Saint Columbanus

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Columbanus, Saint, was born about 545, of an illustrious Leinster family. Endowed with extraordinary talents, he retired to the monastery of Bangor, in Ulster, where, under the tuition of St. Comgall, he spent a considerable portion of his life in meditation and study. However, his life is most bound up with the ecclesiastical history of the Continent. At fifty years of age he selected twelve companions, and proceeded to France, where a wide field of missionary labour then lay open. He was in 602 involved in a controversy with the French bishops as to the proper time for celebrating Easter. He then established monasteries at Annegray, Luxeuil, and Fontaines; but was ultimately obliged to fly to Italy, having incurred the hatred of Brunechilde and Fredegonde, the Merovingian kings' mistresses, by his fearless denunciations of their impure lives. Particulars of his wanderings and many reputed miracles are given at length by Lanigan.

He died at Bobbio in Italy (in 615, aged about 70) where in 613 he had established a confraternity under the protection of Aigilulph, King of the Lombards. Columbanus's festival is celebrated on the 21st November. Ware gives a list of his works, numbering seventeen. They are wholly in Latin. M. Guizot remarks of his sermons: "The flights of imagination, the pious transports, the rigorous application of principles, the warfare declared against all vain or hypocritical compromise, give to the words of the preacher that passionate authority, which may not always and surely reform the soul of his hearers, but which dominates over them, and for some time at least, exercises paramount sway over their conduct and their life."[125a] San Colombano in Lombardy takes its name from him; and the town and canton of St. Gallen in Switzerland are called after the most favoured of his disciples.


119. Ecclesiastical History of Ireland: Rev. John Lanigan. 4 vols. Dublin, 1822.

125a. Encyclopaedia, Chambers's. 10 vols. London, 1860-'8.

179. Ireland before the Conquest: M. C. Ferguson. London, 1868.

339. Ware, Sir James, Works: Walter Harris. 2 vols. Dublin, 1764.

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