Thursday 9 June 2016

The Dove Ascends Beyond the Sky: A Hymn for the Feast of Saint Colum Cille

I was interested to see in an appendix to a biography of Saint Colum Cille by an eighteenth-century Scottish minister, the Rev. John Smith, Minister of Campbeltown, a translation of a hymn from the office for the feast. The 1620 date cited was a clue that this was most likely from the Office published by the seventeenth-century hagiologist Thomas Messingham and so indeed it proved to be. Although I was somewhat surprised to see a Scottish Presbyterian make use of the work of an Irish Catholic hagiologist who would have held a very different view of the saints, I can see that references to Saint Colum Cille entrusting his flock to the guidance of Christ by his gracious word would have been very congenial to our Campbeltown cleric. I would not though share his conviction that this is a hymn written soon after the death of the saint by his immediate successor(s). Its origins more likely lie in the texts composed for the 12th-century Translation of the Relics of the Three Patrons, also initially commemorated on June 9, on which you can read more here.

T. Messingham, Florilegium (1620)

From its connection with the subject, it may not be improper to add the following translation of a hymn used in the Office for the Festival of St. Columba, and published in Paris, in the year 1620, from an ancient MS. It was probably composed by Baithen, or some other of Columba's disciples, soon after his death. 


 WITH snowy pinions soaring high, 
 The Dove* ascends beyond the sky; 
 He scorns the earth, he leaves its clay,
 And perches in the realms of day. 

There his refulgent colours shine, 
 Reflecting back the light divine. 
 But here his tender brood he left, 
 Of their dear parent now bereft. 

 Yet, ere he mounted to the skies, 
 With many prayers, tears and cries, 
 Their charge he gave to Christ his Lord, 
 To guide them by his gracious word, 
 And bring them to the same abode 
 In which their father lives with God. 

 O God ! who didst our father hear, 
 Be to his children ever near; 
 And grace vouchsafe to lead us on, 
 Until we meet him at thy throne.
* Alluding to his name, which means "a Dove."

Rev. J. Smith,  The Life of Saint Columba, The Apostle of the Highlands (Glasgow 1824), 178-179.

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