Wednesday, 17 June 2015

A Collect for Saint Columba

To mark the octave day of the feast of Saint Colum Cille and to conclude the series of posts in his honour, below is a beautiful collect taken from the Mass for his feast day:

Breathe into our hearts, we entreat you, Lord, a longing for heavenly glory: and grant that we may bear in our hands sheaves of justice thither, where the holy abbot Columba shines with you. Through Our Lord.

Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, O.S.B., Saint Andrew Sunday Missal (Bruges, 1957), 856.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Hagiography and Saint Colum Cille

Although the Life of Columba by Saint Adamnan is one of the most famous works of hagiography, it is not the sole one written about our saint. The Betha Colaim Chille, written by the sixteenth-century Donegal chieftain Manus O'Donnell, contains many stories and local lore not found in its more famous predecessor. The editors and translators of the 1918 edition made this observation about the hagiographical traditions relating to Saint Colum Cille as O'Donnell found them:

In the miracles, prophecies, and visions of Columcille, there is much that is of familiar hagiographical pattern. Those who loved his memory, like those who treasured that of other saints, would permit their favorite to yield to none in sanctity and power. Fair traceries from the shrines of many another holy man are borrowed to deck that of the beloved patron. There are stories of the holy men that were Columcille 's friends, and of those who were his teachers and pupils.  Visits to France and pilgrimages to Rome have been added, and other practices conforming to the habits of saints of later date. Local legends explain the origin of land grants and taxes which readers of the Life were paying—or neglecting to pay—to Columcille's successors. Many an anecdote testifies to the genuineness of relics in this place or that — the Golden Leaf in Iona, the Red Stone of Gartan, and not a few others.

Many a miracle of Patrick or of Bridget, of the apostles and of Hebrew prophets, is told and retold of Columcille. Was he not like them in life and in works, and what the others did, should not he do also? And so Columcille, like other saints, strikes fountains from rocks, blesses stones and salt to heal maladies, illumines dark places with his hands, and by a thousand miracles already told a thousand times of other holy men, proves that indeed "there hath not come patriarch nor prophet, nor evangelist, nor apostle, nor martyr, nor confessor, nor virgin, that we may not liken Columcille to him or set him in some degree of perfection above all of them. " 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Saint Colum Cille and Saint Brigid's Blessed Thought

107. On a time Brigid was going over the plain of Liffey. And as the holy virgin then beheld the fair plain before her, she said that if hers were the power over that plain, she would give it to God Almighty.

And that blessed thought of Brigid 's was made known to Colum Cille in his abbey church at Swords, and he cried with a loud voice, '' It is as much for the virgin to have that thought as to bestow the plain," said he.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Saint Columba's Case Book

Below is a commentary on Saint Colum Cille's life and work from a medical perspective which I first contributed as a post to the celt-list back in 2009.  The career of Saint Colum Cille is so multi-faceted that to see him described as 'one of Britain's early GPs' seems like just one more string to this great saint's bow. It is interesting though to see the healing miracles of hagiography subjected to scientific analysis and for the saint to emerge with the doctor's respect.

St Columba's case book

by Duncan L Hunter

British Medical Journal Feb 19, 2000

Was St Columba of Iona a doctor or a saint? St Columba was an early Christian saint who founded a monastery on Iona, but his Life, published at the end of the fifth century by Adomnan, suggests that he was also one of Britain's early GPs.[1] Written a century after his death, the stories rely heavily on Christian symbolism as they were based on tales circulating among the monks and were written by an abbot, about an abbot. However, if you ignore the miraculous hyperbole, Book II can be read as a description of early British medicine. Columba seems to have been a widely respected GP with some knowledge of public health medicine.

He investigated two epidemics, once by identifying a point source infection from a well (anyone who drank from the well or intentionally washed his hands or feet in it was struck down--people became leprous or half blind or were afflicted) and once by attempting to treat a possible smallpox outbreak (awful sores of pus on the bodies of people and on the udders of cattle) with penicillin (bread dipped in water). Columba can be forgiven for not recognising that the virus would not respond to penicillin, which in any case was not discovered for another 13 centuries. He was also unlikely to have heard of
trichinosis, but he knew enough to warn of the dangers of eating undercooked pork. One impatient farmer did not wait and slaughtered a pig too soon (he was impatient to have his first taste of the meat--as soon as a morsel of meat was cooked, he called for it to taste it), and he died.

Columba was ready to treat whoever showed up at his clinic and sometimes did house calls. A young woman stumbled on her way home and broke her hip in two; while Columba does not reveal the contents of his doctor's bag (a little pinewood box), the bone successfully mended. A young man presented with a chronic nosebleed, which Columba healed by applying pressure to the nostrils with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. A couple came for counselling when a patient complained that his wife would not sleep with him. She told Columba, "Do not make me share a bed with Luigne." Columba successfully recommended a combination of controlled dieting (fasting) and counselling. On another occasion, he was called out at night to attend a woman in labour who was suffering great pains during a difficult childbirth. Columba chose prayer or "watchful waiting."

Perhaps Columba's most interesting intervention came in cardiology. A middle aged man with type A personality (Broichan's heart was hard and unbending) suffered a heart attack, attributed to a heavy blow from an angel, which left him struggling for breath and near to death. Columba prescribed the cardiac drug of choice, perhaps a nitrate (a white rock dipped in water, that floated miraculously on the water like an apple or a nut). The patient took the draught and completely recovered. This miracle drug healed many people and was so effective that it was kept in the royal treasury until it was used up.

Little acknowledgement of Dr Columba's contribution to medicine remains today. A monastery on Iona still exists and is the destination to many persons seeking spiritual healing. Those requiring treatment for physical problems must travel by ferry across the Sound of Iona to Mull or await the Oban ambulance.

[1] Adomnan of Iona. Life of St. Columba [translated by Richard Sharpe]. London: Penguin Books, 1995.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Saint Colum Cille Rescues a Pagan from a Demon

According to a legend, in the time of St. Columba, a pagan temple had been erected by some Magus,who set up in it glass images, representing the Sun and Moon and Stars. Shortly afterwards, a great swoon came on that Magus, and a demon bore him off through the air. But while both passed over the head of Columkille, this saint made a sign of the cross in the air. Instantly the magician fell to the earth at his feet. In remembrance of this rescue from the demon's power, and in gratitude to Columba, the Gentile priest is said to have dedicated his temple to the saint. Afterwards, this Magus became a monk, and thenceforth he lived a very holy and pious life.

Rev. J. O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume VI, 516.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Saint Colum Cille Heals his Attendant, Diarmit

Another time, the saint's faithful attendant Diarmit sickened even to death, and the saint went to visit him in that extremity. Standing by the bedside, Columba invoked Christ's holy name. He prayed, also, and after this manner: "I beseech thee, O Lord, be favourable to me, and let not the soul of my pious servant be taken out of this mortal life, before the course of my days." After praying thus, Columba held his peace for a little. Then opening his blessed lips, he said : "This my loving child shall not only escape danger, at this crisis of his infirmity; but, he shall moreover live for many years, after my death". Diarmit was delivered incontinently from his  disease; and, in good health, he survived the saint many a long year.

Rev. J. O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume VI, 422-423.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Saint Colum Cille Prophecies the Death of a Stranger

Hearing some person shouting across the strait, one day, the saint spoke the following words : "That man who is shouting is much to be pitied, for he is coming to ask us for some cure for the disease of his body; but, it were better for him this day to have true penance for his sins, since at the close of this week he shall die." Those who were present told such words to the unhappy man, when he arrived. Yet slighting them, the stranger received what he had asked, and departed quickly; but, before the end of that same week, he died, according to the prophetic word of the saint.

Rev. J. O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume VI, 422.