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December 7 is celebrated as the birthday of St Columba. Over the past 12 months there have been many events throughout Scotland, Ireland and beyond to mark the 1500th anniversary of his birth. For example, last June the Scottish Bishops welcomed Archbishop Gugerotti, the Pope’s representative to Scotland, to Iona for St Columba’s Feast Day. Meanwhile one of our priests wrote a beautiful Novena to Columba in Irish, Gaelic and English.
Columba or Colum Cille means ‘dove of the Church’. St Columba came from Ireland to Iona in 563. He was not the first person to preach Christianity in our locality but he is the most famous. His personal holiness, charisma and integrity attracted many followers during his lifetime. His monastery of Iona left a legacy of spirituality, learning and culture that benefited not only Scotland, Ireland and England but much of mainland Europe. For example, the Book of Kells (written on Iona but transferred to the Irish monastery of Kells for safe keeping during the Viking attacks), is a book of the Gospels. It is widely considered as one of medieval Europe’s masterpieces. The book’s inks came from many places including Afghanistan! Today we see Iona as remote but there was nothing inward about Columba’s monastery.
Columba often retreated to the Island formerly known as Hinba for quiet prayer. Columba’s legacy demonstrates that he encouraged academic learning, dialogue and culture but it must not be forgotten that everything he did was rooted in faith. Today there is a temptation to think that we are too busy to pray. Likewise some claim that there is no place for faith in academia or culture. Columba not only showed that this is false thinking but that a deep relationship with God is necessary for helping us both to reach out to others in love and to achieve our own true fulfilment.
Bishop Brian McGee