Colum Cille  (brewster)

St. Columba (Colum Cille)

Abbot of Iona,  b. at Garten, County Donegal, Ireland, 7 December, 521; d. 9 June, 597.  He belonged to the Clan O’Donnell, and was of royal descent.  His father’s name was Fedhlimdh and that of his mother Eithne.  His baptismal name was Colum, which signifies a dove in Latin and Cille, the suffix has the meaning “of the Churches“.

After studying at Moville under Saint Finnian and then at Clonard with another Saint Finnian, he surrendered his princely claims, became a monk at Glasnevin under Mobhi, and was ordained. He spent the next 15 years preaching and teaching in Ireland. As was the custom in those days, he combined study and prayer with manual labor. 

Colum Cille was also a poet who had learned Irish history and poetry from a bard named Gemman. In addition, he loved fine books and manuscripts. One of the famous books associated with Columcille is the Psaltair, which was traditionally the Battle Book of the O’Donnells, his kinsmen, who carried it into battle.

King Diarmit executed a member of Colum Cille’s family and had forbad Colum Cille to retain a copy of a Psalter which he had borrowed.  Instead of turning the other cheek, Columba raised an army and defeated King Diarmit (in 561AD).  War had quickly became widespread between the clans of Ireland.  Filled with remorse on account of those who had been slain in the battle of Cooldrevne and condemned by many of his own friends, he experienced a profound conversion was called into exile and carried with him the heritage of Celtic monastic Christianity.

In 563, he and 12 companions crossed the Irish Sea in a coracle made of wickerwork covered with hides. They landed at Iona on the eve of Pentecost, 12 May, 563. The island, according to Irish authorities, was granted to the monastic colonists by King Conall of Dalriada, Columba’s kinsman. It was here, on this tiny island off the coast of Scotland, that he began his work. Eventually, Iona became the heart of Celtic Christianity and its existence was one of the strongest influences in the conversion of the Picts, Scots, and Northern English.

On Iona, Colum Cille and twelve companions built an oratory, sanctuary and scriptorium.  The monastry of Iona, like those previously founded by Colum Cille in Ireland, was not a retreat for solitaries whose chief object was to work out their own salvation; it was a great school of Christian education

This was a time when books and libraries all over the Roman Empire had been burned to the ground. Colum Cille and the men of his monastery copied the works that had been saved from destruction. They created vellum parchment from prepared calf and sheep skin, made their own inks and pens and copied the books the only way they could be – by hand, letter by letter.

The Iona community believed that the world was a translucent source of mystery, revelation and redemption. They welcomed students from all over Britain and Ireland. Colum Cille had become a man of peace, a scholar and a farmer. He was known to tend ill birds, to be loved by his horse and to contemplate in remote parts of the island. 

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For the Gaelic warrior kings, Colum Cille was a useful asset. His monastery provided education for their sons, he was a close advisor to the king, and he served as a diplomat to the king’s neighbours in Pictland and Ireland.

Colum Cille died in 597, but his monastery’s influence continued to grow, leading to the foundation of new monasteries in Ireland and as far away as Lindisfarne in Northumbria. In Pictland, Columban monks began to spread the word of Christianity in the seventh century.

Pilgrimage to Iona increased: kings wished to be buried near to Colum Cille, and a network of Celtic high crosses and processional routes developed around his shrine. Iona monks produced The Book of Kells, a masterpiece of Dark Age European art. 

In 794 AD, the Vikings descended on Iona, and, within 50 years, they had extinguished the light which had been Iona.

Colum Cille’s relics were finally removed in 849 AD and divided between Alba and Ireland. 

Columba’s Affirmation 

Alone with none but Thee, my God,
I journey on my way;
What need I fear, when Thou art near,
O king of night and day?
More safe I am within Thy hand,
than if a host did round me stand.

My destined time is fixed by Thee,
and death doth know his hour.
Did warriors strong around me throng,
they could not stay his power;
no walls of stone can man defend
when Thou Thy messenger dost send

My life I yield to Thy decree,
and bow to Thy control
in peaceful calm, for from Thine arm
no power can wrest my soul.
Could earthly omens e’er appal
A man that heeds the heavenly call!

The child of God can fear no ill,
His chosen dread no foe;
we leave our fate with Thee and wait
Thy bidding when we go.
Tis not from chance our comfort springs,
Thou art our trust, O king of kings.

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