not possibly happen." “Seven years before the last day, the sea shall submerge Eire (Ireland) by one inundation.”

Legends of Columcille

In the first story Columba bids his brother monk to go in three days to a far hilltop and wait, 'For when the third hour before sunset is past, there shall come flying from the northern coasts of Ireland a stranger guest, a crane, wind tossed and driven far from her course in the high air; tired out and weary she will fall upon the beach at thy feet and lie there, her strength nigh gone. Tenderly lift her and carry her to the steading near by; make her welcome there and cherish her with all care for three days and nights; and when the three days are ended, refreshed and loath to tarry longer with us in our exile, she shall take flight again towards that old sweet land of Ireland whence she came, in pride of strength once more. And if I commend her so earnestly to thy charge, it is that in the countryside where thou and I were reared, she too was nested.' The brother obeyed and all happened as Columba had foretold. And on his return that evening to the monastery the Saint spoke to him, not as one questioning but as one speaks of a thing past. 'May God bless thee, my son,' said he, 'for thy kind tending of this pilgrim guest; that shall make no long stay in her exile, but when three suns have set shall turn back to her own land.' And so it happened (Adamnan; also in Curtayne). The second story recalls how Columba's heart would be touched when he saw a sad child. From time to time he would leave Iona to preach to the Picts of Scotland. "Once he visited a Pictish ruler who was also a druid, or pagan priest. When he was there he noticed a thin little girl with a face like a ghost. He asked who she was and was told that she was just a slave from Ireland. "Columcille was troubled; he could see plainly that the little girl was miserable. So he asked the druid to give her freedom and he would get her home to Ireland. The druid refused. Columcille went away with a picture of an unhappy little girl in his mind. "Shortly afterward, the important druid became ill; there was nobody near to tell him what to do to get well so he sent for the Abbot of Iona, who had a great reputation for curing people. Columcille did not leave Iona but sent a message back that he would cure the druid if he let the little girl free. "The druid was angry and again refused. 'What on earth is he troubling himself for about that little bit of a good-for-nothing?' grumbled the druid as he tossed about in bed. But the messenger had hardly left for Iona with the refusal when the druid got worse; he had much pain and he thought he would die. So he sent off another message to Columcille: 'Yes, you can have the slave-girl, only come and do something for me. I am very bad and will die if you don't come soon.'" Columcille, however, did not trust the priest, so he sent two of his monks to bring the girl back. When the girl was safe, Columcille set out for the druid's house and cured him of his sickness.

St Columcille's Fight with the Demons When Padraic had banished and driven away all the evil spirits from Cruachan Aigle that is today called Cruach Padraic, there went a throng of them to the place that is now called Senglenn Colmcille in the region of Conall Gulban to the north. And they were in that place from the time of Padraic to the time of Colmcille. And they raised a fog about them there, so that none might see the part of the land that lay beneath the bog. And of the river that forms a boundary to the north they made a fiery stream so that none at all might go across it. And who should touch of that stream little or much, he should die immediately. And the angels of God revealed this thing to Colmcille. And he went with many others of the saints to drive away the demons and banish them out of that place. And they made a stay beside the fiery stream we have mentioned. And they had not been long here when the Devil hurled a holly rod out of the fog across the stream. And it killed An Cerc, Colmcille's servant, with that cast, so that Srath na Circe is the name of that stream thenceforth. At that Colmcille was exceedingly angry and he seized that same javelin and hurled it across the stream. And the land was yielded to him for the space the javelin went into the fog, for the fog fled before that cast of Colmcille's. And that javelin grew in the place where it struck the ground, so that today it is a fresh holly-tree, and it has not withered from that time until now, and thus shall it be till Doomsday. Then Colmcille blessed that stream, and its venom and enchantment departed from it. And he crossed it. And an angel brought him a round green stone, and bade him cast it at the demons, and they should flee before it, and the fog also. And the angel bade him throw his bell Dub Duaibsech at them in the same way. And Colmcille did as the angel commanded him so that the whole land was yielded to him from the fog. And the demons fled before him to a rock out in the great sea opposite the western headland of that region. And Colmcille cast at them that stone that the angel had given him, and his bell Dub Duaibsech. And he bade the demons go into the sea through the rock where they were, and be in the form of fish forever, and to do no devilry against any thenceforth. And by reason of the word of Colmcille they must needs do that. And a man having on his armour might go through the hole they made in the stone when they went through it into the sea. And lest folk should eat them, Colmcille left a mark on them passing every other fish, that they should be blind in one eye and red. And fishers oft take them today, and they do naught to them when they perceive them, save to cast them again into the sea. Then Colmcille required of God to give back to him his bell and stone from the sea. And lo, he beheld them coming forward him in the likeness of a glow of fire and they fell to the ground fast by him. And Colmcille blessed that land whence he had banished the evil spirits. And he bestowed thereon the right of sanctuary from that time. And he left the stone a chief treasure to do marvels and miracles. And in the place where the bell fell, it sank deep into the earth, and it left its clapper there. And Colmcille said the bell was none the worse without the clapper. And he charged them, if any man should do dishonour to the sanctuary, to put the bell in the hole where it had left its clapper, as a token of a curse upon him, and that man should not live out his year, and hath oft been proved. The townland of Stranakirke (named after Colmcille's servant, an Cearc) still contains a grassy mound that is identified a Cearc's grave. Immediately opposite, on the western bank of the river, where the legend says Colmcille threw his javelin, a holly tree still sprouts. The current whereabouts of the blue stone are untold. Another story occurs in May, when Columba set out in a cart to visit the brethren at their work. He found them busy in the western fields and said, 'I had a great longing on me this April just now past, in the high days of the Easter feast, to go to the Lord Christ; and it was granted me by Him, if I so willed. But I would not have the joy of your feast turned into mourning, and so I willed to put off the day of my going from the world a little longer.' The monks were saddened to hear this and Columba tried to cheer them. He blessed the island and islanders and returned in his cart to the monastery. On that Saturday, the venerable old saint and his faithful Diarmid went to bless a barn and two heaps of grain stored therein. Then with a gesture of thanksgiving, he spoke, 'Truly, I give my brethren at home joy that this year, if so be I might have to go somewhere away from you, you will have what provision will last you the year.' Diarmid was grieved to hear this again and the saint promised to share his secret. "'In the Holy Book this day is called the Sabbath, which is, being interpreted, rest. And truly is this day my Sabbath, for it is the last day for me of this present toilsome life, when from all weariness of travail I shall take my rest, and at midnight of this Lord's Day that draws on, I shall, as the Scripture saith, go the way of my fathers. For now my Lord Jesus Christ hath deigned to invite me; and to Him, I say, at this very midnight and at His own desiring, I shall go. For so it was revealed to me by the Lord Himself.' At this sad hearing his man began bitterly to weep, and the Saint tried to comfort him as best he might. "And so the Saint left the barn, and took the road back to the monastery; and halfway there sat down to rest. Afterwards on that spot they set a cross, planted upon a millstone, and it is to be seen by the roadside to this day. And as the Saint sat there, a tired old man taking his rest awhile, up runs the white horse, his faithful servitor that used to carry the milk pails, and coming up to the Saint he leaned his head against his breast and began to mourn, knowing as I believe from God Himself--for to God every animal is wise in the instinct his Maker hath given him--that his master was soon to go from him, and that he would see his face no more. And his tears ran down as a man's might into the lap of the Saint, and he foamed as he wept. Seeing it, Diarmid would have driven the sorrowing creature away, but the Saint prevented him, saying, 'Let be, let be, suffer this lover of mine to shed on my breast the tears of his most bitter weeping. Behold, you that are a man and have a reasonable soul could in no way have known of my departing if I had not but now told you; yet to this dumb and irrational beast, his Creator in such fashion as pleased Him has revealed that his master is to go from him.' And so saying, he blessed the sad horse that had served him, and it turned again to its way (Adamnan; also in Curtayne). Despite the skeletons in Columba's closet, his efforts in Scotland reveal a man who had learned much in his 41 years, enough to establish a string of monasteries in the Inner Hebridean islands off the west coast of Scotland. This monastic system anticipated later orders such as the Cistercians and Carthusians. Iona, a small island off the larger Hebridean island of Mull, was the fertile centre of this system. Remote to modern eyes, Iona was at the hub of early medieval sea lanes that brought pottery and perishable goods north from France and the Mediterranean. Still, Iona was intended as a true monastery, a place set apart for Columba and his brethren. Other island monasteries, such as one on Tiree, housed lay-folk serving out penances for their sins. Another island housed older, more experienced monks living as holy anchorites. Iona, however, trained priests and bishops, and Columba's reputation for scholarship was great when he died (though we have little of his own work). From Iona, priests and monks ranged far and wide, founding churches in Scotland and seeking deserts in the ocean (lonely, distant islands). Mighty Monk: Columba holds his own with kings. Though he prays for the military success of kings whom God has chosen, he argues with angels over their appointment. He faces down the king of Picts through his power, blasting him with loud psalms, throwing wide his strong oak doors, and besting the magic of the king's druids. He even defeats wild animals: a fierce boar drops dead on the spot, and a strange monster on Loch Ness runs from his power. Though Columba's power is often depicted in entertaining form, his influence was in fact the key to winning over the kings of Gaelic Scotland, and his legendary powers were famous enough for his monks later to convince the Picts to convert. After his death, Columba's political and military power became a key element in his followers. His relics were taken into battle by minor Irish chieftains and Scottish kings--one of his relics preceded the victorious Scottish army at Bannockburn in 1314. One particular appearance, decades after his death, to the English king of Northumbria was pivotal in the history of Christianity in Britain. That king was Oswald, who had been raised in exile in Iona. As Oswald fought the battle in which he secured his kingship, Columba towered above the field promising victory, as one modern scholar puts it, like Batman over Gotham. In 635, Oswald sent for missionaries from Iona to renew the flagging Christianity of Northumbria with their monastic sobriety and good works.

Posthumous achievements Columba was a poet, scholar of wide-learning, monastic founder and leader, a visionary churchman. At the time of his death on June 9, 597, he was already celebrated. Though more monk than missionary, Columba established churches in Scotland that went on, in time, to evangelize the Picts and the English. The legacy of the monasteries he founded, which drew constantly on the inspiration of their patron saint, multiplies many times the influence of the man himself. Fittingly, at the end of the Life, Adomnán has his hero ascend the little hill near the monastery on Iona, and declare; This place, however small and mean, will have bestowed on it no small but great honour by the kings and peoples of Ireland, and also by the rulers of even barbarous and foreign nations with their subject tribes. And the saints of other churches too will give it great reverence. One way Columba's influence was felt after his death was the Law of Innocents enacted by Adomnán in 697. This law sought protection for non-combatants (in the midst of a militarised society) and for women (in danger from domestic violence, common abuse, and appalling labour conditions). Adomnán's Law imposed strong punishments against offenders. It is a remarkable landmark in the history of law. Adomnán records many tales of Columba as a protector of innocents, and these tales reinforce the stern message of the Law. In the most famous, Columba is a young boy, studying in a meadow with his tutor. A young girl appears, pursued across the plain by a vicious thug, who spears her at the very feet of the clerics. Appalled, the tutor cries, How long, Columba, my holy son, will God the true judge let this crime and our dishonour go unpunished? Columba calls down God's wrath on the killer, who falls dead on the spot. To celebrate the feast of Saint Columba (June 9) here is a selection of prayers in his honour from the 1941 edition of Saint Anthony's Treasury. This edition contains many prayers to Irish saints, which have been successively whittled down in later printings. The 1975 edition preserves only the Novena Prayer to Saint Columba but there is a litany and a short prayer in the older printing too.

Litany of St. Columba (For private recitation only) Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy, Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us. Holy Mary, pray for us Queen of Angels, [ETC] Queen of all Saints, St. Columba, greatest of Irish-born Saints, St. Columba, most illustrious of Irish Scholars, St. Columba, founder of Derry, St. Columba, patron of Ireland, St. Columba, apostle of Scotland, St. Columba, dove of the Church, St. Columba, Saint of the Eucharist, St. Columba, companion of the Angels, St. Columba, mirror of purity, St. Columba, model of humility, St. Columba, lover of temperance, St. Columba, father of the poor, St. Columba, protector of the innocent, St. Columba, advocate of the oppressed, St. Columba, friend of the children, St. Columba, guardian of schools, St. Columba, shield of our city, St Oran, monk of Derry, All ye holy Monks of Iona, St. Bran, Nephew of St. Columba, All ye holy Dead of Derry, St. Martin, All ye Patrons and Friends of St. Columba,

V. Pray for us, O dearest St. Columba. R. That we may love the Sacred Heart of Jesus daily more and more. Let us Pray: O God, Who didst vouchsafe to unveil to Thy Servant, Columba, the Angels who guard Thy Tabernacle, grant that we, whose privilege it is to pray where he knelt, may, through his intercession, be enabled to lead such lives of purity and holiness as will one day entitle us to behold those same Angels in the mansions of bliss, through Christ our Lord. Amen. Prayer of St. Columba May the fire of God's love burn brightly and steadfastly in our hearts like the golden light within the sanctuary lamp. (Prayer of St. Columba in the Dubhregles of Derry.)

You can purchase The Life of St Columba at our online bookstore here - THE LIFE OF ST. COLUMBA | Irish Nuntii


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