St Columbanus, also known as Columban of Bobbio or Columba of Luxeuil was an abbot.
He was born in 543 AD in Leinster, Ireland.
He died on November 23 615 in a cave in Bobbio, Italy.
We celebrate his feast day on November 23 every year in the Catholic Church.
|St Columbanus Biography
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|November 23 615
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St Columbanus Life History
St Columbanus was born in 543 AD in Leinster, Ireland, to a family of privilege. Despite his well-born and handsome nature, he grappled with a desire for worldly pleasures alongside his longing for a deeper connection with God.
Following the guidance of a holy anchoress, he made the decision to withdraw from worldly pursuits. His family strongly opposed this choice, with his mother even going so far as to block the door.
He became a monk at Lough Erne, where he immersed himself in the study of Scripture and authored a commentary on the Psalms. Later, he joined the community of Bangor under the leadership of Saint Comgall.
In middle age, Columbanus felt a calling to embark on a missionary life. Accompanied by twelve companions, he journeyed through Scotland, England, and eventually to France in 585 AD.
While the region was nominally Christian, the faith had waned, but it was ready for the influence of missionaries, and their efforts were met with some success.
They were welcomed at the court of Gontram, the King of Burgundy, who invited them to stay. They chose to establish their new residence in the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains, with Columbanus serving as their abbot.
The group’s simple lives and their evident holiness attracted disciples and those seeking healing through their prayers.
To find solitude for prayer, Columbanus often lived for extended periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, staying connected with his brothers through a messenger.
As their numbers grew and the old fortress became overcrowded, King Gontram granted them the old castle of Luxeuil to found a new abbey in 590 AD.
Subsequently, a third house was established at Fontaines. Columbanus served as the master of all three monasteries and composed a Rule for them, incorporating various Celtic practices.
This Rule was approved by the Council of Macon in 627 AD, but it was later supplanted by the Benedictine Rule.
In the early 7th century AD, conflicts arose. Many Frankish bishops objected to a foreign missionary who held significant influence, brought Celtic practices, and differed in some Easter-related customs.
In 602 AD, Columbanus was summoned to appear before the bishops for judgment. Rather than appearing in person, he sent a letter advising them to hold more synods and to focus on more significant matters than the specific Easter rite he used.
The Easter dispute persisted for several years, with Columbanus appealing to multiple popes for assistance. Eventually, he abandoned the Celtic calendar when he relocated to Italy.
In addition to his clashes with the bishops, Columbanus openly criticized vice and corruption within the royal court and the nobility, who were involved in a series of complex power struggles.
Brunehault, in particular, stirred up opposition against the abbot. Thierry ordered him to conform to local customs and remain silent.
However, Columbanus refused, leading to a brief imprisonment in Besançon. He managed to escape and returned to Luxeuil.
Thierry and Brunehault dispatched an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. But, as they set sail, a storm forced them back to shore. Taking this as a sign, the captain released the monks.
They traveled to King Clothaire at Soissons, Neustria, and later to the court of King Theodebert of Austrasia in 611 AD.
From there, Columbanus and his companions journeyed to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, Suevi, Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich.
Saint Gall, who was proficient in the local language, led the way in this region, converting many to the faith, and the group established a new monastery as their residence and base.
However, political unrest caused Columbanus to cross the Alps into Italy, where he arrived in Milan in 612 AD.
The Christian royal family treated him with respect, and he preached against Arianism and Nestorianism while writing in opposition to these heresies.
As an expression of gratitude, the Lombard king granted him a tract of land called Bobbio, situated between Milan and Genoa.
There, Columbanus reconstructed a partially ruined church dedicated to Saint Peter, founding an abbey around it that would serve as a source of evangelization in northern Italy for centuries to come.
Columbanus had an affinity for the solitude of forests and caves, where birds and squirrels would gather around him as he walked.
Toward the end of his life, he received word of the death of his former adversaries, and his brothers urged him to return to the north.
However, he declined and retired to a cave for solitude, eventually dying as he had foreseen.
St Columbanus died on November 23, 615 AD, in a cave at Bobbio, Italy, and he was interred at the abbey church of Bobbio.
Miracles were reported at his tomb, and his relics were re-interred in a new altar there in 1482. In the early 20th century, the altar and shrine were refurbished, and the relics were once again re-interred.
Saint Columbanus is associated with several miracles:
- He miraculously provided food for a sick brother monk, leading to the cure of the donor’s wife.
- In the presence of wolves, he walked through them without harm.
- When he needed a cave for solitary prayer, he asked a bear that lived there to leave, and it complied.
- He prayed for water to live in the cave, and a spring emerged nearby.
- In a time of need, he multiplied bread and beer for his community.
- He healed several sick monks, who immediately rose from their beds to harvest the monastery’s crops.
- He restored sight to a blind man in Orleans.
- He miraculously destroyed a vat of beer being prepared for a pagan festival by simply breathing on it.
- To aid the monastery with its fieldwork, he tamed a bear and harnessed it to a plough.
His influence endured for centuries as the converts he led continued to spread the faith, the monks he instructed evangelized many more, and his brother monks established over a hundred monasteries to preserve knowledge and promote the Christian faith.
Saint Columban is the patron saint against floods, and his veneration is associated with Bobbio, Italy, the Missionary Society of Saint Columban, and motorcyclists.
In artistic representations, he is often depicted as a bearded monk among wolves, holding a book and an Irish satchel, or as a bearded monk taming a bear, with sunbeams over his head.
He may also be portrayed as a Benedictine monk holding an abbot’s staff and a missioner’s cross, wearing the sun on his chest, or with a bear nearby.
Another depiction shows him as a monk in a bear’s den, with a spring emerging while he prays.
Among his written works are the Penitential, seventeen short sermons, six epistles, Latin poems, and a Monastic Rule.
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