Saint Columba, or Colm Cille

Saint Columba, Apostle to the Picts
Apostle of the Picts
Born December 7, 521(521-12-07)
Gartan, County Donegal, Ireland
Died June 9, 597(597-06-09) (aged 75)
Iona, Scotland
Honored in Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodoxy
Lutheran Church
Anglican Communion
Presbyterian Church
Major shrine Iona, Scotland
Feast June 9
Patronage Derry, floods, bookbinders, poets, Ireland, Scotland

Saint Columba (7 December 521 – 9 June 597 AD)—also known as Colum Cille (Old Irish, meaning "dove of the church"), Colm Cille (Irish), Calum Cille (Scottish Gaelic) and Kolban or Kolbjørn (Old Norse, meaning "black bear")[1][2]—was a Gaelic Irish missionary monk who propagated Christianity among the Picts during the Early Medieval Period. He was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.[3]


Early life in Ireland

Columba was born to Fedlimid and Eithne of the Cenel Conaill in Gartan, near Lough Gartan, in modern County Donegal, part of the Provinces of Ulster in the north of Ireland. On his father's side he was great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish high king of the 5th century. He was baptised in Temple-Douglas, in the County Donegal parish of Conwal (mid-way between Gartan and Letterkenny), by his teacher and foster-uncle Saint Crunathan.[4][5][6]

The remains of St. Columba's church, Gartan, Co. Donegal.

In early Christian Ireland the druidic tradition collapsed due to the spread of the new Christian faith. The study of Latin learning and Christian theology in monasteries flourished. Columba became a pupil at the monastic school at Clonard Abbey, situated on the River Boyne in modern County Meath. During the sixth century, some of the most significant names in the history of Irish Christianity studied at the Clonard monastery. It is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard was 3,000.[3] Twelve students who studied under St. Finian became known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland; Columba was one. He became a monk and eventually ordained a priest. During this time he is said to have founded a number of monasteries, including ones at Kells, Derry, and Swords.[7]

Tradition asserts that, sometimes around 560, he became involved in a quarrel with Saint Finian of Movilla Abbey over a psalter. Columba copied the manuscript at the scriptorium under Saint Finian, intending to keep the copy. Saint Finian disputed his right to keep the copy. The dispute eventually led to the pitched Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561, during which many men were killed. A synod of clerics and scholars threatened to excommunicate him for these deaths, but St. Brendan of Birr spoke on his behalf with the result that he was allowed to go into exile instead. Columba suggested that he would work as a missionary in Scotland to help convert as many people as had been killed in the battle. He exiled himself from Ireland, to return only once, many years later.

Columba's copy of the psalter has been traditionally associated with the Cathach of St. Columba.


In 563 he travelled to Scotland with twelve companions, where according to legend he first landed on the Kintyre Peninsula, near Southend. However, being still in sight of his native land he moved further north up the west coast of Scotland. In 563 he was granted land on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland which became the centre of his evangelising mission to the Picts. However, there is a sense in which he was not leaving his native people, as the Irish Gaels had been colonizing the west coast of Scotland for the previous couple of centuries.[8] Aside from the services he provided guiding the only centre of literacy in the region, his reputation as a holy man led to his role as a diplomat among the tribes;[9] there are also many stories of miracles which he performed during his work to convert the Picts. He visited the pagan King Bridei, King of Fortriu, at his base in Inverness, winning the Bridei's respect, although not his conversion. He subsequently played a major role in the politics of the country. He was also very energetic in his work as a missionary, and, in addition to founding several churches in the Hebrides, he 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. One of the few, if not the only, times he left Scotland was towards the end of his life, when he returned to Ireland to found the monastery at Durrow.

Columba died on Iona and was buried in 597 AD by his monks in the abbey he created. In 794 AD, the Vikings descended on Iona. Columba's relics were finally removed in 849 AD and divided between Scotland and Ireland.[10] The parts of the relics which went to Ireland are reputed to be buried in Downpatrick, County Down, with St. Patrick and St. Brigid or at Saul Church neighbouring Downpatrick. (Names of Iona), Inchcolm and Eilean Chaluim Chille.

Lasting legacy


Columba is credited as being a leading figure in the revitalization of monasticism, and "His achievements illustrated the importance of the Celtic church in bringing a revival of Christianity to Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire."[citation needed] It is known that Clan MacCallum and Clan Malcolm are descended from the original followers of Columba, It is also said that Clan Robertson are heirs of Columba. Clan MacKinnon may also have some claim to being spiritual descendants of St Columcille as after he founded his monastery on Isle Iona, the MacKinnons were the abbots of the Church for centuries. This would also account for the fact that Clan MacKinnon is amongst the ancient clans of Scotland.[11]

The cathedral of the Catholic Diocese of Argyll and the Isles is placed under the patronage of St. Columba as are numerous Catholic schools and parishes throughout the nation. The Scottish Episcopal Church and Church of Scotland also have parishes dedicated to him. The village of Kilmacolm in Renfrewshire is also derived from Columba's name.


Columba is the patron saint of the city of Derry, Northern Ireland where he founded a monastic settlement in c.AD 540. The name of the city in Irish is Doire Colmcille and is derived from the native oak trees in the area and the city's association with Columba. The Catholic Church of Saint Columba's Long Tower stands at the spot of this original settlement. The Church of Ireland Cathedral in Derry is dedicated to St Columba. St. Colmcilles Primary School and St. Colmcilles Community School are two schools in Knocklyon, Dublin, named after St. Colmcille, with the former having an annual day dedicated to the saint on June 9. Aer Lingus, Ireland's national flag carrier has named one of its Airbus A330 aircraft in commemoration of the saint (reg: EI-DUO).


As of 2011, Canadians who are of Scottish ancestry are the third largest ethnic group in the country, and thus Columba's name is to be found attached to Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian parishes. This is particularly the case in eastern Canada apart from Quebec which is French speaking.

Throughout the U.S.A. there are numerous parishes within the Catholic and Episcopalian denominations dedicated to Columba. Within the Protestant tradition the Presbyterian Church (which has its roots in Scottish Presbyterianism) also has parishes named in honour of Columba. There is even an Orthodox Church monastery dedicated to the saint in the Massachusetts town of Southbridge. [1] Iona College, a small Catholic liberal arts college in New Rochelle, NY is named after the island on which Columba established his first monastery in Scotland.

St. Columba is the Patron Saint of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, OH. The Cathedral there is named for him.

The Munich GAA is named Muenchen Colmcilles: [2].

Vita Columbae

The main source of information about Columba's life is the Vita Columbae by Adomnán (also known as Eunan), the ninth Abbot of Iona, who died in 704. Adomnán categorizes the Vita Columbae into three different books: Columba’s Prophecies, Columba’s Miracles, and Columba’s Apparitions. [12]

Book one (Columba's Prophecies)

Adomnán tells of Columba’s prophetic revelations in the first book. In one notable instance, Columba appears to King Oswald of Northumbria, in a dream, and he announced the king’s incoming victory against King Catlon. The people promise to believe and be baptized after the war. This victory ends with the re-Christianization of pagan England, and King Oswald as ruler of all Britain. [13] Columba’s other prophecies can be vindictive at times as when he sends a man named Batain off to perform his penance, but then Columba turns to his friends and says Batain will instead return to Scotia and be killed by his enemies. A few of his prophecies are bookish like when he knows that Baithene’s psalter is missing one letter “I” [14] or when he prophecies that an eager man will knock over his inkhorn and spill the ink. [15]

Book two (Columba's Miracles)

In the second book, Columba performs various miracles such as healing people with diseases, expelling malignant spirits, subduing wild beasts, calming storms or raising the dead to life. He can perform agricultural miracles that would matter to the common people, such as when he casts a demon out of a milk pail and restores the spilt milk to the pail. [16]

The vita of Columba contains a story that has been interpreted as the first reference to the Loch Ness Monster. According to Adomnán, Columba came across a group of Picts burying a man who had been killed by the monster. Columba then saves a swimmer from the monster with the sign of the Cross and the imprecation, "Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed." The beast the beast flees terrified, to the amazement of the assembled Picts who glorified Columba's God. Whether or not this incident is true, Adomnan's text specifically states that the monster was swimming in the River Ness - the river flowing from the loch - rather than in Loch Ness itself. [17]

Book three (Columba's Apparitions)

In book three, Adomnán describes different apparitions of the Saint, both that Columba receives and those that are seen by others regarding him.

In one of the stories, Columba is in excommunication and goes to a meeting held against him in Teilte. Saint Brenden, despite of all the negative reactions among the seniors toward Columba, kisses him reverently and assures that Columba is the man of God and that he sees Holy Angels accompanying Columba on his journey through the plain. [18]

In the last Chapter, Columba foresees his death to his attendant:

This day in the Holy Scriptures is called the Sabbath, which means rest. And this day is indeed a Sabbath to me, for it is the last day of my present laborious life, and on it I rest after the fatigues of my labours; and this night at midnight, which commenceth the solemn Lord's Day, I shall, according to the sayings of Scripture, go the way of our fathers. For already my Lord Jesus Christ deigneth to invite me; and to Him, I say, in the middle of this night shall I depart, at His invitation. For so it hath been revealed to me by the Lord himself.

And when the bell strikes midnight, Columba goes to the church and knees beside the altar. His attendant witnesses heavenly light in the direction of Columba, and Holy angels joins the saint in his passage to the Lord:

And having given them his holy benediction in this way, he immediately breathed his last. After his soul had left the tabernacle of the body, his face still continued ruddy, and brightened in a wonderful way by his vision of the angels, and that to such a degree that he had the appearance, not so much of one dead, as of one alive and sleeping. [19]

Other early sources of Columba's life

Both the Vita Columbae and the Venerable Bede (672/673-735) record Columba's visit to Bridei. Whereas Adomnán just tells us that Columba visited Bridei, Bede relates a later, perhaps Pictish tradition, whereby the saint actually converts the Pictish king. Another early source is a poem in praise of Columba, most probably commissioned by Columba's kinsman, the King of the Uí Néill clan. It was almost certainly written within three or four years of Columba's death and is the earliest vernacular poem in European history. It consists of 25 stanzas of four verses of seven syllables each.

Through the reputation of its venerable founder and its position as a major European centre of learning, Columba's Iona became a place of pilgrimage. A network of Celtic high crosses marking processional routes developed around his shrine at Iona.

Columba is historically revered as a warrior saint, and was often invoked for victory in battle. His relics were finally removed in 849 and divided between Alba and Ireland. Relics of Columba were carried before Scottish armies in the reliquary made at Iona in the mid-8th century, called the Brecbennoch. Legend has it that the Brecbennoch, was carried to the Battle of Bannockburn (24 June 1314) by the vastly outnumbered Scots army and the intercession of Columba helped them to victory. It is widely thought that the Monymusk Reliquary is object in question.

In the Antiphoner of Inchcolm Abbey, the "Iona of the East" (situated on an island in the Firth of Forth), a 13th century prayer begins O Columba spes Scotorum... "O Columba, hope of the Scots".

See also


  1. ^ Kenyon, Sherrilyn. The Writer's Digest character naming sourcebook. Writer's Digest Books, 2005. p 358.
  2. ^ (Norwegian)
  3. ^ a b Gratton-Flood, W.H. (1913). "The Twelve Apostles of Erin". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  4. ^ Acts of Archbishop Colton in his metropolitan visitation in the diocese of Derry, A.D. MCCCXCVII
  5. ^ Notes on the Place Names of the Parishes and Townlands of the County of Londonderry, 1925, Alfred Moore Munn, Clerk of the Crown and Peace of the City and County of Londonderry
  6. ^ Ordnance Survey Memoirs for the Parishes of Desertmartin and Kilcronaghan, Ballinascreen Historical Society. Published 1986
  7. ^ Sidwell, Keith (1995), Reading Medieval Latin, Cambridge University Press, pp. 70, ISBN 0-52144747-x 
  8. ^ Fletcher, Richard (1989), Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England, Shepheard-Walwyn, pp. 23–24, ISBN 0-85683-089-5 
  9. ^ "Who is St. Columba?" St. Columba Retreat House. Retrieved 6 October 2008.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Dowley, Tim, et al., ed. (1977), Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 0-8028-3450-7 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Book one, Chapter 1
  14. ^ Book one, Chapter 17
  15. ^ Book one, Chapter 19
  16. ^ Book two, Chapter 15
  17. ^ Book two, Chapter 28
  18. ^ Book three, Chapter 3
  19. ^ Book three, Chapter 23

Further reading

External links

Preceded by
New creation
Abbot of Iona
died 597
Succeeded by

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Columba — bezeichnet: ein Sternbild des südlichen Sternenhimmels, siehe Taube (Sternbild) in der Antike die Insel Mallorca eine Gattung der Tauben, siehe Feldtauben zwei irische Mönche, siehe Kolumban Heilige, Columba von Cornwall Columba von Schottland… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • columbă — COLÚMBĂ, columbe, s.f. (înv.) Porumbiţă. – Din lat. columba. Trimis de hai, 07.07.2004. Sursa: DEX 98  COLÚMBĂ s. v. porumbiţă. Trimis de siveco, 13.09.2007. Sursa: Sinonime  colúmbă s. f., g. d. art …   Dicționar Român

  • Columba — Co*lum ba, n. (Med.) See {Calumba}. [1913 Webster] || …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Columba — (lat.), 1) Taube; 2) taubenförmiges Gefäß zu Aufbewahrung der Büchse mit der Wegzehrung für die Kranken; vgl. Ciborium 3) …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Columba [1] — Columba, Sternbild, s. Taube …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Columba [2] — Columba (lat.), Taube; Columbae, Ordnung der Vögel, s. Taubenvögel; Columbidae, Tauben, Familie der Taubenvögel …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Columba [3] — Columba, der Apostel Schottlands, geb. 520 zu Donegal in Irland, gest. 597, ging 563 mit zwölf Genossen nach Schottland, das er von der Hebrideninsel Hie (Jo, Jona) aus christianisierte und mit Klöstern versorgte. Sein Leben beschrieb Adamnanus,… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Columba — Columba, Columbĭdae, s. Tauben …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Columba [2] — Columba, Apostel Schottlands, geb. 521 zu Gartan in Irland, gründete 565 auf der Hebrideninsel Jona ein Kloster und bekehrte die nördl. Pikten; gest. 9. Juni 597, Heiliger. – Biogr. von Adamnan (hg. von Fowler, 1894) …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Columba — (Taube), eigentlich Crimthan, Name des Apostels Schottlands, der um 520 in Irland geb. wurde, schon 546 ein Kloster in Tirconel gründete, woraus die Stadt Londonderry erwuchs, seit 565 die nördl. Picten bekehrte und vom Kloster der hebridischen… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Columba — Columba, san …   Enciclopedia Universal

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