Saint Columba ( Irish Colmcille, meaning Church Dove) was born to influential, aristocratic parents in the year 520 in Gartan, County Donegal, Ireland. He was monk, priest, scholar, poet, historian, missionary, prophet and peacemaker. Although an inheritor of pagan Irish culture, Columba was raised a Christian. His first teacher was an Irish priest, and his later education included the studies of Divine Wisdom and Sacred Scripture.
Columba is considered one of three Patron Saints of Ireland, following in importance to Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid of Kildare. He’s the patron-saint of the city of Derry, and founded a monastic settlement there c. 540. Literacy in Ireland is largely attributed to the work of Columba. Early Irish monasteries, such as Derry, gathered both practitioners and teachers of reading and writing. They provided the first schools, scriptoriums, libraries, and archives.
In 562, Columba travelled to Scotland as a ‘Pilgrim for Christ.’ He hoped to find a secluded place in which to pursue a contemplative life. As mentioned, Columba belonged to a powerful, aristocratic family. A Scottish kinsman, Conall mac Comgaill King of Dál Riata, granted him the Island of Iona to use as he wished. On this tiny Hebridean island, Columba founded a leading cultural and religious monastery, unrivaled in medieval Britain. Iona expanded from a small, enclosed monastery to one with significant public responsibility.
Saint Columba is credited with varied miracles, from healing the sick to subduing wild beasts, including the Loch Ness monster! He performed agricultural miracles that endeared him to Britain’s common people. One such miracle was making bitter apples sweet and another, returning spilt milk to its over-turned bucket.
The following prayer is attributed to Columba, dedicated missionary, and expresses his sincere longing that all should know Christ:
Kindle in our hearts, O God,
The flame of love that never ceases,
That it may burn in us,
Giving light to others.
May we shine forever in your temple,
Set on fire with your eternal light,
Even your Son Jesus Christ,
Our Saviour and redeemer. Amen.