The Life of St. Columban,
by the Monk Jonas, (7th Century)
[D.C. Munro: Introduction:]
During the sixth and seventh centuries the greatest missionary
activity was shown by the Scots who dwelt in Ireland. In that
country religion was cherished with greater zeal than elsewhere,
and learning was fostered for the sake of the Cchurch. But not
content with the flourishing state of Christianity in their own
island, the most zealous monks often passed over to the continent.
There even the nominal Christians were little inclined to follow
the precepts of the religion which they professed. Gaul especially
attracted the attention of the bold missionaries from Ireland,.
and the Irish usages became well established in some parts of
lie country. Unfortunately almost all the accounts of the missionaries
from Ireland have been lost; consequently this biography of Columban
is of great value.
Jonas, the author of' this life, became a monk at Bobbio, in
northern Italy, three years after Columban's death. He was soon
employed on this biography, for which he obtained material, as
he himself said, from the stories told by the saint's companions.
Living as be did, among the, latter, his account reflects their
feelings faithfully, and we may be certain that he has recorded
the events accurately, and s often reproduced the saint's own
words. As is usual in such biographies, the miracles are numerous;
for the contemporaries these formed the most valuable portions;
for modern students they are full of instruction, and throw much
light on the daily life of the monks.
The language of Jonas is somewhat bombastic and difficult to
put into English. In some cases, the translator has been unable
to determine the exact connection of certain clauses with the
context. In such sentences he has translated literally hoping
that others might see a connection which he missed. In general,
where he suspected any mistake, he has followed the Latin closely.
A new and careful collation and transcription of the manuscripts
would undoubtedly remove any of the difficulties. There has been
no translation of this life into any modern language before, except
a very imperfect rendering of selected passages by Abel in the
"Geschichtschreiber der deutschen Vorzeit." In
this translation the preface, which has little or no importance
for the life of the saint, has been omitted from lack of space.
All the rest is translated in full. The names of places have generally
been modernized, because readers who live far from large libraries,
might otherwise lose the geographical information given here.
SAINT DATA: Columban, abbot and missioner, Born in Leinster
(Ireland), c. 540; d. at Bobbio, Italy, 640; feast day 23 November.
[*Note that, despite Jonas' assertion that Columban was also known
as "Columba", he is distinct from St. Columba, founder
of Iona, born in 521, d. 597, and whose feast day is June 9.]
THE LIFE OF ST. COLUMBAN
BY THE MONK JONAS.
Mabillon: Acta Sanctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti,
Vol. I, Venice, 1733, pp. 3-26. Latin.
Columban, who is also called Columba, was born on the island of
Ireland. This is situated in the extreme ocean and, according
to common report, is charming, productive of various nations,
and free from the wars which trouble other nations, Here lives
the race of the Scots, who, although they lack the laws of the
other nations, flourish in the doctrine of Christian strength,
and exceed in faith all the neighboring tribes. Columban was born
amid the beginnings of that race's faith, in order that the religion,
which that race cherished uncompromisingly, might be increased
by his own fruitful toil and the protecting care of his associates.
But what happened before his birth, before be saw the light of
this world, must not be passed over in silence. For when his mother,
after having conceived, was bearing him in her womb, suddenly
in a tempestuous night, while she was buried in sleep, she saw
the sun rise from her bosom and issuing forth resplendent, furnish
great light to the world. After she had arisen from sleep and
Aurora rising had driven away the dark shadows from the world,
she began to think earnestly of these matters, joyfully and wisely
weighing the import of so great a vision ; and she sought an increase
of consolation from such of her neighbors as were learned, asking
that with wise hearts they should examine carefully the meaning
of so great a vision. At length she was told by those who had
wisely considered the matter, that she was carrying in her womb
a man of remarkable genius, who would provide what would be useful
for her own salvation and for that of her neighbors.
After the mother learned this she watched over him with so great
care that she would scarcely entrust him even to his nearest relatives.
So the life of the boy aspired to the cultivation of good works
under the leadership of Christ, without whom no good work is done.
Nor without reason had the mother seen the shining sun proceed
from her bosom, the sun which shines brightly in the members of
the Church, the mother of all, like a glowing Phoebus. As the
Lord says: ct Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun
in the kingdom of their Father." So Deborah, with the voice
of prayer, formerly spoke to the Lord, by the admonition of the
Holy Spirit, saying: But let them love Thee be as the sun when
he goeth forth in his might."
For the milky way in the heavens, although it is itself bright,
is rendered more beautiful by the presence of the other stars
; just as the daylight, increased by the splendor of Phoebus,
shines more benignantly on the world. So the body of the Church,
enriched by the splendor its Founder, is augmented by the hosts
of saints and is made resplendent by religion and learning, so
that those who come after draw profit from the concourse of the
learned. And just as the sun or moon and all the stars ennoble
the day and night by their refulgence, so the merits of the holy
priests increase the glory of the Church.
When Columban's childhood was over and he became older, he began
to devote himself enthusiastically to the pursuit of grammar and
;he sciences, and studied with fruitful zeal all through his boyhood
and youth, until he became a man. But, as his fine figure, his
splendid color, and his noble manliness made him beloved by all,
the old enemy, began finally to turn his deadly weapons upon him,
in order to catch in his nets this youth, whom he saw growing
so rapidly in grace. And he aroused against him the lust of lascivious
maidens, especially of those whose fine figure and superficial
beauty are wont to enkindle mad desires in the minds of wretched
But when that excellent soldier saw that he was surrounded on
all sides by so deadly weapons, and perceived the cunning and
shrewdness of the enemy who was fighting against him, and that
by an act of human frailty, he might quickly fall over a precipice
and be destroyed,-as Livy says, "No one is rendered so sacred
by religion, no one is so guarded, that lust is unable to prevail
against him," - holding in his left hand the shield of the
Gospel and bearing in his right hand the two-edged sword, he prepared
to advance and attack the hostile lines threatening him. He feared
lest, ensnared by the lusts of the world, he should in vain have
spent so much labor on grammar, rhetoric, geometry and the Holy
Scriptures. And in these perils he was strengthened by a particular
When he was already meditating upon this purpose, he came to the
dwelling of a holy and devout woman. He at first addressed her
humbly, afterwards he began to exhort her, as far as lay in his
power. As she saw the increasing strength of the youth she said:
"I have gone , forth to the strife as far as it lay in my
power. Lo, twelve years have passed by, since I have been far
from my home and have sought out this place of pilgrimage. With
the aid of Christ, never since then have I engaged in secular
matters ; after putting my hand to the plough, I have not turned
backward. And if the weakness of my sex had not prevented me,
I would have crossed the sea and chosen a better place among strangers
as my home. But you, glowing with the fire of youth, stay quietly
on your native soil; out of weakness you lend your ear even against
your own will, to the voice of the flesh, and think you can associate
with the female sex without sin. But do you recall the wiles of
Eve, Adam's fall, how Samson was deceived by Delilah, bow David
was led to injustice by the beauty of Bathsheba, how the wise
Solomon was ensnared by the love of a woman? Away, 0 youth I away!
flee from corruption, into which, as you know, many have fallen.
Forsake the path which leads to the gates of hell."
The youth, trembling at these words, which were such as to terrify
a youth, thanked her for her reproaches, took leave of his companions
and set out. His mother in anguish begged him not to leave her.
But he said: "Hast thou not beard, 'He that loveth father
or mother more than me is not worthy of me?"' He begged his
mother, who placed herself in his way and held the door, to let
him go. Weeping and stretched upon the floor, she said she would
not permit it. Then leaping over both threshold and mother he
asked his mother not to give way to her grief ; she would never
see him again in this life, but wherever the way of salvation
led him, there he would go.
When he left his birthplace, called by the inhabitants, Lagener-land,
(Leinster, in Ireland) he betook himself to a holy man named Sinell,
who at this time was distinguished among his countrymen for his
unusual piety and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. And when the
holy man saw that St. Columban had great ability, be instructed
him in the knowledge of all the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless,
as was usual, the master attempted to draw out the pupils under
false pretences, in order that be might learn their dispositions,
either the glowing excess of the senses, or the torpor induced
by slothfulness. He began to inquire into Columban's disposition
by difficult questions. But the latter tremblingly, nevertheless
wisely, in order not to appear disobedient, nor touched by the
vice of the love of vainglory, obeyed his master, and explained
in turn all the objections that were made, mindful of that saying
of the Psalmist, "Open thy mouth wide and I will fill its,
Thus Columban collected such treasures of holy wisdom in his breast
that he could, even as a youth, expound the Psalter in fitting
language and could make many other extracts worthy to be sung,
and instructive to read.
Then he endeavored to enter a society of monks, and went to the
monastery of Bangor. [*In Ulster, Ireland] The abbot, the holy
Congall, renowned for his virtues, was a faithful father to his
monks and was held in high esteem for the fervor of his faith
and the order and discipline which he preserved. Here Columban
gave himself entirely to fasting and prayer, to bearing the easy
yoke of Christ, to mortifying the flesh, to taking the cross upon
himself and following Christ, in order that he who was to be a
teacher of others might show the learning which he taught teacher
more fruitfully by his own example in mortifying his own body
; and that he who was to instruct others might first his own instruct
After he had been many years in the cloister he longed to go into
strange lands, in obedience to the command which the Lord gave
Abraham: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred,
and from thy father's house, into a land that I will shew thee."
Accordingly he confessed to the venerable father, Congall, the
burning desire of his heart and the longing enkindled by the fire
of the Lord, concerning which the Lord says: "I am come to
send fire on the earth ; and what will I, if it be already kindled?"'
[*King James Version translation of Luke 12:49, The Vulgate, which
is quoted here, reads "quem volo ut ardeat"].
But he did not receive the answer which he wished, for it was
hard for Congall to bear the loss of so great a comfort. At length,
however, the latter began to conquer himself and to think that
he ought not to consider his own need more than the necessities
of others. Nor was it done without the will of the Almighty, who
had educated His novice for future strifes, in order that He might
win glorious triumphs from his victory and secure joyful victories
from the phalanxes of slaughtered enemies.
The abbot accordingly called St. Columban and although sorrowful,
he considered the good of others before his own good, and bestowed
upon him the bond of peace, the strength of solace and companions
who were known for their piety.
Having collected a band of brethren, St. Columban asked the prayers
of all, that he might be assisted in his coming journey, and that
he might have their pious aid. So he started out in the twentieth
[*or thirtieth, MSS differ] year of his life, and under the guidance
of Christ went to the seashore with twelve companions. Here they
waited to see if the mercy of the Almighty would allow their purpose
to succeed, and learned that the spirit of the all-merciful Judge
was with them. So they embarked, and began the dangerous journey
across the channel and sailed quickly with a smooth sea and favorable
wind to the coast of Brittany. Here they rested for a while to
recover their strength and discussed their plans anxiously, until
finally they decided to enter the land of Gaul. They wanted zealously
and shrewdly to inquire into the disposition of the inhabitants
in order to remain longer if they found they could sow the seeds
of salvation; or in case they found the hearts of the people in
darkness, go on to the nearest nations.
Accordingly, they left Brittany and proceeded into the Gallic
lands. At that time, either because of the numerous enemies from
without, or on account of the carelessness of the bishops, the
Christian faith had almost departed from that country. The creed
alone remained. But the saving grace of penance and the longing
to root out the lusts of the flesh were to be found only in a
few. Everywhere that he went the noble man preached the Gospel.
And it pleased the people because his teaching was adorned by
eloquence and enforced by examples of virtue.
So great was his humility and that of his followers, that just
as the children of this world seek honor and authority, so they,
on the contrary vied with one another in the practice of humility,
mindful of that saying: "He that humbleth himself shall be
exalted," and of the text in Isaiah: "But to this man
will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit,
and trembleth at my word." Such piety and love dwelt in them
all, that for them there was only one will and one renunciation.
Modesty and moderation, meekness and mildness adorned them all
in equal measure. The evils of sloth and dissension were banished.
Pride and haughtiness were expiated by severe punishments. Scorn
and envy were driven out by faithful diligence. So great was the
might of their patience, love and mildness that no one could doubt
that the God of mercy dwelt among them. If they found that one
among them was in error, they strove in common, with equal right,
to restrain the sinner by their reproaches. They had everything
in common. If anyone claimed anything as his own, he was shut
out from association with the others and punished by penances.
No one dared to return evil for evil, or to let fall a harsh word;
so that people must have believed that an angelic life was being
lived by mortal men. The holy man was reverenced with so great
gratitude that where he remained or a time in a house, all hearts
were resolved to practice the faith more strictly.
Finally, the reports about Columban spread to the court of king
Sigibert, who at this time ruled with honor over the two Frankish
'kingdoms of Austrasia and Burgundy. [*Sigibert died in 575 and
was king only of Austrasia] The name of the Franks was held in
honor above that of any of the other inhabitants of Gaul. When
the holy man with his companions appeared before the king, the
greatness of his learning caused him to stand high in the favor
of the king and court Finally, the king begged him to remain in
Gallic territory, not to go to other peoples and leave him ; everything
that he wished should be done. Then he replied to the king that
be did not wish to be enriched with the treasures of others, but
as far as he was not hindered by the weakness of the flesh to
follow the command of the Gospel "Whosoever will come after
me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Then the king answered and said: "If you wish to take the
cross Christ upon you and follow Him, seek the quiet of a hermitage.
Only Of be careful, for the increase of your own reward and for
our spiritual good, to remain in our kingdom and not to go to
the neighboring peoples." As the choice was left to him in
this manner, he followed the king's advice and chose for himself
a hermitage. At that time there was a great wilderness called
Vosagus, [*the Vosages] in which there was a castle, which had
long been in ruins, and which had been called for ages, Anagrates.[Anegray].
When the holy man came to that place, he settled there with his
followers in spite of the entire loneliness, the wilderness and
the rocks, mindful of the proverb that, "Man shall not live
by bread alone," but shall have sufficient food from the
bread of life and shall never hunger.
While the man of God was in that place with his companions, one
of the brethren, either as a test or because of some sin, began
to he chastised by a violent fever. Since they had no food except
such as the barks and herbs furnished, they began with one mind
to desire that all should give themselves up to prayer and fasting
for the sake of the welfare of their sick brother. Having now
fasted for three days and having nothing to refresh their wearied
bodies, suddenly they saw a certain man standing before their
gate with horses loaded with a supply of bread and condiments.
He said that he had been led by a sudden impulse of his heart
to bear aid from his own substance to those who were, for Christ's
sake, suffering from so great poverty in the wilderness. Therefore,
having presented to the man of God what he had brought he began
to ask earnestly that the holy man should pray to God in behalf
of his wife, who for a whole year bad been burning with so violent
a fever that it now seemed impossible that she could be restored
to health. As be made his request with an humble and contrite
heart, the man of God was unwilling to deny him any comfort, and
having called together the brethren he invoked the mercy of God
in behalf of that woman. When he and his companions had completed
their prayer, the woman who had been in such imminent peril of
death, was immediately restored to her health. When her husband
had received the benediction from the man of God and had returned
home, he found his wife sitting there. He questioned her as to
the time when the fever left her and learned that she had been
healed at the very hour when the man of God had prayed to the
Lord in her behalf.
Therefore, after a brief space of time in which they piously endeavored
to propitiate Christ and to atone for their evil thoughts, through
mortification of the flesh and extreme fasting, they mortified
their members to the glory of God, and desired to preserve the
inviolate state of their religion. By their extreme severities
every lust of the flesh was expelled, so that the plunderer and
robber of all virtues fled. Nine days had already passed in which
the man of God and his companions had taken no other food than
the bark of trees and the roots of herbs. But the compassion of
the divine virtue tempered the bitterness of the food. A certain
abbot, named Caramtoc, who ruled over a monastery of which the
name was Salicis, was warned by a vision, that be should
bear the necessities of life to God's servant Columban, dwelling
in the wilderness. Therefore, Caramtoc rising called his cellarer,
Marculf by name, and told him what bad happened. The latter replied,
"Do as you have been told." Caramtoc therefore ordered
Marculf to go and prepare everything that be could, to carry to
St. Columban. Marculf accordingly, having loaded his wagons started
out. But when the hour of darkness came on, he sought in vain
for a way to continue his journey. Nevertheless, he thought that
if the command was from God, the power of the Commander would
show the way to the horses, if they were left to their own guidance.
Wonderful power! The horses, advancing, followed an unknown road
and in a direct course proceeded to Anegray to the doors of St.
Columban. Marculf amazed followed the tracks of the horses, came
to the man of God and presented what he had brought. The latter
returned thanks to his Creator because He did not neglect to prepare
a table for His servants in the wilderness. Therefore, having
received a benediction from him, Marculf returned by the path
by which he bad come and disclosed to all what had happened. Then
crowds of people and throngs of the infirm began to crowd about
St. Columban in order that they might recover their health and
in order to seek aid in all their infirmities. When he was unable
to rid himself of their importunities, obeying the petitions and
prayers of all, through his prayers and relying upon the divine
aid, he healed the infirmities of all who came to him.
While the holy man was wandering through the dark woods and was
carrying on his shoulder a book of the Holy Scripture, he happened
to be meditating. And suddenly the thought came into his mind,
to which he would prefer, to suffer injuries from men or to be
exposed the rage of wild beasts. While he thought earnestly, frequently
signing his forehead with the sign of the cross and praying, he
decided that it was better to suffer from the ferocity of wild
beasts, without any sin on their part, than from the madness of
men who would lose their souls. And while he was turning this
over in his mind he perceived twelve wolves approaching and standing
on the right and on the left, while he was in the middle. He stood
still and said: "Oh, God, come to my aid. Oh, Lord, hasten
to aid me!" They came nearer and seized his clothing. As
he stood firm they left him unterrified and wandered off into
the woods. Having passed through this temptation in safety, he
continued his course through the woods. And before he had gone
far he heard the voices of many Suevi, wandering in the hidden
paths. At this time they were robbing in those places. And so
at length by his firmness, having dismissed the temptation, he
escaped the misfortune. But he did not know clearly whether this
was some of the devil's deceit or whether it had actually happened.
At another time he withdrew from his cell and entering the wilderness
by a longer road he found an immense cliff with precipitous There
he perceived a hollow sides and rocky paths difficult for men.
in the rock. Entering to explore its hidden recesses he found
in the interior of the cave the home of a bear, and the bear itself.
He ordered the beast to depart and not to return to that place
again. The beast mercifully went, nor did she dare to return again.
The place was distant from Anegray seven miles more or less.
At one time be was living alone in that hollow rock, separated
from the society of others and, as was his custom, dwelling in
bidden places or more remotely in the wilderness, so that when
the feasts of the Lord or saints' days came, he might, with his
mind wholly free from disquieting cares, devote himself to prayer,
and might be ready for every religious thought. He was so attenuated
by fasting that he scarcely seemed alive - Nor did he eat anything
except a small measure of the herbs of the field, or of the little
apples which that wilderness produces and which are commonly called bolluca. His drink was water. And as he was always occupied
with other cares, he could not get this regularly ; at least during
the time when he was performing his vows.
A little boy named Domoalis was in his service. This boy went
alone to tell the father when certain events happened at the monastery
and to carry back his directions to the brethren. When this boy
h ad remained for several days in the hollow of this lofty rock,
which was difficult of approach from all directions, be began
to complain because he could not get water quickly. It tired his
knees to bring it with so great labor through the difficult mountain
paths. Columban said to him : "My son, get to work ; make
a little bole in the back of the rock- Remember the Lord produced
streams of water from a rock for the people of Israel." He
obeyed and attempted to make a hole in the rock. The holy man
immediately fell upon his knees and prayed to God that He would
aid him in his need. At length his prayers were heard; great power
came to him, piously praying. And soon the fountain of water began
to flow regularly and it remains to this day.
And not undeservedly has the merciful Lord granted the prayers
of His saints, who on account of His commands have crucified their
own wills, and who have so great faith that they do not doubt
that they will obtain what they demand from His mercy. Because
He has promised. If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,
ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place
; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."
And elsewhere: "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray,
believe that ye will receive them, and ye shall have them."
As the number of monks increased greatly, he sought in the same
wilderness a better location for a convent. He found a place formerly
strongly fortified, which was situated about eight miles from
the first abode, and which had formerly been called Luxovium [*Luxeuil, in the department of Haute Saône]. Here were
baths constructed with unusual skill. A great number of stone,
idols, which in the old heathen times had been worshipped with
horrible rites, stood in the forest near at hand. Here then the
excellent man began to build a monastery. At the news of this
people streamed in from all directions in order to consecrate
themselves to the practice of , religion, so that the large number
of monks scarcely had sufficient m. The children of the nobles
from all directions strove to come ,thither ; despising the spurned
trappings of the world and the pomp of present wealth, they sought
eternal rewards. Columban perceived that the people were rushing
in from all directions to the remedy of penance and that the walls
of one monastery could with difficulty hold of so great a throng
of converts. Although they were of one purpose and heart, yet
one monastery was insufficient for the abode of so great a number.
Accordingly be sought out another spot especially remarkable for
its bountiful supply of water and founded a second convent to
which he gave the name of Fontanas. [*Fonataines]. In this
he placed men whose piety could not be doubted. After he had settled
the bands of monks in these places, he stayed alternately at the
two convents, and full of the Holy Ghost, he established the rule
which they were to follow. From this rule the prudent reader or
listener may learn the extent and character of the holy man's
learning. [*The rule can be found in Migne, PL, 80]
At that time a brother, named Autierin, asked to be allowed to
make a pilgrimage into Ireland. Columban said, "Let us go
into the wilderness and try to learn the will of God, whether
you ought to go on the journey as you desire or remain in the
assembly of the bretheren." Accordingly they went forth and
took with them a third youth, named Somarius, who is still alive.
They went to the place in the wilderness that had been fixed upon,
taking with them only a single loaf. When twelve days had passed,
and nothing remained from the fragments of bread, and the time
for breaking their fast was approaching, they were commanded by
the father to go through the rocky cliffs and down to the bottom
of the valleys and to bring back whatever they found that was
suitable for food.
They went joyfully through the sloping valleys, down to the Moselle
and found some fishes which had been caught previously by fishermen
and were floating about on the water. Approaching, they found
five large fishes, and taking three, which were alive, they carried
them back to the father. But he said, "Why did you not bring
five?" They replied, "We found two dead, so we left
them." But he said, " You shall not eat of these until
you bring those which you left." They, struck with wonder
at the fullness of the divine grace, traversed again their dangerous
path and chid themselves for leaving the manna which they had
found. Afterwards they were ordered to cook the food. For, filled
with the Holy Ghost, the father knew that the food had been prepared
for himself by God.
At another time he was staying in the same wilderness, but not
in the same place. Fifty days had already elapsed and only one
of the brethren named Gall was with him. Columban commanded Gall
to go to the Brusch and catch fish. The latter went, took his
boat and went to the Loignon river. After he had gotten there,
and had thrown his net into the water he saw a great number of
fishes coming. But they were not caught in the net, and went off
again as if they had struck a wall. After working there all day
and not being able to catch a fish, he returned and told the father
that his labor bad been in vain. The latter chid him for his disobedience
in not going to the right place. Finally he said, "Go quickly
to the place that you were ordered to try." Gall went accordingly,
placed his net in the water, and it was filled with so great a
number of fishes, that he could scarcely draw it.
At another time he was staying in the hollow of the rock mentioned
above, from which he bad expelled the bear, and for a long time
he had been mortifying the flesh with prayer and fasting. By a
revelation he learned that the brethren, who were near Luxeuil,
were suffering from various diseases and only enough remained
to care for the sick. Leaving his den, he went to Luxeuil. When
he saw the afflicted, he commanded them all to rise and to thresh
out the harvest on the threshing ground. Then those whose consciences
were 'kindled by the fire of obedience arose and going to the
threshing-place, attempted, full of faith to thresh out the grain
on the ground. The father seeing that they were full of faith
and the grace of obedience, said, "Cease and rest your limbs,
weakened by sickness." They ,obeyed, wondering at their recovery,
for no trace of the diseases remained and they prepared the tables
as he commanded, that all might be strengthened by a joyful banquet.
Then Columban chid the disobedient, showed them the inadequacy
of their faith and announced The long continuance of their illness.
Wonderful revenge! For the disobedient were so ill for an entire
year that they barely escaped death. They accomplished the full
measure of penance, from the time :when they were disobedient.
Meanwhile the time had come for gathering the crops into the storehouses,
but the violent winds did not cease to pile up clouds ; nevertheless
it was urgently necessary to gather the crops so that the ears
of grain should not rot upon the stalks. The man of God was at
the monastery of Fontaines, where a new field had yielded a very
rich crop. Violent blasts piled up the rain-clouds, and the heavens
did not cease to pour down the rain upon the earth. The man of
God considered anxiously what he ought to do. Faith strengthened
his mind and taught him how to command the fitting thing. He summoned
all and ordered them to reap the crop. They wondered at the father's
command and no one understood his purpose. All came with their
reaping-hoods to cut the grain in the midst of the rain and watched
to see what the father would do. He placed at the four corners
of the field, four very religious men, Comininus, Eunocus and
Equanacus, who were Scots, and the fourth Gurganus, a Briton.
Having arranged them, he himself with the others cut the grain
in the middle. Wonderful virtue! The shower fled from the grain
and the rain was scattered in every direction. The warm sun poured
down upon those who were reaping in the middle and a strong warm
wind blew as long as they heaped up the grain. Faith and prayer
were of so great merit that the rain was driven off and they had
sunshine in the midst of the storms.
At that time there was a duke named Waldelen, who ruled over the
people between the Alps and the Jura. He had no children; in order
that, as Juvencus says of Zachariah and Elizabeth, "the gift
might be more welcome to those who bad already given up hope."
He with his wife Flavia, who was noble both by her family and
by her disposition, came from the town of Besançon to St.
Columban. Both of them begged of him that he would pray to the
Lord on their behalf, for they had great wealth, but no son to
whom they could leave it after their death. The holy man said
to them: If you will promise to consecrate His gift to the Lord
and will give me the child so that I can raise him from the baptismal
font, I will invoke the Lord's mercy for you that you may have
not only the one whom you consecrate to the Lord, but as many
more as you desire." Joyfully they promised what he wished,
asking only that he would not cease to implore God to have mercy
upon them. The man of God promised that they should soon have
what they wished, only they must not desire to break the compact.
Wonderful to relate! hardly had they returned home when the wife
felt that she had conceived. When she had borne a son, she brought
him to the holy man and returned thanks to God, who had heard
the prayers of His servants. Columban consecrated the child to
the Lord, raised him from the font and, naming him Donatus, gave
him back to his mother to be nursed. Later on, the child was educated
in the monastery and taught wisdom. He became Bishop of Besançon,
which he still is. Out of love for St. Columban he founded a monastery
under Columbarn's rule. From an ancient structure there it was
God fulfilled the promise made by His servant and gave to Waldelen
a second son named Ramelen, distinguished for his nobility and
wisdom. This son, after Waldelen's death, succeeded to his office,
and although a layman be was truly filled with the fear of God.
For he, too, out of love for the holy man, founded under his rule
a monastery in the Jura Mountains on the Movisana River, and placed
Siagrius there as abbot. The Lord added to His previous gifts
two daughters, who were noble and perfect in the fear of Christ.
After the death of her husband Flavia founded a nunnery in Besançon,
gave it full protection and collected many nuns together. The
grace of the man of God was so strong in them, that despising
all the vain pomp of this life, they were zealous in the service
If we try to include some things which may seem of little importance,
the goodness of the Creator, who is equally merciful in very small
matters and in great, who does not delay to turn His pitying ear
to trifling details, just as in the very important matters He
grants the desires of the suppliant, will be manifest to those
who bawl envious detractions. For on a certain day when the excellent
man of God had gone with the brethren to cut the harvest near
Calmem, which is called Baniaritia, and they were cutting
the crop, while the south wind blew, one of them, named Theudegisil,
happened to cut his finger with a sickle, and the finger hung
by only a small strip of skin. The man of God seeing Theudegisil
standing apart, commanded him to continue the work with his companions.
But the latter told the reason for his actions. Columban hastened
to him, and with his own saliva restored the wounded finger to
its former health. Then he ordered Theudegisil to make haste and
put forth more strength. The latter who had grieved for a long
time over his cut finger, joyfully began to work doubly bard and
to press on before the others in cutting the grain. Theudegisil
himself told us of this and showed his finger. A similar thing
happened on another occasion at the monastery of Luxeuil.
For a parish priest, named Winnoc, the father of Babolen, who
is now abbot of Bobbio, went to St. Columban. The latter was in
the forest with the brethren, getting a supply of wood. When Winnoc
arrived, and was watching with wonder how they split the trunk
of an oak so easily with their mallet and wedges, one of the latter
flying from the trunk cut him in the middle of his forehead, so
that great waves of blood ran from his veins. Columban, the man
of God, seeing the blood flowing, and the bone uncovered, immediately
fell on the ground in prayer, then rising healed the wound with
his saliva, so that hardly a sign of a scar remained.
On another occasion when St. Columban had come to dine at the
monastery of Luxeuil, he laid his gloves, which the Gauls [*should
be Franks, i.e. German, who used this word] call Wanti and which he was accustomed to wear when working, on a stone before
the door of the refectory. Soon, in the quiet, a thievish raven
flew up and carried off one of the gloves in its beak. After the
meal, the man of God went out and looked for his gloves. When
all were enquiring who had taken them, the holy man said, "There
is no one who would venture to touch anything without permission,
except the bird which was sent out by Noah and did not return
to the ark." And, he added, that the raven would not be able
to feed its young if it did not quickly bring back the stolen
object. While the brethren were looking, the raven flew into their
midst and brought back in its beak the object which it had basely
stolen. Nor did it attempt to fly away, but forgetful of its wild
nature, humbly in the sight of all, awaited its punishment. The
holy man commanded it to go. Oh, wonderful power of the eternal
Judge who grants such power to His servants that they are glorified
both by honors from men and by the obedience of birds! [*Grote
says this miracle "is exactly in the character of the Homeric
and Hesiodic age." See his interesting remarks in History
of Greece. Vol I. p. 473, note, (Ed. New York, 1865]
Another miracle was wrought by St. Columban and his cellarer,
which I shall relate. When the meal-time came, and the latter
was ready to serve out the beer (which is boiled down from the
juice of corn or barley, and which is used in preference to other
beverages by, all the nations in the world-except the Scotch and
barbarous nations who inhabit the ocean-that is, in Gaul, Britain
, Ireland, Germany and the other nations who do not deviate from
the customs of the above) he carried to the cellar ajar, called
a tybrum, and placed it before the vat in which the beer
was - Having drawn the plug, he permitted the beer to flow into
the jar. Another brother called him suddenly by the father's command.
He, burning with the fire of obedience, forgot to put in the plug,
called a daciculum, and, carrying it in his hand, hastened
to the blessed man. After he had done what the man of God wished,
he returned quickly to the cellar, thinking that nothing would
be left in the vat from which the beer was running. But he saw
the beer had run into the jar and not the least drop had fallen
outside, so that you would have believed that the jar had doubled
in size. Great was the merit of Columban commanding great the
obedience of the cellarer, that the Lord thus wished to avert
sadness from both of them, lest, if the either had diminished
the substance of the brethren al of without needful food ; so
the just Judge hastened to wash away the faults of both which
had been committed by accident and with the Lord's permission,
but which each would have asserted was due to his own remissness.
At that time the man of God, a lover of solitude, happened to
be walking through the dense thickets of fruit -trees and found
a bear ready to devour the body of a stag which wolves had killed,
and the bear was licking up the blood. The man of God approached
be fore it had eaten any of the flesh, and ordered it not to injure
the hide which was needed for shoes. Then the beast, forgetting
its ferocity, became gentle, and fawning and drooping its head
left the body without a murmur, contrary to its custom. The man
of God returning told this to the brethren, and ordered them to
go and strip the hide from the body of the stag. When the brethren
found the body they saw in the distance a great flock of birds
of prey approaching, but these did not dare to touch the body,
on account of Columban's command. The brethren waited at a distance
for a time to see whether any bease or bird would attempt to take
the forbidden food. They saw them come, attracted by the smell,
stop at a distance, and , turning as if it was something deadly,
and fatal, fly swiftly away.
While Columban on another occasion was staying at Luxeuil, Winnoc,
the priest whom we mentioned before, came to him and followed
him wherever he went. They came to the storehouse in which the
grain was kept. Winnoc, seeing and despising the smallness of
the supply, said there was not enough to feed such a multitude,
and chid him for his slothfulness in procuring food. St. Columban
replied, "If men serve their Creator truly they will never
feel need, for as the voice of the Psalmist makes known, "have
not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging their bread."
He, who satisfied five thousand men with five loaves, can very
easily fill the storehouse with grain." While Winnoc stayed
there that night, the storehouse was filled by the faith and prayers
of the man of God. Winnoc, rising in the morning and passing by,
unexpectedly saw the storehouse open and the custodian was standing
what beasts of burden had brought this grain an before the door.
He asked who had ordered this or . The custodian replied, "It
is not as you suppose. For see if the tracks of any animals are
imprinted on the ground. The keys did not leave my person last
night, but while the door was closed, the storehouse was filled
with grain by the divine aid." Winnoc began to search carefully,
with his eyes fixed on the ground, and to seek for traces of pack-animals.
When he found nothing at all resembling these, he said, "The
Lord is able to furnish a table for His servants in the wilderness."
A while after, Columban went to the monastery of Fontaines and
found sixty brethren hoeing the ground and preparing the fields
for the future crop. When he saw them breaking up the clods with
great labor, he said, "May the Lord prepare for you a feast,
my brethren." Hearing this the attendant said, "Father,
believe me, we have only two loaves and a very little beer."
Columban answered, "Go and bring those." The attendant
went quickly and brought the two loaves and a little beer. Columban,
raising his eyes to heaven, said, "Christ Jesus, only hope
of the world, do Thou, who from five loaves satisfied five thousand
men in the wilderness, multiply these loaves and this drink."
Wonderful faith! All were satisfied and each one drank as much
as he wished. The servant carried back twice as much in fragments
and twice the amount of drink. And so he knew that faith is more
deserving of the divine gifts than despair, which is wont to diminish
even what one has.
When at one time the man of God was staying at Luxeuil. one of
the brethren, who was also named Columban, was stricken with a
fever and, lying at the point of death, was awaiting instantly
a happy release. When he wanted to draw his last breath, confident
of the eternal reward which he had sought in his long service,
he saw a man clothed in light coming to him, and saying, "I
am not able now to free you from your body, because I am hindered
by the prayers and of your father Columban". When the sick
man heard this, sorrowfully as if he had been awakened from sleep,
be began to call his attendant Theudegisel whom 'we mentioned
above, and said, , Go quickly and summon our father Columban to
me." The attendant went swiftly to Columban weeping in the
church, asked him to hasten to the sick man. Columban came quickly
and asked him what he wanted. The latter told him, saying, "
Why do you detain me by your prayers in this sorrowful world?
For those are present, who would lead me away if they were not
hindered by your tears and prayers. I beseech you, remove the
obstacles which retain me that the celestial kingdom may open
for me." Columban, struck with fear, made a signal that all
should come. His joy lessened his grief at the loss Of his holy
companion- He gave the dying man the body of Christ as a viaticum,
and after the last kiss began the death-song. For they were of
the same race and name and had left Ireland in the same company.
And do not wonder that the beasts and birds thus obeyed command
of the man of God. the For we have learned from Chamnoald, royal
chaplain at Laon, who was his attendant and disciple, that he
has often seen Columban wandering about in the wilderness fasting
and praying, and calling the wild beasts and birds. These came
immediately at his command and he stroked them with his hand.
The beasts and birds joyfully played, frisking about him, just
as cats frisk about their misstresses. Chamnoald said he had often
seen him call the little animal, which men commonly name a squiruis from the tops of a tree and take it in his hand and put it on
his neck and let it go into and come out from his bosom.
The fame of Columban had already penetrated into all parts of
Gaul and Germany, and everyone was praising the venerable man.
Theuderich too came often to hi m and humbly begged his prayers.
For Theuderich had succeeded to the kingdom in the following manner:
Sigibert had been murdered in the royal estate of Vitry, which
is not far from Arras, at the instigation of his brother Chilperich,
who was then living in Tournay and was being hunted to death by
Sigibert. After the death of the latter, through the influence
of his wife Brunhilda, the kingdom passed to his son Childebert
(II). When the latter died in his youth, [*AD 596] he was succeeded
by his two sons, Theudebert and Theuderich, who ruled together
with their grandmother Brunhilda. Austrasia went to Theudebert,
Burgundy, to Theuderich, who thought that he was fortunate in
having St. Columban in his kingdom.
As he very often visited Columban, the holy man began to reprove
him because he sinned with concubine and did not satisfy himself
with the comforts of a lawful wife, in order to beget royal children
from an honored queen, and not bastards by his concubines. After
this reproof from Columban, the king promised to abstain from
such sinful conduct. But the old serpent came to his grandmother
Brunhilda, who was a from a second Jezebel, and aroused her pride
against the holy man, because she saw that Theuderich was obedient
to him. For she feared that her power and honor would be lessened
if, after the expulsion of the concubines, a queen should rule
St. Columban happened one day to go to Brunhilda, who was then
on the estate of Brocarica.[*near Autun]. As she saw him enter
the court, she led to him the illegitimate sons of Theuderich.
When St. Columban saw her, he asked what she wanted of him. Brunhilda
answered, "These are the king's sons ; give them thy blessing."
He replied, "Know that these boys will never bear the royal
sceptre, for they were begotten in sin." Enraged, she told
the boys to go. When after this Columban left the court, a loud
cracking noise was heard, the whole house trembled and everyone
shook with fear. But that did not avail to check the wrath of
the wretched woman.
From that time she began to persecute the neighboring monasteries.
She issued an order that none of the monks should be allowed to
leave the lands of the monasteries, no one should receive them
into other houses or give them any aid. When Columban saw that
at the court all were arrayed against him, be hastened to Spissia,
where the king was then staying, in order to subdue such defiance
by his warnings. When he reached that place, about sunset, and
it was announced to the king that Columban was there but would
not enter the palace, Theuderich said it would be better with
due reverence to offer the needful services to the man of God,
than to arouse the wrath of the Lord, by insulting His servant.
Accordingly be ordered suitable food to be prepared in the royal
kitchen and sent to the servant of God.
When the attendants came to Columban and, in accordance with the
king's command, offered him food and drink prepared with royal
magnificence, he asked what they meant by it. When they told him
that it was sent by the king, he pushed it from him and said It
is written, "The Most High is not pleased with the offerings
of the wicked." For it is not meet that the mouth of the
servant of the Lord should be defiled by the food of him who shuts
out the servant of God, not only from his own dwelling, but also
from the dwellings of others." At these words all of the
dishes broke into pieces, so that the wine and liquor ran out
on the ground and the food was scattered here and there. Terrified,
the servants announced this to the king. Full of anxiety, he,
together with his grandmother, hastened to Columban early in the
morning. Both begged him to forgive their past sins and promised
amendment. With his fears quieted by this, Columban returned to
his convent. But they failed to keep their promises, and very
soon the persecutions were renewed With increased bitterness by
the king, who continued in his former sinful course. Then Columban
sent him a letter full of reproaches, and threatened him with
the ban if he did not amend his conduct.
Now Brunhilda began again to incite the king against Columban
in every way ; urged all the nobles and others at court to do
the same, and influenced the bishops to attack Columban's faith
and to abolish his monastic rule. She succeeded so fully that
the holy man was obliged to answer for his faith or leave the
country. The king, incited by Brunhilda, went to Luxeuil and accused
Columban of violating the customs of the country and of not allowing
all Christians to enter the interior of the monastery. To these
accusations Columban answered, for he was unterrified and full
of courage, that it was not his custom to allow laymen to enter
the dwelling of the servant of God, but he had prepared a suitable
place where all who came would be received. The king replied :
"If you wish to enjoy any longer the gifts of our grace and
favor, everyone in the future must be allowed free entrance everywhere."
Columban answered : "If you dare to violate the monastic
rule in any particular, I will not accept any gift or aid from
you in the future. But if you come here to destroy the monasteries
of the servant of God and to undermine their discipline and regulations,
I tell you that your kingdom will be destroyed together with all
your royal family." This the king afterward found to be true.
In his audacity, he had already stepped into the refectory ; terrified
by these words, be withdrew hastily.
But when Columban attacked him with bitter insults, Theuderich
said: "You want me to honor you with the crown of martyrdom
; do not believe that I am foolish enough to commit such a crime.
But I will follow a wiser and more useful plan. Since you depart
from the common customs, I will send you back to the home from
which you came." At the same time the members of the court
resolved unanimously that they would not put up with anyone who
was unwilling to associate with everyone. But Columban said that
he would not leave his monastery unless he was dragged out by
The king now withdrew, but left behind a nobleman named Baudulf.
The latter drove the holy man out of his monastery and carried
him to Besançon into banishment, until the king had determined
what further action to take. While there Columban heard that the
prison was full of condemned men awaiting the death penalty. The
man of God hastened to them and, having entered the gate without
opposition, be preached the word of God to the condemned. They
promised him that if they were liberated they would amend their
lives and would do penance for the crimes which they had committed.
After this Columban commanded his attendant, whom we have mentioned
above [8ch. 16], to take in his hand the iron to which
their feet were fettered, and to pull it. When the boy took hold
of it and pulled, it broke into bits like the rotten trunk of
a tree. Columban ordered the condemned to leave the prison now
that their feet were free and, after preaching the Gospel to them,
he washed their feet and dried them with a linen towel. Then he
commanded them to go to the church and do penance for the crimes
they bad committed and to wash away their faults by their tears.
They hastened thither and found the doors of the church-fastened.
When the captain of the soldiers saw the fetters of the condemned
broken by Columban, through the power of God, and that only the
empty prison remained, he started, although aroused from sleep,
to follow the tracks of the condemned. The latter, seeing that
the soldiers were coming after them and that the doors of the
church were shut, hemmed in by the two-fold difficulty, reproached
the man of God for having released them. But he, breathing anxiously,
raised his face to heaven and prayed to the Lord that He would
not permit those whom He had released from the iron by His strength,
to be again delivered into the hands of the soldiers. Without
delay, the goodness of the Creator opened the doors, which had
been securely fastened, and disclosed a way of escape to those
in peril. The condemned quickly entered the church. After their
entrance the doors were shut without human hands, before the eyes
of the soldiers, just as if a custodian with a key had quickly
unlocked them and then locked them again. Columban arriving with
his followers and the captain coming up at the same time with
his soldiers, found the doors shut. They sought the janitor, Aspasius
by name, to get the key. When he came with the key and tried to
open the doors he said he had never found them more tightly closed.
Nor did anyone, after that, dare to do any injury to the condemned,
whom the divine grace had liberated.
As Columban now saw that be was not watched at all and that no
one did him any injury, (for all saw that he was strong in the
strength of the Lord and therefore all refrained from injuring
him, in order not to be associated in guilt) one Sunday he climbed
to the top of the mountain. For the city is so situated that the
houses are clustered together on the side of a steep mountain.
Above, the lofty cliffs rise perpendicularly into the heavens.
The mountain cut off on all sides by the river Dou, which surrounds
it, leaves no path open for travelers. Columban waited till noon
to see whether anyone would prevent his returning to his monastery.
Then he took the road leading directly through the city.
When they heard of this, Brunhilda and Theuderich were embittered
still more. They again ordered a band of soldiers to carry off
the man of God by violence and to take him again to his former
place of exile. Accordingly the soldiers went with their captain
and wandered through the precincts of the monastery seeking the
man of God. He was then in the vestibule of the church reading
a book. They came repeatedly and passed near him, so that some
struck against him with their feet and touched his garments with
their garments, but did not see him because their eyes were blinded.
And it was a most beautiful sight. He, exulting, perceived that
he was sought and was not found. While he saw them, they did not
see him sitting in the midst of them. The captain came and, looking
through the window, saw the man of God sitting joyfully amid them
and reading. Perceiving the power of God, he said: "Why do
you go wandering about the vestibule of the church and do not
find him? Your hearts are wholly filled with the madness of insanity;
for you will not be able to find him whom the divine power conceals.
Leave this undertaking and we will hasten to announce to the king
that you could not find him." By this it was clearly shown
that the captain of the soldiers had not come willingly to do
injury, to the man of God, and therefore had merited to see him.
They told the king. He, impelled by the madness of his wretched
purpose, sent Count Bertarius, with the men of his guard, to :seek
more diligently for Columban, and at the same time Baudulf whom
he had formerly sent. They finding the holy man in the church
praying and singing psalms with all the brethren, said to him:
"Oh man of God, we beg you to obey the king's orders and
our own, and to return to the place whence you came to this land."
But Columban answered, "I do not think it would be pleasing
to my Creator if I should go back to the home which I left because
of my love for Christ." When they saw that Columban would
not obey them they withdrew. But they left behind several men
of rough disposition and character.
Those who remained urged the man of God to have pity on them,
Since they had been perfidiously left behind to perform such a
task, and to think of their peril. If they did not violently eject
him they would be in danger of death. But he, as he had very often
asserted, said he would not withdraw unless he was compelled to
by violence. The men impelled by fear, since they were in imminent
peril in either event, clung to the robe which he wore; others
upon their knees besought him not to impute to them the guilt
of so great a crime, since they were not following their own wishes,
but obeying the commands of the king.
He finally decided to yield, in order not to imperil others, and
departed amid universal sorrow and grief. Escorts were furnished
him who were not to leave his side until they had conducted him
to the boundary of the kingdom at Nantes. Ragamund was their leader.
All the brethren followed, as if it was a funeral ; for grief
filled the hearts of all. The father in anxiety for the loss of
so many members, raised his eyes to heaven, and said, "Oh
Creator of the world, prepare for us a place where Thy people
may worship Thee." Then he comforted the brethren, telling
them to put their trust in the Lord and to give great praise to
omnipotent God. This was not an injury to him or his followers,
but an opportunity to increase the number of monks. Those who
wished to follow him and had courage to bear all his sufferings
might come. The others who wanted to remain in the monastery should
do so, knowing that God would quickly avenge their injuries. But
since the monks did not want to be deprived of the guardianship
of their shepherd all resolved to go. But the king's servants
declared that only those would be allowed to follow him who were
his countrymen or who had come to him from Brittany ; the others,
by the king's me command, were to remain in that place. When the
father perceived that his followers were violently torn from him,
his grief and that of his followers was increased. But he prayed
to the Lord, the Comforter of all men, to take those into His
own keeping, whom the king's violence tore from him. Among these
was Eustasius, the scholar and servant of Columban, who was afterward
abbot in this very convent, of which his uncle, Mietius, bishop
of Langres, had charge.
So, twenty years after he had come to this place the holy man
departed and went by the way of Besançon and Autun to the
fortress Cavalo. On the way the king's master of horse
wanted to kill him with a lance. But the hand of God hindered
it and lamed the mail's hand, so that the lance fell on the ground
at his feet and be himself seized by a supernatural power fell
prone before Columban. The latter, however, cared for him till
the next morning and then sent him home healed.
From Cavalo he went to the river Chora [*Probably
the Cure, a branch of the Jonne (Abel)] where he stayed in the
house of a noble and pious lady, named Theudemanda, and healed
twelve demoniacs who came to him. On the same day be went to the
village of Chora where he healed five mad men. In Auxerre,
which he next went to, he said to his companion, Ragamund, "Know
that within three years Chlotar, whom you now despise, will be
your lord." But he answered, "Why do you tell me such
things, my lord?" The latter replied, "You will see
what I have announced if you are still alive."
Then leaving Auxerre, Columban saw a youth possessed by a demon
running swiftly toward him. This youth had run twenty miles with
all his might. Seeing him, Columban waited until the man, wounded
by the devil's art, should come. The latter fell at the feet of
the man of God and was immediately cured by his prayers and visibly
restored to health. Then with guards preceding and following,
Columban came to the city of Nevers in order to go in a boat on
the Loire to the coast of Brittany. When they had reached this
point and bad gotten into the boat with difficulty, one of the
guards, taking an oar, struck one of them, who was named Lua,
a most holy and devout man.
The man of God, seeing that one of his followers was struck in
his presence, said: " Why, cruel man, do you add to my grief?
Is not the guilt of the crime which you have committed sufficient
for your destruction ? Why do you appear merciless against the
merciful ? Why do you strike a wearied member of Christ? Why do
you vent your, wrath on the gentle? Remember that you will be
punished by God in this place, where in your rage you have struck
a member of Christ." The vengeance, soon following, executed
the penalty inflicted by that sentence. For as the man was returning
again and came to the same place to cross the river, struck by
the divine vengeance, he was drowned. Why was it that the just
Judge delayed the vengeance a little, unless it was that His saint
might not be troubled by the sight of the man's punishment?
From that place they went to the city of Orleans, where sorrowfully
they rested for a time on the banks of the Loire in tents, for
by order of the king, they were forbidden to enter the churches.
When finally their provisions gave out, they sent two men into
the city to get food. One of these was Potentinus, who later on
founded a convent in Brittany, near the city of Coutances, [*in
the department of La Manches] and who is still alive. When these
men entered the city they found nothing, because the inhabitants,
from fear of the king, did not dare to sell or give them anything,
and they went back on the road by which they had entered the city.
They met a Syrian woman in the street. When she saw them, she
asked who they were. They explained the state of the case, and
said that they were seeking food but had found nothing. She replied,
"Come, my lords, to the house of your servant and take whatever
you need. For I, too, am a stranger from the distant land of the
Orient." They joyfully followed her to her house and sat
down to rest until she brought what they sought. Her husband,
who had long been blind, was sitting near them. When they asked
him who he was, his wife replied, "My husband is from the
same race of the Syrians that I am. As be is blind, I have led
him about for many years." They said, "If he should
go to Columban, the servant of Christ, he would receive his sight
through the holy man's prayers." The man having faith in
the promised gift, regained his courage, rose and, led by his
wife, followed them. They told Columban of the hospitality given
to pilgrims. They bad not finished their story before the blind
man came and prayed the man of God to restore his sight by prayer.
Columban, seeing the man's faith, asked all to pray for the blind
man, and after lying for a long time prone on the ground, he rose,
touched the man's eyes with his hand and made the sign of the
cross. The man received his longed-for sight. He rejoiced in his
recovered sight, because it was fitting that he, whose soul had
been lighted internally by hospitality, should not lack the external
After that a band of mad men, whom demons tortured with savage
fury, hastened to the man of God to be cured. Health was granted
them by the Lord ; for all were healed by the man of God. The
people of the city moved by these miracles supplied Columban with
gifts secretly, because they did not dare to furnish anything
openly on account of the guards, lest they should incur the wrath
of the king. Thence Columban and his followers continued on their
And proceeding on the Loire, they came to the city of Tours. There
the holy man begged the guards to stop and permit him to visit
the grave of St. Martin. The guards refused, strove to go on quickly,
urged the oarsmen to put forth their strength and pass swiftly
by the harbor, and commanded the helmsman to keep the boat in
mid-stream. St. Columban seeing this, raised his eyes sadly to
heaven, grieving at being subjected to great sorrow, and that
he was not permitted to see the graves of the saints. In spite
of all their efforts the boat stopped as if anchored, as soon
as it got opposite the harbor, and turned its bow to the landing-place.
The guards seeing that they could not prevail, unwillingly allowed
the boat to go where it would. In a wonderful manner it sped,
as if winged, from mid-stream to the harbor, and entering this
accomplished the wish of the man of God.
He, truly, gave thanks to the eternal King, who does not disdain
to comply with the wishes of His servants. Landing, Columban went
to the grave of St. Martin and spent the whole night there in
prayer. In the morning he was invited by Leoparius, the bishop
of the city, to break his fast. He accepted, especially for the
sake of refreshing his brethren, and spent that day with the bishop.
When he sat down at table with the bishop, at the hour of refection,
and was asked why he was returning to his native land, he replied,
" That dog Theuderich has driven me away from the brethren."
Then one of the guests, named Chrodowald, who was married to one
of Theudebert's cousins, but who was a follower of Theuderich,
replied in a humble voice to the man of God, "It is pleasanter
to drink milk than wormwood," and declared that be would
be faithful to king Theuderich, as be had sworn, so long as it
was in his power. Columban said to him, "I know that you
want to keep your oath of fidelity to king Theuderich, and you
will be glad to take my message to your lord and friend. if you
serve king Theuderich. Announce, therefore, to Theuderich that
he and his children will die within three years, and his entire
family will be exterminated by the Lord." "Why,"
said the man, "do you announce such tidings, O servant of
God?" "I dare no t conceal what the Lord has ordered
me to reveal." All the inhabitants of Gaul saw this fulfilled
later, and this confirmed what had been announced previously to
After the repast, the man of God returned to the boat and found
his companions very sorrowful. On enquiring what had happened,
be learned that what they had in the boat had been stolen in the
night, and also the gold which he bad not given to the poor. Having
heard this, be returned to the grave of the holy confessor and
complained that he had not watched by the relics of the saint
in order that the latter should allow him and his followers to
suffer loss. Immediately be who had stolen the bag of gold began
to be tormented and tortured, and cried out that be had concealed
the pieces of gold in this place and that. All his associates
rushed to return all that had been stolen and prayed the man of
God to pardon the great crime. This miracle struck such terror
into all, that those who heard of it did not dare to touch any
thing which belonged to the man of God, believing that all was
consecrated. After supplying him with food Leoparius said farewell
to St. Columban.
Joyfully then they went in the boat to the city of Nantes and
there stopped for a short time. One day a beggar cried out before
the door of the cell in which the man of God was meditating. Calling
an attendant, Columban said: ,Give the beggar some food."
The attendant replied: "We have nothing except a very little
meal." He asked: "How much have you?" The attendant
replied that he thought he did not have more than a measure of
meal. ,Then give it all," he said, "and save nothing
for the morrow." The servant obeyed and gave all to the beggar,
reserving nothing for the common need.
Already the third day had dawned since they had been fasting,
and had had scarcely anything except the grace of hope and faith,
by which to refresh their exhausted limbs. Suddenly they beard
the door open ; when the doorkeeper asked why the ears of the
brethren were troubled by the din, he who bad opened the door
said he had been sent by his mistress Procula. She said she had
been divinely warned to send food to the man of God, Columban,
and to his companions, who were staying near the city of Nantes.
The man said the food would come immediately, and that he had
been sent ahead to tell them to prepare receptacles to receive
it. There were a hundred measures of wine, two hundred of grain,
and a hundred of barley. The doorkeeper hastened to announce this
to the father. But the latter said, very well, he knew it, and
ordered that the brethren should come together to pray to the
Lord in behalf of their benefactress, and at the same time to
return thanks to their Creator who never fails to comfort His
servants in every need ; and after that they would receive the
Wonderful compassion of the Creator! He permits us to be in need,
that He may show His mercy by giving to the needy. He permits
us to be tempted, that by aiding us in our temptations He may
turn the hearts of His servants more fully to Himself. He permits
His followers to be cruelly tortured that they may delight more
fully in restored health.
Another equally noble and pious woman, named Doda, sent two hundred
measures of corn, and a hundred of mixed grain. This caused very
great shame to the bishop of that city, named Suffronius, from
whom nothing could be obtained as a gift or even by exchange.
While Columban remained there, a certain woman tormented by a
demon came to him, together with her daughter who was also suffering
from a severe disease. When be saw them, he prayed to the Lord
for them ; after they had been healed, he commanded them to return
After this Suffronius, bishop of Nantes, and count Theudebald
made preparations to send St. Columban to Ireland, in accordance
with the king's orders. But the man of God said: "If there
is a ship here which is returning-to Ireland, put my effects and
my companions on it. In the meantime I will go in my skiff down
the Loire to the ocean." They found a vessel which had brought
Scottish wares and embarked all Columban's effects and companions.
When with a favorable wind the oarsmen were now rowing the vessel
down to the ocean, a huge wave came and drove the vessel on shore.
It stuck fast on the land, and the water receding, remained quietly
in the channel. The bark remained high and dry for three days.
Then the captain of the vessel understood that he was detained
in this manner on account of the effects and companions of the
man of God, that be had taken on board. He decided to disembark
from the vessel all that belonged to Columban. Immediately a wave
came and bore the vessel out to the ocean. Then all, filled with
amazement, understood that God did not wish Columban to return
home. Accordingly he returned to the house in which he bad formerly
dwelt and no one opposed him; nay, rather, all aided the man of
God with gifts and food, as far as lay in their power. Nor did
he lack defence, because in all things he had the aid of the Creator,
and He who keeps Israel under the shadow of His wings never slumbers.
Thus truly He shows by granting all things to all men, that He
wishes to be glorified by all in proportion to the greatness of
Not long after this Columban went to Chlotar, Chilperich's son,
who ruled in Neustria over the Franks who lived on the coast.
Chlotar had already heard how the man of God had been persecuted
by Brunhilda and Theuderich. He now received Columban as a veritable
gift from heaven, and begged that he would remain in Neustria,
Columban refused and said he did not wish to remain there, either
for the sake of inereasing the extent of his pilgrimage of avoiding
enmities. But he remained some time with the king, and called
his attention to several abuses, such as could hardly fail to
exist at a king's court. Chlotar cording to Columban's command,
for he promised to correct everything ac zealously loved wisdom,
and rejoiced in the blessing which he had secured.
In the meantime a strife arose between Theudebert and Theuderich
over the boundaries of their kingdoms, and both sent to Chlotar
to beg aid. The latter was disposed to aid one against the other,
and asked Columban's advice. He, filled with the spirit of prophecy,
answered that Chlotar ought not to unite with either, for within
three years he would receive both kingdoms. Chlotar seeing that
such things were prophesied by the man of God, aided neither,
but full of faith awaited the promised time. Afterwards be triumphed
Afterwards Columban asked Chlotar to aid him to go through Theudebert's
territory, if possible, and over the Alps to Italy. He received
escorts who were to conduct him to Theudebert, and entering upon
his journey went to the city of Paris. When he arrived there,
he met at the gate a man having an unclean spirit, who was raving
and rending his garments, while babbling. The latter addressed
the man of God complainingly: "What are you doing in this
place, O man of God?" From afar he had been crying out for
a long time with his growling voice as he saw Columban, the man
of God, approaching. When the latter saw him, he said: "Depart,
evil one, depart! Do not dare to possess any longer the body washed
by Christ. Yield to the power of God, and invoked by the name
of Christ." But when the devil resisted for a long time with
savage and cruel strength, the man of God placed his hand on the
man's ear and struck the man's tongue and by the power of God
commanded the devil to depart. Then rending the man with cruel
violence so that bonds could scarcely restrain him, the devil,
issuing forth amid great purging and vomiting made such a stench
that those who stood by believed that they could endure the fumes
of sulphur more easily.
Then Columban went to the city of Meaux. There he was received
with great joy by a nobleman Hagneric, who was a friend of Theudebert,
a wise man, and a counsellor grateful to the king, and was fortified
by nobility and wisdom. The latter promised that be would take
care of Columban until the latter reached the court of Theudebert,
and said it was not necessary to have the other companions who
were sent by the king. He declined the aid of the others in order
to keep the man of God with himself as long as he could, and in
order that his house might be ennobled by the learning of the
latter. Columban blessed his house and consecrated to the Lord
his daughter Burgundofara, who was still a child, and of whom
we shall speak later.
Thence he proceeded to Eussy on the river Marne. There he was
received by a man named Autharius, whose wife was named Aiga.
They bad sons under ten years of age, whom the mother brought
to the man of God to be blessed. He, seeing the faith of the mother,
consecrated the little children with his blessing. They later,
when they grew up, were held in high esteem, first by king Chlotar,
afterwards by Dagobert. After they had obtained great glory in
the world, they made haste, lest in the glory of this world they
should lose the eternal. The elder, Ado, withdrew of his own accord
and founded, under the rule of St. Columban, a monastery near
Mt. Jura. [*The monastery Jouarre, near Meaux] The younger, Dado,
founded, under the rule of the blessed man, a monastery near Brieg,
on the little river Rébais.
So greatly did the man of God abound in faith, that whomsoever
he consecrated, the last day found persevering in good works.
And those whom he warned, rejoiced afterward that they bad merited
immunity. Nor did he, endued with so great strength, undeservedly
obtain an increase of grace, who guided by his learning, was unwilling
to deviate from the path of a just life.
From that place Columban proceeded to Theudebert, who received
him joyfully. Many brethren had already come to him from Luxeuil,
whom he received as if they had been snatched from the enemy.
Now the king promised to seek out beautiful places, suitable for
God's servants, where they could preach to the neighboring people.
Columban declared, that if the king was in earnest and would actively
support him, he would gladly remain there longer and try to sow
the seeds of faith in the hearts of the neighboring peoples. Theudebert
commissioned him to choose a suitable place, and, with the approval
of all, he decided upon a long-ruined city, which was in the German
land commission not far from the Rhine, and which was called Brigantia
[* Bregnenz] But what the man of God did, as he was ascending
the Rhine in his boat, must not be passed over in silence.
As they journeyed, they came to the city which was formerly called
Maguntiacum. [*Mainz] The oarsmen who bad been sent by the king
to aid the man of God, told him they had friends in the city,
who would supply needful food ; for already they had long been
fasting. The man of God told them to go ; but they did not find
any. They returned, and in reply to the questions of the man of
God said they had been unable to obtain anything from their friends.
Then he said "Let me go for a short time to my friend."
They wondered how he had a friend there, where he had never been
before. But he wen to the church and, entering, threw himself
on the pavement, and in a long prayer sought the protection of
God, the source of all mercy. Immediately the bishop of the city
went from his home to the church and, finding Columban, asked
who be was. The latter said he was a pilgrim. The bishop answered
"If you need food, go to my house and take what you need."
After thanking him and also the Creator who had inspired him,
Columban hastened to the boat and directed that all the men, except
one guard, should go and bring what they wished. But lest this
should seem to anyone mere chance, that bishop was accustomed
to protest that he had never before given food with so little
thought. And he testified that he went to the church that day
by divine admonition, on account of the merit of the blessed Columban.
At length they arrived at the place designated, which did not
wholly please Columban ; but he decided to remain, in order to
spread the faith among the people, who were Swabians. Once as
he was going through this country, he discovered that the natives
were going to make a heathen offering. They had a large cask that
they called a cupa, and that held about twenty-six measures,
filled with beer and set in their midst. On Columban's asking
what they intended to do with it, they answered that they were
making an offering to their God Wodan (whom others call Mercury).
When he heard of this abomination, he breathed on the cask, and
lo! it broke with a crash and fell in pieces so that all the beer
ran out. Then it was clear that the devil had been concealed in
the cask, and that through the earthly drink he had proposed to
ensnare the souls of the participants. As the heathens saw that,
they were amazed and said Columban had a strong breath, to split
a wellbound cask in that manner. But he reproved them in the words
of the Gospel, and commanded them to cease from such offerings
and to go home. Many were converted then, by the preaching of
the holy man, and turning to the learning and faith of Christ,
were baptized by him. Others, who were already baptized but still
lived in the heathenish unbelief, like a good shepherd, he again
led by his words to the faith and into the bosom of the church.
At that time Theuderich and Brunhilda were venting their wrath
not only on Columban, but also on the holy Desiderius, bishop
of Vienne. After they had driven the latter into banishment and
had done him much evil, they crowned him at last with a glorious
martyr's death. By his deeds, which have been narrated, and by
his great adversities he deserved to have a glorious triumph near
In the meantime Columban and his companions experienced a time
of great need near the city of Bregenz. But although they were
without food, they were bold and unterrified in their faith, so
that they obtained food from the Lord. After their bodies had
been exhausted by three days of fasting, they found so great an
abundance of birds,-just as the quails formerly covered the camp
of the children of Israel, that the whole country near there was
filled with birds. The man of God knew that this food had been
scattered on the ground for his own safety and that of his brethren,
and that the birds bad come only because be was there. He ordered
his followers first to render grateful praises to the Creator,
and then to take the birds as food. And it was a wonderful and
stupendous miracle ; for the birds were seized according to the
father's commands and did not attempt to fly away. The manna of
birds remained for three days. On the fourth day, a priest from
an adjacent city, warned by divine inspiration, sent a supply
of grain to St. Columban. When the supply of grain arrived, the
Omnipotent, who had furnished the winged food to those in want,
immediately commanded the phalanxes of birds to depart. We learned
this from Eustasius, who was present with the others, under the
command of the servant of God. He said that no one of them remembered
ever having seen birds of such a kind before; and the food was
of so pleasant savor that it surpassed royal viands. Oh, wonderful
gift of divine mercy! When earthly food was wanting to the servants
of Christ, celestial was furnished; as was said of Israel: "
He gave to them of the corn of heaven;" when earthly food
was brought, the celestial which had been mercifully granted was
Then Columban was weakening his body by fasting, under a cliff
in the wilderness, and he had no food except the apples of the
country, which we have mentioned above. A fierce bear of great
voracity came and began to lick off the necessary food and carry
the apples away in its mouth. When the meal-time came, Columban
directed Chagnoald, his servant, to bring the usual quantity of
apples. The latter went and saw the bear wandering about among
the fruit-trees and bushes and licking off the apples. He returned
hastily and told the father, who commanded him to go and set aside
a part of the fruit-trees for food for the bear and order it to
leave the others for himself Chagnoald went in obedience to the
command, and dividing with his staff the trees and bushes which
bore the apples, he, in accordance with Columban's command, set
aside the part that the bear should eat, and the other part that
it should leave for the use of the man of God. Wonderful obedience,
.of the bear! . It, did not venture at all to take food from
the prohibited part, but as long as the man of God remained in
that place, sought, food only, from the trees that had been assigned
Once Columban though going to the land of the Wends, who are
also called Slavs, in order to illuminate their darkened minds
with the light of the Gospel and to open the way of truth to those
who had always wandered in error. When he proposed to make his
vows, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a vision, and showed
him in a little circle the structure of the world, just as the
circle of the universe is usually, drawn with a pen in a book.
"You perceive," the angel said, "how much remains
set apart of the whole world. Go to the right or the left where
you will, that you may enjoy the fruits of your labors."
Therefore Columban remained where he was, until the way to Italy
opened before him.
In the meantime the compact of peace which Theuderich and Theudebert
had made was broken, and each one, priding himself on the strength
of his followers, endeavored to kill the other. Then Columban
went to king Theudebert and demanded that he should resign his
kingdom and enter a monastery, in order not to lose both earthly
crown and everlasting life. The king and his companions laughed;
they had never heard of a Merovingian on the throne, who had voluntarily
given up everything and become a monk. But Columban said, if the
king was not willing voluntarily to undertake the honor of the
priestly office, be would soon be compelled to do it against his
will. After these words the holy man returned to his cell ; but
his prophecy was soon verified by events. Theuderich immediately
advanced against Theudebert, defeated him near Zülpich, and
pursued him with a great army. Theudebert gathered new forces
and a second battle was fought near Zülpich. Many fell on
both sides, but Theudebert was finally defeated and fled.
At that time the man of God was staying in the wilderness, having
only one attendant, Chagnoald. At the hour when the battle near
Zülpich began, Columban was sitting on the trunk of a rotten
oak, reading a book. Suddenly he was overcome by sleep and saw
what was taking place between the two kings. Soon after be aroused,
and calling his attendant, told him of the bloody battle, grieving
at the loss of so much human blood. His attendant said with rash
presumption: "My father, aid Theudebert with your prayers,
so that be may defeat the common enemy, Theuderich." Columban
answered: "Your advice is foolish and irreligious, for God,
who commanded us to pray for our enemies has not so willed.. The
just Judge has already determined what He wills concerning them."
The attendant afterwards enquired and found that the battle had,
taken place on that day and at that hour, just as the man of God
had revealed to him.
Theuderich pursued Theudebert, and the latter was captured by
the treachery of his followers-and ent to his grandmother, Brunhilda.
She, in her fury, because she was on Theuderich's side, shut him
up in a monastery, but after a few days she mercilessly had him
Not long after this Theuderich, struck by the hand of the Lord,
perished in a conflagration in the city of Metz. Branhilda then
placed the crown on the head of his son Sigibert. But Chlotar
thought of Columban's prophecy and gathered together an army to
reconquer the land which belonged to him. Sigibert with his troops
advanced to attack him, but was captured, together with his five
brothers and great-grandmother Brunhilda, by Chlotar. The latter
had the boys killed, one by one, but Brunhilda he had placed first
on a camel in mockery and so exhibited to all her enemies round
about then she was bound to the tails of wild horses and thus
perished wretchedly. As the whole family of Theuderich was now
exterminated, Chlotar ruled alone over the three kingdoms, [*Neustria,
Austrasia and Burgundy] and Columban's prophecy had been literally
fulfilled. For one of the kings and his whole family had been
entirely exterminated within three years; the second had been
made a clerk by violence ; the third was the possessor and ruler
of all the kingdoms.
When Columban saw that Theudbert had been conquered by Theuderich,
as we said above, he left Gaul and Germany and went to Italy.
There he was received with honor by Agilulf, king of the Lombards.
The latter granted him the privilege of settling in Italy wherever
be pleased; and be did so, by God's direction. During his stay
in Milan, he resolved to attack the errors of the heretics, that
is, the Arian perfidy, which he wanted to cut out and exterminate
with the cauterizing knife of the Scriptures. And he composed
an excellent and learned work against them.
At that time a man named Jocundus appeared before the king and
announced that he knew of a church of the holy Apostle Peter,
in a lonely spot in the Apennines ; the place had many advantages,
it was unusually fertile, the water was full of fishes ; it had
long been called Bobium [*Bobbio] from the brook that flowed by
it. There was another river in the neighbourhood, by which Hannibal
bad once passed a winter and suffered the loss of a very great
number of men, horses and elephants. Thither Columban now went,
and with all diligence restored to its old beauty the church which
was already half in ruins.
In this restoration the wonderful power of the Lord was visible.
For, when beams of fir were cut amid the precipitous cliffs or
in the dense woods, or those cut elsewhere, fell into such places
by accident, so that beasts of burden could not approach, the
man of God going with two or three companions, as many as the
steep paths furnished footing for, placed, in a wonderful manner,
on his own and his companions' shoulders beams of immense weight,
which thirty or forty men could scarcely carry on level ground
; and where they had hardly been able to walk before, on account
of the steepness of the paths, and had moved as if weighed down
with burdens, they now walked easily and joyfully, bearing their
burden. The man of God, seeing that be was receiving so great
aid, urged his companions to finish joyfully the work which they
had begun, and to remain in the wilderness with renewed courage,
affirming that this was God's will. Therefore he restored the
roof of .the church and the ruined walls, and provided whatever
else was necessary for a monastery.
During this time king Chlotar, when he saw that the words of Columban
had been fulfilled, summoned Eustasius, who was then abbot of
Luxeuil, and urged him to go with an escort of noblemen, whom
Eustasius himself should select, to the holy Columban and beg
the latter, wherever he might be, to come to Chlotar. Then the
venerable disciple went to seek his master, and when he found
the latter, he repeated Chlotar's words. But Columban declared,
when he heard Chlotar's request, that he could not undertake the
journey again. Eustasius he kept with himself for some time, warned
him -not to forget his own labors and work, to keep the band of
brethren learned and obedient to increase their numbers and educate
them according to his own instructions.
To the king he sent a letter full of good advice, and begged him
to extend his royal protection and aid to the brethren at Luxeuil.
The king received the letter joyfully, as a most pleasing gift
and as a pledge of his compact with the man of God. Nor did he
forget the latter's request, but showed his favor in every way
to the cloister, gave it yearly revenues, increased its territory
in every direction, where the venerable Eustasius desired, and
aided its inmates in every way that he could After a single year
in his monastery of Bobbio, Columban the man of God, ended his
devout life on the XI. day before the Kalends of December. [*November
21st, probably in 615] If anyone wishes to learn of his activity,
let him seek it in the saints writings. [*these are printed in
Migne Patrologia Latinae, Vol 80] His remains are buried there,
[*in Bobbio] where they have proved their virtues, by the aid
of Christ. To Him be glory for ever and ever, world without end.
Edited Dana C. Munro in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European
history, published for the Dept. of History of the University
of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press
[1897?-1907?]. Vol. II. No. 7
G. Metlake, Life and Writings of St. Columban (1914)
F, MacManus, St. Columban (1963)
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