Saturday, June 09, 2007

St Columba

St Columba (or Columcille in the Irish) was the founder of the Iona monastery and the apostle of Christianity to the western isles of Scotland. He was of royal blood and had certain rights to an Irish throne had he not preferred to be monk and priest. The good old Catholic Encyclopædia gives a fine biography of St Columba here.

He is the secondary patron of Ireland and these days, his day is there kept as a feast, although in Scotland it is only a memorial. (Before the Council it was a Double of the First Class in Scotland. I wonder why the demotion?)

Here is his old collect:

We beseech Thee, O Lord, pour into our hearts the longing for heavenly glory, and grant that we may bear sheaves of righteousness in our hands to that place where Thy holy Abbot Columba shines in brightness with Thee. Through Christ our Lord.


Religious life on St Columba's Iona was essentially non-existent after the Reformation. These days it's a growth industry. The Church of Scotland has a monastery (of sorts) there, the Episcopal Church of Scotland has a house, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Argyll and the Isles has come up with a small facility, too. Poor old Iona also seems to attract lovers of new age bumpf at a fantastic rate. In any event, the island has a website here with some lovely pictures and more information written by someone less depressed by the whole situation than I.

There are a few ancient prophecies about Iona. In one, St Columba foresees the devastation of the Reformation and says that Iona will one day be bereft of its monks and be home only to cattle. And, yet, one day it will be as it was.

This one, taken from the website cited above, says that "seven years before the day of judgement the ocean will sweep over both Ireland and Islay. Yet the Isle of St Columba will swim above the waves":

Seachd bliadhna 'n blr'ath
Thig muir air Eirinn re aon tr'ath
'S thar Ile ghuirm ghlais
Ach sn'amhaidh I Choluim Chl'eirich


Not quite a prophecy, but Dr Johnson said of Iona during the days of its devastation that "That man is little to be envied. . .whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona."