Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

The Gospel in Scotland, or the Story of Saint Columba

In the last chapter we saw how the heathen English came to Britain. Before many years had passed, the Christian religion was quite stamped out. In the northern part of our island, or Scotland, as we now speak of it, the people, too, did not know the truth. They still wor¬shipped false gods, and were also very rough and rude in their habits. They thought more of hunting and fighting than of anything else.

To the west of Britain lies a beautiful green island, which is now known as Ireland. In those times it was spoken of as "the Isle of Saints," for there, peace and quiet reigned, and men thought most of learning, and of leading holy lives. Some of them were very clever in making fine ornaments of gold and silver; while others loved to spend their time in making copies of the Bible, or of some part of it.

In the north of Ireland there lived a scholar named Finnian, who had a beautiful copy of the Psalms. One of the pupils of Finnian was a young man named Columba, who wished very much to have this book for himself.

His master, however, would not part with it, neither would he allow Columba to make a copy of it. This book was always kept in the church, and at last Columba thought of a plan by which he might copy it.

He went to church every day, and, after service was over, he remained behind to copy the book which he prized. It took him a long time to do this, and, one day, Finnian happened to return, and found out what he had been doing.

He then claimed the copy as his own, but, as you may suppose, Columba was not willing to part with it.

So they went to the king of that part of Ireland, and asked him to say whose the volume was. The king replied, "To every cow belongs its own calf." This was a quaint way of saying that the copy belonged to the owner of the book, that is, to Finnian.

Strange to say, this quarrel led to a war, for Columba was of royal blood, and had many powerful friends. No less than three battles were fought between him and the king; and, in the end, Columba thought it best to leave the country.

With twelve of his friends, most of whom were of high rank, Columba left his native land. Their boat, of wicker work covered with skins, was a very frail bark in which to cross a stormy sea.

Scottish Cathedreal


Day after day passed, and at length a small island was reached. Here the friends made up their minds to make their home, to which they gave the name Iona.

They soon set to work to build a church. Close to it, they set up a number of small houses, or cells, made of wattles. Then there was a house where they all met together for meals; one that was used as a kitchen; and another where they all slept. Round the whole of the buildings a deep ditch was dug, so that wild animals or evil men could not easily molest them.

Soon the little island became famous. Chiefs and kings visited it, and heard the Gospel story from the lips Columba or his monks. Many places in Scotland can be reached by water: so we find the missionaries, as we call them, using a little fleet of vessels to go from place to place.

Wherever they went, a church was built. Look at a map of Scotland, and you will find the names of many places beginning with "Kil." The word "Kil "is an Irish word, meaning a church; so, most likely, in places thus named, a church was built by Columba, or his followers.

In this way, Scotland became a Chris¬tian land, and we may very well speak of Columba, as "the Apostle of Scotland."He lived to be an old man, dying in the year 597. In this same year, a band of missionaries came from Rome to the south of England, and, before many years had passed, the whole of Britain had become Christian.

Columba was buried near the church he had built. His friends lovingly kept the books and other things he had used, and pilgrims came from far and wide to see them.

At Iona, many ruins of churches, tombs and carved crosses may still be seen. Kings of Scotland, and even of Norway, thought it a great honour to be buried in the place made holy by the good deeds of St Columba.