Monday, November 24, 2008

Columbanus (543- 615)

Cloumbanus born in 543 at Nobber, County Meath, is perhaps the first of the classic Irish archetypes - the exile who travels overseas, lives a rich and full life yet constantly longs for his native shore.

His biographer Jonas of Bibbio tells us that he was a handsome lad who fleeing youthful temptation sought out Sinell, Abbot of Cluaninis in Lough Erne as a soul friend. Under Sinell's instruction, Columbanus composed a commentary on the Psalms.

Eventually he moved to the recently established monastery in Bangor and under abbot Comgall embraced the monastic life. Around the age of 40 Columbanus felt God was calling him to bring the Gospel to far away lands. Intially his intention desire was ignored by his community at Bangor, but after much persistence consent was given.

In 590 Columbanus with a group of twelve set sail for Brittany. He travelled across France, and with the support of the Frankish king Childebert, he founded a small monastery at Annegray The abott and his monks led the simplest of lives. Every where they went people were struck by their humble and Christ like character.

Eventually his relationship with the royal family grew frosty and after a twenty year sojourn was forced to leave France with a band of brothers.

In his sixties he founded a monastery in the wild Apline edges of what is now Switzerland and then set out down the Rhine. Eventually he headed over the Alps into Northern Italy, leaving behind his old companion Gall to continue founding communities.Well received at the royal court in Milan Columbanus was given permission to found a monastery in Bobbio, in the Appenines south west of Piacenza.

Jonas recalls Columbanus carrying huge wooden beams as he worked to restore the ruined church he'd been given. By this time in his seventies his health began to fail. He died in Novenber 615, around a year after he'd arrived in Italy.

Within 50 years of his death there were over 100 foundations with ties to Columbanus's hub communities in Luxeuil and Bibbio. He also left behind an invaluable collection of his writings, including letters, sermons and monastic rules.

The collapse of the Roman Empire, the invasion of barbarians, and the state of the cultural and religious life at the time left a spiritual void in Europe that was ripe for such a band of preacher monks. Lead by Columbanus they cut a swath through France Switzerland Austria Germany and Italy, establishing celtic style monastic communities. Transforming Europe as they went.

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