Columbanus is born in the southeast of the country, on the border of Carlow and Wexford in 543. Prior to his birth, his mother dreams of a brilliant sun, which arises from her breast and illuminates the whole world. As a premonition, it doesn't fall too wide of the mark.

As a youth, Columbanus' good looks win him unwanted attention from the opposite gender. He takes the advice of a holy woman, who tells him to steer clear of such entanglements. Columbanus sets his sights on a life of self-sacrifice.

Columbanus' mother is distraught at the thought of his leaving, and pleads with her son to stay. All to no avail, however, as Columbanus steps across her prostrate body, and tells her not to grieve.

He studies under Sinell in Cleenish, and while there, forms his decision to become a monk. Columbanus leaves for Bangor, the monastery with the most ascetic ethos in the country.
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     The austerity of Abbot Comgall's regime suits Columbanus' temperament. He thrives there, one of the few to be raised to the priesthood from among the brethren. He becomes an important figure in Bangor, a valued member of staff. As a result, when Columbanus first approaches
Comgall with a view to going abroad, he isn't met with enthusiasm. In the end however, persistence pays off, and Comgall agrees to the departure of his star protégé.
Columbanus sails out from Bangor in 590 with twelve of his brethren, travelling via Cornwall to St Malo in France. They take the Roman road east to Rheims, the capital of the kingdom of the Franks.

St. Columbanus in France

At this time in history, this part of Europe has experienced war between rival kingdoms. Coupled with the negligence of local bishops, this has led to a breakdown in the practice of religion. Be that as it may, Columbanus and his brethren are well received by King Gunthran of Burgundy and Austrasia, who begs the Irish party to remain in his kingdom.
Columbanus agrees to stay, but insists on a remote location. He finds a suitable site in the mountainous region of the Vosges, in an old Roman settlement called Annegray. There, the monks attempt to survive on a diet of herbs, roots and the bark of trees. Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of Saulcy monastery, a day's journey away. Abbot Carantoc instructs his cellarer, Marculf, to bring supplies to the new arrivals in the region.
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     Marculf brings back stories about the new community and their ascetic lifestyle. As a result, people start to flock in pilgrimage to those who have left the world behind in Annegray. Columbanus regularly retreats from his community and pilgrims to a cave four hundred feet above the monastery in the valley of the Breuchin.

Annegray attracts vocations in such number that it is necessary to open a second monastery. Columbanus travels eight miles west to Luxeuil, and with the permission of the young King Childebert II, begins his second foundation. It is destined for fame and success, and to outgrow Annegray. Indeed, it grows at such a rate, that a third monastery is opened at Fontaine, three miles north of Luxeuil. Luxeuil is the motherhouse of the three monasteries.


The Rule, which Columbanus devises for his three monasteries, is based on the asceticism he learned at Bangor. Obedience is the cornerstone of the system, and there is great emphasis laid on the confession of faults.

In spite of the success of the monasteries, Columbanus is not a favourite with the local Church hierarchy. His strict adherence to monastic discipline makes those who have committed simony and adultery feel uncomfortable. As well as that, his unauthorised foundations and independence of action ignore the bishops' prerogative.

Following the death of King Childebert II in 595, the political situation changes. Theuderich, the new king of Burgundy, has four children by his concubines. When his mother, Brunhilde, parades them before Columbanus on one of his visits to the royal household, the Irishman refuses to bless them, saying: "These will never hold the royal sceptre because they were begotten in sin." It is the beginning of a downturn in relations.

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St. Columbanus in France

    Theuderich demands access to all areas of Luxeuil monastery, something Columbanus refuses outright. Theuderich decrees that monks who cut themselves off from the world must leave Burgundy and return to their country of origin. Thus Columbanus must make his way across France to Nantes, a journey of six hundred miles.


In spite of his age - he is nearing 70 - Columbanus completes the journey, and is all set to leave France. However, fate intervenes in the shape of a storm, which blows up at the mouth of the Loire, driving Columbanus' ship aground. The captain of the vessel interprets the storm as a sign from God that the monks were meant to remain here.
With the relationship with King Theuderich irreparable, Columbanus heads north to Soissons, to the court of King Clothair II of Neustrasia. Following a hospitable reception, he journeys on to Metz, to the court of King Theudebert of Austrasia. Also there to meet Columbanus are members of the Luxeuil community, who had learned of his journey. Theudebert invites the monks to settle in his kingdom and preach to the pagan tribes on the eastern border.  

Travelling over water, through the Moselle and the Rhine and its tributaries, Columbanus and his brethren come to Bregenz on the southern shore of Lake Constance. Their monastery here lasts from the latter part of 610 to the beginning of 612. Once again, politics plays a key part in Columbanus' fate.


St. Columbanus in Austria

In the spring of 612, war breaks out between Austrasia and Burgundy, with Columbanus' supporter, King Theudebert, being comprehensively beaten by King Theuderich. With Austrasia now added to the kingdom of Burgundy, Columbanus finds himself in a vulnerable position. Over the past eighteen months, he and his monks have undertaken an uncompromising brand of mission, smashing pagan idols and disrupting pagan ceremonies. Now, with monks being murdered in the woods, the writing is on the wall for Columbanus. It's time to move

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     Columbanus decides to head for Italy, a suggestion that fails to meet with the favour of his mostly Germanic brethren. Even Gall is reluctant to follow his fellow expatriate into this next remove. Forbidding Gall to say Mass while he himself is still alive, Columanus travels towards the Alps with a reduced party of monks.


St. Columbanus in Italy
Thus he comes to the court of King Agiluf and Queen Theudelina in Lombardy, an area of Italy settled by German tribes in Columbanus' own lifetime.
He spends much of 613 in Milan, displaying all his customary drive as he throws himself into the Arian controversy surrounding the divinity of Christ. The Christians of Lombardy, including the king and queen, are all Arians, and not loyal to the doctrine of Rome.

Fortunately, this doctrinal difference doesn't sour relations between monk and king, and Columbanus is offered a site seventy miles south, where the Bobbio stream flows into the Trebbia on its way to the Po. Columbanus gladly accepts, and before the winter of 614 sets in, a new Irish monastery called Bobbio takes shape in the foothills of the Apennines.

It is to be the last of Columbanus' foundations and his final resting place. In his last days on earth, his thoughts turn to Gall, the last of the gang from Bangor. Nearing death, Columbanus orders that his staff be sent to Gall as a token of forgiveness. In the early hours of Sunday 23 November, 615, Columbanus breathes his last. Gall duly receives the staff, treasuring it till his own death in 630 on the shore of Lake Constance.

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