St Columba, meaning ‘dove of the church’, was born at Garten near Lough Garten in Donegal. He was a descendant of an Irish High king of the 5 century. He became a disciple of St Finnian of Clonard and was one of the twelve apostles of Ireland. He founded more monasteries and churches than anyone, at Garten itself, Derry, Drumcliff Co Sligo, Durrow Co Offally, Kells Co Meath, and Swords Co Dublin. The area of Donegal known as Glencolumkille consists of a remote valley dedicated to his memory where pilgrims gather to do the rounds of prayer covering the whole valley.
His founding of Iona will be found under the story of Scotland. After several attacks by the Vikings, the monks in 849 brought back the body of St Columba and built his ‘house’ in Kells built to house his relics. It is still remarkably intact.
The Book of Kells was also brought back from Iona and is now in Trinity College Dublin. St Adomnan, the ninth abbot of Iona (d 704) wrote the remarkable ‘Life’ of St Columba, an account of his prophecies, miracles and revelations.
Troparion — Tone 5
By your God-inspired life
You embodied both the mission and the dispersion of the Church,
Most glorious Father Columba.
Using your repentance and voluntary exile,
Christ our God raised you up as a beacon of the True Faith
An apostle to the heathen and an indicator of the Way of salvation.
Wherefore O holy one, cease not to intercede for us
That our souls may be saved.
Iona took pride of place in the coming of Christianity to Scotland though it was not the first place to which it came.
St Columba left Ireland with 12 monks to found the monastery in 563. It became a major centre in ministering both to the Gaels (Irish) of the Kingdom of Dal Riata and to the Picts. It was also, like monasteries in Ireland, an important centre for learning and sculpture.
St Columba is credited with the founding of churches and monasteries. Among these are Eilean Colmcille, an island foundation on Lewis. He may also have founded the important monastery ot Potahomach. The Life of St Columba was written by St Adomnan. It contains 50 chapters of miracles, 46 of prophecies and 25 visions of angels
The site of St Columba’s cell, of his shrine, and 2 of the great crosses can still be seen. The first buildings would have been equally simple made of wattle and daub, and later in wood.
12C chapel of St Odhran (548) stands in its original burial ground.
Iona was plundered many times by the Vikings; 68 monks died in 806, St Blathmac in 825. It was finally abandoned in 849 when the monks returned to Ireland.
St Columba may have landed first at Ellary just off the sound of Jura and spent some time in this magnificent cave. Inside the cave is an altar.
The monastery became important in the formation of the new Kingdom of Scots known as Alba.
Inchcolm (Columba’s Island) is an island in the Firth. It may be that it functioned for St Columba’s monks in the east as Iona functioned in the west. It was later used by hermits and also by the Culdees