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Title: Life of Saint Columba - Apostle of Scotland
Author: Forbes, F. A. (Frances Alice), 1869-1936
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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All rights reserved

Nihil Obstat.
Censor Deputatus

Vic. Gen.

_die 7 Octobris_, 1913.




"The Kingdom of Heaven, O man, requireth no other price than thyself:
the value of it is thyself: give thyself for it and thou shalt have


THOUGH more than 1300 years have gone by since the death of St.
Columba, there are few saints whose memory is so living and so strong.
This is partly due to his vivid and attractive personality, but in a
great measure also to the fact that we have his Biography or Life
written at great length by Adamnan, ninth abbot of Iona, who was born
only twenty-seven years after Columba's death. Adamnan, who was very
young when he entered the community at Iona, could have gathered the
materials for his book from the lips of those who had personally known
the great Apostle of Scotland, and who had been eye-witnesses of the
events recorded. We know that these friends were many, and drawn from
all classes, for Columbcille, above all the men of his time, had the
gift of being loved, and many instances are related of the passionate
devotion of the monks of Iona to their great abbot, no less than that
of the multitudes with whom in his long and busy life he had come in
contact. Adamnan is considered to be a sober and trustworthy author,
and has not exaggerated, as many of the later writers undoubtedly have,
the miraculous element in the life of the Saint.

Carlyle, who cannot be considered as an advocate of the supernatural,
remarks of the Life of St. Columba: "You can see that the man who wrote
it could tell no lie. What he meant you cannot always find out; but it
is clear that he told things as they appeared to him."

There are many interesting relics of Columba still in existence. An
ancient stone chalice which he is said to have used at Mass is still
preserved in Ireland, together with the flagstone which formed the
flooring of Eithne's room the night that he was born. A pathetic custom
exists amongst the poor Irish emigrants of sleeping the night before
they leave their country on this stone, in the hope that he who made
himself an exile from his country for the love of God will by his
prayers make the burden of their sorrow easier to bear. The stone which
he used for so many years as a pillow is still to be seen amongst the
ruins of the cathedral of Iona, which was erected in the twelfth
century near the site of the old abbey church of Columba's building,
while the ruins of St. Oran's chapel near at hand enclose the very spot
where the Saint breathed his last upon the altar steps.

But perhaps the most interesting of all the Columban relics are the
three manuscripts which are said to have been written by the Saint's
own hand. That Columbcille was an indefatigable scribe we know from the
witness of many of his contemporaries, and one of the greatest of
modern authorities (Mr. Westwood) sees no reason for setting aside the
tradition that the "Book of Kells" and the "Book of Durrow" are both
mainly, if not altogether, Columba's work. The "Book of Durrow,"
indeed, bears an inscription stating that it was written by "Columba
the scribe in the space of twelve days," while the "Book of Kells" has
always borne the title of the "Great Gospel of Columbcille." To the
objection that a busy man like Columba would not have had leisure to
execute the exquisitely minute decorations which are the astonishment
of all admirers of Celtic art, it can be urged that many old
manuscripts which still exist in an unfinished condition bear witness
to the fact that it was customary for the initial letters and
ornamental parts of the manuscript to be sketched roughly in, and
finished by another hand. This is especially to be noted in the "Book
of Kells," the decorative work of which is certainly of a later date.
Both the "Book of Durrow" and the "Book of Kells" are to be seen in the
Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

The third manuscript, the famous Psalter which gave Columbcille to
Scotland and which is preserved in the Royal Irish Academy, fell, after
the battle of Cuil Dreimhne, into the hands of the O'Donnells,
Columba's own clan, who treasured it as their most precious possession.
It was called the "Cathach" or "Battler," and if borne into battle by
"one of pure heart and of clean hands" was believed to ensure them the
victory over their enemies. It is the least ornamental of the three,
and bears traces of the haste with which it was executed. The existence
of these pages, written with laborious care by the hand which has long
since mouldered into dust, makes a living link across the centuries
with Columbcille the Beloved, the great Apostle of Scotland.
















FOURTEEN hundred years ago, in the sweet days of autumn, when the woods
of Gartan are clothed in crimson and gold, and the still waters of
Lough Veagh reflect the deep blue of the skies above, Eithne, the wife
of Fedhlimidh, Prince of Tir-Connell, had a strange dream. It seemed to
her that an angel of God stood beside her, bearing in his hands a veil
scattered all over with the Bowers of Paradise, and that, spreading it
out, he bade her admire its beauty. Eithne was a daughter of kings, but
never before had she seen so marvellously fair a web; she stretched out
her hands to grasp it, but even as she touched it, it rose and
fluttered lightly into the air. Over hill, mountain, and lough floated
its shadowy loveliness, till it rested at last on the moors and
mountains of a land that lay far away in the moaning seas. Then Eithne
wept for the loss of the beautiful veil, but the angel comforted her.

"It is but a symbol," he said, "of the son that shall be born to thee
in the days to come. He shall be a prince and a prophet; the world
shall be perfumed by his holiness; and he shall bear the flower of the
faith among the heathen far over land and sea."

When morning came Eithne told her husband of the dream, and the two
took counsel together. That his son should be a great prince in no way
surprised Fedhlimidh. Was not he himself a grandson of the great king
Niall of the Nine Hostages, so called because he had subdued nine Kings
of Ireland to his will and made them his vassals, and was not the
reigning king of all Ireland his near kinsman? No strange thing would
it have been in those turbulent days, when the lives of kings were
short and uncertain, were the son of Fedhlimidh himself to be set on
the throne as High King of Ireland.

But Eithne's dream seemed to point more to a heavenly supremacy than an
earthly; was it an indication of God's will that they should dedicate
their child to Him? They thought it was, and a few months later, when
heaven sent them a fair and beautiful little son, they earnestly prayed
to the Giver of all good gifts that He would take the child, if it
seemed well to Him, for His service.

At Teampall-Douglas, a few miles from Gartan, there lived a holy old
priest called Cruithnechan; to him they took the babe that it might
receive at his hands the holy rites of Baptism. He was given the name
of Columba, a not uncommon name in Ireland at the time, and while yet a
little child was sent back to the saintly Cruithnechan that the old man
might train him in the ways of wisdom and holiness.

In this Columba's parents but followed the custom of the time, for it
was usual for the sons of chiefs to be brought up from their earliest
youth by some great bard, soldier, or priest, according to their
destination in life; and it was the duty of these foster parents to
train their charges in all that had to do with their future profession.

The little Columba was an apt pupil. It was his delight to accompany
his master to the Church, there to listen to the chanting of the Divine
Office; and so keen of ear and quick of memory was the boy that he had
learnt some of the psalms by heart before he could spell them out in
the Psalter--the lesson-book of every young reader of his time.
Cruithnechan himself was unaware of this until one day when he took the
child with him on a visit to a brother priest near Derry. The two
clerics went together to the Church to chant the Divine Office, and
Columba, as was his wont, knelt to pray before the altar.

Now it came to pass that Cruithnechan lost his place, and was in great
distress because he could not find it again. The office came to a
standstill, and the pause would have been a long one had not the boy's
clear treble voice taken up the psalm Where the old man had halted, and
chanted sweetly the alternate verses until the missing place was found.
It was Columba's love of the Church that won for him among his
companions the name by which he became famous in after-days--
"Columb-cille" or "the dove of the Church." He would slip away from
their games whenever he could, but they always knew where to find him.
"He nestles beside the altar like a dove in its nest," they would say.

In spite of the boy's name, however, underneath the strong faith and
love, the true and deep devotion that were always his chief
characteristics, lay a nature that was in no wise dovelike. Loyal,
great-hearted, and compassionate as he undoubtedly was, the blood of
the fierce and haughty Hy-Nialls flowed in his veins. To be quick to
take offence and slow to forgive an injury is a characteristic of the
Celtic race all the world over, and Columba was no exception to the
rule. Long and sharp was to be the struggle before that quick and
imperious nature was wholly conquered by the grace of God, but great
was to be the victory at last.

To Cruithnechan it was evident that the blessing of God rested in no
small degree on the child of his fostering. Returning home one night he
saw his house lit up as it were with a great fire, and fearing for the
safety of his little charge he entered in haste. All was in darkness
within, save over the head of the sleeping child, where there hung a
globe of fire. The old man fell on his knees, not knowing what the
portent might mean; but God reassured him, showing that the light of
His Holy Spirit had been poured out abundantly upon Columba, who was to
labour fruitfully in His service.

It has always been acknowledged by the Celtic races that among the
children of men there are a chosen few who are gifted with the second
sight. Strange instances are given of mortal eyes that have seen the
invisible, and of men and women who have known things that are not to
be discerned by the senses. A little corner of the veil that hides the
spiritual world from the world of sense has been lifted. From the
earliest ages, to those who are exceptionally pure of heart and holy,
this contact with the spiritual world has been given in a supernatural
degree. The materialist may scoff, but the voice of the Ages is louder
and clearer in our ears than his.

From his childhood Columba seems to have possessed this gift in a very
marked manner. His guardian angel, we are told by his biographers,
appeared to him frequently, and the child would talk to him familiarly,
and ask him if all the spirits in heaven were as radiant and beautiful
as he. One day the angel bade the boy tell him what he would choose if
any virtue might be his for the asking.

"I would choose purity and wisdom," answered he.

"Well hast thou chosen, Columba," said the angel, "they shall be
thine, and God will add to them yet another gift."

So it came to pass in the course of time that there appeared one day
before Columba three beautiful maidens, who would have embraced him,
but he pushed them roughly away.

"Dost thou not know us, Columba?" asked one of them, and a celestial
radiance shone from her face and garments as she spoke. "We are three
sisters sent to thee from our Father, that we may abide with thee for

"I know you not," said Columba. "Who is your father?"

"Our Father is God, the Lord and Saviour of the world," answered the
maiden, and her voice was like the music of heaven.

"Truly a noble parentage," said the boy. "By what names do men call

"Our names are Purity, Prophecy, and Wisdom," she answered, "and we
have come never to leave thee more, and to love thee with an
incorruptible love."

So among the peaceful hills and lakes of Donegal the boy Columba grew
into manhood. Tall and fair and straight of limb was the son of Eithne
and Fedhlimidh, with a voice clear and sweet as a trumpet-call, and a
heart that was fearless, pure, and true. Cruithnechan had done his work
well; he had taught Columba all that he knew of earthly lore and of
heavenly; but the time of his fostering was over. He must go forth now
into the great world that lay beyond the quiet mountains, the world of
strife and of tragedy, of joy and of sorrow.

A strange world and one of many contrasts, that of Ireland in the sixth
century. To the unanimous voice of Christianity she owed her name of
the "Island of the Saints." From the days of St. Patrick the monastic
schools, veritable cities of God in the midst of the strife and
barbarism of those early days, exerted their influence on the life
around them in favour of piety, learning and civilization. Here were
being formed a whole population of writers, theologians, architects,
sculptors, poets, historians, and above all of missioners and
preachers, who were to carry the light of the Gospel far and wide into
other lands. The founders of these schools were mostly of the noblest
blood in Ireland, and kings and princes did not disdain to come to them
for advice and help, or even to listen to their reproofs. Most powerful
for good was the influence of the Church in Ireland, and well for her
that it was so, for the times were wild and lawless.

To the Hy-Nialls, the kinsmen of Columba, belonged the whole north-west
of Ireland. The sovereign rule over the entire country was theirs, in
the Irish colony of Dalriada in Caledonia over the seas, as well as in
the mother-country of Erin.

They exercised authority over the provincial kings, but an authority
that was often hotly contested, and stormily maintained at the cost of
much bloodshed. The king was elected from either branch of the great
Niall family or clan, the Hy-Nialls of the North, to which Columba
belonged, or the Hy-Nialls of the South, and the two branches were
continually at war. Into the midst of these discordant elements the law
of Christ brought peace and justice, and the Saints of Ireland were the
pillars of the law of Christ.



WHILE Columba was growing into manhood among the mountains of
Tir-Connell, St. Finnian, "Finnian of the Heart Devout" as the old
writers love to call him, was founding his great monastic school of
Moville on the northern side of Lough Cuan.

Not on his piety and sanctity alone did the renown of Finnian rest. He
had been educated at the famous monastery of Whitehorn, founded by St.
Ninian in the fourth century in the British kingdom of Galloway across
the sea. St. Ninian was the friend of St. Martin of Tours, and it was
from him that he obtained masons to build the Candida Casa or White
House, the first stone church erected in Britain. Later, St. Finnian
went on pilgrimage to Rome, a difficult and dangerous undertaking in
days when ships consisted for the most part of a framework of willow
overstretched with ox-hide; and famine, pestilence, wild beasts and
barbarians were only a few of the perils that beset travellers by land.
There he remained for three months, when he returned to Ireland,
bringing with him a precious and priceless treasure.

This was a copy of the sacred Scriptures, translated and corrected by
the hand of St. Jerome himself, and formally sanctioned by the Pope as
the authentic text. No copy of this first edition of the Vulgate had as
yet found its way into Ireland, and to the scholars and scribes of the
day it was of untold worth.

The school of Moville was founded in 540, and St. Columba must have
been one of its earliest scholars, for he was born in the year 521, and
was about twenty years of age when he left Tir-Connell. Here he was
ordained deacon, and here also, at his prayer, was worked the first of
a long series of miracles that were to continue throughout his life.
One festival day, to the consternation of St. Finnian, it was found
that there was no wine for the Holy Sacrifice. It was the turn of
Columba to draw the water that was to be used in the sacred mysteries,
and kneeling at the brink of the well he prayed earnestly to that Lord
who had changed water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana to have
pity on their distress. His prayer was heard; even as he carried the
water to the church the miracle was worked.

"Here, my Father, is wine that God has sent us from heaven," said the
young deacon, as he gave the vessel to his master, and Finnian
marvelled greatly and gave praise and glory to God.

From Moville, Columba went to the great school of Clonard, there to
pursue his studies under another St. Finnian--Finnian the Wise, the
"Tutor of the Saints of Erin." Clonard was the most famous school in
Ireland at the time, and even bishops and abbots, old in years and
experience, did not disdain to come to learn wisdom at the feet of its
holy founder. St. Finnian of Clonard had been himself the pupil of
three great saints, St. David, St. Gildas, and St. Cadoc, at the
College of Llancarvan in Wales. When Columba came to the school of
Clonard it numbered, as the old writers tell us, three thousand

The problem of accommodation was very simple in an Irish school of the
sixth century. A few precious manuscripts formed the whole library. The
instruction was mostly oral, and given in the green fields round the
moat of Clonard. A little hill or eminence formed the professor's
chair, and the scholars sat on the slopes about his feet. They built
their own little huts of clay and wattles in the surrounding meadows,
and took their turn at herding the sheep and grinding in the quern, or
handmill, the corn for the daily bread. They prayed and studied, learnt
the exquisitely fine transcription that gave to the world the only
books that were then to be had, and listened to the interpretation of
the Holy Scriptures expounded by St. Finnian with a power and eloquence
that drew men from all parts of Ireland to listen.

The son of the Hy-Nialls took his turn with the rest at grinding the
corn in the quern and in the humble daily labours, but he accomplished
his task so rapidly and skilfully that his fellow-scholars, who may
have heard the story of the celestial companion of his boyhood, would
assert that he had been helped by an angel. When the daily work was
finished, he was always to be found, as of old, before the altar,
absorbed in prayer. Even the elders treated him with deference. There
was something so noble and commanding in his bearing, so high and holy
in the glance of his keen grey eyes, so strong and compelling in the
clear tones of his voice, that half unconsciously men bowed before him.

But there was one at Clonard who long withstood his influence. To the
gentle-hearted Ciaran "Mac In Tsair," or the son of the carpenter,
temptation had come in the shape of an envious thought.

Why should Columba, he asked himself resentfully, be loved and
privileged above all the other scholars? He was the son of the Prince
of Tir-Connell it was true, but in a monastic community such as Clonard
were not they all equal before God? He began to be jealous of the
influence exercised so unconsciously by his young companion, and
harboured bitterness in his heart. Ciaran's guardian angel grieved over
the havoc that was being wrought in that pure and gentle soul. He
appeared to him one day in a radiant vision, carrying the tools of a
carpenter in his hands.

"See, Ciaran," said he, "what thou hast left for the love of God, to
give thyself to Christ in the monastic life; but Columba has sacrificed
the throne which would have been his, had he not, forsaking the world,
chosen rather to follow his Lord in poverty and humiliation."

His words scattered the mist of envy from the heart of the carpenter's
son, who humbly asked pardon for his sin. From henceforth he became one
of the warmest friends of Columba, who in his turn loved the
gentle-hearted Ciaran with a true and tender affection. It was while
the two were at Clonard together that their master St. Finnian dreamt
that he saw two moons, one of gold and one of silver, shining in the
sky. The golden moon illuminated the north of Ireland, and its beams
shone over the sea as far as distant Alba, while the moon of silver
shed its soft light in the centre of the land. It was made known to
Finnian that the golden moon represented Columba, who was to carry the
light of the Gospel to another people, while that of silver typified
Ciaran, whose holiness was to be a light to many in his own country.

It was at this time that Columbcille showed the first signs of that
gift of prophecy that was to make him so famous in after days.

There came to Clonard an old bard called Gemman, who was a Christian.
Columba, who had a passionate love for poetry, put himself under his
tuition that he might not only study the old minstrel lore of Ireland,
but learn also to pour out his own heart in song. One day when the old
man sat reading at a little distance from his pupil in the green
meadows near Clonard, a young maiden, crying piteously for help, and
hotly pursued by one of the bloodthirsty barbarians who were the terror
of the more peaceful inhabitants of the country, fled towards him for
protection. Gemman called to Columba for help, but it was too late.
Even as he tried to hide the child under the folds of his long cloak
her savage assailant pierced her to the heart with his spear.

"How long, O Lord," moaned the old man, as he gathered the body of the
little maiden into his arms, "how long shall the blood of this innocent
cry unavenged to heaven?"

Columba turned to him with flashing eyes.

"Thus long," he cried in a voice that rang like the trumpet of the
avenging angel:

"Thus long, and no longer. The soul of that innocent child shall
scarcely have entered heaven before the soul of her murderer shall be
cast into eternal fire."

The words had scarcely left his lips when the barbarian, who was not
yet out of sight, fell dead, struck down by the sudden judgment of God.

On leaving Clonard, Columba went in company with the gentle-hearted
Ciaran to visit the school of another great master of the spiritual
life, St. Mobhi of Glasnevin. There they met St. Comgall and St.
Cannich, and formed with them a lifelong friendship. It was during his
stay at Glasnevin that Columba was sent by St. Mobhi to Etchen, Bishop
of Clonfad, to be ordained a priest, and it is characteristic of the
simplicity of the times that the holy bishop, who was Columba's own
cousin, and the son of a reigning prince, was found in the fields
guiding the oxen of his plough.

It must have been also about this time that Ciaran and Columba
journeyed together to the rocky Isle of Aran in the west, to visit St.
Enda the Holy, the tutor of both Finnian of Moville and Finnian of
Clonard. Aran was indeed a very nursery of sanctity, and Enda was
reverenced as a father by all the saints of Ireland. They learnt from
his lips the virtues and duties of a true monk, but they learnt still
more from his example. He and his community slept on the bare ground in
their stone cells, never warmed by a fire even in the coldest days of
winter. Their frugal food was the fruit of the labour of their hands,
but it was little enough that the barren rocks of Aran could furnish.
To these men, whose hearts were on fire with the love of God, their
desert island was a little paradise, where they lived in close
communion with the unseen world, and from whence the voice of praise
went up incessantly to the throne of God.

We are told that the gentle-hearted Ciaran, the son of the carpenter,
was beloved by Enda above all his disciples, and that when the time
came for him to leave the Isle of Aran to found his own great monastery
of Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon, the old man knelt and wept
bitterly on the rocky shore. Perhaps he may have foreseen the early
death of his beloved pupil, the sudden quenching of that light that was
to shine so brightly during the few years that remained to him of his
earthly pilgrimage.

For a few years after his departure from Aran the holy Ciaran exercised
his apostleship in his native country, and then founded the monastery
of Clonmacnoise, which in after days was to become the greatest and
most learned community in Ireland. Four months later a terrible
pestilence broke out, and the gentle Ciaran was amongst its victims. He
asked the brethren to take him out into the open air that his eyes
might see the blue sky once again before he died. The skin on which he
used to sleep was spread on the ground and they laid him on it, weeping
bitterly the while. The dying man then asked to be left alone with St.
Kevin of Glendalough, his soul's friend (the beautiful old Celtic name
for spiritual father--still in use among the Catholics of western
Scotland), who blessed him and gave him the Holy Communion.

Ciaran bade him a tender farewell, for, says the old chronicle, he
loved him much. Then, lifting his eyes to heaven with a smile on his
lips, the pure and holy Ciaran breathed his last, and white angels came
and carried his soul to Paradise.



THE terrible outbreak of plague that carried off young Ciaran in the
flower of his age found Columba at Glasnevin. St. Mobhi bade his
disciples disperse to their homes, and Columbcille went northwards to
Tir-Connell. When he reached the stream of Moyola he prayed earnestly
that God might stay the plague on the southern bank of the river, and
spare the country of his people. His prayer was heard, and the terrible
scourge forbore to cross the water.

Columba was now twenty-five years of age, and his friends and kinsmen
earnestly desired that he should found a church and monastery in their
own country. His cousin the Prince of Ailech even offered him a piece
of land on the northern coast, but Columba was deaf to their
entreaties. His master, St. Mobhi, had given him no permission to
found; and without it, so great was his reverence for the holy old man,
he would take no steps in the matter. But Mobhi had fallen a victim to
the pestilence and was sick unto death. One of his last acts was to
send messengers in search of his beloved disciple, to take him his
blessing and his girdle in token that the time had come for him to
found his monastery.

The spot that Ailech had offered to Columba was altogether after his
own heart and was now most gratefully accepted. The so-called "island"
of Derry or Daire, surrounded as it was on two sides by the Foyle
water and on the third by a marsh, consisted of a gently rising green
hill, crowned on the summit with a beautiful wood of oaks. So dear was
the oak grove of Derry to Columbcille, that rather than cut down one of
its trees, he preferred to build his church in the space that remained
between them.

The cells of the monks were placed at the foot of the hill by the
water's edge, and it was not long before the young men of Tir-Connell
came flocking to Daire to give themselves to the service of God under
the rule of their young kinsman.

It was in this beloved church of Derry that it was given so often to
Columba to behold the angels adoring their Lord on His altar throne,
and to hear the melody of their voices as they sang the eternal song of

Prayer, labour, and study divided the hours of the day, and young as
was the abbot, the hand that governed, though gentle, was very firm.
Columba had learnt from his holy masters in the spiritual life to lead
his monks by example even more than by precept. He slept on the bare
ground, with a skin for covering and a stone for pillow. Three times in
the night he rose to pray, and his food was of the scantiest and
poorest description. "Though my devotion is great," he would say, "I
sit in a chair of glass, for I am frail and fleshly." No work was too
menial for him, and he would carry the sacks of grain on his strong
shoulders from the mill to the kitchen like the humblest brother. His
austerities were the admiration of his monks, who strove in all things
to follow the example set before them.

Of all the foundations of Columba, and we are told of no less than
thirty-seven, Derry was the one that remained always the dearest to his
heart, and many of the sweet songs of his making celebrate its praises.

    The reason I love Daire is
    For its peace and its purity,
    And for its crowds of white angels
    From one end to the other.

    My Daire, my little oak grove,
    My dwelling, my dear little cell;
    O Eternal God in Heaven above,
    Woe be to him who violates it,

sings the Saint in the soft Erse or Gaelic of his native land. "On
every leaf of the oaks of Derry," he would say, "there sits a white
angel listening to the brethren as they sing the praises of God."

The dear oak trees of Derry were never to be cut down, and if one were
uprooted by the storm it was to lie for nine days before it was divided
between the poor and the guest-house of the monastery.

There was a hamlet on the northern side of the hill, and a hundred poor
were fed every day by the monks of Derry. Once during a thunderstorm
some of the wretched little houses caught tire. The people hastened to
Columba, who went at once to the church. There with outstretched arms
he poured forth his soul in supplication before the altar, and the fire
ceased at his prayer.

A fragment of the rule in use amongst the old Celtic monasteries has
been preserved, in which we can see the spirit of the monks of
Columba's time:

"Yield submission to every rule--that is devotion.

"A mind prepared for red martyrdom--that is death for the faith.

"A mind fortified and steadfast for white martyrdom--that is the trials
and mortifications and crosses of earthly life.

"Forgiveness from the heart to everyone.

"Constant prayers for those who trouble thee.

"Love God with all thy heart and all thy strength, and love thy
neighbour as thyself."

Strong and simple, like the saints of the time, to whom the "red
martyrdom" might come at any moment, and to whose fiery natures the
forgiveness of injuries was not always the easiest of precepts.

But Derry, with its oak grove and its angels, was not the only spot
that was dear to Columba.

Foremost in his affections amongst the other religious houses of his
founding was Durrow--in Irish Dair-nagh, or the plain of oaks. It was
also known as Druin-Cain, or "the beautiful hill," and well did it
deserve its name. The land, as was the case with so many of the old
monasteries, had been given to Columba by a reigning prince, probably a
kinsman of his own. Of Durrow the story is told that there was in the
orchard of the monastery an apple tree noted for the abundance as well
as the bitterness of its fruit. But Columbcille blessed the tree, and
thenceforward, says the old chronicle, its apples became sweet and good.

While Columba was at Durrow he wrote the celebrated copy of the Gospels
known as the "Book of Durrow." An ardent lover of the Sacred
Scriptures, and a skilful and patient scribe, he is said to have
written with his own hand no less than thirty copies of the Gospels and
the Psalter. The "Book of Durrow" is a transcription of the four
Gospels, exquisitely illuminated with the intricate designs of the
Celtic school. On the back is to be deciphered a petition for prayers
from "Columba the scribe, who wrote this evangel in the space of twelve

The poet-saint could sing the charms of Durrow as well as those of

    There the wind sings through the oaks and the elms,
    The joyous note of the blackbird is heard at dawn,
    The cuckoo chants from tree to tree in that noble land.

And again he calls it:

    A city devout with its hundred crosses,
    Without blemish and without transgression.

In the years to come, when Columba was in Iona, one cold winter's day
the brethren noticed that their beloved abbot was sad and silent.

"What ails you, Father?" asked Diarmaid, his faithful companion.

"My soul is sorrowful," said Columbcille, "for my dear monks of Durrow.
Bitter is the weather, and their abbot keeps them hard at work, fasting
and a-cold."

At the same moment Laisren, the abbot of Durrow, felt a sudden
inspiration to bid his monks get their dinner, and take a little rest,
on account of the severity of the weather. Another day about the same
time, when the monks of Durrow were building their new church, Columba
in his cell at Iona saw one of them falling from the roof. He cried to
God for help, and his guardian angel--such is the flashlike speed of an
angel's flight--caught the monk ere he touched the ground.

More famous even than the "Book of Durrow" is the celebrated "Book of
Kells," the most wonderful monument of the art of the Sixth Century
that has come down to us. It was written also by the hand of
Columbcille for Kells, his third foundation, though some of the
illustrations were probably added at a later date.

The story runs that not long after the foundation of Durrow, Columba
went to Kells, one of the royal seats of Diarmaid, High King of
Ireland. Now Diarmaid belonged to the southern branch of the Hy-Nialls
and was regarded by the northern branch with no great favour. When
Columba arrived the King was absent, and the Saint was treated with
scant ceremony by the soldiers of the royal guard, to whom he was
probably a stranger. When Diarmaid returned and heard of the insult
that had been offered in his royal palace to the greatest and most
beloved of the Saints of Erin, one of the royal blood and his own
cousin, he was ready to make atonement by any means in his power. He
offered to give Columba Kells itself and the surrounding country for
the founding of a monastery and a church.

It is possible that Diarmaid, whose seat on the throne was anything but
secure at the time, was not unmoved by the thought that the powerful
clan of the Hy-Nialls of Tir-Connell would not be slow in avenging the
insult to one of their clan. However that may be, Columba accepted the
gift with gratitude, and so the monastery and the church of Kells came
to be built.

The great Gospel of Columbcille, or the "Book of Kells," has been the
admiration of all ages. The patience and the delicate skill required
for such an undertaking is to be wondered at. Certainly the old monks
believed that if a thing were worth doing at all it was worth doing
well, particularly if that thing happened to be a copy of the Gospels
of Christ.

The untiring zeal and the labours of Columba had indeed brought forth
fruit throughout the whole country. His friends and kinsfolk were
generous, and churches and monasteries built by the Saint and owning
him as their patron and head sprang up in every direction. Derry,
Durrow, Kells, Raphoe, Sords, Drumcliff, Kilmacrenan, Drumcolumb,
Glencolumbcille are but a few of his foundations. More than ever might
it have been said of St. Columba that he was beloved of God and of man.

But God shows His love for His Saints in ways which are not the ways of
men, and the chastening fires of sorrow and of suffering were to purify
that ardent and impulsive nature. The haughty spirit of the descendant
of Niall of the Nine Hostages had yet to be conformed to that of his
great Master Who is meek and humble of heart.



WE have already spoken of the pilgrimage to Rome of St. Finnian of
Moville, and of the treasure that he had brought back with him from
over the sea--a copy of the Scriptures translated and corrected by the
hand of the great St. Jerome himself. Columba, when at Moville, must
often have seen and perhaps even have handled the precious volume. In
later days, so great was his desire that each of his monasteries should
have its copy of the Word of God, that he would seek out and transcribe
with his own hand all the most carefully written and most authentic
manuscripts to be found in Ireland.

The love of these old books, regarded by the Saints of Ireland as their
most precious treasure, amounted almost to a passion with Columba, so
that we are hardly surprised to find him journeying to Moville to ask
permission from his old master to make a copy of his rare and valuable
manuscript. But he was met by an unexpected rebuff; St. Finnian guarded
his treasure with a jealous eye, and feared to trust it in any hands
but his own. He firmly refused the request of his old pupil, and no
entreaties of Columba could move him from his decision. But the
determination of Columbcille was equal to his own, and he resolved to
obtain the object of his desire in spite of St. Finnian's prohibition.

He waited until all had gone to rest, and then, armed with parchment
and pigments, went softly to the church, where the precious book was
kept. Night after night, in spite of weary hand and eye, he laboured at
his self-imposed task until the day broke, and men began to stir. To
undertake the transcription of the whole book would have been an
impossibility, working thus secretly in the night; he therefore
confined himself to copying the Psalter. To Columba, poet as he was by
nature, the psalms of the "sweet singer of Israel" were particularly
clear, and the wording of the new version gave the force and the melody
of the original more perfectly than any rendering up till then in use.

The lonely vigils in the church passed quickly, in spite of the
weariness that assailed but could not daunt the enthusiastic scribe.
One night, one of the scholars of Moville, happening to pass the door
of the church, was astonished to see a bright light shining through the
crevices of the door. He stooped and looked through the keyhole.
Keyholes as well as keys were on a large scale in the sixth century,
and he obtained a good view of the interior, and of Columba bending
over the reading desk with a pile of parchment before him, copying with
skilful hand the treasure of Moville. The whole chancel was shining
with a brilliant light which fell directly across the page on which the
writer was at work.

The young man, awestruck at the sight, crept softly away, and warned
his master of what was taking place. St. Finnian knew Columba's skill
in transcription. He made no move until the Psalter was completed, and
his old pupil was preparing to depart. Then he accused his guest of
having taken a copy of his book without his permission and against his
will, and claimed the work as his rightful property.

This was to touch Columba in a tender spot. His nocturnal labours had
cost him many weary vigils, but he had borne the weariness gladly for
the sake of the prize--to give up the fruit of so much toil was more
than could be expected of him. He flatly refused to yield to Finnian's
claim. The old man was determined; Columba was firm; neither would give
way. It was agreed in the end to appeal to the King at Tara, and to
hold his judgment as final. Diarmaid might be considered as a fit judge
in such a matter. The friend and patron of the great monastery of
Clonmacnoise, founded by Ciaran in his presence and with his help, the
King was looked upon by all the Saints of Ireland as their friend.
Moreover, he was Columba's own cousin, and had treated him on a former
occasion with reverence and consideration. Columba himself had no doubt
that the judgment would be in his favour, and went readily at Finnian's
suggestion to lay the matter before him.

But Diarmaid's position on the throne was more secure than it had been
in former days. He may have thought that he had less reason to fear the
enmity of the Hy-Nialls of Tir-Connell. He had heard much of the
sanctity of Columba, and may have supposed that in spite of his high
lineage he would be ready to bear with patience an adverse judgment. He
may have been actuated by the old enmity between the two branches of
the family; or he may have decided according to his own conscience as
he thought right and just. Be that as it may, the judgment came as a
thunderclap to Columbcille.

"To every cow," said the King, "belongs its own calf." Since the copy
of Columba was the "son-book" of the manuscript of Moville, it belonged
by rights to its mother, and therefore to Finnian.

Columba's indignation knew no bounds. The judgment was unfair and
unjust, he declared; Diarmaid should bear the penalty. With dashing
eyes and burning heart he turned his back on King and courtiers, and
strode from the royal presence.

He was now a man with a grievance, who considered that he had been most
unjustly treated, but the resentment which was as yet but smouldering
in his heart was soon to be fanned into a flame.

It came to pass that Diarmaid made a great feast at Court and invited
all the princes and nobles of Erin to attend. Games were held for
several days in the green meadows of Tara, that the young athletes
might show their skill in wrestling. Now brawling and quarrelling at
these royal games had been strictly forbidden by the King on account of
the serious accidents that had happened on former occasions. But the
blood of young Ireland was hot and undisciplined, and in a moment of
anger, Curnan, the heir of the Prince of Connaught, struck the son of
the King's steward and felled him to the ground. The act was altogether
unpremeditated, but the blow had struck the lad in a vital spot; when
they tried to raise him, they found that he was dead. Young Curnan
dared not face the wrath of Diarmaid, and fled for protection to
Columba, who was his kinsman.

It was an acknowledged thing that an abbot or the founder of a
religious house had the right to give sanctuary even to great
criminals, and the claim was universally respected. But Diarmaid was
very angry and sent messengers who dragged the boy from the very
presence of Columba and`put him to death on the spot.

This fresh insult was more than Columbcille could bear. The rights of
the Church had been violated in his person. His own people, the
Hy-Nialls of the north, should judge between him and Diarmaid, he
declared, and set forth on his journey northwards, breathing vengeance
as he went. The King himself was not a little apprehensive as to what
might be the results of his arbitrary action; he stationed guards on
all the roads that led northwards, and even tried to detain the
fugitive in prison. But Columbcille successfully evaded the traps
that had been set to catch him, and by a lonely path across the
mountains went his way to Tir-Connell. As he journeyed he sang a song
of confidence in the God in whom he trusted to protect the right.

    I am alone upon the mountain
    Do Thou, O God, protect my path.
    Then shall I have no fear,
    Though six thousand men were against me.
    What protection shall guard thee from death?
    The Son of Mary shall cause thee to prosper.
    The King who has made our bodies
    He it is in whom I believe.
    My Lord is Christ the Son of God,
    Christ, the Son of Mary, the great abbot,
    Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

So singing he went speedily and in safety to his own country, where he
recounted his wrongs to the men of his own race.

Aedh, Prince of Connaught, the father of the lad who had been so
cruelly put to death, was already preparing for vengeance. The chiefs
of Tir-Connell joined him, hot in Columba's cause. The men who gathered
to avenge the insult made a formidable army, and Diarmaid on his side
lost no time in gathering his forces for battle.

The encounter took place at Cuil-dreimhne, between Balbulbin Mountain
and the sea, and the fight was long and bloody. Columba, say some of
the old writers, was himself present, and prayed with outstretched arms
for the victory of his people.

Three thousand of Diarmaid's men fell on the field of battle, while the
losses of the Hy-Nialls of the north, such was the efficacy of the
prayers of Columbcille, were comparatively slight. The victory was
complete, but Diarmaid was not the man to take his defeat meekly.

He appealed to the Church to judge the conduct of Columba. Did it seem
right and good, he asked, that a priest and an abbot, the founder of
religious houses, and one who had dedicated his life to the service of
Christ, should have provoked a bloody war which had been the death of
thousands of innocent men? The churchmen looked grave. The case thus
stated did not promise well for Columba.

He was the friend of all: the zeal and fervour of his life, the charity
and generosity of his heart were known throughout the length and
breadth of Erin. There was but one weak point in that noble nature--the
haughty spirit that had come to him with the hot blood of the
Hy-Nialls; and certainly he had been sorely tried by circumstances.
Yet--the fact was incontestable--his conduct as an abbot and as a
priest was open to the gravest censure. He was ordered to appear before
an ecclesiastical council which was summoned to meet at Teilte in the
heart of the King's domains to hear the judgment that should be
pronounced upon him by the Saints of Erin.



MANY of the holiest men in Ireland were present at the Synod of Teilte.
St. Enda of Aran had passed from his life of penance to the glory which
is eternal; but St. Brendan of Birr, and probably his namesake the
Bishop of Clonfert, with his assistant St. Moinen, Oena of
Clonmacnoise, successor of the saintly Ciaran, and St. Kevin of
Glendalough, formed part of the Council.

When Columba was seen approaching in the distance, St. Brendan of Birr
alone arose and went forward to receive him. The Fathers objected to
his action. It was not fitting, they said, that one who was under the
grave censure of the Church should be greeted with marks of deference
and honour.

"If you saw what I see," replied the holy Brendan, "you would hasten to
do likewise. I see Columba, as he climbs the hill, surrounded by a
column of light, and angels going before and after him. I bow before
the Hand of God which destines him to convert a whole nation to the
faith of Christ."

His words made a powerful impression on the assembly, for the wisdom of
Brendan was known to all; and there was a deep silence as Columba

After a short pause one of the elders arose and stated the case in
words that were brief and simple. Columba, he said, was under the
censure of his brethren for having stirred up strife in the King's
dominions, which had led to a fierce and bloody battle.

"The King's behaviour was unjust," replied Columba, "and it is hard for
a man to bear injustice patiently."

"Truly, as you say," answered the speaker, "it is hard for a man to
bear injustice; yet judge yourself if it is more fitting that one who
has dedicated his life to the service of Christ should bear injuries
patiently, or that he should avenge them at the point of the sword." He
went on to speak of the duties of a Christian and of a priest; of the
insults and humiliations offered to Jesus Christ, their Master and
their model. The words were of one who had himself striven and
conquered--of one who had a right to speak. The silence deepened, for
the Spirit of God was with him.

Alone in their midst stood Columba, but his head was bowed upon his
breast, and the grey eyes that had dashed so stormily at the Court of
Tara were dim with tears. The cry that burst from his heart when the
old man ceased to speak was the cry of another great penitent--one who
in spite of human frailty had deserved to be called a "man after God's
own heart."

"Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight: For I
acknowledge my fault, and my sin is ever before me."

The fault had been great, but the sincerity of the repentance was
evident to all.

"Go in peace," was the verdict of the Council, "and for every man that
fell on the field of Cuil-dreimhne win a soul to the faith of Christ."

Sentence had been given, but Columba was not content. He had grieved
that Lord Who from his childhood had been the sole love of his heart,
and no penance was great enough to satisfy him. Moreover the fate of
the men who had fallen at Cuil-dreimhne was an intolerable burden on
his soul. Through his fault they had been hurried--perhaps altogether
unprepared--before the judgment-seat of God. The thought that they
might be lost for all eternity was a perpetual torture to him, and he
went from one to another of the Saints of Erin seeking advice and help.

In due time he went to St. Abban, like himself a monk, and the founder
of many religious houses. Men called him the "Peacemaker," such was his
power over turbulent and violent men. Not long before, he had gone
alone and unarmed to meet one of the fiercest barbarians of the land,
the heathen chief of a reigning clan, and the terror of the surrounding
country. Such was the influence of Abban that the marauder laid down
his arms, and became in course of time not only a Christian, but also a
monk of exceptionally holy life.

Columba found St. Abban in the Church of one of his religious
foundations, known amongst the people as the "Cell of Tears" on account
of the contrition of the penitents who frequented it. He besought the
holy abbot to pray for the souls of those who through his fault had met
their death, and the thought of whose fate had destroyed his peace. He
entreated Abban also to pray to God that He would reveal to him through
the angel who spoke to him continually of the things of heaven, whether
they were saved or lost.

The humility of the holy abbot would not allow him for a long time to
accede to this last request; but in the end, so moved was he by the
anguish of Columba, that he fell on his knees and implored of God to
give this comfort to a soul in pain. The knowledge that he asked was
given him; he returned with great joy to his visitor to tell him that,
through the infinite mercy of God, the souls of all who had fallen on
that fatal day had been saved. The chief solicitude of Columba was now
at rest, but the future was not yet clear before him. How was he to
mould his life that the days to come might be an atonement for the
fault that was past? He had learnt his own weakness, he must lean more
than ever on the Strength that cannot fail, and the desire for a more
perfect expiation was strong in his heart. He determined to seek out
St. Molaise, his "soul's friend," in the lonely isle of Inishmurry and
to ask his counsel.

St. Molaise knew well the character of his penitent. The penance that
would satisfy that great heart must be full and complete. To Columba
the love of country came next to the love of God; the decision was
taken ere the penitent had ceased to speak.

It had been decreed, said he, by the Synod that Columba was to win to
the faith of Christ as many men as had perished at the battle of
Cuil-dreimhne. Let him do so; but that the atonement might be more
perfect let him go forth from his own people and his own land, and
never look upon the hills of Erin again.

Columba bowed his head before the sentence. "It shall be done," he
answered, and none but God was to know what the doing cost him. It only
remained to break the news to his friends and kinsfolk. A wail of
sorrow rang through Tir-Connell at the tidings.

It is not surprising that the land of Alba over the sea suggested
itself at once to Columba as the place of his exile. The little kingdom
of Dalriada on the Argyllshire coast was ruled by one of his own
kinsmen, and reports of the condition of the surrounding country had
possibly reached his ears. The Christianity introduced by St. Ninian
two hundred years before had almost disappeared. The ruling chiefs were
completely under the influence of the Druids, and heathenism and
idolatry were supreme throughout the land. There his apostolic spirit
would be able to find ample scope. We are told by some of the old
writers that the thought of a missionary journey to Caledonia had been
for years one of his dearest projects. If that were so, the time had
now come to put it into execution.

Columba chose the companions who were to share in his great undertaking
from amongst the monks of Derry. Two cousins of his own, Baithen, who
was to succeed him in after years as abbot of Iona, and his brother
Cobthach, were amongst the number. But the disciple who loved him the
most was Mochonna, son of the King of Ulster, whom Columba considered
too young for an enterprise that involved so many dangers, and to whose
entreaties he refused to yield. It was not fitting, said he, that the
young monk should leave the country of his birth and the parents to
whom he was so dear; but Mochonna would not be gainsaid.

"Thou," he cried, "art the father of my soul, and Holy Church is my
mother, and my country is the spot where I can work most fruitfully for

Then, that it might be impossible for his beloved master to leave him
behind, he made a vow before all who were present to quit his native
land and to follow Columba to the death. It was in this wise that the
determined and devoted Mochonna overcame all opposition and obtained
his heart's desire. He was to become one of the most active and zealous
of the little band of missionaries, in Alba, where he was venerated for
many centuries under the name of St. Machor, as the patron and founder
of the See of Aberdeen.

Thus, with only twelve companions, in the wicker-work "curraghs"
covered with oxhide that were the only boats of the Celtic races at the
time, the future apostle of Scotland set sail from his native land. A
great crowd, gathered from all the surrounding country, stood on the
shore, and as the light skiffs sped out into the sea, and the green
hill of Derry faded slowly from the eyes of the mariners, the sound of
a bitter wailing was borne to them on the breeze. The best beloved of
the Saints of Erin had left her, and she mourned for him as one lost to
her for ever.



IT must have taken the little band of missionaries, even if the wind
were in their favour, fully a day to make the coast of "Calyddon" or
"the Land of Forests," as Scotland was then called by the Britons south
of the Clyde.

They landed first, we are told, on the island of Oronsay, but on
climbing a hill to look out over the waste of waters, Columba caught
sight of the far faint coast of Ireland lying like a blue cloud on the
horizon. It was more than he could bear, and the mariners put out to
sea again, sailing northwards till they reached the little island of Hy
or Iona, off the coast of Mull. (Hy or Hii means "the island"; Iona
"the blessed island.") The bay where they landed still bears the name
of Port'a Curraigh or "the Bay of the Wicker Boat." No trace of the
hills of Erin was to be seen from the low-lying rocks of Iona, nothing
but the blue mountains and the dark crags of the Hebrides and the
white-capped waves of the sea. Here, therefore, the ambassadors of
Christ resolved to build their little monastery and to make their home.

It was a happy choice. No better quarters could have been found for a
missionary station. Iona, separated only by a narrow channel from the
island of Mull, lay exactly opposite to the friendly kingdom of
Dalriada, and the missionaries had only to sail up the chain of lochs,
now united by artificial means and called the Caledonian Canal, to find
themselves in the heathen country of the Picts. The weird and austere
beauty of the Hebrides with their wild rocks and foaming seas did not
at first appeal to the Gaels of Ireland, fresh from the green hills and
smiling landscapes of their native land. The bare crags and the dark
mountains, the grey skies and the hollow waves that beat perpetually on
those bleak shores,

    and bring
    The eternal note of sadness in,

the wailing of the wind through the caves and the narrow channels
fretted into weird shapes by the ocean tide, made a music which was
alien to their ears, and strangely melancholy to their warm Irish
hearts. Again and again the passionate note of longing for the dear
mother-country breaks out in the writings of Columba.

    'Twere sweet to sail the white waves that break on the shores of Erin,
    'Twere sweet to land 'mid the white foam that laps on the shores of
    My boat would fly were its prow once tumed to the dear land of Erin,
    And the sad heart cease to bleed.

    There's a grey eye that ever turns with longing look to Erin,
    No more in life again to see the men and maids of Erin.
    There's a mist of tears in the melting eye that sadly turns to Erin,
    Where the birds' songs are so sweet.

Hy, he calls the "land of ravens"; it was only after many years that he
was to sing of the place of his exile as

    Hy of my love, Hy of my heart,

dear then as the land of his labours and of his apostolate for Christ,
and very close in his affections to the country of his birth.

The poet-heart of Columbcille could sing of his regret for the island
of his birth; but he was not the man to let it interfere with his work
for God in the island of his adoption. Iona consisted for the most part
of barren and desert moor. Columba asked and obtained it as a gift from
Conal, King of the Dalriadan Scots, and set his monks at once to
cultivate the soil. The huts of the brethren were built in a circle
round the church, with a guest-house and a simple refectory adjoining.
The building was of wood and wattles, and the work proceeded rapidly.
The hut of Columba was in the most elevated spot of the monastic
enclosure, and here, during the short intervals between his missionary
journeys, he spent his time in prayer, study, and the transcription of
the Holy Scriptures. Iona had its writing school for the training of
the younger monks, and became famous later for the excellence of its
scribes. Adamnan in his Life of St. Columba mentions the scriptorium
with its waxen tablets and the styles for writing, the inkhorns and the
pens, with the brushes and the colours for illuminating the manuscripts.

In all the labours of the day Columba took his part; no work was too
humble for the holy abbot, and he exacted from others the same cheerful
diligence as he himself practised. No one was allowed to be idle, there
was work enough for all, and each was expected to take his share. When
the manual labours were ended for the day, the monks betook themselves
to prayer, reading, or writing, while the less expert could always
employ themselves in works of charity for the common good. Even while
the brethren were engaged in active labour, they strove to occupy their
minds with thoughts of God, so that their work might be hallowed by
prayer and bring its blessings on their mission. When the toils of the
day were at an end they took their rest on their hard pallets of straw;
but Columba slept on the bare ground with a stone for pillow, as had
been his custom from his earliest years.

The rule of a Celtic community recommended hospitality to guests as
strongly as personal austerity, and nowhere was this rule more
faithfully observed than at Iona. No sooner were the monks settled in
their new home, than pilgrims came from every quarter to ask counsel of
Columba or to embrace the religious life under his direction. The holy
abbot, who sought in every action of his life to make atonement by true
humility for the movement of pride that had cost him so dear, would go
himself to meet them. Kneeling before them he would loosen their
sandals and wash their feet, which he kissed with reverent devotion;
performing for them, in imitation of his Divine Master, this lowliest
of services. At every hour of the day or night shouts might be heard
across the narrow channel that divided Iona from the island of Mull. At
this signal the brethren would leave their work to go down to the shore
where, stepping into their "curraghs," they would row across the Sound
to fetch the pilgrims.

Some of these were merely moved by a desire to see and speak to the
holy man whose fame had already reached their ears. Some were in need
of advice, some of material help. Some had a load of sin and sorrow on
their souls, and desired the Saint's absolution; some were suffering
from diseases, and sought his prayers and blessing; while others wished
to leave the world and join the brethren in their life of penance.
There was no sorrow to which the loving sympathy of Columbcille did not
extend, no necessity which did not appeal to his charity. He dealt with
them all in turn, and gave to each according to his need.

It was on one of these occasions that Columba, engaged at the moment in
transcribing the Scriptures, foretold sadly that one of the pilgrims
who was heard shouting lustily on the seashore, would shortly upset his
inkhorn. The visitor, a too enthusiastic admirer, in his eagerness to
embrace the Saint, fulfilled the prediction to the letter. Luckily the
sleeve of Columba's tunic was the only thing that suffered. He had
probably put the precious manuscript in a place of safety.

He was careful with those who desired to embrace the religious life,
and would make trial of their vocation with wise severity. He knew well
that in those wild days it was no uncommon thing for men who had led
evil lives to desire to make atonement for their sins in a monastery.
Given that the repentance were sincere, he wholly approved their
design, for many of the Saints of the Church have been converted
sinners. But he knew also the weakness of human nature and the strength
of the evil habits of a lifetime, and demanded that such penitents
should go through a long probation and prove their sincerity by
humility and obedience to those in charge of them before they were
admitted to the religious life.

For these would-be monks he founded communities on some of the
neighbouring islands, where wise and saintly men might try their virtue
by a probation which lasted sometimes for seven years or even longer
when necessary.

On one occasion when Columba was visiting one of these foundations on
the island of Himba, he ordered that in honour of his presence, some
savoury addition should be made to the frugal midday meal. The brethren
gratefully partook of the holiday fare in the spirit in which it was
given--with one exception. This was one of the penitents who was
undergoing his probation and who seemed to think it more perfect to
refuse the proffered dainty. Columba with kindly insistence offered the
dish with his own hands to the reluctant brother, and pressed him to
partake of it, thinking that some scruple might be distressing him. But
he was met with an abrupt refusal. For a moment Columbcille was silent,
then looking at the man sternly he said: "You refuse the comfort which
I and your superior think it right to offer you. The time will come
when you will become a thief again as you were of old, and will steal
venison for your own pleasure in the forests of your native place." The
prophecy was fulfilled. Not long after, the man returned to his evil
life, and died unrepentant in his own country.

In spite of these precautions the community at Iona increased so
rapidly that the island soon became too small to hold it, and little
bands of devoted men were sent forth to found other monasteries on the
mainland, to spread the faith and love of Christ. There are more than
ninety churches in Scotland that can trace their foundation to the time
of Columba; and each church, according to the custom of the time, had
its neighbouring monastery.

The first missionary journey of Columba was to the Scots of Dalriada.
They were Christians it is true, but living as they did surrounded on
all sides by a heathen population, they were apt to be influenced more
or less by the customs of their neighbours. It was necessary that
friendly relations should be established with these men, themselves
originally of Irish extraction, before attempting the conversion of the
Picts. The monks of Iona were hardy mariners as well as tillers of the
soil. The holy island had its little fleet of curraghs which varied in
size according to the number of ox-hides used in their construction. In
these frail barks the missionaries would brave the stormy seas of the
Hebrides and all the dangers of the deep, secure in their trust in God
and the prayers of their holy abbot. There were sharks, and whales too,
on the coasts of Caledonia in those days, and the curraghs were small
protection against such monsters; but the hearts of the mariners were
stout and their faith was strong. They sailed northwards to far St.
Kilda and the Orkney and Shetland Isles, where the ruins are still to
be seen of churches which they founded.

The holy abbot would take his turn at the oars with the rest, and when
he was not with the missioners on their travels would follow them in
spirit from his cell at Iona, shielding and protecting them by his
prayers. He knew by the supernatural light that God had given him when
they were in danger, and suffered with them in all the hardships they
endured. The interests of the last and least of them were as dear to
him as his own. Small wonder then that the memory of the holy life
lived more than thirteen hundred years ago is fragrant and living
still, and that the name of Columba is cherished in the land of his
adoption even to the present day.



IN the mountain fastnesses of Caledonia beyond the Grampian Hills,
lived a wild and hardy race of men known to their British neighbours as
the Picts or "Painted People." The name had originally been bestowed on
them by the Romans in allusion to their habit of going into battle with
their bodies tattooed all over with strange devices. They were a brave
and warlike tribe, who had resisted the landing of Agricola and his
legions, and after several pitched battles had driven the Roman eagles
triumphantly before them to the sea. In later days they became the
terror of the Britons of Strathclyde and Northumbria, descending upon
them in wild hordes and raiding their country without mercy. These men
were the original ancestors of the Highlanders of Scotland, in whom the
courage and the fighting spirit, typical of the race, have survived
through all the vicissitudes of their country, and who to this day are
acknowledged to be the bravest and hardiest of the soldiers of the

It was to this people, like himself of Celtic origin, that Columba was
to carry the priceless gift of the faith, entering with a handful of
unarmed men into the heart of the country which the Roman legions had
feared to penetrate. Brude or Bmidh, the Pictish King, was entrenched
in his fortress on a rocky hill near the site of Inverness. The little
band of missionaries wound their way up the hill, chanting as they went
a psalm of confidence in God. At their head was Columba, bearing aloft
the cross. The tidings of their approach was brought to the Pictish
King, who ordered that the gates of the fortress should be barred
against them and admittance refused.

Broichem, the high-priest of the Druids, the foster-father and chief
adviser of King Brude, was probably responsible for the order, for, the
Christians once admitted, he feared that his influence would be no
longer supreme. Columba, however, was not in the least daunted by this
inhospitable reception. He made the sign of the Cross before the barred
gates and struck them strongly with his clenched fist. Bolts and bars
shot back at his touch, and silently the great gates rolled open to
give the Saint and his companions passage. The King, who had seen the
marvel together with all his Court, was struck with fear, and went to
meet Columba with fair and peaceful words. From henceforth he treated
him with reverence and courtesy, confirming to him the gift of Iona,
which might be considered to lie as much in his territory as in that of
the Dalriadan king, and remaining throughout his lifetime a true friend
and protector.

It was not until some time later that he became a Christian, but the
Druids could foresee the results of his friendly intercourse with the
missionaries, and resolved not to lose their influence without a
struggle. Their bitter enmity was to follow Columba for years, and to
be the chief hindrance to his work amongst the Picts.

The religion of the Druids of Caledonia differed in some degree from
that of the Druids of Britain. The people were taught to worship the
sun, the rivers and the forests. Certain of the streams and wells which
were, said the Druid priests, under the influence of a beneficent
spirit, were wholesome and good to drink, while to taste of others
which they declared to be under the rule of evil spirits, would be
followed by instant death.

The first thing to be done was to convince the people of the falsity of
their belief and to make them cease the idolatrous practices connected
with it. Columba drank in their presence of the water that was supposed
to be deadly, to prove to them that no evil effects would follow. The
Druids pursued him wherever he went, interrupting him continually in
his preaching, holding him up to the derision of the people, and
misrepresenting what he said. Columba bore all their insults with
patience; but when it came to trying to drown the missionaries' voices
in the singing of the psalms of the Church with shouts and mocking
cries, his zeal for God's glory overcame for once his meekness, and he
intoned the holy chant in such a voice of thunder that his adversaries
were silenced, and the King and his people trembled with fear.

In spite of the Druids, crowds flocked to hear the preaching of
Columba, and many were converted to the faith. On one occasion, shortly
after the conversion to Christianity of a whole family, the eldest son
fell ill and died. The Druids were of course at hand to assure the
sorrowing father that the loss of his child was a well-merited
punishment indicted by the gods of his country in consequence of his
apostasy. The man's faith wavered, but Columba was watching over his
converts; and after doing what he could to console the grief of the
boy's parents, asked to be left alone beside the bier to pray. With
tears and entreaties he besought of God to show forth His almighty
power, and the Heavenly Father heard the prayer of His servant and
raised the child to life. Columba led him to his parents, and their
faith in the true God was confirmed for ever. The prayer of
Columbcille, says Adamnan his biographer, was as powerful with God as
that of Elias and Eliseus in the old law, and Peter, John, and Paul in
the new.

One day when the Saint was preaching the Gospel in the island of Skye,
he had one of those flashes of supernatural insight of which we have
spoken several times before. He told his companions that there would
come to them that very day an old Pictish chief who was at the point of
death, and who had tried to lead a good life according to the natural
law of God and the light of his own conscience.

It happened as he had foretold. Towards evening a boat was seen
approaching the coast of Skye, manned by Pictish warriors supporting in
their arms an old man whose trappings proclaimed him to be of noble
birth. Drawing their boat to the shore, they landed and formed a rude
litter with their shields, on which they carried the old chieftain up
the hill and laid him down at Columba's feet. The Saint spoke to the
dying man of the faith of Christ and baptized him, and shortly
afterwards he gave up his soul to God.

On another occasion when they were crossing the mountains, Columba saw
a vision of angels, and exhorted his companions to hasten on their way.
"For," said he, "there is a man of good and honest life waiting beyond
the hills to receive baptism before he dies." They quickened their
pace, and when they reached Glen Urquhart, found, as Columba had
predicted, an old man awaiting their arrival. The holy abbot baptized
him and bade him depart in peace, and the angels whom he had seen on
the mountains carried his soul to heaven.

The chief Druid Broichem had a young Irish slave-girl, taken captive in
time of war, for whose freedom Columba had several times petitioned.
The Druid, who was not likely to look favourably on any request of the
great Christian missionary, even refused to accept the ransom offered
for the girl, though she was pining her heart out for her family and
her home.

Columbcille warned him that if he persistently refused to show mercy to
his captive, the punishment of God would overtake him, and he would die
before Columba himself left the country, but Broichem was not to be
moved. Not long afterwards Columba set out on his return journey to
Iona, but he had hardly reached Loch Ness when he was overtaken by two
messengers from the high-priest beseeching him to take pity on their
master, who had been suddenly taken ill and was in danger of death.

They were assured that the Druid would recover, but only on condition
that he set the Irish maiden at liberty. She was at once sent to
Columba, who found means for her return to her country and her people.
As for Broichem, he was more incensed than ever against the Christians,
and considered how he could best check their growing influence with the

The Druids seem to have had a certain power over the elements, perhaps
through the evil spirits whom they worshipped. They had heard of and
seen the miracles worked by Columba, and resolved to show how superior
their powers of magic were to his.

On the day fixed for the departure of the missionaries, Broichem
threatened that he would cause a thick fog and a contrary wind to
arise, so that it would be impossible for them to embark.

The people were gathered in crowds to bid farewell to Columba, when to
their great consternation the Druid's threat was fulfilled. The fog was
dense and the unfavourable wind blew stormily. This time at least they
had triumphed, or so they thought, and they did not attempt to conceal
their joy.

But Columba, nothing daunted, bade the mariners spread their sails, and
the awe-stricken crowd on the shore beheld the boat flying swiftly
westwards to Iona in the teeth of the contrary wind, as if it had been
altogether in their favour.

The departure was not to be for long. Again and again Columba revisited
the mainland to strengthen and confirm the faith of his converts; and
in course of time churches and monasteries sprang up amongst the
forests and the mountains of Caledonia, little strongholds of
Christianity the beneficent influence of which was soon to penetrate
throughout the length and breadth of the land.

Columba had many faithful helpers in his missionary labours. Malruve, a
kinsman and countryman of his own, soon followed him to Iona to share
in his work among the Picts. He became abbot of Appercrossan, now
Applecross, on the north-west coast of Caledonia, and suffered the "red
martyrdom" some years after the death of Columbcille, at the hands of
Norwegian pirates. St. Canice, the companion of Columba and Ciaran at
Clonard and Glasnevin, also followed his old friend across the sea. He
founded a monastery and a church on the shore of Loch Lagan, and
another in Fifeshire. St. Kenneth, as the Scotch called him, was noted
for his eloquence and learning, and wrote a commentary on the four
Gospels which was much valued in his day.

Drostan, one of the most beloved of the first companions of Columba,
was chosen to govern a monastery founded on the east coast in the
present district of Buchan. When he realized that the breadth of
Scotland would henceforward separate him from the brethren whom he
loved, and the father of his soul, he wept so bitterly that Columba
declared that the new foundation should be called the "place of tears,"
and Déar (Deer) it remains to this day, to prove to us that the
religious life has not the effect, as some people suppose, of hardening
the hearts and freezing the affections of those who embrace it, but
asks only that love go hand in hand with sacrifice in order that it may
be conformed to the love of Christ.



COLUMBA had been eleven years at Iona when Conal, the King of the
Scottish Dalriada, died. He was succeeded by Aidan, his cousin, whose
love and veneration for Columbcille led him to choose him for his
"soul's friend," and to beg him to come himself to place the crown upon
his head and to pray that the grace of God might be with him in his
governing. Columba assented to his request, and so it came to pass that
the solemn rite of the consecration of a king was performed for the
first time in the British Isles.

Aidan was crowned on the famous "Stone of Destiny" which was afterwards
removed to Scone and was used as the coronation chair for the Kings of
Scotland, until Edward I, "the Hammer of the Scots," carried it away
and set it up in Westminster Abbey. Perhaps it was as well for the
peace of mind of the ruthless oppressor that he could not look into the
future, and see how the royal line of Scotland would in course of time
follow the Stone of Destiny, and, crowned once more upon it, rule over
the United Kingdom.

For Aidan was the ancestor of Macbeth and Malcolm Canmore, and through
the female line, of the Bruces and the Stuarts, while many of the old
Highland families, such as the Mackenzies, MacKinnons, Mackintoshes,
Macgregors, Macleans and Macnabs, count their descent from the
Dalriadan kinsmen of Columba.

The little kingdom had become powerful, and the yearly tribute to
Ireland was galling to the pride of the Scots. They would fain have
cast off the Irish yoke, and were quite ready to fight for their
independence, but Columba bade them have patience, and all would be
well. Diarmaid, his old enemy, had died a violent death, and Aedh
MacAinmire, who was of Columba's own branch of the Hy-Nialls, now sat
on the throne of Ireland: the time seemed ripe for the Saint to use his
influence on behalf of Dalriada.

A large assembly or convention was about to be held at Drum-ceatt near
Derry, to decide several important questions, some of which interested
Columba nearly. It was a fitting moment, he thought, to obtain what
they desired; and taking the King of Dalriada with him he set sail for

The chief question which the Irish parliament had met to discuss, was
the abolition or the banishment of the Bards. This ancient order of
national poets dated from the earliest times, and in olden days had
shared the power of the Druids. They were the guardians of the poetry,
the history and the music of Ireland, and were held in such honour that
the first place at table, after that reserved for the King, was theirs
by right. A chief poet was entitled to a retinue of thirty men, and the
Bards of a lower grade to fifteen. They had been loaded with honours by
those of the princes and kings of Ireland who desired to have their
brave deeds in battle handed down to their children or held up to the
admiration of their rivals in the songs of the country.

Many abuses had arisen from such an exercise of power. The Bards in
course of time had become thoroughly unpopular, and had only themselves
to blame for the change of feeling towards them, for even their best
friends could not defend their conduct. People had grown weary of an
insolence that refused to sing the praises of the heroes and warriors
of Erin unless at a price that few could afford to pay, and the Bards
threatened to hold up those who displeased them to the contempt and
ridicule of the nation.

The King went so far as to drive them from his palace, but so secure
were they of their own power that they had the boldness to come back,
and to demand of him the royal brooch that he wore upon his breast, the
very token of his kingship. Beside himself with anger, the King
announced his intention of doing away completely with the order of the
Bards at the great Convention which was about to be held at Drum-ceatt,
and their enemies, who were not few, resolved to see the threat carried

The Bards realized at last that they had gone too far, they could
scarcely find a friend to speak for them, the situation was wellnigh
hopeless. In their distress they thought of Columba, who had always
befriended their order, and sent him a piteous message that their ruin
was certain unless he would use his influence in their favour.

The Convention was largely attended. The two kings presided, and the
presence of Columba, in company with many other abbots and bishops,
gave dignity and order to the councils. The first question raised was
that of the supremacy of Ireland over the Scots of Dalriada. Columba
was asked to give his opinion, but fearful of being unduly influenced
by his affection for Aidan, he asked his friend St. Colman to plead the
cause of liberty. It was decided that Dalriada should cease to pay
tribute and become an independent kingdom, on the condition that she
promised a perpetual alliance with Ireland. The great question of the
Bards came next, and on this subject the King himself was the first to
speak. Their insolence, their idleness, and their greed, he said, had
made them odious in the eyes of the whole nation. He therefore appealed
to the assembly to banish them and to do away with all their privileges.

Not a voice was raised in their defence, and in another moment their
fate would have been decided, when Columba rose to speak. The whole
assembly did him reverence, and his clear voice rang out with all its
old charm over the hearts of his countrymen.

It was true, he said, that the Bards had greatly abused their power;
let therefore the abuses be corrected, let their power be diminished,
let the guilty be punished. But if the great Bardic order were
abolished, who would be left to make the records of the nation, to sing
the noble deeds of its heroes or to lament the death of the brave?
Where would be the glory of Erin? Why should the good grain be torn up
with the tares? The poetry of Ireland, which was dear to her as her
life, would perish for ever, were the order of poets to be destroyed.

The eloquent pleading of Columba carried all before it. It was decreed
that the order should be reformed and that regular schools should be
founded for the study of the literature of the nation, where the young
poets might be brought up to devote their lives to their art, and to
avoid the bad habits that had made the order so unpopular with the
people. The Bards, who were themselves present at the assembly under
the leadership of their chief, Dallan Forgaill, showed their gratitude
to Columba by composing a poem in his praise. They wisely allowed
themselves to be guided by his advice in their plans for reform, and in
the establishment of the schools to which Ireland owes the preservation
of the old chronicles and of the ancient literature in which she is so
rich. They justified the plea of their protector and became faithful
auxiliaries of the clergy, singing in the times of persecution the
glory of the heroes and the Saints of Erin, and the beauty of the
ancient faith.

When the assembly broke up, Columba paid a visit to Aedh in his royal
palace, when he sought and obtained the freedom of Scandlan Mor, son of
the King of Ossory, whom the High King of Ireland had unjustly detained
in prison. The eldest son of Aedh was perhaps a little uneasy at the
prospect of the visit, for he had received a severe reproof from the
Saint for holding the monks of Iona up to ridicule; but Domnal, his
younger brother, attached himself to Columbcille with a boy's
enthusiastic admiration for all that is great and noble. Columba was
delighted with the manly young prince, and prophesied that his reign
would be a long and happy one, on condition that he "received the Holy
Communion every week, and tried to keep his promises." He would also,
he said, "die on his own feather-bed," a rare enough thing in the days
when a King of Ireland was pretty sure to fall on the field of battle
or to perish by the hand of an assassin.

Aedh himself had reason to be uneasy about the state of his soul, and
asked Columba if any of the princes who had died during his reign were
in heaven. He was told that three only had escaped the pains of
purgatory and had entered into everlasting bliss.

"And I," asked the King, "shall I save my soul?"

"Not unless you repent heartily of all your sins and lead a better
life," replied Columba; and Aedh resolved to take his advice.

To all the princes of Ireland, especially to those who were of his own
blood, Columbcille preached compassion and mercy towards their enemies,
the forgiveness of injuries, and the recall of exiles. Many of the
latter had passed by Iona as they went to seek shelter in a strange
land, and his heart had grieved with them in their sorrow.

He resolved also to visit his religious foundations in Ireland before
he returned to the country of his adoption, and we can imagine the joy
of the monks of Derry and Durrow who had never thought to look upon
their beloved father's face again. The people came out in crowds to
welcome him and carried a canopy of green branches over his head.
Adamnan tells us of the miracles worked by the Saint on his journey,
and how the labourers would leave their work as he passed and go before
him singing hymns of joy.

As he was about to enter one of the monasteries, a poor little boy, who
was looked upon by everybody as an idiot on account of his stammering
tongue and vacant eye, crept through the crowd and took hold of the
border of Columba's cloak. The Saint turned round, and taking the child
in his arms embraced him tenderly.

"Show me your tongue," he said to the little boy, who was trembling
with fear; and then, making the sign of the Cross over him, he turned
to the bystanders, who were vexed that he should pay so much attention
to an idiot.

"This child whom you despise so much," he said, "will grow daily in
wisdom and virtue; God will give to him eloquence and power; and when
he has grown to man's estate he will be counted amongst the great ones
of his country."

The Saint's prophecy came true. The little idiot boy grew into the
great St. Ernan, venerated both in Ireland and Scotland; and it was he
himself who told the story to the abbot Adamnan who wrote the great
life of Columbcille.



THE visitation of the Irish monasteries completed, Columba returned to
Iona. But it was no longer as an exile that he left the shores of Erin.
This time it was to "Hy of his love, and Hy of his heart" that he was
bound--to the country that had become dear to him as the land of his
adoption and of his mission; where he had suffered and striven for his
Master's sake, and where his work had been blessed beyond all that he
had hoped or dreamed.

It is especially during the last few years of Columba's life on earth
that we can see how the natural fire and arrogance of his nature had
been gradually transformed into the gentleness and charity of Christ.
It was not without many a struggle that the transformation took place;
but Columbcille was a man of great heart and of determined will; what
he set himself to do was sure to be done. Now he had set himself--with
God's grace--to self-conquest, and the work, though not to be completed
in a day nor yet in a year, was at last by dint of prayer and patience
gloriously achieved. The gentleness of a naturally strong and fiery
temperament won--so to speak--at the sword's point, is always an
extraordinary force in the world, and we find the power of Columba over
his fellow-men and his influence with them for good increasing every

St. Fintan, one of the Saint's first companions in Iona, was asked once
towards the end of Columba's life to describe him to one who had heard
much of his holiness, but who did not know him.

"He is a king amongst kings," answered Fintan, "a sage amongst wise
men, a monk amongst monks. He is poor with God's poor; a mourner with
those who weep, and joyful with those who rejoice. Yet amidst all the
gifts of nature and of grace that have been so liberally showered on
him by God, the true humility of Christ is as royally rooted in his
heart as if it were its natural home."

He was the father, the brother and the friend of all who were in want
or distress; the dauntless champion of the oppressed and of the weak,
the avenger of all who suffered wrong. His prayers and blessing were
sought by all the navigators of the stormy seas of the Hebrides as a
defence against the dangers of the deep; while during his journeys on
the mainland the people would bring out their sick and lay them in his
path, that they might touch the hem of his cloak or receive his
benediction as he passed. Their simple faith was not in vain: many were
the miraculous cures wrought by the Saint, whose prayers were as
powerful with God as those of St. Peter and St. John, and with whom he
might have said "silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give

He would visit rich and poor alike, and it was often in the houses of
the latter that he met with the truest hospitality. He would find out
with gentle tact what were the means of his humble hosts, and plan ways
of increasing their little store. Once when he was passing through
Lochaber on his way to visit King Bruidh in his royal palace, he was
offered a lodging in the house of a poor peasant and kindly entertained
with the best that the poverty of the house could furnish. In the
morning when the little Highland cows of his host were being driven out
to pasture, Columbcille blessed them, and foretold that they would
increase until in course of time they would number five hundred, and
that the blessing of a grateful traveller would rest upon the man and
his family.

Columba took an observant interest in all the things of nature, and was
often able to advise the peasants how to improve the simple methods of
farming, hunting, and fishing on which their daily food depended. On
one occasion he profited by the hospitality shown to him by a rich
Highland chief to put an end to a deadly feud which in true Highland
fashion had existed for many years between his host and one of his
neighbours. The enemies were reconciled, and both became fast friends
of the peacemaker.

Tender-hearted as Columba was to all who were in sorrow and distress,
to none did his ready sympathy extend more fully than to those who were
exiles from their native land, for he remembered the early days of his
own sojourn in Iona. One of his special friends was a Pictish chief of
noble birth who had received him on the occasion of his first
missionary journey to Caledonia and treated him with generous
hospitality. Some time after he fell into disgrace and was banished
from the country. Columba appealed in his favour to Feradagh, the chief
of the island of Islay, whom he begged to give shelter and protection
to the exile, while he tried what his influence could do with the
Pictish king to obtain his friend's recall. Feradagh, after promising
hospitality to the fugitive, murdered him treacherously for the sake of
his possessions. The news was brought to Columbcille, who cried out in
indignation that the punishment of God would overtake the traitor
before he had tasted of the flesh of the boars that he was fattening
for his table.

Feradagh laughed at the threat but was not a little uneasy, for he had
heard of the strange way in which Columba's prophecies were wont to
come true. He had a boar killed without loss of time and roasted, in
order to reassure himself that this time at least the Saint had been
wrong. As he sat down to table, he fell down from his seat and died, to
the fear and consternation of his followers.

A certain chief named Donnell, who with his sons and followers feared
neither God nor man, was the terror of all the neighbouring country.
Although he could claim kinship with the King of Dalriada, Columba
excommunicated him for his deeds of violence, and he and his family
vowed vengeance on the Saint. Taking advantage of a journey that
Columba was making to a neighbouring island with only one or two
companions, one of the sons of Donnell resolved to murder him as he
slept. But one of Columbcille's companions, a monk named Finn Lugh, was
beset that night with an unaccountable fear for the safety of his holy
abbot, and begged him to lend him his cowl, in which he wrapped himself
and lay down to sleep. In the dead of night the assassin crept upon the
little band of travellers, and, seeking out the monk who wore the
abbot's cowl, stabbed him, and fled to a place of safety. But the
garment of the Saint protected the man who was ready to give his life
for his master, and Finn Lugh escaped without a wound.

Another lawless member of the same family fell upon and robbed a man
who lived upon the rocky peninsula of Ardnamurchan, and had constantly
shown hospitality to Columba on his journeys. The blessing of the Saint
had brought him good fortune, and his little patrimony had increased
year by year. The people, in honour of the affection shown him by the
holy abbot, called him "Columbain" or "the friend of Columba." As the
robber was returning, laden with the spoils of the poor man, to the
boat that was awaiting him at the water's edge, he met Columba himself,
whom he had supposed to be safely distant at Iona. The Saint reproved
him sternly for his crimes, and bade him restore the goods that he had
stolen. The robber chief maintained a grim silence until he was safely
in his boat and well out from the shore. Then he stood up, and bursting
into a storm of insults and evil words, shouted defiance and derision
at Columbcille as long as his voice could be heard. The oppression of
the helpless never failed to rouse Columba's wrath. He strode out into
the water after the retreating boat, and, raising his arms to heaven,
prayed that justice might be done on the robber. Then returning quietly
to his companions he said to them, "That wicked man who despises Christ
in His poor will return no more to these shores. The cup of his iniquity
is full." Shortly afterwards a storm arose, and the boat with all that
were in it sank like a stone between Mull and Colonsay.

But it was not only to the poor and the oppressed that Columba's
charity was shown. We find him at the Court of King Aidan, holding his
young son Hector "the Blond" in his arms and praying that his life
might be as fair as his features. To the nobles who kept the laws of
God he was as devoted a friend as he was a steadfast opponent of those
who outraged them. To the penitent he was full of mercy and hope, and
many sinners were persuaded by his eloquence and power to forsake their
evil ways.

But nowhere was his charity more clearly shown than with his own
community at Iona. He foresaw the needs of all, and watched over his
spiritual sons with a fatherly love and care. During one of the last
summers of his life when the monks were coming back in the evening
after a day of harvesting, they stopped short at a little distance from
the monastery to enjoy the sense of peace and consolation that seemed
to come to meet them as they approached their home.

"How is it," asked one of the younger brethren, "that at this spot
every night when we return from our daily labours, our hearts rejoice,
our burdens grow light, and the very perfume of heaven seems borne to
us on the breeze?"

"I will tell you," said Baithen, the beloved friend and successor of
Columba. "Our saintly abbot, whose heart is with us in our work, is
praying for us and longing for our safe return. His heart is heavy with
our weariness, and, having no longer the strength to come in the body
to meet us and help us with our burdens, he sends forth the blessing
and the prayer of his soul to refresh and console us on our way."

Not only his fellow-men but all the creatures of God were dear to
Columba for their Creator's sake. One day he bade a certain monk at
Iona go down to the seashore and watch.

"For," said the Saint, "ere the night falls a weary guest will arrive
to us from Ireland, faint and ready to die. Succour her and tend her
carefully for three days, and when she is rested and refreshed let her
go, that she may return once more to her native land." The guest was a
poor storm-driven crane which fell on the shore exhausted at the
brother's feet. He bore it tenderly to the monastery and cared for it
as his master had bidden. In the evening Columba met the monk and
blessed him for his compassion to the weary stranger; and, as he had
foretold, on the third day, strengthened and refreshed the bird took
its flight back to Erin.



WE have already seen how it was often given to St. Columba to know of
events that were happening far away from the place where he might be,
and how by his gift of prophecy he could sometimes foretell what would
come to pass in the future. As he grew older it seemed to those who
knew him intimately that these flashes of supernatural insight became
more frequent, and that the things of the next world were growing daily
more familiar to him as the time of his earthly pilgrimage drew to an
end. Many instances of this have been recorded by his biographers.

One morning at Iona when the Mass was about to be celebrated, Columba
sent word to the priest whose turn it was to offer the Holy Sacrifice
that day, to do it in honour of the glorious birthday of St. Brendan.
The monk could not understand his abbot's behest as no word had reached
Iona of the holy Brendan's death. Columba then told him that during the
night he had seen in a vision the soul of Brendan ascending to heaven
surrounded by a great company of rejoicing angels; he knew therefore
that he had entered into his rest.

On another occasion he ordered that the Mass for the feast of a bishop
should be sung. Now there was no feast marked in the calendar for that
day, and the monks asked their holy abbot to tell them the name of the
bishop in whose honour the Holy Mysteries were to be celebrated.

"Last night," he replied, "I saw the soul of Columban, the Bishop of
Leinster, in heaven, surrounded with the glory of the blessed; it is in
his honour that we must offer the Holy Sacrifice to-day."

Columba had a deep love and reverence for all honest labour done for
God. One night he told his monks that he had just seen entering into
heaven the soul of a blacksmith whom he had known long ago in Ireland.

"He has bought eternal life," he said, "with the labours of the
earthly. He was charitable and gave of his poverty to the poor,
therefore the Lord of the Poor has rewarded him."

In the course of his travels in the Highlands he met one day in a
lonely gorge a countryman in great distress. He was returning from a
journey, and had heard that during his absence from home, a band of
Saxon marauders had laid waste his little farm and burnt his house to
the ground. He was in an anguish of fear lest his wife and children
should have perished. Columba comforted him with kind words.

"Go in peace, my good man," he said, "your cattle and all your
possessions have, it is true, been carried off by the robbers; but God
has been merciful. Your dear little family is safe; go, for your loved
ones are waiting for you, and comfort their sorrowing hearts."

Again, a year after the attempt had been made to murder Columba and the
monk Finn Lugh had saved his life, the Saint asked his companion if he
remembered the occurrence.

"It is just a year ago to-day," he said, "since Donnell tried to murder
me, and our dear Finn Lugh would have given his life for mine. At this
very moment the would-be murderer has been struck down by an enemy in
punishment for his evil deeds."

One of the Saxon converts of the Saint had joined the community at
Iona, and had been given charge of the bakehouse. Columba would often
go to encourage him in his labours and to speak to him of the things of
God. One day the Saxon saw him suddenly raise his eyes to heaven and
join his hands in prayer. "Happy, happy woman," he cried, "to whom it
is given to enter into the heavenly kingdom, carried by the hands of
the angels."

A year afterwards when speaking to the same man, he said to him, "Do
you remember the woman whose soul I saw a year ago ascending into
heaven? I see her now coming to fetch the soul of her husband who is
just dead. She is fighting with her prayers for that beloved soul
against the powers of evil, and the angels are praying with her. See!
she conquers, she bears him off, for he has led a good and upright
life, and the two who loved each other so dearly on this earth are
united for ever in the joy and glory of heaven."

Columbcille seems indeed to have had some such intimation from God of
the death of the greater number of his friends; a vision of the glory
of that celestial country into which he was himself soon to enter, and
after which he sighed with such ardent longing. If the angels had been
with him in his youth, much more did they surround him in his later

Many stories are told of his celestial visions as he prayed in the
forests of Skye, dear to him for their loneliness and silence. One dy,
when he was at Iona he went out, giving orders that no one was to
follow him. He was going to pray, he said, on a little hill to the west
of Iona, which was one of his favourite retreats. One young brother,
more curious than the rest, had heard strange tales about the holy
abbot, and followed him carefully from afar to see what was going to
happen. When he had come within a short distance of the place of
prayer, he saw the Saint standing with arms raised to heaven,
surrounded by a troop of white-robed angels. The young monk, trembling
lest he should be discovered, made his way back to the monastery as
quickly as he could.

When Columba rose during the night as was his habit to kneel in prayer
on the cold floor of his cell, his heavenly visitors would throng
around him, mingling their praise with his. It was not surprising that
the things of heaven should be so near to one who cared so little for
the things of earth. He would go out on a winter's night, says his
biographer, and stand in the waters of an icy stream during the time it
took him to recite the Psalter, that he might obtain grace by his
sufferings for the souls of the obstinate sinners who refused to amend
their lives. One day when he was praying in a lonely spot, a poor woman
came in sight gathering wild herbs and nettles. Columba spoke to her
and asked her what she was doing.

"I am gathering herbs for food," she replied, "for I have but one cow
and it gives no milk; the poor must live as they can." Columba
reproached himself bitterly that this poor woman should fare worse than
he did. "We seek to win heaven," he cried, "by our austerities, and
this poor woman, who is under no such obligation, outdoes us."
Henceforward he declared he would make his meal of the wild herbs and
nettles that he had seen her gathering, and gave strict orders that
nothing else should be served to him. He even reproved Baithen, whom he
so dearly loved, with unwonted severity, because, unable to bear the
sight of his abbot's wretched fare, he had put a little piece of butter
into the pot in which it was being cooked.

The heavenly light that the holy Brendan had seen surrounding Columba
on that memorable day at Teilte was now frequently beheld by his
companions. At night it could be seen shining through the chinks in the
rough door of his little cell when all was in darkness, and the silence
of the night was only broken by the voice of the holy abbot praying and
singing the praises of God.

One winter's night, one of the younger brethren had remained in the
church to pray after all had gone to rest. At midnight the door opened
softly and Columba entered. A glory of golden light came with him,
illuminating the church from wall to wall and from floor to roof. The
little chapel where the brother knelt was flooded with the strange
radiance and his soul was filled with a heavenly consolation. Columba
knelt for many hours in prayer, and still the heavenly light shone
round him as he prayed; while the brother watched him awestruck,
scarcely daring to move for fear of being heard. The next day he was
sent for by the abbot, who blessed him and gently bade him say nothing
of what he had seen during the night.

Two of his religious, Baithen the beloved, and Diarmaid his faithful
attendant, who were often in his cell to help him with his work and to
carry out his instructions, noticed one day a sudden ray of joy shining
from their master's eyes. A moment later the joyful expression gave
place to one of intense sadness, and they begged Columba to reveal to
them what it was that caused him grief.

"My children," said the Saint, "it is twenty years to-day since I
first set foot in Caledonia. Earnestly I have been beseeching our
Heavenly Father to bring my days of exile to an end, and to receive me
into the heavenly country after which our hearts must ever yearn. It
seemed to me that God had heard my prayer, and that I already saw the
holy angels coming to bear my soul to its eternal Home, when suddenly
they faded from my sight, and I saw them no more. It has been revealed
to me that by reason of the prayers of those who love me on earth, the
time of my sojourning has been prolonged. Therefore am I sad, beloved
of my heart, because four long years must elapse before those heavenly
messengers return. Then they will come once more and I shall depart
with them to rejoice for ever in the presence of my God."



IT was towards the end of May, when the late northern springtime was
casting its veil of beauty over the rugged islands of the Hebrides,
that Columbcille knew that the time of his departure was at hand. He
bade his faithful attendant Diarmaid harness the oxen into the rude
wooden cart of the monastery, and taking his seat in it set out for the
fields that lay to the west of the island where all the monks were
working. At the sight of the abbot in his humble chariot they left
their work and crowded round him, and the old man addressed them
tenderly with touching words of affection.

"A month ago," he said, "I had a great desire to depart from this
earth, that I might keep the happy festival of Easter in heaven; but,
unwilling to cast a gloom over your joy at that glad time, I was
content to remain with you a little longer. But now the time of my
earthly pilgrimage draws near its end." At these words the monks broke
into bitter weeping, for the thought of losing their beloved father was
more than they could bear, and Columba tried to comfort them. Then
standing erect in the waggon he raised his hands and blessed the
island, the monastery and all its inhabitants.

A few days later, leaning on Diarmaid's arm, he went to the barn and
rejoiced to see the great heaps of corn laid up for the winter. "It is
a comfort to me to know," he said, "that when I am no longer there my
children will not go hungry. For this year at least there is plentiful

"Why do you break our hearts, dear Father, in this sweet season of the
year," said Diarmaid, "by speaking so often of your departure from us?
God will surely suffer us to keep you with us yet awhile."

"I will tell you a secret, Diarmaid," replied the old man; "but first
you must promise to keep it faithfully till I am dead."

And when Diarmaid had promised, kneeling at the abbot's feet,
"To-morrow, Sunday, is the day of rest," he said, "but before the
dawning of that day, I shall have entered into the rest which is
eternal. To-night at midnight I shall depart from this world; it has
been revealed to me by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself."

Then Diarmaid could no longer control his grief and wept aloud while
the Saint did his best to comfort him, speaking words of hope and
consolation. On their way home from the barn to the monastery Columba
grew weary, and sat down to rest by the wayside, at a spot where there
is now a great stone cross. As he sat there waiting until he should
have strength to continue his journey, the old white horse that used to
carry the milk pails from the farm to the monastery came up and laid
its head upon the Saint's shoulder, looking at him as if he knew that
it was for the last time, with eyes so full of dumb grief that they
seemed to be shedding tears. Diarmaid would have driven him away, but
Columba checked him.

"Let him be," he said; "he is wiser than you, Diarmaid, for he knows by
instinct that I shall never pass by this way again. The old horse loves
me, let him grieve for his friend."

Then the faithful animal nestled his head closer against the shoulder
of the old man, who caressed him gently and gave him his blessing. "It
is God," he said, "who has made known to this poor beast that he will
see me no more." When continuing their journey they had reached the
little hill that overlooked the monastery, Columba raised his hands in
blessing over his beloved island home.

"This place will be famous in the days to come," he said, "and saints
and kings will come from other lands to do it honour."

When he reached his cell he sat down to write the copy of the Psalter
on which he was engaged, for the old man's hand had not lost its skill.
He wrote until the church bell rang for the first vespers of the
Sunday; then, having reached the verse in the thirty-third Psalm where
it is written "They that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any
good," he laid down the pen.

"Let Baithen write the rest," he said.

Baithen was the cousin of Columba, and one of the monks who had come
with him from Derry. He had been his pupil, and was scarcely less
skilful with the pen than his master. Holy, charitable, and beloved by
all, he was chosen to succeed Columbcille as abbot of Iona. When he
took up the pen that the Saint had laid down to go on with the work of
transcription, the words that came next were, "Come ye children,
hearken unto me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord," with which
words he began his ministry as abbot.

When Vespers were over, Columba went back to his cell and sitting down
upon his bed--the naked rock with a stone for a pillow that was still
the only couch on which this monk of seventy-seven would rest his aged
limbs--he bade Diarmaid listen while he gave him his last instructions
for the brethren.

"My last words to you are these," said he. "Cherish true and unfeigned
charity ever amongst yourselves, and God will never leave you in need,
but will give you all that is necessary for your welfare in this world,
and His glory in that which is to come."

After these words he was silent, and seemed to be lost in the
contemplation of the glory of which he had spoken, and Diarmaid forbore
to interrupt his prayer. When the bell rang for matins shortly before
midnight, Columba arose, and went swiftly to the church. Diarmaid
followed more slowly, and as he approached the door, the whole church
seemed to him to be lit up with a strangely radiant light which
vanished as he entered. "Where are you, Father?" he whispered, struck
with a sudden fear, as he groped his way through the building. There
was no answer. He made his way through the darkness as best he could to
the altar.

There in his accustomed place of prayer was the holy abbot, but
stretched apparently lifeless on the ground. Diarmaid raised him in his
arms, and sitting down beside him laid the beloved head upon his
shoulder. Presently the brethren came in with lights, and broke into
bitter lamentation at the scene before them. Columba lay on the altar
steps leaning on Diarmaid's breast, his eyes raised to heaven, and his
face shining with a wondrous joy as if he already saw its gates opening
before him. Diarmaid then raised his master's right hand, and for the
last time the holy abbot blessed his little flock who knelt weeping
round him, while his eyes spoke the words that his voice was too weak
to utter. Then with one last upward look his head sank gently back on
Diarmaid's shoulder and he gave up his pure soul to God. They could
scarcely believe that he was dead, for his face was still so bright
with joy that he looked like one who rested in a happy and peaceful
sleep. The matins for that Sunday were sung with bursting hearts, for
the strong clear voice that had always been foremost in the holy chant
was silent for ever ....

During that night a vision came to a holy old man in one of the
monasteries of Ireland. He saw the island of Iona all aflame with a
glorious light and a multitude of angels descending from the skies. He
heard them singing as they bore the blessed soul of Columbcille back
with them into heaven, and the celestial melody filled his heart with

At the same hour a boy named Ernene who was fishing by night in the
River Finn in Donegal saw the whole sky suddenly break into light. In
the east where Iona lay, there rose a great pillar of fire, so that for
one moment the night was as bright as the noonday when the sun is
shining. Then it vanished into the heavens and all was dark again.

It might have been expected that the little island would be crowded
with men thronging from all directions to the funeral of Columbcille,
but it was not so. While the Saint was yet alive one of the monks had
said to him that Iona would be scarcely large enough to hold the
numbers that would come to pay him the last honours.

"No, my son," replied Columba, "no one will be there but those of our
own household;" and so it came to pass.

On the night of the Saint's death a violent storm arose, and continued
until the burial was over; the sea was so wild that no boat could put
out from the mainland or the surrounding islands. The simple rites were
performed in the presence of the monks of Iona alone, to the sound of
the wailing of the wind and the moaning of the sea. Was it the last
revenge of the evil one, they asked themselves, on the Saint who had
torn a nation from his grasp?

But Columbcille had passed

    To where beyond these voices there is peace.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Life of Saint Columba - Apostle of Scotland" ***

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