An early twentieth century depiction of Columba's miracle at the gate of Bridei's fortress, described in Adomnán's Vita Columbae.
|Apostle of the Picts|
|Born||December 7, 521 in County Donegal, Ireland|
|Died||June 9, 597 (Age 75) in Iona, Scotland|
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church, Anglican Church|
|Major shrine||Iona, Scotland|
|Patronage||floods, bookbinders, poets, Ireland, Scotland|
Saint Columba (December 7, 521– June 9, 597) was a venerable Irish saint, sometimes referred to as Columba of Iona, or, in Old Irish, as Colm Cille or Columcille (meaning "Dove of the Church"). He was renowned for his physical stature, his forceful personality, his love of scholarship, and his missionary activity, though it was in this final arena that he made his most lasting contributions. Specifically, Saint Columba was responsible for numerous advances in the conversion of the British Isles, including the founding of the redoubted [monastery]] at Iona, the development of a strictly ascetic monastic order, the conversion of King Bridei (Latinized as Brude) of the Picts, and the construction of churches throughout Scotland. It is for this reason that the saint is celebrated as the Apostle of the Picts.
In 521 C.E., Colm Cille (the future Columba) was born to Fedlimid and Eithne of the Uí Néill clan in Gartan (County Donegal, Ireland). His was an advantaged and noble upbringing, as the bloodlines of both of his parents could be traced back to Irish royalty. This guaranteed that the youth would be afforded the best possible education, to which end he was trained by Saint Finnian, a schoolmaster at the monastery in Moville.  After continuing his studies under a bard named Gemmen, he was ordained as both a monk and a priest. In the years that followed, he returned to his homeland and was present at the founding of numerous important monasteries, including those of Derry, Durrow, and Kells. Though Columba was renowned for the extent of his erudition and exegetical skill, he also had a reputation for his arrogant, haughty disposition—a trait that would soon have disastrous consequences.
Sometime around 560 C.E., Columba became involved in a dispute that eventually led to his (voluntary or enforced) exile from Ireland. Most sources suggest that the ultimate cause of this exile was that the saint had rallied his family's troops to rise against the King Diarmait in 561 at the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne—a conflict that cost the lives of over three thousand men.  Though the exact cause of this conflict is lost to history, its impact was unequivocal. Columba was blamed (or blamed himself) for the deaths of combatants and vowed not to return to his homeland until he had converted as many souls as had been lost in that fateful battle. As such, he had no choice but to depart for the wilds of Scotland, where the kingdom of the Picts was still largely pagan.
In 563, the saint, accompanied by a band of 12 disciples, traveled to Scotland and docked on the island of Iona. As this islet had been granted to them by the king of Irish Dál Riata, the companions viewed it as an auspicious locus for their evangelical mission and began the construction of an imposing monastery on its shores. This ecclesiastical compound was one of the only bastions of scholarly study (in general) and the Christian faith (in specific) in the region for several hundred years.
After spending several years preaching to the Gaels in the region, Columba ventured further inland to carry his mission to the kingdom of the Picts. Most notably, he and several companions traveled to the court of the pagan king Bridei, lord of Fortriu, at his base in Inverness, and succeeded in converting him to Christianity—an event that was embroidered with many miraculous episodes in the saint's Vita (as described below). He subsequently played a major role in the politics of the country, brokering diplomatic alliances between the Picts and the Irish kingdom of Dál Riata. At the same time, he also remained active in the politics of the Irish church, returning to his homeland to participate in synods on various issues.
Columba, on the whole, was very energetic in his evangelical work, and, in addition to founding several churches in the Hebrides, he worked to turn his monastery at Iona into a school for missionaries. He also maintained his interest in scholastic and exegetical study, having written numerous hymns and poems, and having personally transcribed over three hundred books for the monastery's library. In addition to his innovative outreach programs for the country's poor, Columba was often credited with extensive missionary activity throughout the country, claims that many historians suggest are overstated: "When the descendants of the Dalriade kings became the rulers of Scotland they were naturally eager to magnify St Columba and a tendency may well have arisen to bestow upon him the laurels won by other missionaries from Iona and elsewhere." In spite of this tendency, it is undeniable that the instruction and motivation provided by this charismatic monk was central to the success of the Christian mission in Scotland.
After a lifetime of service, the saint passed away in June of 597 and was buried beneath the monastery that he had founded. His death is described in particular detail by Saint Adamnan:
[As the] hour of his departure gradually approached, the saint became silent. Then as soon as the bell tolled at midnight, he rose hastily, and went to the church; and running more quickly than the rest, he entered it alone, and knelt down in prayer beside the altar. At the same moment his attendant Diormit, who more slowly followed him, saw from a distance that the whole interior of the church was filled with a heavenly light in the direction of the saint. And as he drew near to the door, the same light he had seen, and which was also seen by a few more of the brethren standing at a distance, quickly disappeared. Diormit therefore entering the church, cried out in a mournful voice, "Where art thou, father?" And feeling his way in the darkness, as the brethren had not yet brought in the lights, he found the saint lying before the altar; and raising him up a little, he sat down beside him, and laid his holy head on his bosom. Meanwhile the rest of the monks ran in hastily in a body with their lights, and beholding their dying father, burst into lamentations. And the saint, as we have been told by some who were present, even before his soul departed, opened wide his eyes and looked round him from side to side, with a countenance full of wonderful joy and gladness, no doubt seeing the holy angels coming to meet him. Diormit then raised the holy right hand of the saint, that he might bless his assembled monks. And the venerable father himself moved his hand at the same time, as well as he was able, that as he could not in words, while his soul was departing, he might at least, by the motion of his hand, be seen to bless his brethren. And having given them his holy benediction in this way, he immediately breathed his last. After his soul had left the tabernacle of the body, his face still continued ruddy, and brightened in a wonderful way by his vision of the angels, and that to such a degree that he had the appearance, not so much of one dead, as of one alive and sleeping. Meanwhile the whole church resounded with loud lamentations of grief.
Columba is credited as being a leading figure in the revitalization of monasticism, and "[h]is achievements illustrated the importance of the Celtic church in bringing a revival of Christianity to Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire". Indeed, Butler suggests that his posthumous influence "extended until it came to dominate the churches of Scotland, Ireland, and Northumbria. For three-quarters of a century and more, Celtic Christians in those lands upheld Columban traditions in certain matters of order and ritual in opposition to those of Rome itself, and the rule Columba had drawn up for his monks was followed in many of the monasteries of western Europe until it was superseded by the milder ordinances of Saint Benedict." Through the reputation of its venerable founder and its position as a major European center of learning, Columba's Iona became a place of pilgrimage, with a network of Celtic high crosses marking the various processional routes leading to his shrine.
Also, Columba came to be historically revered as a warrior saint, and was often invoked for victory in battle. Given the association, the saint's relics were carried before Scottish armies in a reliquary made at Iona in the mid-8th century, called the Brecbennoch. Legend has it that the Brecbennoch, was carried to Bannockburn by the vastly outnumbered Scots army and the intercession of the Saint helped them to achieve victory. It is widely thought that the Monymusk Reliquary is this object. 
Saint Columba's feast day is June 9 and, with Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid, he is recognized as one of the three patron saints of Ireland. Also, prior to the battle of Athelstaneford (which spawned the Scottish cult of Saint Andrew), he was the sole patron saint of Scotland. Finally, he is venerated within the Orthodox faiths as a saint and Righteous Father.
The main source of information about Columba's life is the Vita Columbae by Adomnán (also known as Eunan), the ninth Abbot of Iona (d. 704). Both the Vita Columbae and Bede's Ecclesiastical History record Columba's visit to Bridei. While Bede's account explicitly credits the saint with the conversion of the Pictish king, Adomnán's provides extensive details of the saint's miraculous exploits in his presence—including explosively throwing open the king's (bolted) gate (II: XXXVI), giving true prophecies (II: XLIII), floating a stone in water (I: I), and resurrecting a dead child (I: I). Though the text only states that "so long as he lived, the king held this holy and reverend man in very great honour, as was due," his adoption of the Christian religion (following such an impressive display of mystical abilities) can likely be assumed. In general, Adomnán's Vita, in addition to providing valuable biographical insights into the saint's life, is preoccupied with demonstrating his miraculous abilities—as evidenced by the text's threefold division (Book I - "Of His Prophetic Revelations," Book II - "On His Miraculous Powers," and Book III - "Of the Visions of Angels").
Intriguingly, the Vita of Columba is also the source of the first known reference to a Loch Ness Monster (quoted in full below). Whether or not this incident is true, Adomnan's text specifically states that the monster was swimming in the River Ness—the river flowing from the loch—rather than in Loch Ness itself:
All links retrieved August 31, 2019.
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