Jun 9, 2010

A Day to Remember St. Columcille

That I might search the books all,
That would be good for my soul;
At times kneeling to beloved Heaven;
At times contemplating the King of Heaven,
Holy the chief;
At times at work without compulsion,
This would be delightful.
~Attributed to St. Columba

It's the feast of St. Columcille (Columba) today, the founder of Iona. He is one of the most fascinating ancient Irish saints, and is in fact of one of Ireland's patron saints (along with Patrick and Brigid.) He lived from approximately 521 to 597AD and was born to the power O'Neill clan who were probably the ones responsible for St. Patrick's kidnapping!

In addition to his position as abbot for many monasteries in Ireland and Iona as well, Columcille was a poet, a position highly respected in ancient Ireland. Here is one of my favorite stories about St. Columcille from my book, Celtic Wisdom, Treasures From Ireland.

Under the cover of darkness, without so much as a candle because, according to legend, his fingers were luminous, Columcille copied a Psalter belonging to Finian of Moville.

An old Irish saying declares that "All sins cast long shadows," and it was true that Columcille could not hide what he had done. His deceit was uncovered and it was considered a major offence. By copying a book the original lost its unique value. The case was brought before King Diarmait, a rival of Columcille's clansmen, who rendered the following judgment: "To every cow her calf; to every book its copy." Columcille had to return his copy to Finian.

Ancient Ireland saw many tribal feuds and wars. Columcille belonged to the most powerful family in Ireland at that time, and they had no hesitation in defending their rank with force. He seized an opportunity for revenge because of some wrong supposedly committed by Diarmait...The battle of Cooldrevy (in Sligo) in 561 was a massacre. Three thousand of Diarmait's warriors were slaughtered while Columcille's army lost only one. As a result, Columcille received his coveted book, but at a great price.

This story is the reason Columcille went to Iona and established a community there. He banished himself (or else his confession did) to a place where he could no longer lay his eyes on his beloved Ireland.

It's interesting that this copied book may be the one known as The Battler, which is held today by the Royal Irish Academy.


  1. I wrote about him today as well (with another drawing). :)
    Lovely post, thanks for the read.
    I love that prayer (that is attributed to him):

    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 am I within thy hand
    than if a host should round me stand.

    My destined time is known to thee,
    and death will keep 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 to go.
    'Tis not from chance our comfort springs.
    thou art our trust, O King of kings.

  2. Please share a link to your post, Ashmodai, so others can see it!

  3. It is here, but it's in German:

  4. Non German readers can at least see the drawing. Love the white horse!