Columba (Colum Cille)
Of all the
Dark Age Scottish saints, Columba is the most spectacular star.
In 563 AD Columba left Ireland and settled with the Gaels of Dál
Riata, where he was granted the Island of Iona to found his monastery.
the Gaelic warrior kings, Columba was a useful asset. His monastery
provided education for their sons, he was a close advisor to the
king, and he served as a diplomat to the kings neighbours
in Pictland and Ireland. Columbas blessing was treasured
by kings - a powerful symbol of their authority, and, in return
for Columbas support, the Gaels gave the monastery land
in 597, but his monasterys influence continued to grow,
faced competition from other Irish monastic missions,
however, and their religious power was not absolute.
St Mael Rhuba at Applecross or St Donnan, who was
martyred on the Isle of Eigg, were also contenders
as early spiritual leaders of the Church.
leading to the foundation of new monasteries in Ireland and as
far away as
Lindisfarne in Northumbria. In Pictland, Columban monks began
to spread the
word of Christianity in the seventh century.
Columba himself would have remained an enigmatic and
little-known figure were it not for Adomnán,
the ninth Abbot of Iona, and his book, the Vita
(Life of Columba), which ensured that the saint's
reputation eclipsed that of the other Scottish saints
and spread Ionas fame across Christendom.
Pilgrimage to Iona increased: kings wished to be buried
near to Columba, and
a network of Celtic high crosses and processional
around his shrine. At its zenith Iona produced The
Book of Kells, a
masterpiece of Dark Age European art. Shortly after however,
in 794 AD, the Vikings descended on Iona, and, within
50 years, they had extinguished the light which had been
Iona. Columbas relics were finally removed in 849
AD and divided between Alba and Ireland.
The Monymusk Reliquary, from around 750 AD, probably
contained a relic of St Columba. It became a powerful
symbol of nationhood, and was carried before the Scots
army as it marched into war.
This reliquary is thought to be the Brechbennoch which
was carried by the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn
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