Monday, March 12, 2012

Columba of Iona

Columba of Iona (521—597) was a Celtic monk from Ireland who founded a number of monasteries including one on the Scottish island of Iona. He is credited with leading the Picts of northern Scotland to Christ, and establishing a missionary school which further contributed to the spread of the gospel. Columba — the name he’s best known by — means dove; the Irish called him Columcille, which means dove of the church.

In 540, his master Finnian brought the first copy of Jerome’s Vulgate to Ireland. The young Columba surreptitiously in the night made a copy of the Psalter for himself. The Irish king, Diarmaid, made the following copyright ruling: "To every cow her calf, and to every book its son-book. Therefore the copy you made, O Colum Cille, belongs to Finnian."

Details of his life come to us from Adomnan — who was Abbott of Iona, and wrote almost a century after Columba’s death — and later from Bede. Their writings were based on the oral traditions of the monastery, and earlier writings which have not survived.

Columcille's Poem

Delightful to me to be on an island hill, on the crest of a rock,
that I might often watch the quiet sea;

That I might watch the heavy waves above the bright water,
as they chant music to their Father everlastingly.

That I might watch its smooth, bright-bordered shore, no gloomy
that I might hear the cry of the strange birds, a pleasing sound;

That I might hear the murmur of the long waves against the rocks,
that I might hear the sound of the sea, like mourning beside a

That I might watch the splendid flocks of birds over the
--------well-watered sea,
that I might see its mighty whales, the greatest wonder.

That I might watch its ebb and flood in their course,
that my name should be — it is a secret that I tell — "he who
--------turned his back upon Ireland;"

That I might have a contrite heart as I watch,
that I might repent my many sins, hard to tell;

That I might bless the Lord who rules all things,
heaven with its splendid host, earth, ebb, and flood...

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: