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Life of St.Columba
Life of St.Columba (Penguin Classics)

St Columba


Iona Books

Iona Abbey

St Columba

Columba, c 518 - 597, or Colum Cille means 'dove'. Born a Scot in Donegal and a member of the Royal family of Ui Neill, the descendants of Neill, the most important people in Ireland in the 6th century.

Legend suggests that he was the cause of a battle and that self-recrimination forced him into exile in the year 563 to Scotland and eventually to Iona.

However, this is not mentioned by his biographer Adamnan, and emigration amongst Scots from Ireland to Scotland was fairly common in this period.After two years at the court of the King of Dalriada, Columba founded the monastery on Iona with the help of King Aidan.

Iona became in due course the source of a number of other Scottish monasteries, the source of spiritual counsel for the Scottish kings, and their burial place.

From Iona, Columba made a journey to meet Brude, the king of the Picts at his stronghold at Inverness, and it is then that he is fabled to have met face-to face and saved one of his servants from a monster in the River Ness, the origin of the legend of the Loch Ness monster. Iona was for a long time, and is still often considered to be, the spiritual centre of Christianity in Scotland and an important abbey in the middle ages, with its influence stretching far beyond Scotland itself.

Buildings from that time exist, there are important Celtic crosses, and the remains of Columba's cell are still believed to be visible.

His relics, housed in a reliquary known as the Brecbennach of St Columba, came to be symbolic of Scottish aspirations and were carried into battle by kings of Dalriada and then kings of Scots. Most famously they were carried before Bruce's army at Bannockburn.

Many churches all across Scotland have been dedicated to St Columba or St Colm, as he is sometimes known, and in the twentieth century, Iona became the centre of the Iona Community, founded by Lord George Macleod of Fuinary as an oecumenical organisation. International in nature and concerned with peace and social justice the community stands at the meeting point of politics and Christianity, a notion which has been held to be true to the nature of the saint himself.

If you would like to visit Iona as part of a highly personalized small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:

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