Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Columban, Abbot

detail of a 19th century stained glass window of Saint Columban, date unknown, artist unknown; Bobbio Abbey, Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna, Italy; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Ireland was the native place of Abbot Columban, celebrated for his holiness. Shortly before he was born, his mother dreamed that a bright sun emanated from her, which sent its rays through the whole land. Eminent men, to whom she related this dream, looked upon it as a sign that her child would attain to great holiness. Columban manifested, with the first dawn of reason, an inclination to virtue, and a desire to acquire knowledge, very unusual for his tender age. God had endowed him with a very retentive memory, great intelligence and a strong impulse to great things. Besides this, he was of comely appearance, which placed him in danger when he arrived at manhood. To escape this, as also to serve the Lord more faithfully, he resolved, while still very young, to leave the world, and, either in a desert or in the cloister, to work for the salvation of his soul. This plan he soon carried into effect, although his mother was deeply grieved at parting with him. He went first to a hermit, who had gained great fame by the holiness of his life; and then into a monastery, where he passed several years in the practice of virtue; during which time he also made great progress in the study of theology.

The Almighty, who had appointed him to become the teacher and apostle of many others, inspired him, in the course of time, to go, with some other holy men, to France; and to live and labor there as heaven might appoint. He imparted this desire to his Abbot, who, though loath to part with him, yet bade him obey the divine inspiration without delay. Hence, Saint Columban and twelve other religious set sail for France, where they were very graciously received by King Siegbert or by Chilperic, who entertained them most liberally, until they had found a quiet spot wherein to make their dwelling. Columban found at length, in the forests of the Vosges, a place called Anegrai, where he erected a small church in honor of Saint Peter, and around it some huts for himself and his companions. Here they lived, far from the distractions of the world, zealous in serving the Most High. Before much time had passed, the fame of Columban’s holiness and that of his companions, resounded all over the land; and many who came to visit the Saint, were so much pleased with his devout discourses, that, forsaking all temporal things, they remained to live under his direction. The number of these became in a short time so great that the Saint erected a monastery, called Luxeu, which became very celebrated. Some years later, the Saint built yet another, as his disciples increased in such a manner that Luxeu could not contain them all. This third monastery was called Fontaines, as it was erected near a spring. The Saint used to retire into some deep forest, before great festivals, to devote several days, with more recollection than was possible in the convent, to prayer and meditation on the divine mysteries. One day, when he was seeking a place suitable for this purpose, he found a dark cavern, the entrance to which was very narrow. He crept in, and saw a large bear that had made its dwelling there, and that looked at him fiercely. Columban went fearlessly up to the beast, and commanded it, in the name of the Lord to depart and seek another shelter. The animal obeyed, and left the cave, which from that time became Columban’s retreat The Almighty, to refresh His servant, caused a spring to issue from the rocks, the water of which was pure and clear as crystal.

Meanwhile, the holiness of Columban became known, not only in France, but also in other countries, and the most distinguished men came from all parts to visit him and commend themselves to his prayers. Among these was Theodoric, king of Burgundy. Columban received him with great kindness, but knowing the dissolute life which the king led, he exhorted him to treat his queen with the love and esteem due to her, and to dismiss his concubine; adding, that otherwise he would soon lose crown and sceptre for himself and his children. The king, taking this admonition to heart, seemed willing to reform; but Brunehault, his ambitious grandmother, fearing that she would lose her influence in the administration, if the king occupied himself more with the affairs of the State, endeavored to retain him in his bad habits. She feared and hated the holy Abbot, and not only calumniated him to the king, but rested not until Theodoric, with the soldiers of his army, took the Saint from the monastery which he had governed for twenty years, and drove him out of the country. The Saint, after this unjust banishment, went to Besancon, where, by many miracles, he made himself greatly esteemed. Some time after, he secretly returned to his convent; but the wicked Brunehault no sooner heard of it than she induced the king to banish the holy man again, and to threaten him with death if he returned. The soldiers who had to execute this order, stormed the convent, but returned without the Saint, as they had not recognized him, although he had stood before them, among the other religious. Columban, fearing that the wrath of the king would fall upon the entire community, departed, and went to Lorraine, where Clothaire, the king, received him kindly, leaving it to him to select a place for his dwelling. Columban, however, did not accept this favor, fearing to arouse the wrath of Theodoric against Clothaire; and continued his journey into Lombardy. Along the whole route up the Rhine and along the lake of Zurich, Columban, with his companions, like true apostles, preached the word of Christ. He proceeded as far as Milan, where he bravely defended the true faith against the Arians. During his sojourn in this city, he learned that on the mountain range, near the River Po, were standing the ruins of a once celebrated church; and that the place would be most suitable for the erection of a monastery. With the permission of the king, he rebuilt the church, and near it erected a large monastery, which in a short time was filled with zealous servants of the Lord. The holy man continued here the same holy life which had so distinguished him in other places.

At last, the Almighty was pleased to call His faithful and unwearied servant, by a happy death, to his eternal reward. Saint Columban ended his earthly career in the last of his foundations, which was called the monastery of Bobio. The Lord glorified him, both before and after his death, by many and great miracles.

In conclusion we must not omit to state the unhappy end of the persecutors of Saint Columban. Before the Saint was banished the country, he uttered the following prophecy: “Before three years shall have elapsed, Theodoric, with all his children, will die an unhappy death, and king Clothaire will wear the crown.” As he had said, so it happened; for Theodoric died at Metz, in Lorraine, without a sign of repentance. Some say that he was struck by lightning; others, that he was poisoned, at the instigation of the wicked Brunehault. Clothaire took the six sons of Theodoric, prisoners, and killed them with his own hands. Brunehault, the author of all the persecutions of the holy man, and of all the horrible deeds of the king, was mounted on an ass; and, to the derision of the people, she was thus led through the city; after which, she was tied to the tail of a wild horse, and dragged till she was dead. None of the spectators showed her any pity, as it was known to all that the misery which had befallen the whole land, was her work. They praised the justice of the Almighty, who, though sometimes slow in punishing the wicked, overtakes them at last; and whose punishment is the more severe, the longer it has been delayed.

Practical Considerations

Saint Columban goes into the desert, the better to serve the Almighty; the same was done by Saint Felix. Before festivals, Saint Columban leaves his monastery, retires into a mountain-cave to pray and meditate more undisturbed. I do not request of you to leave house and home, and conceal yourself in a cavern to serve your Lord; but let me tell you what several holy Fathers advise every one to do. A man, who earnestly desires to save his soul, must sometimes retire, for a short period, from all his cares and business, and thus, so to speak, go into a spiritual solitude. King David did this at night: because, during the day, he was occupied with the affairs of the State. “And I meditated in the night with my own heart” (Psalm 76). Christ also taught us this by His own example; for He retired sometimes from the people whom He instructed, and went up into a mountain to pray; He also called His disciples from their work, to rest for a while in the desert. This was done to teach us to lay all business aside, at times, and occupy ourselves with our salvation only. Sundays and Holy-days, or the end of the month are the best times for this. Take an hour at home or in the church, and shutting out all other thought, look into the state of your soul. Ask yourself whether and how you have served God in your station, and what you have done for your salvation; what might keep you from heaven and what might help you to gain it. Pray for pardon for your sins, and make new resolutions as to your future course of life. This kind of spiritual retreat all can make. The Almighty, who has promised to speak in solitude to your heart, will surely make known to you what you should do and what avoid in order to gain salvation. Believe me, the short hour passed in such a manner, will bring you more benefit and comfort than a thousand other hours or days which you spend in idle amusement and in which, perhaps, you offend the Lord.
MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Columban, Abbot”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 May 2018. Web. 23 September 2018. <>