Columba of Iona

Abbot, Missionary


St Columba
Columba of Iona
Abbot, Missionary

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Columba was born into Irish royalty. He went at a very young age to study in the monastery at Moville, which had been founded by St Patrick. There he was brought up in the traditional monastic life of the Celts. His schooling was cut short by an outbreak of the plague. But In spite of this, he had gained an appreciation for the arts, music (psaltery), poetry, and writing. He was said to have been one of the best scribes of his time, writing many songs, poems and prayers (some of which are included in today's pages).

Columba toured the northern regions of Ireland for 15 years, preaching the gospel..In 546 he founded the monastery in Derry, and later the one in Durrow (556). Then Columba came into a dispute with his former master Finian in 561, over a dispute of ownership of a copy of the Gospel. Apparently Columba had made his own copy of Finian's original, and when he would not release ownership, the case was taken before King Diarmot. Diarmot was a local King, from a rival clan of Columba's. It all ended in one of the most bloody battles in Irish history "the battle of the books." Columba won the book, but it cost him, he was exiled by the church from Ireland, as a penance for a monk taking up arms.

Columba left Ireland in 563, with 12 fellow monks, landing on the isle of Iona. It was there, out of sight of beloved Ireland that he established his monastery. Their life was hard, simple and austere: tilling the difficult soil and fishing the cold seas, coupled with a rigorous round of prayers and copying Christian manuscripts. Columba was a commanding figure with a vigorous commitment to the gospel, to the point of being quite harsh at times.

As the years passed, Columba mellowed, and his influence grew. Iona became the base for evangelistic missions he begin spreading the gospel in what is now known as Scotland. He travelled up through the great Scottish Lochs towards Inverness, spreading the gospel to all that would hear. He is credited on this trip with the first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster (see Terce). Working his way to Inverness to witness to the pictish King Brude, he was confronted by Druidic priests. The priests demanding that Columba take his God and his 12 fellow monks back to Ireland, declared that theirs was the true religion, and that Christ conflicts with the nature cycle. Claiming that the druid was said to have drawn the life circle in the sand. Columba in response took his staff and drew an intersecting cross within the circle promptly stating that God does not conflict with nature, but being the creator of it, compliments it. Stumped by this and frustrated because they could not shake Columba's faith they departed.

Iona gradually became the most important centre for the spread of the gospel in the northern regions of Britain. He succeeded in converting Brude, the king of the Picts. In 574 Aidan of Dalriada, the Irish king, came to Columba for consecration. Columba and his successors established a number of monasteries in Scotland. Although Columba is often credited with bringing the gospel to large parts of Scotland, much of this work was done later by others.

He maintained his contacts with Ireland, continuing his control over the monasteries he had established there, until his death.

After Viking raids on Iona, his bones were translated to Dunkeld in the 9th Century.

BORN: c.521A.D., Ireland

DIED: 9 June 597, Iona, Ancient Scotland.