Smith: The Life Of St. Columba

Pdf Smith, John, The Life Of St. Columba, Edinburgh: Mundell & Son, 1798
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The Life Of St. Columba by John Smith published in 1798, is a biography of the Gaelic Irish missionary also known as Colum Cille (521-597) who converted the pagan Picts of Scotland to Christianity. Together with St. Patrick and St. Brigid, he is one of the three principal saints of early Irish Christianity.

The Picts were an ancient tribe who lived in the North West of Scotland. Their language is said to be related to the language of the Britons who lived in southern Britain and were known to the ancient Greeks and the Romans before the conquest of Britain in the 1st century. Ireland, Britain and much of north western and central Europe is believed to have shared a related Celtic culture.

Christianity had been the official religion of the late Roman Empire before it fell apart in Western Europe in the 5th century AD. Increasing pressure from encroaching pagan barbarian tribes weakened and disintegrated the empire. Angles and Saxon invaders took over southern Britain displacing the Britons when the Romans departed and created Anglo-Saxon Britain. Gaelic Irish whom the Romans referred to as Scotti, took over part of western Scotland and created the kingdom of Dal Riata. By the 9th century they had merged with the Picts and created the Kingdom of Alba or Scotland.

Ireland had never been invaded by the Romans but the Irish tribes had raided Roman Britain and returned with Christian slaves such as St. Patrick. He converted the Gaelic Irish to Christianity and brought the druidic pagan religion to an end.

Columba was the great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland. It is said that Niall's raiders were responsible for capturing Patrick. Columba is also said to be one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland who studied at Clonard Abbey under St. Finian. These holy men continued spreading the Christian faith through out Ireland and also travelled to Britain and Europe.

In 560, Columba quarrelled with St. Finian over the ownership of a religious manuscript. The quarrel led to open warfare with many killed in battle. At a synod it was decided to expel him from the Church before it was finally agreed that Columba would go into exile.

In Scotland, Columba forged a friendship with the rulers and tribes and became a go between as he evangelized to the pagan Picts. He established a monastery on the island of Iona which became a school for missionaries. Columba was also a scholar, a transcriber of books and wrote hymns. He returned to Ireland briefly to establish a monastery at Durrow, Co Offaly. He died and was buried at Iona before it is said he was reburied at Downpatrick, Co. Down.

The Hiberno-Scottish missionaries eventually spread the faith to the rest of Britain. They also converted the Franks who dominated what is now France, Germany, Northern Italy and Northern Spain establishing monasteries as they travelled from place to place.


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