217. Life of St. Columba by Adomnan of Iona (c. 697-700)

“I heard the most sweet songs of the angelic hosts singing on high in the very moment when his soul departed and was carried up among the choirs of angels”   page 230.

Not so much a biography as a record of some of the miracles performed by St. Columba, founder of the Iona monastery in the sixth century AD.

My copy was again the Penguin Black Classic edition translated by Richard Sharpe (ISBN 9780140444629)

Thoughts: My real interest in reading this was to gain more insight into monastic life in a remote and windswept setting, somewhere between the harsh reality and the romantic appeal of my imagination. There is a glimpse of the everyday life but it really was more a listing of the many examples of clairvoyance and prophecy, angelic visitations, and miracles attributed to Columba, including healing the sick (even from a distance of many miles), raising the dead, directing the winds and waves, and changing water to wine.

The most unusual and unique miracles were the casting out of a devil hiding in a milk-pail, and the warding off of an aquatic monster in Loch Ness from attacking one of the brethren (the first recorded sighting of this beastie). Columba often performed miracles in secret, and demanded any witnesses to keep quiet about what they saw until after Columba was dead.

Some of the events described had parallels in other earlier and contemporary saints’ lives, and the structure of the book directly followed the pattern of these others, so there was a formulaic nature to the work obvious to scholars of hagiography (the study of saints’ lives – I challenge you to weave that word seemlessly into your everyday conversations this week!)

Perhaps the most fantastical story is when Columba, seeking solitude for prayer on a remote part of Iona, is attacked by countless hordes of “foul black devils armed with iron spikes and drawn up ready for battle … he was protected by the armour of St. Paul and flung himself into a great conflict. The battle continued most of the day, and the hosts were unable to vanquish him, while he could not drive them away from Iona on his own”  until the angels of the Lord appeared to scare them off.

Personal rating:  For a bit of atmosphere I also played some Gregorian chant at a low volume while reading 🙂 7/10

Also in the years 630-700 AD:

  • Mohammad captures Mecca 630, dies 632
  • Mercians kill Edwin, ending Northumbrian dominance in England 633
  • Arabs invade Egypt 640, conquer Persian Empire 642 and Egypt 643, Cyprus 649 and Armenia 653
  • Synod of Whitby replaces Roman orthodoxy in place of Celtic Church 664
  • Arabs and Byzantines fight over Constantinople 673-678
  • Pueblo culture flourishing in southwestern USA 

from The Book of Key Facts, Paddington Press, 1978.

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