St. Columbanus (2)

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XI

Nantes was the destination of the exiled religious. Here they were put on board a vessel bound for Ireland; but scarcely had they reached the open sea, when a violent storm arose, by which the vessel was driven back and stranded on the shore, where it lay all night. The captain attributed the misfortune to his travelling companions, and refused to carry them any farther. Columbanus, perceiving in this accident an indication of the will of heaven in their regard, determined to seek a settlement in some other part of the Continent. In the third year after his expulsion from Luxeuil, he arrived at Milan, where he was hospitably received by the Lombard king, A.D. 612. On his journey thither he had evangelized Austrasia, then governed by Theodebert. This prince, though a brother of the monarch by whom he had been expelled, entertained him with the utmost courtesy At Mentz, the bishop vainly endeavoured to detain him. Zeal for the conversion of souls led the saint to desire a less cultivated field of labour. As he passed along the Lake of Zurich, and in the Canton of Zug, he reaped a rich harvest; from thence he directed his course to Bregentz, then inhabited by an idolatrous people,.

Here he was repulsed by those who most needed his apostolic labours; but, undaunted, he retired to the neighbouring county, where he secured a band of zealous converts. Surrounded by these, and attended by his faithful monks, he once more entered the idolatrous city, and proceeded boldly to the temple where their false gods were enshrined. Here he invoked the Holy Name, and by its power the idols were miraculously overthrown, and a multitude of the people were converted, including in their number some of the principal inhabitants of Bregentz.

The theological controversy, known as that of the "Three Chapters," was now prevalent in northern Italy. A letter is still extant which St. Columbanus addressed to Pope Boniface on this subject, in which, while he uses the privilege of free discussion on questions not defined by the Church, he is remarkably, and perhaps for some inconveniently, explicit as to his belief in papal supremacy. A brief extract from this important document will show that the faith for which Ireland has suffered, and still suffers so much, was the same in the "early ages" as it is now. He writes thus to the Holy Father:—

"For we Irish [Scoti] are disciples of St. Peter and St. Paul, and of all the divinely inspired canonical writers, adhering constantly to the evangelical and apostolical doctrine. Amongst us neither Jew, heretic, nor schismatic can be found; but the Catholic faith, entire and unshaken, precisely as we have received it from you, who are the successors of the holy Apostles. For, as I have already said, we are attached to the chair of St. Peter; and although Rome is great and renowned, yet with us it is great and distinguished only on account of that apostolic chair. Through the two Apostles of Christ you are almost celestial, and Rome is the head of the churches of the world."[3]

In the year 613 St. Columbanus founded the world-famed Monastery of Bovium, or Bobbio,[4] in a magnificently romantic site on the Apennines. Near his church was an oratory dedicated to the Mother of God, who, as we shall presently see, was as devoutly worshipped in ancient as in modern Erinn.

Agilulph, the Lombardian monarch, was ever a warm patron of the monks. Clothaire had now ascended the French throne. He earnestly pressed the saint to return to Luxeuil, but Columbanus excused himself on the plea of age and infirmities. He did not fail, however, to send advice for the government of the monasteries which he had founded, where his rule had continued to be observed with the utmost fervour.

St. Columbanus died at Bobbio, on the 21st of November, 615, at the age of seventy-two years. His name is still preserved in the town of St. Columbano. His memory has been ever venerated in France and Italy.

While the saint was evangelizing in Switzerland, one of his disciples became seriously ill, and was unable to travel farther. It was a providential sickness for the Helvetians. The monk was an eloquent preacher, and well acquainted with their language, which was a dialect of that of the Franks. He evangelized the country, and the town of St. Gall still bears the name of the holy Irishman, while his abbey contains many precious relics of the literature and piety of his native land. St. Gall died on the 16th October, 645, at a very advanced age. The monastery was not erected until after his decease, and it was not till the year 1798 that the abbey lands were aggregated to the Swiss Confederation as one of the cantons.

Another Irish saint, who evangelized in France, was St. Fiacre. He erected a monastery to the Blessed Virgin in a forest near Meaux. The fame of his sanctity became so great, and the pilgrimage to his tomb so popular, that the French hackney coaches (fiacre ) obtained their name from their constant employment in journeys to his shrine.


[3] World.—See Herring's Collectanea and the Bibliotheca Patrum, tom. xii.

[4] Bobbio.—My learned friend, the Rev. J. P. Gaffney, of Clontarf, has in his possession a printed copy of the celebrated Bobbio Missal. It is contained in a work entitled "Museum Italicum, seu collectio Veterum Scriptorum ex Bibliothesis Italicis," eruta a D. J. Mabillon et D. M. Germain, presbyteris et monachis, Benedictinae, Cong. S. Mauré. This work was published at Paris in 1687. The original Missal was discovered by Mabillon two hundred years ago, and is at present preserved in the Ambrosian Library at Milan. It dates from the seventh century, and is no doubt the identical Missal or Mass-book used by the saint. As my friend has allowed me to retain the treasure for a time, I intend to give full details on the subject in my Ecclesiastical History. For further information at present, I refer the reader to the Rev. J. P. Gaffney's Religion of the Ancient Irish Church p. 43, and to Dr. Moran's learned Essays, p. 287. I especially request the superiors of religious orders to afford me any information in their possession concerning the history of their respective orders in Ireland, and also of their several houses. Details of re-erections of religious houses on old sites are particularly desired. All books or documents which may be forwarded to me shall be carefully returned.