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great man is Columba. The word 'Cille' is sometimes added to his name, in reference to his diligent attendance at church when a boy, or because he was the founder of so many religious houses. There is a beautiful legend which describes a meeting of St. Kentigern with St. Columba. Each brought with him a holy retinue, and as they met they all sang, ' In viis Domini, quam magna est gloria Domini,' and again they added, 'Via justorum recta facta est; et iter Sanctorum praeparatum est.' Then sang the choir of St. Columba, 'Ibunt Sancti de virtute in virtutem, videbitur Deus deorum in Syon, cum Alleluia.' St . Columba knew the saint by a column of light, and they interchanged embraces j1 but further than this no pen has written of the heavenly converse of the two happy souls. The one was near his long journey's end, and the other's hard day's work was begun.
. . . 'sometimes even beneath the moon
When reconciled Christians meet,
In silence meek or converse sweet.'
1 Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Bishop of Brechin, pp. 370, 371.
'Oh! by Thine own sad burthen borne
The Christian Year.
St. Columba was born at Gartan in Donegal, on the 7th day of December, in the year of our Lord 521. His father, Fedlimidh, was of an honourable clan, and he was also nearly related to the reigning families of Ireland and British Dalriada. His mother, Eithne, was of famous Leinster extraction. He is thought to have passed his boyhood principally in the neighbourhood of Donegal. From thence he went to Moville, and, by the famous bishop St. Finnian, was ordained deacon. From Moville he proceeded to Leinster, and there studied with Gemman, a venerable bard. Both St. Finnian and Gemman, perceiving in the young man a promise of the great grace he was to receive, used to call him in playful earnest Saint, and ask his opinion concerning very mysterious subjects. Yet at the same time we have every reason from his biographers to believe that he had a strong self-will to chasten, and all the irritable nature of a Celt to fight with. The character which became dove-like as his name was not natural but supernatural. After leaving Gemman he concluded his more advanced studies in the monastic seminary of St. Finnian of Clonard, previous to being ordained a priest by Etchen, the bishop in Clonfad. Then we hear of him in a religious house at Glasnaoiden, now Glasnavin, near Dublin under St. Mobhi, and in 546, being in his twenty-fifth year, he erected his first religious establishment at Tyrconnel. From 546 to 562 he devoted himself to the foundation and government of a number of Irish monasteries, the most important of which was Durrow, founded about the year 553. The great event of his life took place in his forty-second year, in the summer of 563, when, with twelve disciples, he left Ireland and passed over to the west coast of North Britain. Regarding the cause for this movement his biographers differ. Some adhere to the old Irish legend, that he was forced thither owing to a misunderstanding with his former master, St. Finnian of Moville; but others believe that his desire for the salvation of the souls of the northern Picts was sufficient reason for the vast sacrifice that was involved in tearing himself from his fatherland, wherein he was already so revered a teacher, and the congenial atmosphere to his refined soul of profound learning and gorgeous ceremonial, that he might become a poor missionary among heathens and barbarians. On his arrival in Alba, he visited his kinsman Conall, the king of the British Scots, who approved and encouraged his desire. He then betook himself to Iona, which, situated on the confines of the dominions of Picts and Scots, seems to have been claimed by both peoples as a sort of common occupancy. His countrymen, the Scots, being Christians, at least in name, it was among the Picts that Columba began his work. At sight of these savages he did not shrink, but humbly prayed for thirty years of life to devote to God in bringing their souls to a knowledge of His truth. Iona, tolerably secure from enemies in its isolation, was made the centre of the stupendous undertaking, and here a church and monastery were erected, probably of timber thatched with heath, from the dense forests and heathery moors on the mainland. The method of constructing these basket-work or ' creel houses' and churches was this : 'a wall-plate was made of uprights, with twigs interlaced between them in the usual method of basket-making. ... A second fabric of the same kind was placed within the other at a short distance, and the space between was filled with turf or clay, forming a pretty solid wall.'1 Rude of design and destitute of all splendour, it has been said that 'the glory of those early buildings was within :'2 for on their humble altars the 'sacrifice of salvation' was continually pleaded; and doubtless that same spirit which would have surrounded the presence of the Incarnate God with art and wealth found expression, and 'did what it could' in offerings of rush-wick candles and mountain wild-flowers. That they did give of their best to God, we are reminded by the chalice of Iona, a cup of fine gold, which only a few years ago was stolen from the sacristy of a church in Glasgow.3 What St. Columba and his patient children suffered from exposure by day and night to snow and rain and sleet, to penetrating fogs and bitter blasts, in the cold seas and desolate glens of a country then regarded as the remotest region of the earth, we can never know, nor can we estimate the extremity of their other forms of trial in the machinations of the heathen priesthood, or how their labours must have seemed sometimes wasted on men of dense ignorance and blinded obstinacy, who 'would not' be saved, and who were doing what they could to stamp out the image of God, and to wring tender Christian hearts,
1 Burton, vol. i. pp. 265, 266.
* Grub's Eccl. Hist, of Scotland, vol. i. p. 51.
8 See Dr. D. Wilson's Prehistoric Annals, pp. 668, 669.
or how they bore the all but intolerable discouragement when those they had baptized occasionally fell away, or when their own Christian countrymen often led lives that disgraced their profession. But the results we know in the conversion of the northern Picts. The gospel was preached throughout the Hebrides and all along the western coast, whilst the brethren even ventured in their frail boats of wickerwork covered with skin far into the Orkney, Shetland, and Faroe Islands; and although the plantation of the faith on the bleak shores of Iceland has been attributed to another zeal, the fact that there was in ancient times a church there dedicated to St. Columba proves how remotely this name was known and venerated. Monasteries on the model of the great parent house of Iona were established throughout the country, each of which afforded a shelter for study and devotion, and became the busy centre of an active mission. Of the primitive structures themselves the traces have perished, but the loving and educated eye can still discover evident indications of that earliest occupation, apart from any later remains, on the islands of Oronsay, Colonsay, and Loch Awe, and of Inchcolm, or Inch Columba, in the Firth of Forth, and there are few districts of Scotland without the church or holy well to remind us of St. Columba.1 At Iona there was a rest awaiting the hard-worked preachers of the gospel, and we can best realize how thankfully they retreated thither by our own sense of repose at thought of the quiet, earnest life that went on in that silent solitude, broken only by the roar of the Atlantic on the granite cliffs of the little island. The summer day of boundless length gave plenty of time for steady, uninterrupted work, and here could be carried on without distraction the
1 There are fifty-eight Scottish churches and foundations of St. Columba.