Here's a story that I thought was pretty neat. I think it's even kind of funny, because it's a true story, yet could quite easily have started out "Once upon a time, and very long ago, there was a beautiful princess. She was married to the most handsomest prince in the world. . ."
Saint Columba of Ireland:
Dove of the Celts
During the long history of our world there have been several people who stand out, who truly seemed to make a difference. It would seem that many of these heroes start out by making a rather large and seemingly unforgivable mistake. Sometimes, the good Lord takes their mistake and turns it into something wonderful. One of the greatest examples of this fact is also, sadly, one of the least recognized of these wonderful people: Saint Columba of Ireland, the Dove of the Celts.
A brief overview of the history of religion in Ireland and Scotland is necessary to understand the community into which St. Columba was born and continued to convert pagans in. The ancient Celts believed that Nature was the supreme force of the universe. 1 They had many special days dedicated as holidays to their gods. Some of these are: May 1, called Beltine; August 1, called Lunasa; and November 1, called Samain by them, and Halloween by us. 2 The Irish started making tombs and temples from stone around the year 3500 BC on hilltops in order to make them look bigger, 3 also because in this way the deceased could look down on their people to protect them, and so that the people could literally look up to them. 4 These burial mounds were also aligned with the rising or setting sun. 5 By 2000 BC the Irish were making circles as temples for a new solar religion. The reason for the praise of the sun was the fact that the Celts were centered on birth and fertility. 6 The sun is what allows everything to grow and reproduce, thus it is the center of fertility. The weather became inclement around 1159 BC, so the Irish suddenly began to pay much closer attention to the water-gods and goddesses. They did this by paying much homage by way of sacrifice, some sacrifices even human. 8 Much of this was, in fact, helpful to the man who came to convert Ireland. Compared to some of the other primitive religions in tribes in places such as Africa and northern Europe, the Celts had surprisingly good morals. Thus when taught the Christian Faith, they merely had to accept the concept of a supreme god in place of nature. Many other religions not only had to accept a new supreme god, but many morals as well. St. Patrick came to Ireland at about the same time that birth of St. Columba took place. 9 St. Patrick is usually given full credit for the conversion of Ireland, though it must be stated that St. Columba was a great help. After he became a priest he spent at least fifteen years preaching and teaching in his beloved Ireland before he left for Scotland.
The story of the birth of Saint Columba is a fairy tale in itself. Shortly before he was born his mother, a beautiful princess, had a vision. She saw an angel, and the angel told her that her son would be a great man, and do many wonderful things. 10
St. Columba was from a long line of Irish heroes. His mother was named Eithne. 11 She was of the clan O'Donnell. 12 His father Fedhlimidh, who was a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages, was also of the clan Ui Neill. 13 Columba was an artist and a poet, who was taught the Irish history and poetry from a bard named Gemman. 14 His boyhood was spent in the northern mountains of Ireland with his foster father, who had also christened him. 15 "He was christened at Tulach-Dubhglaise, now Temple-Douglas, by a priest named Cruithenchan." 16 The name "Colum" meaning "Dove" was his baptismal name, and the "Cille" meaning "The Church" was tacked on as a nickname by his childhood friends in the mountains. 17 When put together, we get Columcille, Dove of the Church. There are many different spellings of it. In English it is spelled Columba, in Irish Columcille (pronounced COL-um-kill) and Columkill, as well as Colums. 18 He studied at Moville, being taught by Saint Finnian, later at Clonard under another Saint Finnian. 19 He relinquished his right to the his father's crown and was ordained a monk at Glasnevin under Mobhi. 20
There were two important things done by Columba that caused him terrible grief. The first of these was triggered by his love for beauty and his adoration of the Holy Bible. The next element of this bitter concoction that was to be placed in Columba's glass was his compassion, especially to those who were in sore need of protection. After having been ordained as a monk he went to visit another monastery where his old teacher Saint Finnian was Abbot. 21 There was, at that time, a beautiful book of Psalms in the monastery. St. Columba, ever a lover of beauty, asked the abbot for permission to copy the wonderful Psalter. The abbot, jealous of the rare book, refused. Columba was not at all happy that his monastery should be without such a lovely book. So he set about copying it at night, in secret, copying it most tediously by hand. 22 A monk spied on him through the keyhole and reported him. 23 A heated debate between Columba and the abbot ensued. At last the matter was brought before the king of that place, a distant relation to Columba's King-father. To this king they brought what could be known as "History's first copyright case." 24 The king had never had a case like this put before him previously, and he was at a loss. At last he fell back on the only law he could think of that might pertain to this case; "Le gach buin a laogh" which may be translated to be: "To every cow belongs her calf." 25 Meaning that to every book belongs its copy. Columba was furious. He left in a rage.
Shortly thereafter the second ingredient to Columba's brewing cup was added. As a priest, Columba had the right to protect people who could find no other protection. One such man came to Columba. He was a fugitive, running from the law. 26 On top of that, he was Columba's kinsman, Prince Curnan. 27 Four knights came to Columba to take to fugitive away. There was a great dispute, and at last the knights dragged the man from Columba's arms and killed him before the very eyes of the struggling monk. Columba was enraged at this violation of his priesthood and rights as a monk. 28 This was the last straw that he would take. He went to his father the king and persuaded him to go to war with the other kingdom. This happened and was climaxed in the battle of Cooldrevne. 29 In that terrible battle a staggering three thousand Christians lost their lives. Some of what Columba and his men were feeling were put into words by that Saintly poet:
"When Prince O'Donnell ranged his clan
on high Tirconaill's moor,
The Cathach went around the host,
and victory was sure." 30
Columba was devoured with guilt that he had caused such a holocaust. He knew he had to do some sort of penance to God to make up for his sin. Making matters worse still, he was condemned by many, if not all, of his nearest and dearest friends and relations. 31 He chose to exile himself to Scotland, hoping to convert one pagan soul for every Christian lost in the battle. With him went twelve men who were his apostles. 32
They went to Iona (Holy Island). 33 It was an island off the coast of Scotland. They sailed by means of a "currach" of wickerwork covered in animal hides. 34 They landed on Whitsun Eve on their calendar. 35 On our calendar it may be stated as the eve of Pentecost, May 12, year 563. 36 The island was located in the dismal northern sea off the southwest corner of Mull. 37 It was three miles long and two miles wide. 38 It was rocky and windswept. They built a small monastery there out of wood poles, and for thirty years Columba's only pillow was a rock. 39 Though Iona was an unpleasant place, God made it a wonderful place of many miracles.
The conversion of the Scots started on Iona. Then Columba and his followers went for an audience with the King, Conal of Dalriada, who was Columba's kinsman. 40 There have been many legends and myths about this wondrous Saint and how he performed many miracles to convert pagans. One legend says that he turned the bitter fruit of a tree sweet by merely blessing it. 41 Another claims that one of the ways he converted the Picts was by driving away a "Sea Monster" from the River Ness with the Sign of the Cross. 42 Yet another states that one day he and some villagers came upon an ungodly sorcerer who claimed that he could draw milk from a bull. They watched him supposedly do so, the villagers with wonder, Columba with contempt. When the "sorcerer" was finished, Columba cried: "Take the milk from him, and you will find that it is blood dyed white." The took the milk and found that it was so. 43 Columba and the Twelve Apostles traveled far and wide, all over Scotland, preaching the Gospel. They went to northern Scotland, which at that time was inhabited by the Picts. They visited many kings, all over Scotland. "His steps can be followed not only through the Great Glen, but eastwards also, into Aberdenshire." 44 They also founded many, many monasteries and churches, in both Scotland and Ireland. He had founded no less than twenty seven Irish monasteries, those at Derry (546), Durrow (c. 556) and perhaps even Kells not the least among them, as well as no less than forty churches by the time he was a mere twenty five. 45
1 Though he was converting many hordes of people, Columba was still very homesick for his beloved Ireland. Poet that he was, he put some of what he felt into song, several of which have been mercifully preserved, such as this one:
"This word from me, weary,
To my homeland give:
Better die in Eire,
Than in Alba live" 46
Or this one:
"Gael, O Gael, the name is dear,
Dear to utter, sweet to hear:
Should my heart's life in me fail,
'Tis for exile from the Gael." 47
St. Columba died in exile on June 9, year 597, at the age of seventy seven. 48 He was buried in the enclosure of the monastery of Iona that he had loved so well, and founded so many long and hard years ago.
The effects of Saint Columba can be seen all over Ireland and Scotland, Christianity not the least. Iona became a very important place, being were Scottish Kings received final interment. 49 Even the great MacBeth is buried there. 50 It can clearly be seen that even the worst things -- murder, wars, exile -- can all be used by God for the greater good. Saint Columba is a truly beautiful example of this.
1. Bonwink, James. "Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions" 1894 [http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/idr/ind
2. Eaton, Leo & McCaffrey, Carmel. "In Search of Ancient Ireland." [www.pbs.org.wnet/ancientireland/resourc
9. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Hieromonk. "Icons of Saint Columba." [ww.odox.net/Icons-Columba.htm] pg. 4 of 10
10. Translated by Stokes, Whitley "On the Life of St. Columba (Leabhar Breac)" [http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T20101
11. Edmonds, Columba. "Saint Columba." [www.newadvent.org/cathen/04136a.htm] pg. 1 of 7
14. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Hieromonk. pg. 4 of 10
15. Edmonds, Columba. pg. 1 of 7
17. Preston, M. "Favorite Monks: Columcille (Columba)" [http://www.prayerfoundation.org/favorit
19. Fr. Ambrose (Moone) Hieromonk. pg. 4 of 10
21. Edmonds, Columba. pg. 2 of 7
22. Fr. Ambrose (Moone) pg. 4 of 10
24. Author Unknown "Irish Saints" [www.irishchristain.com/History/IrishSai
25. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Hieromonk. pg. 5 of 10
26. Edmonds, Columba. pg. 2 of 7
29. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Hieromonk. pg. 5 of 10
30. de Blacam, Hugh. The Saints of Ireland Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1942 pg. 113
31. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Heiromonk. pg. 5 of 10
32. Imbornoni, Ann-Marie. "Saint Columba Patron of bookbinders, Ireland, poets, and Scotland. [www.factmonster.com/spot/irishsaints5.h
33. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Hieromonk. pg. 5 of 10
34. Edmonds, Columba. pg. 2-3 of 7
35. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Hieromonk. pg. 5 of 10
36. Edmonds, Columba pg. 3 of 7
37. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Hieromonk. pg. 5 of 10
40. Edmonds, Columba. pg. 3 of 7
41. Adomnan (Saint) Life of Saint Columba. Dublin: Edmund Burde & Co. pg. 76 - 77
42. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Hieromonk. pg. 5 of 10
43. Adomnan (Saint) pg. 75 - 76
44. Edmonds, Columba pg. 3 of 7
45. Fr. Ambrose (Moone), Hieromonk. pg. 4 of 10
46. de Blacam, Hugh pg. 113
47. Ibid, pg. 146
48. Edmonds, Columba pg. 4 of 7
49. Preston, M. pg. 2 of 3
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