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The Life of St. Columba by Adomnan of Iona

The Life of St. Columba

by Adomnan of Iona

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Where is the real Columba beneath the avalanche of prophecy, miracles, visions, and horns of light? I hope he's best glimpsed in the passage where he protects a heron, a pilgrim, like Columba himself and all of us, from across the sea. ( )
  Michael.Xolotl | Nov 11, 2015 |
  humsafar | Nov 8, 2012 |
Written c697 by a successor and distant relative of Columba, this is a work very much in the tradition of the early medieval saints' lives. Which is to say, there's a strong emphasis on the miraculous and supernatural. But it's far more 'normal' than some of the really left-field Vitae, and in passing has quite a bit of interesting detail about life, work and worship at Iona under Columba. Adomnán is very big on saying who his sources were, and often comments on where events purportedly took place, even if he rarely mentions the dates.

The translation (by Richard Sharpe from penguin Classics) is very readable, and occasionally amusing. It also has 270 pages of introduction, maps, genealogical tables, notes, further reading and index - two thirds of the book, with only one third being the actual text. But the historical and linguistic information in the notes and introduction is fascinating as well as extensive, and I really enjoyed reading it all.

My favourite story has to be this one:

{II 29} Of a knife which St Columba blessed with the sign of the Lord's cross.

Once, one of the brethren ... came to the saint while he was engaged in copying a manuscript and asked him:
'Please bless this implement which I have in my hand.'
St Columba did not look up, but continued to keep his eyes on the book from which he was copying. However, he reached out his hand a little way and, still holding his pen, made the sign of the cross. ... later St Columba asked Diarmait, his loyal servant:
'What was the implement I blessed for our brother?'
'A knife', said Diarmait, 'for the slaughtering of bulls or cattle.'
'I trust in my Lord,' added St Columba, 'that the implement I have blessed will not harm man or beast.'
No more than an hour had gone by before the saint's word was proved entirely true. ... Though {the monk with the knife} tried three times {to slaughter a bullock}, pressing very hard with the knife, yet he found he was unable to get the knife through the skin. (pp177-8)

I love the picture of this preoccupied monk not bothering to look up from the book he's working on, but instead issuing blessings willy-nilly which he then has to go to all the bother of a miracle to clarify/undo.

Recommended for medievalists and church history geeks. :D ( )
2 vote catherinestead | Jun 15, 2011 |
Running to 432 pages, including 10 pages of maps and geneological tables, an introduction (100 pages), the translated Life (134 pages), scholarly footnotes (144 pages), bibliography and index, this is almost two books in one, and good value for the modest price.

I began reading this book reluctantly as part of the research for my Storyteller series, because Columba's life (521?-597) spans the period of my stories. I expected a dry, boring read: I was wrong. The introduction is interesting and well-written, with a large amount of helpful historical detail about the people and customs of this period, and the Life itself is lively and entertaining. Columba and his monastic family were important figures in 6th-8th century Scotland and Ireland, and anyone interested in this period should know their acts and history. ( )
  gwernin | Mar 7, 2008 |
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Although related to one of the ruling families of Ireland, Columba (c. 521-97) became a central figure in the "Age of Saints" by setting out from his native land and founding his famous monastery on the island of Iona. It was from here that priests and monks played a key role in converting the Picts of Scotland, here that countless penitents came on pilgrimages and that the King of Dalriada (Argyll) came to be consecrated. While essentially a work of hagiography focusing on St. Columba's miraculous powers and saintliness, this biography also illuminates the history of the early church in Ireland and Scotland and the impact of the monastic movement on the spread of Christianity throughout Britain and Europe. - Publisher.… (more)

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