Thursday 23 November 2023

Saint Columbanus

In 1923 the 1300th anniversary of Saint Columbanus was celebrated at Bobbio and below is a report from The New Zealand Tablet describing the festivities. In addition to capturing something of the pride with which the newly-established Irish Free State regarded this important saint, it also links the spiritual and secular European dimension as the Irish delegates leave Bobbio to seek admission to the League of Nations: 

The New Zealand Tablet 



LAST week we published accounts of the centenary celebrations held at Bobbio in honor of St. Columbanus, giving such extracts from the Pope's brief as had come to hand. The latest mails brought us the complete text of this edifying and masterly review of the labors of the great Irish missionary saint. Our readers will find the Pope's glowing and eloquent words in another page of our present issue, and they will note for themselves how the Supreme Pontiff honors Columbanus by placing him among the men of Providence, chosen in the designs of God to protect the Church and safeguard her interests in times of storm and stress. In the person of her Primate, the land of St. Columbanus was worthily represented at the ceremonies, while the presence of the President of the Free State, with his attendant staff, further identified Catholic Ireland with the extraordinary memorial of her glorious past which took place in that Italian town in September last, thirteen hundred years after the death of the Saint.

The celebrations, and the Papal brief, bring into brighter light the pictures of the far-away years painted for us by historians who love to dwell on the Golden Age of the Island of Saints and Scholars. It was in Irish schools and by Irish monks that Columbanus was educated; and, equipped with the learning acquired there in his youth, he was called by God to leave his own native land and to become as a torch-bearer in many parts of the Continent of Europe. Other Irish missionaries received the same call and answered it as gladly as the Saint whose ashes are honored at Bobbio. Memory readily recalls a long bead-roll of their bright names, and the map of Europe has preserved many of them to the present day. But that a special mission was given Columbanus is evident from the remarkable testimony of Pope Pius XI., that this Irish monk, by his zeal and learning, had an influence on the rebirth of Christian knowledge and civilisation throughout France, Germany, and Italy, so great that it is only now becoming adequately appreciated by the students of history. He was a luminous example of the virtues of the priesthood, a man of profound learning, a courageous champion of the truth, a fearless lover of Christ, a captain among that chosen band of exiles from Erin who in different ages were inspired by the desire to become pilgrims for their Lord — Peregrinari pro Christo, was their watchword. With gratitude, all sons of Ireland will read the passage in which the Pope bears witness to the purity of faith and the excellence of learning which in those distant ages fitted Ireland to be the fruitful mother of missionaries: 

Christian civilisation (he says) had almost collapsed, and the glory of the arts which are the ornament of civil life seemed to be gone forever. It is marvellous how Ireland, justly called the Island of Saints; and no less justly the home of the arts and sciences, shone forth amid the darkness and the clouds of those days in her love of religion and civilisation. History tells us that the deep recesses of her valleys and forests echoed with the prayers and the works of her hermits, and that there arose numerous monasteries, which stood as so many schools of sanctity, and, for those times, of perfect learning in every branch of knowledge. 

Thither eager young men hurried to learn literature and science. Excellently prepared in the various branches of learning, trained in the virtues under the holy discipline of Cungallius, and burning with desire to accomplish great —and these were times that required his zeal —Columbanus, accompanied by a few companions, abandoned his fatherland and commenced those successive migrations from Ireland, which down through the centuries have brought blessings innumerable to so many peoples. 

 Columbanus, thirteen centuries ago, inspired a new spirit into a Europe that was sick almost unto death from wars and barbarian invasions. His voice— voice of the schools of Ireland— a message of hope, of faith, of charity, of consolation to the struggling peoples. To him was it, under God, due that the reconstruction which then began moved along Christian lines, and, by paths of sanity and reasonableness, achieved a success that endured for centuries. Ireland, still the most Catholic country in the world, still, the most faithful to the teachings of Christ, again comes into the midst of a gathering of nations groping helplessly towards the light and needing, just as the peoples did in the days of Columbanus, all the guidance and all the inspiration that Christianity can give them. "In the name of God, to this assembly, life and health!"' were the words with which President Cosgrave greeted the nations on behalf of Ireland. May it be her mission once more to recall them all to God, in whom alone is the healing of their wounds, as He alone is the source of life, here and hereafter. From Bobbio, full of the inspiration of the past, the Irish delegates went to seek admission to the League of Nations. And from that little town in the Apennines, the spirit of the great missionary saint will surely be with his countrymen to-day when a task not unlike his own is before them. 

ST COLUMBANUS,New Zealand Tablet, Volume XLVIII, Issue 46, 22 November 1923.

 The Papal address referred to in this article was published previously at the blog and can be read here.  

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