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. "

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