1. Saint Columba
Saint Columba (7 December 521 – 9 June 597) was an Irish abbot and missionary credited with spreading Christianity in present-day Scotland. He founded the important abbey on Iona, which became a dominant religious and political institution in the region for centuries. He is the Patron Saint of Derry. He was highly regarded by both the Gaels of Dál Riata and the Picts, and is remembered today as a Catholic saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.
In early Ireland the druidic tradition collapsed due to the spread of the new Catholic faith. The study of Latin learning and Christian theology in monasteries flourished. Columba became a pupil at the monastic school at Clonard Abbey, situated on the River Boyne in modern County Meath. During the sixth century, some of the most significant names in the history of Irish Christianity studied at the Clonard monastery. It is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard was 3,000. Twelve students who studied under St. Finnian became known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland; Columba was one of them. He became a monk and eventually was ordained a priest.1
2. The Battle of Cul Dreimhne
St. Columba become involved in what is considered one of the world’s oldest recorded copyright disputes. The argument centered on the right to copy a psalm – a dispute that led to a full out battle entitled the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne (c. 555 AD to 561 AD). Several men died during the skirmish. The battled coupled with another incident (that led to the death of a prince) brought St. Columba under heavy criticism.2
A synod of clerics and scholars threatened to excommunicate him for these deaths, but St. Brendan of Birr spoke on his behalf. The result was that St. Columba was allowed to go into exile instead. St. Columba’s own conscience was uneasy, and on the advice of an aged hermit, Molaise, he resolved to expiate his offense by going into exile and win for Christ as many souls as had perished in the terrible battle of Cuil Dremne. He left Ireland, to return only once, many years later. Columba’s copy of the psalter has been traditionally associated with the Cathach of St. Columba.
3. Missionary Work in Scotland
In 563, he travelled to Scotland with twelve companions, in a wicker coracle covered with leather, and according to legend he first landed on the Kintyre Peninsula, near Southend. However, being still in sight of his native land, he moved further north up the west coast of Scotland. The island of Iona was made over to him by his kinsman Conall, king of the British Dalriada, who perhaps had invited him to come to Scotland in the first place. However, there is a sense in which he was not leaving his native people, as the Irish Gaels had been colonizing the west coast of Scotland for the previous couple of centuries. Aside from the services he provided guiding the only centre of literacy in the region, his reputation as a holy man led to his role as a diplomat among the tribes; there are also many stories of miracles which he performed during his work to convert the Picts.
He was also very energetic in his work as a missionary, and, in addition to founding several churches in the Hebrides, he worked to turn his monastery at Iona into a school for missionaries. He was a renowned man of letters, having written several hymns and being credited with having transcribed 300 books.
4. The Loch Ness Monster
Widely considered the first recorded story of the Loch Ness Monster, The Life of Saint Columba written by St. Adamnan – Abbot of Iona, d. 704 – in the seventh century tells of the meeting between St. Columba and a strange “aquatic monster” in A.D. 565. The following is an excerpt from chapter twenty-eight entitled “How an Aquatic Monster was Driven off by Virtue of the Blessed Man’s Prayer.”3
On another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa; and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat.
The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank.
And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water.
But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream.
Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, “Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.” Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast.
Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.
Additionally, the Catholic resource website Fisheaters cites the “Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland,” stating:
Once upon a time, when Saint Columba was traveling through the country of the Picts, he had to cross the River Ness. When he reached the shore there was a group of people, Picts and Brethren both, burying an unfortunate guy who had been bit by a water-monster. Columba ordered one of his people to swim across the river and get the boat on the other side so that he might cross. On hearing this, Lugneus Mocumin stripped down to his tunic and plunged in to the water.
But the monster saw him swimming and charged to the surface to devour poor Lugneus and everyone who was watching was horrified and hid their eyes in terror. Everyone except Columba who raised his holy hand and inscribed the Cross in the empty air. Calling upon the name of God, he commanded the savage beast, saying: “Go no further! Do not touch the man! Go back at once!”
The monster drew back as though pulled by ropes and retreated quickly to the depths of the Loch. Lugneus brought the boat back, unharmed and everyone was astonished. And the heathen savages who were present were overcome by the greatness of the miracle which they themselves had seen, and magnified the God of the Christians.
St. Columba is unfortunately not considered the patron saint of the Loch Ness Monster. He is, however, the patron of Derry, Ireland, floods, bookbinders (the occupation), poets, Ireland, Scotland, and Ulster (a province of Ireland). Holy Mother Church celebrates St. Columba’s feast day on June 9th.
- Resources: Biography is copied with edits from the Wikipedia article St. Columba, which draws heavily from St. Columba: Catholic Encyclopedia and EWTN: St. Columba. [↩]
- The Prince: A second grievance that led him to induce the clan Neill to rise and engage in battle against King Diarmait at Cooldrevny in 561 was the king’s violation of the right of sanctuary belonging to Columba’s person as a monk on the occasion of the murder of Prince Curnan, the saint’s kinsman. Prince Curnan of Connaught, who had fatally injured a rival in a hurling match and had taken refuge with Columba, was dragged from his protector’s arms and slain by Diarmaid’s men, in defiance of the rights of sanctuary. [↩]
- The Life of Saint Columba: The seventh-century except may be found on Fisheaters. [↩]