(Columba of Iona)


Columba is one of the most renowned of the Celtic Saints. Although born in Ireland, he is most well known for his conversion of the Picts and Celts of Scotland. He is also known as the founder of Iona, the most important monastery in Scotland, and burial place of many famous Kings of Scotland. He was a missionary and a scholar, and the monasteries that he founded, both in Ireland and Scotland, became great centers of learning in the following centuries. They were firmly established before the viking raids and depredations of later centuries, and were in fact some of the last bastions of civilization during the worst years of the Dark Ages of Europe.

Columba was born about sixty years after the death of St. Patrick. The Celtic church in Ireland was growing fast and many monasteries had been created as centers of learning. Columba studied at two of these monasteries, became a Christian scholar and embraced the monastic life. He was ordained as a priest at about age thirty, and helped found several monasteries while still resident in Ireland.

In 563 he left Ireland with twelve disciples on a missionary venture to Northern Britain. There are legends claiming that he left due to his involvement with a tribal war, but in any case, he and his companions crossed the Irish sea on a small craft and landed on the island of Iona. There they founded a monastery which in later years became the most renowned monastery in Scotland, and from that base they set out on their missionary work. During Columba's lifetime the Scots and the Picts were two separate tribes that inhabited the northern most parts of Britain. The Scots were related to the Irish, and Christianity was already somewhat established with them, both through Irish missionaries, and through the Celtic Christians in the south, but the Picts were still considered savages. Many of the interesting stories about Columba involve the conversion of the Picts, who were likely the ancestors of the Scottish highlanders of later years.

Columba lived in Scotland for thirty-four years and during that time converted hundreds of heathens, established numerous churches and monasteries, promoted literacy and learning, and was trusted as a diplomat to resolve disputes among tribes. He was especially known for promoting monasteries as centers of literacy and learning, and is credited with transcribing over 300 books himself. It is said that he was still transcribing on the eve of his death, in 597.

Key events during the life of :

Birth of Saint Columba, in Ireland.
  Studied at monasteries in Ireland.
Ordained as a priest.
  Founded monasteries in Ireland, at Derry, Durrow and Kells.
With twelve disciples, left Ireland for a mission in Northern Britain.
Founded monastery of Iona in Scotland; began converting the heathen Picts to Christianity.
Anointed Aidan as king of the Scots.
  Retired to Iona, after many years of missionary work.
Died at Iona.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
The Gospel in Scotland  in  Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary  by  Cambridge Press
Columba, 521-597  in  Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages  by  George Hodges
St. Columba  in  The Book of Saints and Heroes  by  Mrs. Lang
Story of Saint Columba  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Saint Columba  in  Our Island Saints  by  Amy Steedman
St. Columba  in    by  

Image Links

 in Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages

Saint Columbkille's Cross, Kells
 in Ireland: Peeps at History

St. Columba made the sign of the Cross, and the great gates opened wide
 in Scotland's Story

St. Columba's Cross at Kells
 in History of the Church: Early Middle Ages

There in the cell he made fair copies of the books he loved
 in Our Island Saints

Short Biography
King Brude Pictish king who was converted
St. Mungo Early Christian missionary to Scotland.