Famous Scots
- Saint Columba (521 - 597)

Stained Glass Window to St Columba in Edinburgh Castle

Stained Glass Window to St Columba in Edinburgh Castle

It could be argued quite correctly that St Columba (also known as Colum-Cille) is not a "Scot" at all but Irish, as he was born on 7 December, 521AD, in Donegal in Ireland. But he became a major figure in Scotland's early history and his legacy in the form of the Iona Community has remained with us for over 1400 years.

Despite a lengthy account of his life written by St Adamnan (who died in 702AD), the details of early days of St Columba are somewhat unreliable. He is said to have been of royal descent through both his father and mother and was given a religious education by a priest who became his foster father. He later founded monasteries at Derry, Durrow and Kells. But he fell foul of King Diarmit who had executed a member of Columba's family and had forbidden Columba to retain a copy of a Psalter which he had borrowed. Despite his Latin name "Columba" meaning "dove", he had a fiery temper and instead of turning the other cheek, Columba raised an army and defeated King Diarmit (in 561AD). But for this crime he was excommunicated and as a penance he was told to convert to Christianity as many men as had died in battle - but this had to be carried out away from Ireland.

The Scotii from Ireland had been emigrating across the water to Dalriada (present day Argyll) so it was natural that he should head in that direction. In 563, with 12 companions, he established a monastery on Iona, off the island of Mull (there may have already have been a church there).

Columba is credited with converting King Bridei (Brude), the leader of the Picts in Highland Scotland to Christianity. This of course helped to strengthen the position of his compatriots, the Scotii in Dalriada (Argyll). Columba is also said to have persuaded the people of Dalriada to elect Aidan who proved to be a powerful warrior. He died on Iona on 9 June, 597AD.

St Columba's exploits were perhaps no greater than other clerics at the time (such as St Kentigern, otherwise known as St Mungo) but St Adamnan's detailed biography of Columba was passed down from generation to generation, making him appear larger than life. And of course, the abbey and the community at Iona has survived to this day. Its sanctity and importance can be measured by the fact that there are 48 Scottish kings buried on the island. It was St Aidan, a monk from Iona who was invited by King Oswald of Northumbria to be the Abbot at Lindesfarne and Aidan's successor travelled as far south as Mercia and Essex in southern England - meeting up with the Romanised Christians in those areas.

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