Calendar of Scottish Saints – Saint Colum Cille or Columba, Abbot

Article

A.D. 597. The apostle of the northern regions of Scotland was born in Ireland in A.D. 521. Both father and mother were of royal race. Though offered the crown of his native province, Columba preferred rather to enrol himself in the monastic state. He studied in the schools of Moville, Clonard, and Glasnevin, and in course of time was ordained priest. At twenty-five years of age he founded his first monastery at Derry; this was to be the precursor of the hundred foundations which Ireland owed to his zeal and energy. In these monasteries the transcription of the Holy Scriptures formed the chief labour of the inmates, and so much did Columba love the work that he actually wrote three hundred manuscripts of the Gospels and Psalms with his own hand.

But Columba was not destined to remain in Ireland. From his earliest years he had looked forward to the time when he might devote himself to missionary efforts for the benefit of those who knew not the Christian faith. In the forty-second year of his age he exiled himself voluntarily from his beloved country to preach the Gospel to the pagan Picts. The story of his having been banished from Ireland for using his influence to bring about a bloody conflict between chieftains is rejected by the greatest modern historians as a fable. Early writers speak of the saint as a man of mild and gentle nature.

On Whit Sunday, A.D. 563, Saint Columba landed with twelve companions on the bleak, unsheltered island off the coast of Argyll, known as Hii-Coluim-Cille or Iona. For thirty-four years the saint and his helpers laboured with such success, that through their efforts churches and centres of learning sprang up everywhere, both on the mainland and the adjacent islands. Iona became the centre whence the Faith was diffused throughout the country north of the Grampians. The monastic missionaries were untiring in their efforts. They penetrated even to Orkney and Shetland.

On Sunday, June 9, A.D. 597, Saint Columba was called to his reward. He died in the church, kneeling before the altar and surrounded by his religious brethren. His remains, first laid to rest at Iona, were afterwards carried over to Ireland and enshrined in the Cathedral of Down by the side of those of Saint Patrick and Saint Bridget. All these relics perished when the cathedral was burned by Henry VIII’s soldiers.

Saint Columba was a man of singular purity of mind, boundless love for souls, and a gentle, winning nature which drew men irresistibly to God. His labours were furthered by Divine assistance, which was evidenced by numerous miracles. Among the saints of Scotland he takes a foremost rank, and in Catholic ages devotion to him was widespread. The churches dedicated to him are too numerous to mention. He himself founded no less than fifty during his residence in the land which he had chosen as the scene of his labours. Annual fairs were held on his feast at Aberdour (Fife), Dunkeld each for eight days Drymen (Stirlingshire), Largs (Argyllshire), and Fort-Augustus (Inverness-shire). Saint Columba’s holy wells were very numerous, for an old Irish record relates of him: “He blessed three hundred wells which were constant.” In Scotland they are to be traced at Birse (Aberdeenshire), Alvah and Portsoy (Banffshire), Invermoriston (Inverness-shire), Calaverock (Forfarshire), Cambusnethan (Lanarkshire), Alness (Ross-shire), Kirkholm (Wigtonshire), and on the islands of Garvelloch, Eigg and Iona.

MLA Citation

  • Father Michael Barrett, OSB. “Saint Colum Cille or Columba, Abbot”. The Calendar of Scottish Saints, 1919. CatholicSaints.Info. 28 May 2014. Web. 20 September 2018. <>