Columbanus : biography
Columbanus ( 543 – 21 November 615) was an Irish missionary notable for founding a number of monasteries on the European continent from around 590 in the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms, most notably Luxeuil Abbey in present-day France and Bobbio Abbey in present-day Italy. He is remembered as an exemplar of Irish missionary activity in early medieval Europe.
Columbanus taught a Celtic monastic rule and Celtic penitential practices for those repenting of sins, which emphasized private confession to a priest, followed by penances levied by the priest in reparation for the sins. Columbanus is one of the earliest identifiable Hiberno-Latin writers.
In France, the ruins of Columbanus’ first monastery at Annegray are legally protected through the efforts of the Association Internationale des Amis de St Columban, which purchased the site in 1959. The association also owns and protects the site containing the cave, which acted as Columbanus’ cell, and the holy well, which he created nearby. At Luxeuil-les-Bains, the Basilica of Saint Peter stands on the site of Columbanus’ first church. A statue near the entrance, unveiled in 1947, shows him denouncing the immoral life of King Theuderic II. Formally an abbey church, the basilica contains old monastic buildings, which have been used as a minor seminary since the nineteenth century. It is dedicated to Columbanus and houses a bronze statue of him in its courtyard.
In Lombardy, San Colombano al Lambro in Milan, San Colombano Belmonte in Turin, and San Colombano Certénoli in Genoa all take their names from the saint. The last monastery erected by Columbanus at Bobbio remained for centuries the stronghold of orthodoxy in northern Italy.
If Bobbio Abbey in Italy became a citadel of faith and learning, Luxeuil Abbey in France became the "nursery of saints and apostles". The monastery produced sixty-three apostles who carried his rule, together with the Gospel, into France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.Stokes, p. 254. These disciples of Columbanus are accredited with founding over one hundred different monasteries.Stokes, p. 74. The canton and town still bearing the name of St. Gallen testify to how well one of his disciples succeeded.
Columbanus did not lead a perfect life. According to Jonas and other sources, he could be impetuous and even headstrong, for by nature he was eager, passionate, and dauntless. These qualities were both the source of his power and the cause of his mistakes. His virtues, however, were quite remarkable. Like many saints, he had a great love for God’s creatures. As he walked in the woods, it was not uncommon for birds to land on his shoulders to be caressed, or for squirrels to run down from the trees and nestle in the folds of his cowl. Although a strong defender of his Celtic traditions, he never wavered in showing deep respect for the Holy See as the supreme authority. His influence in Europe was due to the conversions he effected and to the rule that he composed. It may be that the example and success of Saint Columba in Caledonia inspired him to similar exertions. The life of Columbanus stands as the prototype of missionary activity in Europe, followed by such men as Saint Kilian, Vergilius of Salzburg, Donatus of Fiesole, Wilfrid, Willibrord, Suitbert of Kaiserwerdt, Saint Boniface, and Ursicinus of Saint-Ursanne.
Remains of Columbanus, [[Bobbio Abbey crypt]] The remains of Columbanus are preserved in the crypt at Bobbio Abbey. Many miracles have been credited to his intercession. In 1482, the relics were placed in a new shrine and laid beneath the altar of the crypt. The sacristy at Bobbio possesses a portion of the skull of the saint, his knife, wooden cup, bell, and an ancient water vessel, formerly containing sacred relics and said to have been given to him by Pope Gregory I. According to some authorities, twelve teeth of the saint were taken from the tomb in the fifteenth century and kept in the treasury, but these have since disappeared.Stokes, p. 183.