Saturday, 28 November 2015

Saint Columbanus: a divisive figure?

Although there is no doubt of the historic importance of Saint Columbanus, it must also be acknowledged that he was in some ways a controversial figure. To my yellowing copy of Columbanus in his Own Words mentioned in the first of this series of posts, I have now added a nice crisp copy of a new title on the same lines, Alexander O'Hara's Saint Columbanus - Selected Writings, which you can preview on the publisher's website here. Dr O'Hara will also be bringing out a complete English translation of the Life of Columbanus by Jonas of Bobbio, inevitably alas, a rather more expensive tome of which details can be found here. Below is a short extract from the introduction to the Selected Writings in which the author looks at some of the differing reactions which the strong personality of Saint Columbanus has provoked:

The Irish saint and monastic founder, Columba the Younger, or Columbanus ('the Little Dove') as he was more affectionately known (c.550-615), can appear a stern and unsympathetic character. He was a man of extremes who provoked mixed reactions both from his and from our own, more recent, contemporaries. The Oxford medieval historian, J.M. Wallace-Hadrill dismissed him as a 'savage old saint' while Robert Schumann, one of the architects of the European Union, lauded him as a pioneer of European civilization and unity. More recently, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of him as being 'one of the Fathers of Europe'. In his day many regarded Columbanus as a saint, but others vilified him as a troublesome upstart who dared to speak out on Church affairs. Although a divisive figure, he is nonetheless one of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures from the early medieval 'Age of Saints'.

Alexander O'Hara, ed., Saint Columbanus - Selected Writings, (Dublin, 2015), 16.

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Friday, 27 November 2015

Saint Columbanus at Annegray

We continue the octave of posts in honour of the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus with a portrait of the way of life he pursued at Annegray. It reveals a tension familiar to the saints, torn as they are by the needs of others and a desire for solitude:

During the sojourn of Columbanus at Anegrai which lasted for two or three years, he lived in the continual practice of prayer and contemplation. Oftentimes, his course of life was interrupted by the wits of those, who came from afar, being attracted by the reputation of his virtues and many miracles wrought through the efficacy of his prayers. Numbers of sick and infirm persons were brought to him, and through his intervention they were miraculously restored to health and strength. Numbers of pious persons sought the direction and advice of this experienced instructor. These unavoidable interruptions did not however prevent our Saint occasionally retiring from public observation, to avoid the distractions caused by his visitors. Although he could not always shun intercourse with men, on account of the laborious duties of the ministry he was called to exercise; yet, he was accustomed, before all great festivals, to withdraw himself for a few days to the most retired parts of the desert, where, by a sort of retreat, he devoted himself entirely to fasting, prayer and holy contemplation.

Rev. John O'Hanlon, ' Life of Saint Columbanus, Abbot of Luxeu' in The Irish Harp: a monthly magazine of national and general literature: Volume 1, 1-4 (1863), 154.

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Thursday, 26 November 2015

Saint Columbanus and the Miracle of Water from the Rock

Canon O'Hanlon brings us another vignette from the Life of Saint Columbanus, this time heavily-laden with Old Testament allusions, as he describes how our saint is able through his prayers to make water flow from a rock:

On the occasion of his many retreats to the solitudes of the forest, the Saint suffered the extremities of hunger for whole days. He lived upon wild herbs and berries, which the woods furnished, and he often remained altogether apart from his companions. His drink was water. A certain youth, named Domoaldis, was commissioned by Columban and his monks to bear messages between them, and this boy was alone witness to many of the austerities of our Saint. Columban remained for several days on the brow of a precipitous rock, very difficult of access, and Domoaldis, who chanced to be with him, complained in an undertone of voice, that they should be obliged to procure water at a distance, and that it must be conveyed with great toil up the side of the steep. Upon this, Columban desired the boy to scoop out a hollow in the rock, and he obeyed. The holy man knelt down, and besought the Lord, that he would look upon them with a favourable eye. Thereupon, a rill of water issued from the rock, and the spring continued perpetually running from that time. Hence we may admire the wonderful condescension of Almighty God, to the requests of his chosen servants, who with faith and hope prefer their petitions to him. For he himself has given the assurance, "All things whatsoever you ask, believe that you shall obtain and they shall be rendered unto you." This consolatory promise to the holy man was often realized, even in the presence of multiplied difficulties.*

* Jonas, Vita S. Columbani. n. 16.

Rev. John O'Hanlon, ' Life of Saint Columbanus, Abbot of Luxeu' in The Irish Harp: a monthly magazine of national and general literature: Volume 1, 1-4 (1863), 112.

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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Saint Columbanus and the Dangers of the Forest

We continue the octave of posts in honour of the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus with a glimpse into how the saint dealt with the dangers of life in the forests. I am particularly pleased that the author here is none other than dear old Canon O'Hanlon, as he did not live to publish a November volume of his Lives of the Irish Saints. He did, however, begin the serialisation of what I am sure would have formed his chapter on Saint Columbanus in a short-lived Irish literary magazine, alas it doesn't seem like he got the chance to conclude it. Here he brings us a vignette from the biography of Saint Columbanus by the monk Jonas of Bobbio:
It was a custom of the Saint to make solitary excursions through the forest, and on a certain occasion, when taking with him the Sacred Scriptures, he fell into a reverie of thought, whether it would be preferable for him to suffer violence from men or wild beasts. He concluded at length, that it would be more desirable to sustain the rage of beasts rather than that of men, since the latter sort of violence could not take place, without the loss of immortal souls. Thereupon, he prayed and armed himself with the sign of the cross. No sooner had he performed these actions, than a troop of twelve wolves rushed towards him and surrounded him on every side. The Saint cried out, "O Lord incline to my aid, O Lord hasten to my assistance." He remained immoveable and intrepid, although the wolves caught hold of his garments. They at length left him, and fled into the recesses of the forest. Scarcely had Columban escaped this danger, when he overheard the voices of certain Swiss robbers, who were lurking in the woods. He passed the forest unobserved by them, and thus escaped a second danger. Taking a longer ramble than usual from his cell, he one day penetrated a hitherto unexplored recess of the forest, where he discovered a large cave, in the side of a precipitous rock. Upon entering, he found a bear, which had here taken up its place of concealment. Columban drove the animal away, without its attempting the least injury against him, and what was still more remarkable, it dared not return afterwards to the den it formerly occupied. This occurred at a place about seven miles distant from Anegrai.*

* Jonas, Vita S. Columbani. n. 15.
Rev. John O'Hanlon, ' Life of Saint Columbanus, Abbot of Luxeu' in The Irish Harp: a monthly magazine of national and general literature: Volume 1, 1-4 (1863), 112.

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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Tomb and Relics of Saint Columbanus

Below is a short paper by Margaret Stokes on the tomb and relics of Saint Columbanus written in the late 1880s. As we are dealing with scholarship well over a century old I would treat the theories of the origins of the artistic styles offered here with caution, but the description of the relics is most interesting:

Miss MARGARET STOKES, through the Director, communicated a paper on the tombs at Bobio of St. Columbanus and his followers, Attalus, Congal, Cummian, and others, whose names are given by Padre Rossetti in his Catalogue of the followers of Columbanus, but in their Latin forms, the Irish equivalents to which are omitted.

The tomb of Columbanus is a white marble sarcophagus, formerly surmounted by a marble recumbent statue of the saint, the front and sides of which were adorned with bas-reliefs illustrating events in the life of the saint. Among the interesting features in these bas-reliefs should be noted the booksatchell carried by St. Columbanus in the first, and the watervessel presented by Gregory the Great to the saint at the consecration of his monastery in the central compartment. This sarcophagus stands as an altar in the crypt of the old Lombardic church dedicated to the saint at Bobio, while the tombs of those disciples who followed him from Ireland to Italy are ranged in the walls around that of their master.

The sculptures on five of these sarcophagi offer fine examples of the interlaced work described by Canon Browne at the meeting of the Society on February 19th, as found in Italy at this period and before it, even in the time of imperial Rome. Such patterns were spoken of by Miss Margaret Stokes in her paper read upon the same occasion as gradually introduced with Christianity into Ireland, and there engrafted on a still more archaic form of Celtic art. Thus an Irish variety of such pattern sprang into life. The fact that there is no trace of such Irish individuality in the decorations on the tombs of the Irish saints at Bobio, that there is nothing to differentiate these designs from those that prevailed throughout Lombardy in the seventh century, goes far to prove that this style did not come from Ireland into Italy. Whether, on the other hand, it reached the Irish shore borne directly from Lombardy by the passengers to and fro from Bobio to its parent monastery in Bangor, Co. Down, is yet matter for future research.

The next monument described was the marble slab inscribed to the memory of Cummian, bishop in Ireland at the beginning of the eighth century. We learn from the epitaph itself that Liutprand, king of Lombardy from A.D. 720 to 761, had the monument executed of which this slab was the covering, the artists's name, Joannes Magister, being given at the foot. The inscription consists of nineteen lines, twelve of which are laudatory verses in hexameters, the remaining portion being a request for the saint's intercession.

The knife of St. Columbanus, described by Mabillon in 1682, as well as by Fleming, is still preserved in the sacristy of the church. It is of iron, and has a rude horn handle. The wooden cup out of which the saint drank is also preserved, and in the year 1354 it was encircled by a band of silver, with an inscription stating that it had belonged to St. Columbanus. The bell of the saint is another relic, and it is known that on the occasion of the translation of the saint's relics to Pavia this bell was carried through the streets of that city at the head of the procession.

The vessel brought by pope Gregory the Great from Constantinople, and given by him to St. Columbanus at the consecration of his monastery, agrees in form with that which is represented in the bas-relief on the saint's tomb, and is said to have been one of the water vessels used at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. A silver bust representing the head of St. Columbanus completes the list of relics connected with this saint, which are still preserved in the sacristy of his church at Bobio.

In the discussion that followed, Professor Browne said he was convinced, after careful examination of Miss Stokes's careful drawings and diagrams, that the Hibernian theory of the Irish origin of interlacing ornament in Italy was now quite dead.

With regard to the date of a remarkable vase preserved at Bobio, and said to have been given to St. Columbanus by St. Gregory, the President thought the vase was quite as early as if not earlier than St. Gregory's time, and probably of Greek origin.

Thanks were ordered to be returned for these Exhibitions and Communications.

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London, 2nd ser. Vol XIII, (1889), 270-271.

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Monday, 23 November 2015

The Death of Saint Columbanus, November 23

Below is the text of a most interesting paper which seeks to explain why Saint Columbanus is commemorated on 21 November, when the day of his repose or natalis is held to be on 23 November. The dating system in the Martyrologies follows the old Roman practice, and I am very grateful that the translators of the various Irish Martyrologies worked out all those Ides, Nones, Kalends and Dominical Letters! The author of this paper, Bartholomew Mac Carthy (1843-1904), a pioneering Irish scholar in the field of annalistic and chronological studies, quotes many foreign martyrologies and other not so readily-accessible sources in presenting his case:


IN pursuance of the promise given in the April number of the RECORD, we submit to students of Irish Hagiology a solution of the question respecting the date on which St. Columbanus died. That his death took place in November, 615, is placed beyond dispute. The controversy has arisen in reference to the day of the month: opinions varying between the twenty-first and the twenty-third; or, according to the Roman notation employed in the MSS., between the eleventh and the ninth of the Kalends of December.

Could a question like this be decided in favour of the conclusion adopted by the majority, irrespective of the nature and force of their proofs, it were labour in vain to re-open the present discussion. Baronius, Mabillon, the elder Pagi, Soller, O'Conor, and Lanigan not to mention those who copy them are all agreed in accepting the twenty-first. This, it must be admitted, is a formidable array of authorities to contend against. Nevertheless, having examined the subject for ourselves, and having derived new evidence from a source unknown to these eminent writers, we have been led to the conclusion that our Saint was called to his reward on the morning of Sunday, November 23, 615.

Three original authorities are at present available for our guidance. These are a Biography; the Martyrologies; and a passage in the Life of St. Gall.

I. Some twenty-five years after the death of Saint Columbanus, his life was written by Jonas, one of his disciples. Strangely enough, it contains no details of the final scene beyond recording that, having passed one year in Bobio, the saint rendered up his soul to heaven, on the ninth, or, according to another lection, the eleventh, of the Kalends of December. The two readings, it is hardly necessary to observe, arose from the fact that the number was expressed not verbally, but in alphabetical numeration. Of the confusion caused by ignorant or careless transcription of this Roman notation, numerous illustrations will at once recur to all who are familiar with MSS., but the present instance has been, as far as we know, the most widely extended and the most long-lived.

We shall first set down the published readings of the disputed lection in chronological order. The numbers within brackets - No. 3 was not reprinted- are the dates of the first Editions:

1. Inter Bedae opera (1563), IX. Kal. Dec., Nov. 23.
2. Surius (1570), - Kal. Dec., Nov. 23.
3. Fleming (1667), - Kal. Dec., Nov. 23.
4. Mabillon (1688) XI. Kal. Dec., Nov. 21.

"As to the day," Lanigan writes, "some MSS. have, instead of XL Kal. Dec., IX. Kal., etc. But Mabillon and Pagi show that the former is the true reading." We begin, therefore, with Mabillon. As the tabulated statement shows, he was the first to alter the received Text : hence, it is important to learn in his own words the reasons which led him to introduce the change.

At the reference given by Lanigan, he states: "Columbanus died on the 11th of the Kalends of November [December], as Jonas writes. Hence the Edition of Surius and some old Martyrologies are to be corrected, in which his obit is assigned to the ninth of the same Kalends, as in the genuine Usuard and Ado, to whom Wandalbert, who agrees writh Jonas, is to be preferred." And in another work, not quoted by Lanigan, he has the following note : "In Usuard, Ado and Surius the reading is Nov. 23, but the memory of St. Columbanus is assigned to Nov. 21 in the Martyrologies of Wandalbert and of the Benedictines, which are supported by the MS. copies of the Life examined by us."

O'Conor transcribes and adopts these statements, and remarks that the error arose from inaccurate transposition of XI. and IX. This, of course, is true; but in the opposite sense to that intended by the author.

The principal argument employed by Mabillon is based upon the assertion that Jonas reads XI. - which, it is evident, assumes the question in dispute. The same objection holds good in respect to Wandalbert; since the only sources of information open to him were the old Martyrologies and Jonas. Now, as will be shown by-and-by, all the former, even Mabillon admits some, read IX. Unless, therefore, he evolved the date from his own consciousness, Wandalbert must be admitted to have taken it from a copy of the Vita which contained XI. The statement that Ado and Usuard read IX. is opposed to all the evidence we have collected, including that of the Bollandist Soller.

But what is specially noticeable is the matter-of-course fashion in which "some old Martyrologies," that lay awkwardly in his way, are quietly set aside by Mabillon in favour of the Benedictine Monk and the Benedictine Kalendar. Equally noteworthy is it how, in marked contrast with his desire for accurate information on another occasion, he contents himself in this place with a vague reference to MSS., without adding a word respecting their localityantiquity, or authority. And yet, Fleming's Collectanea was, of course, well known to him. Can it be, one is constrained to ask, that he did not care to enter upon an enquiry which might result in showing the inaccuracy, and so far lowering the prestige, of Benedictine authorities?

Be that as it may, it is pleasant to turn from such loose statements to the precision with which our martyed countryman handled the subject. Of Fleming it can be truly said that his life was chiefly devoted to collecting every scrap relating to St. Columbanus. But his enthusiasm did not blind his judgment. On the contrary, he declares with equal severity and justice, that since Surius, as usual, tampered with the Text, and Bede's Editors printed it incorrectly, both Recensions were equally worthless for historical students. Accordingly, he sought personally, and through such scholars as Miraeus, Rosweyde and Stephen White, for the best MSS., in order to present, the most accurate version of Jonas. Nor were his efforts, it is gratifying to learn, unavailing. "Whilst," he writes, "turning over a considerable number of MSS. for this purpose, the most ancient I met with was from the Monastery of St. Maximin at Treves, which was supplied by Father Heribert Rosweyde. From that I transcribed the whole narrative, as you have it here; I also divided it into chapters, and prefixed the titles, which were wanting in the Codex, from the Edition of Surius." This, therefore, is the highest authority which is ever likely to be forthcoming. The passage under consideration is given as follows: Porro beatus Columbanus, expleto anni circulo in antedicto coenobio Bobiensi, beata vita functus, nono Calendas Decembris animam membris solutam coelo reddidit.

The absence of a note upon nono Calendas, it is to be observed in conclusion, shows that Fleming was unaware of any different reading in all the MSS. consulted by himself and on his behalf.

II. We come next to the Martyrologies. Before discussing their relative value, it will be convenient to arrange them chronologically.

1. Martyrology (so-called) of St. Jerome (seventh century): Nov. 23. In Italy, in Bobio Monastery, deposition of St. Columbanus, Abbot.

2. Do. (prose) of Bede (eighth century): Nov. 23. In Italy, in Bobio Monastery, deposition of St. Columbanus, Abbot, who was the founder of numerous monasteries, and father of numberless monks, and rested in a good old age renowned for many virtues.

3. Do. of Rhabanus (ninth century): Nov. 23. In Bobio Monastery, deposition of St. Columbanus, Abbot.

4. Metrical Mart. of Wandalbert (ninth century):
Undenam Abba Columbanus sibi servat, ab ipso
Oceano: multis vitae qui dogmata sanctae
Religione pia sparsit sermone manuque.

5. Ado (ninth century) took the date from Wandalbert; and the entry from Bede. In one and the other he was copied by

6. Usuard (ninth century); who was transcribed, in turn, with the omission of the word depositio, into the

7. Modern Roman Martyrology. Though Usuard, like Ado and Wandalbert, was a Benedictine, and though his work was first read in that Order, yet in the present

8. Benedictine Kalendar, the feast is fixed at the 24th, and the panegyric states that the natal day is the 21st. The latter statement occurs also in the sixth lesson of their Breviary. This arrangement was adopted into the Irish Church ; but at what time we are unable to say.

9. The Martyrology of Donegal has Nov. 21 ; but in the case of Irish saints who lived abroad, its authority is not original.

In respect to Antiquity, the foregoing Table is decisive in favour of the reading IX. Kal. Dec. With reference to Authority, it will suffice to quote the words of Benedict XIV. in his Letter to the Chapter of Bologna: “As regards Martyrologies, it were an open insult to your erudition, if we doubted you were perfectly aware how highly that of St. Jerome is, and has been always, esteemed; to which holy men in process of time added the names of saints who lived after St. Jerome." Before showing how the old reading is confirmed by the Locality of the copies in which it is contained, we have to consider the proofs brought forward by those who adopted the new lection.

Baronius merely says that Usuard, Ado and others more recent, treat of Columbanus at Nov. 21. Mabillon's arguments have been dealt with already. Those of Soller are easily disposed of. He first ironically commends the authenticity and genuineness of a MS. Ado in which Saint Clement's eulogy is partially expunged at Nov. 23, to make room for the insertion of that of St. Columbanus. But what stronger proof could we have that whoever made the erasure considered the better reading to be that given in the Hieronymian Codices (IX.), which Soller rightly conjectures he had examined? Next, he says Ado and Usuard, there is no doubt, read XI. a matter in which we are not much concerned; and that Jonas agrees with them which is true of the copies that have XI., but not of those that read IX. Lastly, he states that the entry in 5 and 6 was composed by Ado, though, as we have shown, it was taken word for word from Bede.

The only critic who attempts to reconcile the conflicting readings is Antonius Pagi: " The lection followed by Mabillon," he decides, "is to be retained; for I have no doubt but that Columbanus died on Nov. 21, and was buried on the 23rd; and that some took occasion to corrupt the notation of the Life from having seen his festival entered on the 23rd in the Martyrologies of Luxeuil, Besancon, and Epternac. But they ought rather have inferred therefrom that Jonas marked the day of his death and those Martyrologists the day of his burial."

This takes for granted that depositio here means burial: an assumption which does not remove the difficulty in 5 and 6, where the deposition is entered at Nov. 21. Now, Pagi, we think, would find it hard to prove that the dead were consigned to earth on the day they died. But, to go to the root of the matter, depositio, we maintain, does not signify burial, but death, in Ancient Martyrologies. In the phrase depositio Columbani, the genitive, to use a grammatical expression, is subjective, not objective. In support of this, we append the following authorities :-

1. "What is Deposition?" asks St. Ambrose, "Not that, surely," he goes on to reply, "which is carried out by the hands of clerics in burying bodily remains; but that whereby a man lays down the earthly body in order that, freed from carnal bonds, he may go unimpeded to heaven. Deposition, in truth, is that by which we cast away evil desires, cease from offences, give over sin, and put aside, as if throwing off a heavy burden, whatever is prejudicial to salvation. Accordingly, this day is appointed for the chief celebration ; because, in reality, the greatest festivity is to be dead to vice, and to live for justice alone. Hence, the day of deposition is called the day of nativity ; since, when freed from the prison of our sins, we are born to the liberty of the Saviour."

2. This equation of depositio and natale is so closely resembled by that given in the Council of Clovesho (A.D. 747) as to tead one to believe the Fathers had the Sermon of St. Ambrose before them when drawing up the seventeenth Canon: Ut dies natalitius beati Papae Gregorii, et dies quoque depositionis, qui est vii. Kal. Junii, S. Augustini, Archiepiscopi . . . venerentur. St. Augustine of Canterbury, it is well known, died on the 26th of May.

3. Mabillon quotes from an Ancient Kalendar : May 26. Deposition of Augustine, Confessor ; of Bede, Presbyter. "From this," he concludes, "it appears that both died (obiisse) on the same day; but that the feast of St. Bede was put back to next day, to give a separate day to each." Venerable Bede, it is unnecessary to say, died on the 26th of May.

4. The Martyrologium Gellonense gives the deposition of St. Patrick on the 17th of March. But the Tripartite Life, the Memoir in the Leabhar Breac, and the Patrician Documents in the Book of Armagh all inform us that our National Apostle was not buried for twelve days after his decease.

5. Finally, Notker Balbulus equates the three expressions employed in the old Martyrologies : XVII. Kal. Nov. Depositio, sive transitus, vel ad aeternam vitam natalis dies, beatissimi Galli, Confessoris, festive celebratur.

Having thus dealt with the objections brought against the older reading, a few remarks will show how strikingly it is confirmed by local and personal circumstances connected with the Hieronymian Codices in which it is found.

Against the lection, we find three Benedictines. These were all contemporaries ; and two of them lived in one diocese (Treves). Furthermore, he who wrote first took the date, 235 years after the event, from a faulty copy of Jonas: from him it passed on to the second; and from the second to the third.

In favour of the reading, we have, to mention but some of the authorities, first, the MS. of Auxerre. It is unnecessary to dwell upon the intimate connection of this Monastery with the early Irish Church. Its Martyrology, Martene and Durandus declared, nobody would deny surpassed all others. Next, we have the community of Reichenau, which was in close amity with the neighbouring abbey of St. Gall. Their copy, according to Soller, was ancient, and of the best authority. Lastly we can quote the MS. of the monks of St. Gall themselves. How they obtained their information, we now proceed to show.

III. The oldest extant memorials of St. Gall are found in a brief Biography written about a century after his death, and known under the title of the Vita primaeva. The anonymous Author states that his facts came through the deacons Maginald and Theodore, who had attended the Saint to the end; and from others who either could testify from personal knowledge, or had been informed by eye-witnesses. The work, as was to be expected from a writer not thoroughly conversant with Latin, was characterized by solecisms and barbarous modes of expression. When, therefore, the school of St. Gall had become a famous seat of learning, the monks determined to have the Life re-cast in a more literary form. Accordingly, they prevailed upon their neighbour, the celebrated Walafrid Strabo, Abbot of Reichenau, to undertake the work. By him the diction was improved, the narrative expanded, and the text divided into chapters. The result was, the original Life became so completely forgotten that a copy in the Archives of St. Gall is the only one preserved. From this the Vita was edited by Father Ildephonsus Von Arx in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica.

Few who have compared them both will feel disposed to disagree with the Editor's judgment that the new Biography did not cast the least additional light upon the old. The evidence afforded by the passage bearing upon the present question would warrant a more severe condemnation. His heading of the chapter - How St. Gall learned the death of Columbanus both by revelation and by messengers - shows that Strabo missed its purport: whilst by the omission of a single word he extinguished, as far as in him lay, the historical evidence unconsciously afforded in the Vita primaeva.

We print side by side the original and the enlarged texts

Vita primaeva
Nam quodam dominico die . . . prima luce diei, vocavit vir Dei Maginaldum diaconum, dicens: Surge velociter, et prepara mihi ad missam celebrandam. Qui respondit: quid est hoc, domine? numquid tu missam celebrabis? Cui ille: Post nocturnam hujus noctis, inquit, revelatum est mihi migrasse praeceptorem meum Columbanum, pro cujus requie offeram Sacrificium.

Walafridus Strabo
Quadam itaque die . . . . . primo diluculo, vocavit Magnoaldum diaconum suum, dicens illi: Instrue sacrae oblationis ministerium, ut possim divina sine dilatione celebrare mysteria. Et ille: Num, inquit, tu pater missam celebrabis? Dixit ergo ad ilium: Post hujus vigilias noctis cognovi per visionem dominum et patrem meum Columbanum de hujus vitae angustiis hodie ad paradisi gaudia commigrasse. Pro ejus itaque requie Sacrificium salutis debet immolari.

To understand the Nam, it has to be borne in mind that the original writer's object was, not to record the day of their great Teacher's demise, but to illustrate in the case of St. Gall how faithfully obedience was observed in their little community. The preceding sentence is: Quibus aliquid extra regulae tramitem deviare omnimodo indignum erat. Nam - and then he proceeds to give a striking example.

Now, Maginald, who supplied the information at first hand, knew personally that St. Columbanus had said to St. Gall : "You shall not celebrate Mass until I die." He knew equally well the query in the Rule Obedientia autem, usque ad quem modum definitur ; and the answer that followed Usque ad mortem certe precepta est. When, therefore, he found himself suddenly called up, and ordered to prepare for the Abbot's Mass, what more natural than his astonishment and his query " You, master! You are not going to say Mass, are you?" But the Rule was not to be broken: God, he was told, had made known that the time of prohibition had come to an end.

All this happened on a certain day, writes Strabo, to whom the particular day mattered nothing. But not so to Maginald. He was not likely to forget the day and the hour - at day-break, on a Sunday morning. Had he not additional reason to bear them stamped upon his memory? Did he not have to start after the Mass, and foot it south all the way to Bobio, there to be told that the death had taken place at the day and the hour revealed to St. Gall?

Quodam dominico die, is the original reading. Plain words to express a simple matter of fact! But time has given them a value which the old Irish Deacon could have little foreseen they would ever possess. Their decisive importance in the present discussion is beyond question. Through them we can establish the accuracy of the reading nono Kalendas Decembris by the unerring test of Chronology. Sunday, it is to be assumed, began at the midnight of Saturday. The Dominical Letter of 615 is E ; New Year's Day, in other words, fell on Wednesday. The Regular November Letter is d. Accordingly, the first of that month fell on Saturday, and the 2nd on Sunday. Consequently, the 23rd fell on Sunday also. St. Columbanus, therefore, died on the morning of Sunday, November 23, A.D. 615.

Thus, after a lapse of more than eleven hundred years, a new witness arises to add another to the many and undesigned coincidences which so strikingly attest the veracity of our Ancient National Records.


The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 5 (1884), 771-780.

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Sunday, 22 November 2015

St Columbanus: 'A Man of Firsts'

St Columbanus is a man of firsts in Irish history. The first Irish writer to leave a literary corpus, he is the first Irishman in the surviving literature to describe himself as Irish and to give an account of Irish identity...Considering his achievements and the example of sanctity that is his legacy, it is not surprising that Jonas of Bobbio's Life of St Columbanus should have appeared less than a generation after the saint's death. This is another first: Columbanus is the first Irishman to be the subject of a biography.

Damian Bracken, Introduction, in Tómas Ó Fiach, ed, and trans., Columbanus in his Own Words, (2nd edition, Dublin, 2012), 5-6.

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