Saint Columban

Saint Columban
Statue of Saint Columban at the parish church of St. Columban in Bavendorf. Adaptation of a photo by Andreas Praefcke, who has kindly released it into the Public Domain

This profile of Saint Columban is part of
Who's Who in Medieval History

Saint Columban was also known as:

Saint Columbanus. It is important to distinguish Columban from Saint Columba, another Irish saint who evangelized Scotland.

Saint Columban was known for:

Journeying to the continent to preach the Gospel. Columban established monasteries in France and Italy, and helped spark a revival of Christian spirituality throughout Europe.


Cleric and Monastic

Places of Residence and Influence:

Great Britain: Ireland

Important Dates:

Born: c. 543
Died: November 23, 615

About Saint Columban:

Born in Leinster c. 543, Columban entered a monastery in Bangor, County Down, Ireland, probably while still in his twenties. He spent many years there in intensive study and was noted for the fervor of his devotion. At about age 40 he began to believe that God was calling on him to preach the Gospel abroad. Eventually he wore down his abbot, who gave his consent, and Columban set off for foreign lands.

Departing Ireland with a dozen monks, Columban set sail for Britain, probably landing in Scotland first, then moving south to England. He didn't stay there long. Soon he had moved on to France, where he and his companions immediately began their evangelizing. At that time in France there were few religious of any note, and Columban and his monks attracted a great deal of interest and attention.

Proceeding to Burgundy, Columban was welcomed by King Gontram, who allowed him and his monks to use the old Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains as his retreat. The monks lived humbly and purely, and they developed a reputation for sanctity that attracted many devout Christians seeking to join the community and sick people seeking a cure. Using donations of land from King Gontram, Columban had more monasteries built to accommodate the growing population of their little community, first at Luxeuil and then at Fontaines.

Columban enjoyed a reputation for piety, but he became unpopular among the Burgundian nobles and clergy because he attacked their degeneracy. Using the premise that he was keeping to the Celtic date of Easter instead of the Roman one, a synod of French bishops indicted Columban. But the monk would not appear before them to be sentenced. Instead he wrote to Pope Gregory I, pleading his case. No reply has survived, probably due to the fact that Gregory died around this time.

Eventually, Columban was forcibly removed from his monastery. He and several other monks found their way to Switzerland but, after preaching to the Alemanni, they were compelled to leave there, too. Ultimately he crossed the Alps into Lombardy, where he was well received by King Agilulf and Queen Theodelinda. In time, the king gave Columban land called Bobbio on which he founded a monastery. There he lived out his days until his death on November 23, 615.

Columban had used his time to learn a great deal, and became well-versed in Latin and Greek. He left behind him letters, sermons, poems, a penitential and, of course, a monastic rule. Throughout his travels, Columban inspired Christian devotion wherever he went, beginning a revival of spirituality that spread throughout Europe.

More Saint Columban Resources:

Saint Columban on the Web

St. Columbanus
Informative bio by Columba Edmonds at the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Medieval Ireland
Medieval France
Medieval Italy

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