There are three patron Saints of Ireland:
Saint Patrick (Latin: Patricius, Irish: Naomh Pádraig) was a Roman Britain-born Christian missionary and is the patron saint of Ireland along with Brigid of Kildare and Columba. When he was about sixteen he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. He entered the church, as his father and grandfather had before him, becoming a deacon and a bishop. He later returned to Ireland as a missionary in the north and west of the island, but little is known about the places where he worked and no link can be made between Patrick and any church. By the eighth century he had become the patron saint of Ireland. The Irish monastery system evolved after the time of Patrick and the Irish church did not develop the diocesan model that Patrick and the other early missionaries had tried to
The available body of evidence does not allow the dates of Patrick's life to be fixed with certainty, but it appears that he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the fifth century. Two letters from him survive, along with later hagiographies from the seventh century onwards. Many of these works cannot be taken as authentic traditions. Uncritical acceptance of the Annals of Ulster (see below) would imply that he lived from 378 to 493, and ministered in modern day northern Ireland from 433 onwards.
Most modern studies of Saint Patrick follow a variant of T. F. O'Rahilly's "Two Patricks" theory. That is to say, many of the traditions later attached to Saint Patrick originally concerned Palladius, a deacon from Gaul who came to Ireland, perhaps sent by Pope Celestine I (died 431). Palladius was not the only early cleric in Ireland at this time. Saints Auxilius, Secundinus and Iserninus are associated with early churches in Munster and Leinster. By this reading, Palladius was active in Ireland until the 460s.
Prosper of Aquitaine's contemporary chronicle states:
Palladius was ordained by Pope Celestine and sent to the Irish believers in Christ as their first bishop.
Prosper associates this with the visits of Germanus of Auxerre to Britain to suppress the Pelagian heresy and it has been suggested that Palladius and his colleagues were sent to Ireland to ensure that exiled Pelagians did not establish themselves among the Irish Christians. The appointment of Palladius and his fellow-bishops was not obviously a mission to convert the Irish, but more probably intended to minister to existing Christian communities in Ireland. The sites of churches associated with Palladius and his colleagues are close to royal centres of the period: Secundus is remembered by Dunshaughlin, County Meath, close to the Hill of Tara which is associated with the High King of Ireland; Kilashee, County Kildare, close to Naas with links with the Kings of Leinster, is probably named for Auxilius. This activity was limited to the southern half of Ireland, and there is no evidence for them in Ulster or Connacht.
Although the evidence for contacts with Gaul is clear, the borrowings from Latin into the Old Irish language show that links with former Roman Britain were many. Saint Iserninus, who appears to be of the generation of Palladius, is thought to have been a Briton, and is associated with the lands of the Uí Cheinnselaig in Leinster. The Palladian mission should not be contrasted with later "British" missions, but forms a part of them.
Slemish, County Antrim, where Patrick is said to have worked as a herdsman while a slave. Two Latin letters survive which are generally accepted to have been written by Patrick. These are the Declaration (Latin: Confessio) and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus (Latin: Epistola). The Declaration is the more important of the two. In it Patrick gives a short account of his life and his mission.
Patrick was born at Banna Venta Berniae, Calpornius, his father was a deacon, his grandfather Potitus a priest. When he was about sixteen, he was captured and carried off as a slave to Ireland. Patrick worked as a herdsman, remaining a captive for six years. He writes that his faith grew in captivity, and that he prayed daily. After six years he heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home, and then that his ship was ready. Fleeing his master, he travelled to a port, two hundred miles away he says, where he found a ship and, after various adventures, returned home to his family, now in his early twenties.
Patrick recounts that he had a vision a few years after returning home:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.
Much of the Declaration concerns charges made against Patrick by his fellow Christians at a trial. What these charges were, he does not say explicitly, but he writes that he returned the gifts which wealthy women gave him, did not accept payment for baptisms, nor for ordaining priests, and indeed paid for many gifts to kings and judges, and paid for the sons of chiefs to accompany him. It is concluded, therefore, that he was accused of some sort of financial impropriety, and perhaps of having obtained his bishopric in Ireland with personal gain in mind.
From this same evidence, something can be seen of Patrick's mission. He writes that he "baptised thousands of people". He ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities. He converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too.
Patrick's position as a foreigner in Ireland was not an easy one. His refusal to accept gifts from kings placed him outside the normal ties of kinship, fosterage and affinity. Legally he was without protection, and he says that he was on one occasion beaten, robbed of all he had, and put in chains, perhaps awaiting execution.
Murchiú's life of Saint Patrick contains a supposed prophecy by the druids which gives an impression of how Patrick and other Christian missionaries were seen by those hostile to them:
Across the sea will come Adze-head, crazed in the head,
his cloak with hole for the head, his stick bent in the head.
He will chant impieties from a table in the front of his house;
all his people will answer: "so be it, so be it."
The second piece of evidence which comes from Patrick's life is the Letter to Coroticus or Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. In this, Patrick writes an open letter announcing that he has excommunicated certain Brythonic warriors of Coroticus who have raided in Ireland, along with Picts and Irishmen, taking some of Patrick's converts into slavery. Coroticus, based largely on an 8th century gloss, is taken to be King Ceretic of Alt Clut. It has been suggested that it was the sending of this letter which provoked the trial which Patrick mentions in the Confession.
According to the latest reconstruction of the old Irish annals, Patrick died in AD 493, a date accepted by some modern historians. Prior to the 1940s it was believed without doubt that he died in 461 and thus had lived in the first half of the 5th century. A lecture entitled "The Two Patricks", published in 1942 by T. F. O'Rahilly, caused enormous controversy by proposing that there had been two "Patricks", Palladius and Patrick, and that what we now know of St. Patrick was in fact in part a conscious effort to meld the two into one hagiographic personality. Decades of contention eventually ended with most historians now asserting that Patrick was indeed most likely to have been active in the mid-to-late 5th century.
While Patrick's own writings contain no dates, they do contain information which can be used to date them. Patrick's quotations from the Acts of the Apostles follow the Vulgate, strongly suggesting that his ecclesiastical conversion did not take place before the early fifth century. Patrick also refers to the Franks as being pagan. Their conversion is dated to the period 496–508.
The compiler of the Annals of Ulster stated that in the year 553:
I have found this in the Book of Cuanu: The relics of Patrick were placed sixty years after his death in a shrine by Colum Cille. Three splendid halidoms were found in the burial-place: his goblet, the Angel's Gospel, and the Bell of the Testament. This is how the angel distributed the halidoms: the goblet to Dún, the Bell of the Testament to Ard Macha, and the Angel's Gospel to Colum Cille himself. The reason it is called the Angel's Gospel is that Colum Cille received it from the hand of the angel.
The placing of this event in the year 553 would certainly seem to place Patrick's death in 493, or at least in the early years of that decade, and indeed the Annals of Ulster report in 493:
Patrick, arch-apostle, or archbishop and apostle of the Irish, rested on the 16th of the Kalends of April in the 120th year of his age, in the 60th year after he had come to Ireland to baptize the Irish.
There is also the additional evidence of his disciple, Mochta, who died in 535.
St. Patrick is said to be buried under Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba, although this has never been proven. The Battle for the Body of St. Patrick demonstrates the importance of both him as a spiritual leader, and of his body as an object of veneration, in early Christian Ireland.
An early document which is silent concerning Patrick is the letter of Columbanus to Pope Boniface IV of about 613. Columbanus writes that Ireland's Christianity "was first handed to us by you, the successors of the holy apostles", apparently referring to Palladius only, and ignoring Patrick. Writing on the Easter controversy in 632 or 633, Cummian—it is uncertain whether this is the Cummian associated with Clonfert or Cumméne of Iona— does refer to Patrick, calling him our papa, that is pope or primate.
Two works by late seventh century hagiographers of Patrick have survived. These are the writings of Tírechán, and Vita sancti Patricii of Muirchu moccu Machtheni. Both writers relied upon an earlier work, now lost, the Book of Ultán. This Ultán, probably the same person as Ultan of Ardbraccan, was Tírechán's foster-father. His obituary is given in the Annals of Ulster under the year 657. These works thus date from a century and a half after Patrick's death.
"I found four names for Patrick written in the book of Ultán, bishop of the tribe of Conchobar: holy Magonus (that is, "famous"); Succetus (that is, the god of war); Patricius (that is, father of the citizens); Cothirtiacus (because he served four houses of druids)."
Muirchu records much the same information, adding that "[h]is mother was named Concessa."
The Patrick portrayed by Tírechán and Muirchu is a martial figure, who contests with druids, overthrows pagan idols, and curses kings and kingdoms. On occasions their accounts contradict Patrick's own writings: Tírechán states that Patrick accepted gifts from female converts although Patrick himself flatly denies this. However, the emphasis Tírechán and Muirchu placed on female converts, and in particular royal and noble women who became nuns, is thought to be a genuine insight into Patrick's work of conversion. Patrick also worked with the unfree and the poor, encouraging them to vows of monastic chastity. Tírechán's account suggests that many early Patrician churches were combined with nunneries founded by Patrick's noble female converts.
The martial Patrick found in Tírechán and Muirchu, and in later accounts, echoes similar figures found during the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity. It may be doubted whether such accounts are an accurate representation of Patrick's time, although such violent events may well have occurred as Christians gained in strength and numbers.
Much of the detail supplied by Tírechán and Muirchu, in particular the churches established by Patrick, and the monasteries founded by his converts, may relate to the situation in the seventh century, when the churches which claimed ties to Patrick, and in particular Armagh, were expanding their influence throughout Ireland in competition with the church of Kildare. In the same period, Wilfred, Archbishop of York, claimed to speak, as metropolitan archbishop, "for all the northern part of Britain and of Ireland" at a council held in Rome in the time of Pope Agatho, thus claiming jurisdiction over the Irish church.
Other presumed early materials include the Irish annals, which contain records from the Chronicle of Ireland. These sources have conflated Palladius and Patrick. Another early document is the so-called First Synod of Saint Patrick. This is a seventh century document, once, but no longer, taken as to contain a fifth century original text. It apparently collects the results of several early synods, and represents an era when pagans were still a major force in Ireland. The introduction attributes it to Patrick, Auxilius, and Iserninus, a claim which "cannot be taken at face value".
Pious legend credits Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, though post-glacial Ireland never had snakes; one suggestion is that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids of that time and place, as shown for instance on coins minted in Gaul (see Carnutes), or that it could have referred to beliefs such as Pelagianism, symbolized as “serpents”. Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a 3-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian belief of 'three divine persons in the one God' (as opposed to the Arian belief that was popular in Patrick's time). Whether or not these legends are true, the very fact that there are so many legends about Patrick shows how important his ministry was to Ireland. Some Irish legends involve the Oilliphéist, the Caoránach, and the Copóg Phádraig. During his evangelising journey back to Ireland from his parent's home at Birdoswald, he is understood to have carried with him an ash wood walking stick or staff. He thrust this stick into the ground wherever he was evangelising and at the place now known as Aspatria (ash of Patrick) the message of the good news took so long to get through to the people there that the stick had taken root by the time he was ready to move on. The 12th century work Acallam na Senórach tells of Patrick being met by two ancient warriors, Caílte mac Rónáin and Oisín, during his evangelical travels. The two were once members of Fionn mac Cumhaill's warrior band the Fianna, and somehow survived to Patrick's time. They traveled with the saint and told him their stories
March 17, popularly known as St. Patrick's Day, is believed to be his death date and is the date celebrated as his feast day. The day became a feast day in the universal church due to the influence of the Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding, as a member of the commission for the reform of the Breviary in the early part of the 17th century.
For most of Christianity's first thousand years, canonisations were done on the diocesan or regional level. Relatively soon after the death of people considered to be very holy people, the local Church affirmed that they could be liturgically celebrated as saints. As a result, St. Patrick has never been formally canonised by a Pope; nevertheless, various Christian churches declare that he is a Saint in Heaven (he is in the List of Saints). He is still widely venerated in Ireland and elsewhere today.
St. Patrick is also venerated in the Orthodox Church, especially among English-speaking Orthodox Christians living in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and in North America. There are Orthodox icons dedicated to him.
On March 17, 1776, the day that British forces under General Sir William Howe evacuated Boston during the American Revolutionary War, the password of the day at General George Washington's Continental Army encampment was "Saint Patrick".
Saint Brigid of Kildare or
Brigid of Ireland (Brigit, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd or Bride) (Irish: Naomh Bhríde) (c. 451 – 525) was an Irish Christian nun, abbess, and founder of several convents who is venerated as a saint. She is considered one of Ireland's patron saints along with Saints Patrick and Columba. Her feast day is
1, the traditional first day of spring in Ireland.
As with many ancient saints the biography of Brigid of Kildare has been complicated by the passage of time. Much change has occurred within the corpus of information which now exists. Often the lines between oral tradition, written tradition and new revelation have become hard to distinguish. The earliest extensive life of Brigid is the Vita Brigitae of Cogitosus and is thought to have been written no later than AD 650
According to tradition, Brigid was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is much debate among many scholars and even faithful Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. According to her biographers her parents were Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain of Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian Pict who had been baptized by Saint Patrick. Some accounts of her life suggested that Brigid's mother was in fact Portuguese, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave in much the same way as Patrick. Brigid was given the same name as one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion which her father Dubhthach practised; Brigid was the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.
Whether she was raised a Christian or converted in 468, as some accounts say, is unknown, but she was inspired by the preaching of Saint Patrick from an early age. Despite her father's opposition she was determined to enter religious life. Numerous stories testify to her piety. She had a generous heart and could never refuse the poor who came to her father's door. Her charity angered her father: he thought she was being overly generous to the poor and needy when she dispensed his milk, and flour to all and sundry. When she finally gave away his jewel-encrusted sword to a leper, Dubhthach realized that perhaps her disposition was best suited to the life of a nun. Brigid finally got her wish and she was sent to a convent.
"La chapelle Sainte-Brigide" in Fosses-la-Ville.Brigid received the veil from Saint Mel and professed vows dedicating her life to Christ. From this point biographers heap stories and legends on Brigid. She is believed to have founded a convent in Clara, County Offaly - her first: other foundations followed. But it was to be in Kildare that her major foundation would emerge. Around 470 she founded Kildare Abbey, a double monastery, for nuns and monks, on the plains of Cill-Dara, "the church of the oak", her cell being made under a large oak tree. As Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power. Legends surround her, even her blessing as Abbess by Saint Mel has a story attached to it. According to the legend, the elderly bishop, as he was blessing her during the ceremony, inadvertently read the rite of consecration of a bishop and that this could not be rescinded, under any circumstances. Brigid and her successor Abbesses at Kildare had an administrative authority equal to that of a Bishop until the Synod of Kells in 1152.
Brigid was famous for her common-sense and most of all for her holiness: in her lifetime she was regarded as a saint. Kildare Abbey became one of the most prestigious monasteries in Ireland, famed throughout Christian Europe. In the scriptorium of the monastery, for example, the lost illuminated manuscript the Book of Kildare may have been created — if it was not the existing Book of Kells, as many suppose.
She died at Kildare around 525 and was buried in a tomb before the high altar of her abbey church. After some time her remains were exhumed and transported to Downpatrick to rest with the two other patron saints of Ireland, Patrick and Columba (Columcille). Her skull was extracted and brought to Igreja de Sao Joao Baptista (Lumiar) Lisbon, Portugal by three Irish noblemen, where it remains. There is widespread devotion to her in Ireland where she is known as the "Mary of the Gael" and her cult was brought to Europe by Irish missionaries, such as Foillan, in the centuries after her death. In Belgium there is a chapel (7th-10th century) dedicated to Sainte-Brigide at Fosses-la-Ville.
Saint Brigid's Cross or Crosóg Bhríde. Legend has it she made the cross from rushes she found on the ground beside a dying man in order to convert him. It is interesting that this legend does not appear in any of the oldest sources and to this day its origin remains lost in the oral tradition. It remains the custom in many houses in Ireland to have a Saint Brigid's Cross in honour of the saint. The cross takes many forms and is technically classed by folk crafts experts as a "'plaited corn dolly", although the technologies utilized can extend beyond plaiting to weaving and other forms. Many of these forms such as that of the "eye of God" appear in other cultural contexts. According to tradition a new cross is made each Saint Brigid's Day (February 1), and the old one is burned to keep fire from the house, yet customs vary by locality, and family. Many homes have multiple crosses preserved in the ceiling the oldest blackened by many years of hearth fires. Some believe that keeping a cross in the ceiling or roof is a good way to preserve the home from fire which was always a major threat in houses with thatch and wood roofs
That she shares both her name and her feast day with those of the earlier pagan goddess Brigid may indicate that Saint Brigid is partially or entirely a fictional creation based on the pagan figure in order to convert Celts to Christianity; the euhemerization of pagan figures and tradition was a common practice of Christian missionaries. However she may merely have been named after her. Given the struggle Christian missionaries faced in their efforts to preach the Gospel in Ireland, even though they Christianized some elements, the adoption of a pagan goddess into the Communion of Saints may have been an effort to Christianize one of the most enduring pagan goddesses. Most historians say that she was a real person whose life was embellished by imaginative hagiographers, and this seems the most likely scenario. Evidence for a political function of the stories comes from detailed political analysis which demonstrates that they have been created or at least manipulated to document the power of Kildare over surrounding regions.
Differing biographies written by different authors, give conflicting accounts of her life, however three of those biographies agreed that she had a slave mother in the court of her father, Dubhthach, a king of Leinster. Perhaps the most ancient account of her life is by Saint Broccan Cloen:
Ni bu Sanct Brigid suanach
Ni bu huarach im sheirc Dé,
Sech ni chiuir ni cossena
Ind nóeb dibad bethath che.
Saint Brigid was not given to sleep,
Nor was she intermittent about God's love;
Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for
The wealth of this world below, the holy one.
One, the "Life of Brigid" dates from the closing years of the eighth century, and is held in the Dominican friary at Eichstatt in Bavaria. It expounds the metrical life of Saint Brigid, and versified it in Latin.
Although Saint Brigid was "veiled" or received by Saint Maughold (Macaille), at Croghan, it is far more possible that she took her vows from Saint Mel of Ardagh, who also granted her abbatial powers. She followed Saint Mel into the kingdom of Teathbha which is made up of sections of modern Meath, Westmeath and Longford. This occurred about the year 468. Brigid is known for being the first and only bishop of the early church. It is said that upon receiving her vows Saint Mel was inspired by God to make her a bishop.
Brigid's small oratory at Cill-Dara (Kildare) became a centre of religion and learning, and developed into a cathedral city. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men, and the other for women, and appointed Saint Conleth as spiritual pastor of them. It has been frequently stated that she gave canonical jurisdiction to Saint Conleth, Bishop of Kildare, but, as Archbishop Healy points out, she simply "selected the person to whom the Church gave this jurisdiction", and her biographer tells us distinctly that she chose Saint Conleth "to govern the church along with herself". Thus, for centuries, Kildare was ruled by a double line of abbot-bishops and of abbesses, the Abbess of Kildare being regarded as superioress general of the convents in Ireland.
Brigid also founded a school of art, including metal work and illumination, over which Conleth presided. The Kildare scriptorium produced the Book of Kildare, which elicited high praise from Giraldus Cambrensis, but which has disappeared since the Reformation. According to Giraldus, nothing that he had ever seen was at all comparable to the book, every page of which was gorgeously illuminated, and he concludes by saying that the interlaced work and the harmony of the colours left the impression that "all this is the work of angelic, and not human skill".
Brigid is at times known as "the Patroness of Ireland" and "Queen of the South: the Mary of the Gael" by a writer in the "Leabhar Breac". Brigid died leaving a cathedral city and school that became famous all over Europe. In her honour Saint Ultan of Ardbraccan wrote a hymn commencing:
Christus in nostra insula
Que vocatur Hibernia
Ostensus est hominibus
Que perfecit per felicem
Celestis vite virginem
Precellentem pro merito
Magno in numdi circulo.
In our island of Hibernia Christ was made known to man by the very great miracles which he performed through the happy virgin of celestial life, famous for her merits through the whole world.
The sixth life of the saint is attributed to Coelan, an Irish monk of the eighth century, and it derives a peculiar importance from the fact that it is prefaced by Saint Donatus, also an Irish monk, who became Bishop of Fiesole in 824. Donatus refers to previous lives by Ultan and Aileran. When dying, Brigid was attended by Saint Ninnidh, who was afterwards known as "Ninnidh of the Clean Hand" because he had his right hand encased with a metal covering to prevent it ever being defiled, after being the medium of administering the last rites to "Ireland's Patroness".
Brigid was interred at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a costly tomb was erected over her. Over the years her shrine became an object of veneration for pilgrims, especially on her feast day, February 1. About the year 878, owing to the Scandinavian raids, Brigid's relics were taken to Downpatrick, where they were interred in the tomb of Patrick and Columba. The relics of the three saints were discovered in 1185, and on June 9 of the following year were reinterred in Downpatrick Cathedral.
Various Continental breviaries of the pre-Reformation period commemorate Brigid, and her name is included in a litany in the Stowe Missal. In Ireland today, after 1500 years, "Mary of the Gael" remains a popular saint, and Brigid remains a common female Christian name. Moreover, hundreds of place-names in her honour are to be found all over both Scotland and Ireland, e.g. East Kilbride, Kilbride, Brideswell, Tubberbride, Templebride, etc. Places named Brideswell and Tupperbride commemorate in their names the presence of a sacred well ("Tobar" in Gaelic) dedicated to Brigid or her pre-Christian antecedent. Brigid's hand is preserved at Lumiar near Lisbon, Portugal, since 1587, and another relic is at St. Martin's Cologne.
As to the historical Brigid, it seems that Faughart was the scene of her birth. Faughart Church was founded by Saint Moninne in honour of Brigid. The old well of Brigid's adjoining the ruined church still attracts pilgrims. There is evidence in the Trias Thaumaturga for Brigid's stay in Connacht, especially in County Roscommon and also in the many churches founded by her in the Diocese of Elphim. Her friendship with Saint Patrick is attested by the following paragraph from the Book of Armagh: "inter sanctum Patricium Brigitanque Hibernesium columpnas amicitia caritatis inerat tanta, ut unum cor consiliumque haberent unum. Christus per illum illamque virtutes multas peregit". (Between Patrick and Brigid, the columns of the Irish, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many miracles.) At Armagh there was a "Templum Brigidis"; namely the little abbey church known as "Regles Brigid", which contained some relics of the saint, destroyed in 1179, by William Fitz Aldelm.
In addition, Brigid is highly venerated by many Orthodox Christians as one of the great Western saints prior to the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. Her feastday, as in the West, is February 1, although churches following the Julian calendar (as in many Orthodox countries) celebrate her feast on February 14, the corresponding date on the Julian calendar. The troparion to her is in Tone 1:
O holy Brigid, thou didst become sublime through thy humility, and didst fly on the wings of thy longing for God. When thou didst arrive in the Eternal City and appear before thy Divine Spouse, wearing the crown of virginity, thou didst keep thy promise to remember those who have recourse to thee. Thou dost shower grace upon the world, and dost multiply miracles. Intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.
The corresponding kontation is in Tone 4:
The holy virgin Brigid full of divine wisdom, went with joy along the way of evangelical childhood, and with the grace of God attained in this way the summit of virtue. Wherefore she now bestows blessings upon those who come to her with faith. O holy Virgin, intercede with Christ our God that He may have mercy on our souls.
Saint Columba (7 December 521 - 9 June 597), sometimes referred to as
Iona, or, in Old Irish, as
Colm Cille or Columcille (meaning "Dove of the church") was an outstanding figure among the Gaelic missionary monks who, some of his advocates claim, introduced Christianity to the Kingdom of the Picts during the Early Medieval Period. He was one of the Twelve Apostles of
Columba was born to Fedlimid and Eithne of the Uí Néill house in Gartan, near Lough Gartan, County Donegal, in Ireland. On his father's side he was great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish high king of the 5th century.
In early Christian Ireland the druidic tradition collapsed, with the spread of the new Christian faith. The study of Latin learning and Christian theology in monasteries flourished. Columba became a pupil at the monastic school at Clonard Abbey, situated on the River Boyne in modern County Meath. During the sixth century, some of the most significant names in the history of Irish christianity studied at the Clonard monastery. It is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard was 3,000. Twelve students who studied under St. Finian became known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, Columba was one of these. He became a monk and was ordained as a priest.
Tradition asserts that, sometime around 560, he became involved in a quarrel with Saint Finnian of Moville over a psalter. Columba copied the manuscript at the scriptorium under Saint Finnian, intending to keep the copy. Saint Finnian disputed his right to keep the copy. The dispute eventually led to the pitched Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561, during which many men were killed. Columba's copy of the psalter has been traditionally associated with the Cathach of St. Columba. A synod of clerics and scholars threatened to excommunicate him for these deaths, but St. Brendan of Birr spoke on his behalf with the result that he was allowed to go into exile instead. Columba suggested that he would work as a missionary in Scotland to help convert as many people as had been killed in the battle. He exiled himself from Ireland, to return only once again, several years later.
In 563 he travelled to Scotland with twelve companions, where according to his legend he first landed at the southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula, near Southend. However, being still in sight of his native land he moved further north up the west coast of Scotland. In 563 he was granted land on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland which became the centre of his evangelising mission to the Picts. However, there is a sense in which he was not leaving his native people, as the Irish Gaels had been colonizing the west coast of Scotland for the previous couple of centuries. Aside from the services he provided guiding the only centre of literacy in the region, his reputation as a holy man led to his role as a diplomat among the tribes; there are also many stories of miracles which he performed during his work to convert the Picts. He visited the pagan king Bridei, king of Fortriu, at his base in Inverness, winning the king's respect. He subsequently played a major role in the politics of the country. He was also 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 was a renowned man of letters, having written several hymns and being credited with having transcribed 300 books. One of the few, if not the only, times he left Scotland after his arrival was toward the end of his life, when he returned to Ireland to found the monastery at Durrow. He died on Iona and was buried in the abbey he created.
Several islands are named after Columba in Scotland - including "Ì Chaluim Chille" (one of the Scottish Gaelic names of Iona), Inchcolm and Eilean Chaluim Chille
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"
Most modern Cathedrals in Ireland are based on the design of Iona. Iona College, a small Catholic Liberal Arts college in New Rochelle, NY is named after Columba's most famous monastery.
The main source of information about Columba's life is the Vita Columbae by Adomnán (also known as Eunan), the ninth Abbot of Iona, who died in 704. Both the Vita Columbae and Bede record Columba's visit to Bridei. Whereas Adomnán just tells us that Columba visited Bridei, Bede relates a later, perhaps Pictish tradition, whereby the saint actually converts the Pictish king. Another early source is a poem in praise of Columba, most probably commissioned by Columba's kinsman, the king of the Ui Neill clan. It was almost certainly written within three or four years of Columba's death and is the earliest vernacular poem in European history. It consists of 25 stanzas of four verses of seven syllables each.
The earliest recorded example of the name Arthur in a British document occurs, as Arturius, in Adomnan's vita. There it occurs as the name of a prince among the Scots, the son of Áedán mac Gabráin, king of Dál Riata from AD 574, far from the legendary King Arthur's familiar haunts in the southwest.
The vita of Columba is also the source of the first known reference to a Loch Ness Monster. According to Adomnan, Columba came across a group of Picts who were burying a "poor little man" who had been killed by the monster, and saved a swimmer with the sign of the Cross and the imprecation "You will go no further", at which the beast fled terrified, to the amazement of the assembled Picts who glorified Columba's God. 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.
Through the reputation of its venerable founder and its position as a major European centre of learning, Columba's Iona became a place of pilgrimage. A network of Celtic high crosses marking processional routes developed around his shrine at Iona.
Columba is historically revered as a warrior saint, and was often invoked for victory in battle. His relics were finally removed in 849 and divided between Alba and Ireland. Relics of Columba were carried before Scottish armies in the 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 to the Saint helped them to victory. It is widely thought that the Monymusk Reliquary is this object.
O Columba spes Scotorum... "O Columba, hope of the Scots" begins a 13th century prayer in the Antiphoner of Inchcolm, the "Iona of the East".
St Columba's feast day is June 9 and with Saint Patrick, March 17, and Saint Brigid, February 1, is one of the three patron saints of Ireland. Prior to the battle of Athelstaneford, he was the sole patron saint of Scotland. He is also venerated within the Orthodox faiths as a saint and Righteous Father
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