The Life of Columba - Book I
The Life of Columba - Book I is the first part of the life story of saint Columba entitled Of His Prophetic Revelations and was written by Adomnán (627/628-704), the Ninth Abbott of Iona (679-704).
BOOK I. OF HIS PROPHETIC REVELATIONS.
CHAPTER I. A brief narrative of his great Miracles
ACCORDING to the promise given above, I shall commence this book with. a brief account of the evidences which the venerable man gave of his power. By virtue of his prayer, and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, he healed several persons suffering under various diseases; and he alone, by the assistance of God, expelled from this our island, which now has the primacy, innumerable hosts of malignant spirits, whom he saw with his bodily eyes assailing himself, and beginning to bring deadly distempers on his monastic brotherhood. Partly by mortification, and partly by a bold resistance, he subdued, with the help of Christ, the furious rage of wild beasts. The surging waves, also, at times rolling mountains high in a great tempest, became quickly at his prayer quiet and smooth, and his ship, in which he then happened to be, reached the desired haven in a perfect calm.
When returning from the country of the Picts, where he had been for some days, he hoisted his sail when the breeze was against him to confound the Druids, and made as rapid a voyage as if the wind had been favourable. On other occasions, also, contrary winds were at his prayers changed into fair. In that same country, he took a white stone from the river, and blessed it for the working of certain cures, and that stone, contrary to nature, floated like an apple when placed in water. This divine miracle was wrought in the presence of King Brude and his household. In the same country, also, he performed a still greater miracle, by raising to life the dead child of an humble believer, and restoring him in life and vigour to his father and mother. At another time, while the blessed man was yet a young deacon in Hibernia, residing with the holy bishop Findbarr, the wine required for the sacred mysteries failed, and he changed by his prayer pure water into true wine. An immense blaze of heavenly light was on many and wholly distinct occasions seen by some of the brethren to surround him in the light of day, as well as in the darkness of the night. He was also favoured with the sweet and most delightful society of bright hosts of the holy angels. He often saw, by the revelation of the Holy Ghost, the souls of some just men carried by angels to the highest heavens. And the reprobates too he very frequently beheld carried to hell by demons. He very often foretold the future deserts, sometimes joyful, and sometimes sad, of many persons while they were still living in mortal flesh. In the dreadful crash of wars he obtained from God, by the virtue of prayer, that some kings should be conquered, and others come off victorious. And such a grace as this he enjoyed, not only while alive in this world, but even after his departure from the flesh, as God, from whom all the saints derive their honour, has made him still a victorious and most valiant champion in battle. I shall give one example of especial honour conferred by Almighty God on this honourable man, the event having occurred the day before the Saxon prince Oswald went forth to fight with Catlon (Ceadualla of Bede), a very valiant king of the Britons. For as this same King Oswald, after pitching his camp, in readiness for the battle, was sleeping one day on a pillow in his tent, he saw St. Columba in a vision, beaming with angelic brightness, and of figure so majestic that his head seemed to touch the clouds. The blessed man having announced his name to the king, stood in the midst of the camp, and covered it all with his brilliant garment, except at one small distant point; and at the same time he uttered those cheering words which the Lord spake to Jesua Ben Nun before the passage of the Jordan, after Moses' death, saying, " Be strong and of a good courage; behold, I shall be with thee," etc. Then St. Columba having said these words to the king in the vision, added, " March out this following night from your camp to battle, for on this occasion the Lord has granted to me that your foes shall be put to flight, that your enemy Catlon shall be delivered into your hands, and that after the battle you shall return in triumph, and have a happy reign." The king, awaking at these words, assembled his council and related the vision, at which they were all encouraged; and so the whole people promised that, after their return from the war, they would believe and be baptized, for up to that time all that Saxon land had been wrapt in the darkness of paganism and ignorance, with the exception of King Oswald and the twelve men who had been baptized with him during his exile among the Scots. What more need I say ? On the very next night, King Oswald, as he had been directed in the vision, went forth from his camp to battle, and had a much smaller army than the numerous hosts opposed to him, yet he obtained from the Lord, according to His promise, an easy and decisive victoryÑfor King Catlon was slain, and the conqueror, on his return after the battle, was ever after established by God as the Bretwalda of all Britain. I, Adamnan, had this narrative from the lips of my predecessor, the Abbot Failbe, who solemnly declared that he had himself heard King Oswald relating this same vision to Segine the abbot.
But another fact must not be omitted, that by some poems composed in the Scotic language in praise of the same blessed man, and by the commemoration of his name, certain wicked men of lewd conversation, and men of blood, were saved from the hands of their enemies, who in the night had surrounded the house in which they were singing these hymns. They safely escaped through the flames, the swords, and the spears; and, strange to tell, a few of those only who despised these commemorations of the holy man, and refused to join in the hymns, perished in that assault of the enemy. It is not two or three witnesses, as the law requires, but even hundreds and more, that could be cited in proof of this miracle Nor is it in one place or on one occasion only that the same is known to have happened, but even at different times and places, in both Scotia (Ireland) and Britain, it is proved beyond all doubt that the like security was obtained, in the same manner and by the same means. I have learned this for certain, from well-informed men in those very countries where similar miracles have taken place.
But, to return to the point in hand: among the miracles which this same man of the Lord, while dwelling in mortal flesh, performed by the gift of God, was his foretelling the future by the spirit of prophecy, with which he was highly favoured from his early years, and making known to those who were present what was happening in other places: for though absent in body he was present in spirit, and could look on things that were widely apart, according to the words of St. Paul, "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit."
Hence this same man of the Lord, St. Columba, when a few of the brethren would sometimes inquire into the matter, did not deny but that by some divine intuition, and through a wonderful expansion of his inner soul, he beheld the whole universe drawn together and laid open to his sight, as in one ray of the sun.
This account of the miracles of the holy men I have given here for this purpose, that my reader, in this brief sketch, may have a foretaste of the richer banquet which is before him, in the fuller narrative which is to be given, with the assistance of the Lord, in the three following books. Here it appears to me not improper, though it may be out of the usual order, to record some prophecies which the blessed man gave at different times, regarding certain holy and illustrious men.
CHAPTER II. Of St. Finten the Abbot, son of Tailchan.
ST. FINTEN, who was afterwards very well known throughout all the churches of the Scots, having, by the grace of God, preserved from his boyhood purity of body and soul, and being devoted to the study of divine wisdom, had nourished from his youthful years this one resolve in his heart, that he would leave Hibernia and go abroad to St. Columba. Burning with that desire, he went to an old friend, the most prudent and venerable cleric in his country, who was called in the Scotic tongue Columb Crag, to get some sound advice from him. When he had laid open his mind to him, he received the following answer: "As thy devout wish is, I feel, inspired by God, who can presume to say that thou shouldest not cross the sea to St. Columba ?" At the same moment two monks of St. Columba happened to arrive, and when they were asked about their journey, they replied: "We have lately come across from Britain, and to-day we have come from the Oakwood of Calgach (Daire Calgaich, or Derry). "Is he well," says Columb Crag, "your holy father Columba?" Then they burst into tears, and answered with great sorrow, "Our patron is indeed well, for a few days ago he departed to Christ." Hearing this, Finten and Columb, and all who were there present, fell on their faces on the ground, and wept bitterly. Finten then asked, "Whom did he leave as his successor ?" "Baithene, his disciple," they replied. And as all cried out, "It is meet and right," Columba said to Finten, "What wilt thou now do, Finten?" He answered, "With God's permission, I will sail over to Baithene, that wise and holy man, and if he receive me I will take him as my abbot." Then kissing the forementioned Columb, and bidding him farewell, he prepared for his voyage, and setting sail without the least delay, arrived at the Iouan island (Hy, now corruptly Iona). As up to that time his name was wholly unknown in those places, he was only received at first with the hospitality given to every unknown stranger; but next day he sent a messenger to Baithene, and asked to have a personal interview. Baithene, ever kind and affable to strangers, ordered him to be introduced. Being at once brought in, he first, as seemed meet, knelt down upon the ground; and then being ordered by the holy abbot to rise and be seated, he was asked by Baithene, who as yet knew nothing of his family, province, name, or life, what was his motive for encountering the labour of the voyage. In reply to the inquiry thus made he told everything in order, and then humbly asked to be admitted. The holy abbot, hearing these things from his guest, and recognising him at the same time as the man of whom St. Columba had some time previously made a prophecy, replied: "Truly, my son, I ought to give thanks to my God for thy arrival, but be thou assured of this, that thou wilt not be one of our monks." On hearing this the stranger was very much grieved, and said: "Perhaps I am unworthy to become thy monk." "It is not because thou art unworthy, as thou sayest, that I gave that answer," immediately replied the abbot, "for I would indeed prefer retaining you with me, but I cannot disobey the command of St. Columba, my predecessor, by whom the Holy Ghost prophesied of thee. For, as I was alone with him one day, among other things which he foretold was the following: ' Hearken very attentively, O Baithene,' said he, ' to these my words, for shortly after my welcome and earnestly longed-for departure from this world to Christ, a certain brother from Scotia (Ireland), named Finten, son of Tailchan, of the tribe Mocumoie, who is now carefully guarding his youthful years with a good life, and is very well versed in sacred studies, will, ;I say, come to thee, and humbly ask thee to receive and enrol him with your other monks. But this has not been appointed for him in the foreknowledge of God, that he should become the monk of any abbot, for he has long since been chosen of God to be an abbot of monks and a leader of souls to the kingdom of heaven. Thou shalt not therefore detain that illustrious man with thee on these islands of ours, lest thou shouldst even seem to oppose the will of God, but thou shalt make known to him what I have told thee, and send him back in peace to Scotia (Ireland), that he may found a monastery in the parts of the Leinstermen, near the sea, and that there feeding the flock of Christ, he shall lead a countless host of souls to their heavenly country."' The holy youth hearing this burst into tears, and returning thanks to Christ, said: "Be it unto me according to the prophecy and wonderful foreknowledge of St. Columba." At the same time, in obedience to the words of the saints, he received the blessing of Baithene, and sailed back in peace to Scotia (Ireland).
I have heard this as an undoubted fact from the lips of an aged and pious priest and soldier of Christ, called Oissene, son of Ernan, of the tribe Mocu Neth Corb, who averred that he had himself heard these very words from the lips of St. Finten, son of Tailchan, whose monk he himself had been.
CHAPTER III. Prophecy of St. Columba regarding Ernene, son of Crasen.
ON another occasion, while the blessed man was residing for a few months in the midland part of Hibernia, when founding by divine inspiration his monastery, which in the Scotic tongue is called Dair-mag (Durrow), was pleased to pay a visit to the brethren who dwelt in St. Ceran's monastery, Clon (Clonmacnoise). As soon as it was known that he was near, all flocked from their little grange farms near the monastery, and, along with those who were within it, ranged themselves, with enthusiasm, under the abbot Alither; then advancing beyond the enclosure of the monastery, they went out as one man to meet St. Columba, as if he were an angel of the Lord. Humbly bowing down, with their faces to the ground, in his presence, they kissed him most reverently, and singing hymns of praise as they went they conducted him with all honour to the Church. Over the saint, as he walked, a canopy made of wood was supported by four men walking by his side, lest the holy abbot, St. Columba, should be troubled by the crowd of brethren pressing upon him. At that very time, a boy attached to the monastery, who was mean in dress and look, and hitherto had not stood well in the opinions of the seniors, concealing himself as well as he could, came forward stealthily, that he might touch unperceived even the hem of the cloak which the blessed man wore, without his feeling or knowing it. This, however, did not escape the saint, for he knew with the eyes of his soul what he could not see taking place behind him with the eyes of his body. Stopping therefore suddenly, and putting out his hand behind him, he seized the boy by the neck, and bringing him round set him before his face. The crowd of bystanders cried out: "Let him go, let him go: why do you touch that unfortunate and naughty boy?" But the saint solemnly uttered these prophetic words from his pure heart: "Suffer it to be so now, brethren;" then turning to the boy, who was in the greatest terror, he said, "My son, open thy mouth, and put out thy tongue." The boy did as he was bid, and in great alarm opened his mouth and put out his tongue: the saint extended to it his holy hand, and after carefully blessing it pronounced his prophecy in the following words: "Though this boy appears to you now very contemptible and worthless, let no one on that account despise him. For from this hour, not only will he not displease you, but he will give you every satisfaction; from day to day he shall advance by degrees in good conduct, and in the virtues of the soul; from this day, wisdom and prudence shall be more and more increased in him, and great shall be his progress in this your community: his tongue also shall receive from God the gift of both wholesome doctrine and eloquence." This was Ernene, son of Crasen, who was afterwards famous and most highly honoured in all the churches of Scotia (Ireland). He himself told all these words which were prophesied regarding himself, as written above, to the abbot Segine, in the attentive hearing of my predecessor Failbe, who was present at the time with Segine, and from whose lips I myself have come to know all that I have stated. But during this short time that the saint was a guest in the monastery of Clon, there were many other things also which he prophesied by the revelation of the Holy Ghost; as, for instance, about the discord which arose a long time after among the churches of Scotia (Ireland), on account of the difference with regard to the Easter Feast; and about some visits of angels distinctly made to himself, certain places within the enclosure of the monastery being at that time thus resorted to by the angels.
CHAPTER IV. Of the arrival of St Cainnech, the Abbot, who had been previously announced in prophecy by St. Columba.
AT another time, in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), on a day when the tempest was fierce and the sea was exceedingly boisterous, the saint, as he sat in the house, gave orders to his brethren, saying, " Prepare the guest-chamber quickly, and draw water to wash the strangers' feet." One of the brethren upon this inquired: "Who can cross the Sound safely, narrow though it be, on so perilous and stormy a day?" The saint, on hearing this, thus made answer, "The Almighty has given a calm even in this tempest to a certain holy and excellent man, who will arrive here among us before evening." And lo! the same day, the ship for which the brethren had some time been looking out arrived, according to the saint's prediction, and brought St. Cainnech. The saint went forth with the brethren to meet him and received him with all honour and hospitality. But the sailors who had been with St. Cainnech, when they were asked by the brethren what sort of a voyage they had had, told them, even as St. Columba had predicted, about both the tempest and the calm which God had given in the same sea and at the same time, with an amazing distinction between the two. The tempest they saw at a distance, yet they said they did not feel it.
CHAPTER V. Of the Danger to the holy Bishop Colman Mocusailni in the Sea, near the island called Rechru.
ON another day; also, while St. Columba was engaged in his mother-church,he suddenly cried out, with a smile, "Columbanus, the son of Beogna, has just now set out on a voyage to us, and is in great danger in the rolling tides of Brecan's whirlpool: he is sitting at the prow and raising both his hands to heaven: he is also blessing that angry and dreadful sea: yet in this the Lord only frightens him, for the ship in which he is shall not be wrecked in the storm; but this is rather to excite him to pray more fervently, that by God's favour he may escape the danger of his voyage, and reach us in safety."
CHAPTER VI. Of Cormac.
ON another occasion also St. Columba prophesied in the following manner of Cormac, grandson of Lethan, a truly pious man, who not less than three times went in search of a desert in the ocean, but did not find it. "In his desire to find a desert, Cormac is this day, for the second time, now embarking from that district which lies at the other side of the river Moda (the Moy, in Sligo), and is called Eirros, Domno (Erris, in Mayo); nor even this time shall he find what he seeks, and that for no other fault than that he has irregularly allowed to accompany him in the voyage a monk who is going away from his own proper abbot without obtaining his consent."
CHAPTER VII. Prophecy of the blessed man regarding the Tumults of Battles fought at a distance.
ABOUT two years, as we have been told, after the battle of Cule-Drebene (in Connaught), at which time the blessed man first set sail and took his departure from Scotia (Ireland), it happened that on the very day and at the same hour when the battle, called in Scotic Ondemone (near Coleraine), was fought in Scotia (Ireland), the same man of God was then living in Britain with King Connall, the son of Comgell, and told him everything, as well about the battle itself, as also about those kings to whom the Lord granted the victory over their enemies. These kings were known as Ainmore, son of Setna, and the two sons of Mac Erca, Domnall and Forcus. And the saint, in like manner, prophesied of the king of the Cruithne, who was called Echoid Laib, and how, after being defeated, he escaped riding in his chariot.
On the Battle of the Miathi. AT another time, after the lapse of many years from the above-mentioned battle, and while the holy man was in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), he suddenly said to his minister, Diormit, "Ring the bell.Ó The brethren, startled at the sound, proceeded quickly to the church, with the holy prelate himself at their head. There he began, on bended knees, to say to them, "Let us pray now earnestly to the Lord for this people and King Aidan, for they are engaging in battle at this moment." Then after a short time he went out of the oratory, and, looking up to heaven, said, "The barbarians are fleeing now, and to Aidan is given the victoryÑa sad one though it be." And the blessed man in his prophecy declared the number of the slain in Aidan's army to be three hundred and three men.
CHAPTER VIII. Prophecy of St. Columba regarding the Sons of King Aidan.
At another time, before the above-mentioned battle, the saint asked King Aidan about his successor to the crown. The king answered that of his three sons, Artur, Eochoid Find, and Domingart, he knew not which would have the kingdom after him. Then at once the saint prophesied on this wise, "None of these three shall be king, for they shall fall in battle, slain by their enemies; but now if thou hast any younger sons, let them come to me, and that one of them whom the Lord has chosen to be king will at once rush into my lap." When they were called in, Eochoid Buide, according to the word of the saint, advanced and rested in his bosom. Immediately the saint kissed him, and, giving him his blessing, said to his father, "This one: shall survive and reign as king after thee, and his sons shall reign after him." And so were all these things fully accomplished afterwards in their time. For Artur and Eochoid Find were not long after killed in the above-mentioned battle of the Miathi; Domingart was also defeated and slain in battle in Saxonia; while Eochoid Buide succeeded his father on the throne.
Of Domnall, son of Aid.
Domnall, son of Aid, while yet a boy, was brought by those who brought him up to St. Columba on the ridge of Ceatt (Druim Ceatt in Londonderry), who looked at him and inquired, "Whose son is this whom you have brought here?" They answered, "This is Domnall, son of Aid, who is brought to thee for this purpose, that he may return enriched by thy blessing." The saint blessed him immediately and said. "He shall survive all his brethren, and be a very famous king, nor shall he be ever delivered into the hands of his enemies; but in his old age, in his own house, and with a crowd of his familiar friends around him, he hall die peacefully in his bed." All this was truly fulfilled in him, as the blessed man had foretold.
Of Scandlan, son of Colman.
AT the same time and place, the saint, wishing to visit Scandlan, son of Colman, went to him where he was kept in prison by King Aid, and when he had blessed him he comforted him, saying, "Son, do not distress yourself, but rather rejoice and take courage, for King Aid, who has you a prisoner, will go out of this world before you, and after some time of exile you shall reign in your own nation for thirty years. And again you shall be driven from your kingdom, and be in exile for some days; but after that you shall be called home again by your people, and shall reign for three short terms." All this was fully accomplished according to the prediction of the saint. For in thirty years he had to leave his throne, and continued in exile for some time; and then being recalled by his people, he reigned not three years, as he expected, but three months, and at the end of that time he died.
A Prophecy of the blessed man regarding two other Kings, who were called the two grandsons of Muiredach Baitan, son of Maic Erc, and Eochoid, son of Domnall.
AT another time, while travelling through the rough and rocky country which is called Artdamuirchol (Ardnamurchan), he heard his companionsÑLaisran, son of Feradach, and Diormit, his ministerÑspeaking on the way of the two above-named kings, and addressed them in these words, "O my dear children, why do you talk thus foolishly of these men? Both of these kings of whom you are now conversing are newly slain, and have had their heads cut off by their enemies. And this very day some sailors shall come here from Scotia (Ireland), and tell you the same about these kings." That same day some sailors arrived from Eibernia, at a place which is called Muirbolc Paradisi (Portnamurloch in Lismore), and told the two above-named companions, who were now sailing in the same ship with the saint, how these kings had been slain, and thus the prophecy of the venerable man fulfilled.
Prophecy of the holy man regarding Oingus, son of Aid Comman.
WHEN he and his two brothers were driven from his country, he came as an exile to the saint, who was then wandering in Britain, and who, in blessing him, uttered these prophetic words from his holy heart, "This youth shall survive when his other brothers are gone, and he shall reign a long time in his native country; his enemies shall fall before him, while he shall never fall into their hands, but in old age he shall die peacefully in the midst of his friends." All this was fully accomplished according to the saint's words. This was Oingus, surnamed Bronbachal.
Prophecy of the blessed man regarding the son of King Dermit, who in the Scotic language is called Aid Slane.
ON another occasion, when the blessed man was sojourning for some days in Scotia (Ireland), he spoke in the following prophetic strain to the above-mentioned Aid, who had come to visit him: ÑThou must take care, my son, lest, for the sin of murdering thy kinsman, thou lose the right of governing the whole of Hibernia, as was first assigned thee by God for if at any time thou dost commit that sin, thou shalt not hold the whole of thy father's kingdom, but only a part of it in thine own tribe, and that but for a short time." These words of the saint were on this wise fulfilled according to the prediction, that after Aid had treacherously killed Suitne, son of Columban, he reigned, it is said, no longer than four years and three months, and that only as colleague in the kingdom.
Prophecy of the blessed man regarding King Roderc, son of Tothal, who reigned on the Rock of Cluaith (Alcluith or Dumbarton). THIS same king being on friendly terms with the holy man, sent to him on one occasion a secret message by Lugbe Mocumin, as he was anxious to know whether he would be killed by his enemies or not. But when Lugte was being closely inquired at by the saint regarding the king, his kingdom, and people, he answered in a tone of pity, "Why do you ask about that wretched man, who is quite unable to tell at what hour he . may be killed by his enemies?" Then the saint replied, "He shall never be delivered into the hands of his enemies; he will die at home on his own pillow." And the prophecy of the saint regarding Kina Roderc was fully accomplished; for, ac- cording to his word, he died quietly in his own house.
CHAPTER IX. Prophecy of the Saint regarding two boys, one of whom, according to the Saint's word, died at the end of a week.
ON another occasion, two men of low rank in life came to the saint, who was then in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona). One of them, named Meldan, brought his son to the saint and asked him what kind of future he would enjoy. To whom the saint replied, "Is not this the Sabbath day? Thy son will die on the sixth day at the end of next week, and will be buried here on the eighth day, that is the Sabbath." Then the other man, named Glasderc, also took his son along with him, and venturing to make a similar inquiry, received the following answer from the saint, "Thy son Ernan will see his grandchildren, and be buried in old age in this island." All this was fully accomplished in its own time regarding the two boys, according to the words of the saint.
CHAPTER X. Prophecy of the Saint regarding Colca, son of Aid Draignich, sprung from the grandsons of Fechureg, and regarding some secret sin of his mother.
THIS Colca residing one time in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona) with the saint, was asked by him concerning his mother whether she was a pious woman or not. Colca answered him, "I have always known my mother to be good, and to bear that character." The saint then spoke these prophetic words: "Set out now at once for Scotia (Ireland), with God's help, and question thy mother closely regarding her very grievous secret sin, which she will not confess to any man." To carry out the advice thus given him he departed to Hibernia: and when he interrogated his mother closely, she at first denied, and then she at last confessed her sin. When she had done penance according to the judgment of the saint, she was absolved, wondering very much all the while at what was made known to the saint regarding her.
COLCA, however, returned to the saint, and remained with him for some days, and then asking about the end of his own days, received this answer from the saint: "In thine own beloved country thou shalt be head of a church for many years, and when at any time thou happenest to see thy butler making merry with a company of his friends at supper, and twirling the ladle round in the strainer, know that then in a short time thou shalt die." What more need I say? This same prophecy of the blessed man was exactly fulfilled as it was foretold to Colca.
CHAPTER XII. Regarding Laisrean, the gardener, a holy man.
ON a certain day, the holy man ordered one of his monks named Trena, of the tribe Mocuruntir, to go a message for him to Scotia (Ireland). While he was preparing the ship in haste to obey the orders of the man of God, he complained before the saint that one of the sailors was wanting. The saint immediately answered him and uttered these words from his sacred breast, "The sailor who is, thou sayest, absent, I cannot just now find. But go in peace; thou shalt have a favourable and steady breeze till thou reach Hibernia. Thou shalt see a man coming to meet thee from a distance, and he will be the first to seize the prow of thy ship in Scotia (Ireland); he shall be with thee during the time of thy sojourn in Hibernia, and accompany thee on thy return to us, as a man chosen by God, who in this very monastery of mine will live piously the remainder of his days." What more can I add? Trena received the saint's blessing, and crossed over at full sail during the whole voyage, and lo! as his little ship was nearing the port, Laisran Mocumoie ran forward before the others and caught the prow. The sailors knew that this was the very man of whom the saint had spoken beforehand.
CHAPTER XIII. How the Saint knew and told beforehand about a great Whale.
ONE day when the venerable man was staying in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), a certain brother named Berach intended to sail to the Ethican island (Tiree), and going to the saint in the morning asked his blessing. The saint looking at him, said, "O my son, take very great care this day not to attempt sailing direct over the open sea to the Ethican land (Tiree); but rather take a circuit, and sail round by the smaller islands, for this reason, that thou be not thrown into great terror by a huge monster, and hardly be able to escape." On receiving the saint's blessing he departed, and when he reached his ship, he set sail without giving heed to the saint's words. But as he was crossing over the larger arms of the Ethican sea, he and the sailors who were with him looked out, and lo, a whale, of huge and amazing size, raised itself like a mountain, and as it floated on the surface, it opened its mouth, which, as it gaped; was bristling with teeth. Then the rowers, hauling in their sail, pulled back in the utmost terror, and had a very narrow escape from the agitation of the waves caused by the motion of the monster; and they were also struck with wonder as they remembered the prophetic words of the saint. On the morning of that same day, as Baithene was going to sail to the forenamed island, the saint told him about this whale, saying, "Last night, at midnight, a great whale rose from the depth of the sea, and it will coat this day on the surface of the ocean between the Iouan and Ethican islands (Iona and Tiree)." Baithene answered and said, "That beast and I are under the power of God." "Go in peace," said the saint, "thy faith in Christ shall defend thee from this danger." Baithene accordingly, having received the saint's blessing, sailed from the harbour; and after they had sailed a considerable distance, he and his companions saw the whale; and while all the others were much terrified, he alone was without fear, and raising up both his hands, blessed the sea and the whale. At the same moment the enormous brute plunged down under the waves, and never afterwards appeared to them.
CHAPTER XIV. Prophecy of the holy man regarding a certain Baitan, who with others sailed in search of a desert in the ocean.
AT another time, a certain man named Baitan, by race a descendant of Niath Taloirc, when setting out with others to seek a desert in the sea, asked the saint's blessing. The saint bidding him adieu uttered this prophecy regarding him: "This man who is going in search of a desert in the ocean shall not be buried in the desert, but in that place where a woman shall drive sheep over his grave." The same Baitan, after long wanderings on stormy seas, returned to his native country without finding the desert, and remained for many years the head of a small monastic house, which is called in the Scotic tongue Lathreginden (not identified). When after a while he died and was buried, in the Oakgrove of Galgach (Derry), it happened at the same time that on account of some hostile inroad the poor people with their wives and children fled for sanctuary to the church of that place. Whence it occurred that on a certain day a woman was caught, as she was driving her lambs over the grave of this same man who was newly buried. Then a holy priest who was present and saw this, said, "Now is fulfilled the prophecy which St. Columba uttered many years ago!' And this I myself was told regarding Baitan, by that same priest and soldier of Christ, Mailodran by name, of the tribe of Mocurin.
CHAPTER XV. Prophecy of the holy man regarding a certain Neman, who was not a real penitent.
AT another time, the saint came to the Hinbina island (Eilean-na-naoimh, one of the Garveloch islands), and that same day he gave orders that even the penitents should enjoy some indulgence in respect of their food. Now there was among the penitents in that place a certain Neman, son of Cathair, who, though ordered by the saint, declined to accept the offer of this little indulgence. Him then the saint addressed in these words: "O Neman, art thou not accepting some indulgence in food as it is kindly granted by me and Baitan? The time shall come when thou wilt be stealthily eating mare's flesh, as thou liest concealed in the woods with robbers." And accordingly that same man afterwards returned to the world, and was found in a forest with robbers taking and eating off a wooden griddle such flesh as the saint had foretold.
CHAPTER XVI. Regarding a certain unhappy man who lay with his Mother.
AT another time, the saint called out the brethren at the dead of night, and when they were assembled in the church said to them: "Now let us pray fervently to the Lord, for at this hour a sin unheard of in the world has been committed, for which rigorous vengeance that is justly due is very much to be feared." Next day he spoke of this sin to a few who were asking him about it. "After a few months," he said, "that unhappy wretch will come here to the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona) with Lugaid, who is unaware of the sin." Accordingly after the few months had passed away, the saint one day spoke to Diormit, and ordered him, "Rise quickly; lo ! Lugaid is coming. Tell him to send off the wretch whom he has with him in the ship to the Malean island (Mull), that he may not tread the sod of this island." He went to the sea in obedience to the saint's injunction, and told Lugaid as he was approaching all the words of the saint regarding the unhappy man. On hearing the directions, that unhappy man vowed that he would never eat food with others until he had seen St. Columba and spoken to him. Diormit therefore returned to the saint, and told him the words of the poor wretch. The saint, on hearing them, went down to the haven, and as Baitan was citing the authority of Holy Scriptures, and suggesting that the repentance of the unhappy man should be received, the saint immediately replied to him, "O Baitan! this man has committed fratricide like Cain, and become an adulterer with his mother." Then the poor wretch, casting himself upon his knees on the beach, promised that he would comply with all the rules of penance, according to the judgment of the saint. The saint said to him, "If thou do penance in tears and lamentations for twelve years among the Britons and never to the day of thy death return to Scotia (Ireland), perhaps God may pardon thy sin." Having said these words, the saint turned to his own friends and said, "This man is a son of perdition, who will not perform the penance he has promised, but will soon return to Scotia (Ireland), and there in a short time be killed by his enemies." All this happened exactly according to the saint's prophecy; for the wretched man, returning to Hibernia about the same time, fell into the hands of his enemies in the region called Lea (Firli, in Ulster), and was murdered. He was of the descendants of Turtre.
CHAPTER XVII. Of the Vowel I.
ONE day Baithene came to the saint and said, "I want some one of the brethren to look over with me and correct the psalter which I have written." Hearing this, the saint said, "Why give us this trouble without any cause? In that psalter of thine, of which thou speakest, there is not one superfluous letter to be found, nor is any wanting except the one vowel I." And accordingly, when the whole psalter was read over, what the saint had said was found to be true.
CHAPTER XVIII. Of the Book which fell into the Water-vessel, as the Saint had foretold.
IN the same way, on another day, as he was sitting by the hearth in the monastery, he saw at some distance Lugbe, of the tribe Mocumin, reading a book, and suddenly said to him, "Take care, my son, take care, for I think that the book thou readest is about to fall into a vessel full of water." And so it soon happened, for when the same youth rose soon after to perform some duty in the monastery, he forgot the word of the blessed man, and the book which he held negligently under his arm suddenly fell into the water-pot, which was full of water.
CHAPTER XIX. Of the Inkhorn, awkwardly spilled.
On another day a shout was given on the other side of the Sound of the Iouan island (Sound of Iona); the saint hearing the shout, as he was sitting in his little hut, which was made of planks, said, "The man who is shouting beyond the Sound is not of very sharp wit, for when he is here today he will upset my inkhorn and spill the ink." Diormit, his minister, hearing this, stood a little in front of the door, and waited for the arrival of this troublesome guest, in order to save the inkhorn. But for some cause or other he had soon to leave his place, and after his departure the unwelcome guest arrived; in his eager haste to kiss the saint, he upset the inkhorn with the hem of his garment and spilled the ink.
CHAPTER XX. Of the arrival of another Guest foretold by the Saint.
So again at another time the saint spoke thus to his brethren on the third day of the week, "We intend to fast tomorrow, being Wednesday: and yet by the arrival of a certain troublesome guest the usual fast will be broken." And so it happened as had been shown to the saint beforehand; for on the morning of that same Wednesday, another stranger was heard signalling across the Sound. This was Aidan, the son of Fergno, who, it is said, was minister for twelve years to Brendan Mocualti. He was a very religious man, and his arrival, as the saint had foretold, broke the fast of that day.
CHAPTER XXI. Of another man in distress who was crying across the same Sound.
ON another day the saint heard some person shouting across the Sound, and spoke on this wise, "That man who is shouting is much to be pitied, for he is coming here to us to ask some cure for the disease of his body; but it were better for him this day to do true penance for his sins, for at the close of this week he shall die." These words those who were present told to the unhappy man when he arrived. But he gave no heed to them when he had received what he asked, and quickly departed, yet before the end of the same week he died, according to the prediction of the saint.
CHAPTER XXII. The Prophecy of the holy man regarding the Roman city, burnt by a sulphurous fire which fell from heaven.
ANOTHER time also, Lugbe, of the tribe Mocumin, of whom I spoke already, came to the saint one day after the grinding of the corn, but the saint's countenance shone with such wonderful brilliancy that he could not look upon it, and quickly fled in great terror. The saint gently clapped his hands and called him back; then on his return the saint asked him why he fled so quickly. "I fled," he replied, "because I was very much alarmed." Then becoming more confident, after a while, he ventured to ask the saint, "Hath any awful vision been shown to thee just now?" The saint answered, "A very fearful vengeance hath just now been exacted in a distant corner of the world." "What vengeance?" says the youth, "and where hath it taken place?" The saint then addressed him thus: "A sulphurous fire hath been poured down from heaven this moment on a city which is subject to Rome, and within the Italian territory, and about three thousand men, besides women and children, have perished. Before the end of this year Gallican sailors shall come here from the provinces of Gaul, and tell thee these same things." His words proved true in a few months; for the same Lugbe, happening to accompany the saint to the Head of the land (Kintyre), inquired at the captain and crew of a bark that had just arrived, and received from them all the news regarding the city and its inhabitants, exactly as it was foretold by the illustrious man.
CHAPTER XXIII. The Vision of the blessed man regarding Laisran, son of Feradach.
ONE very cold day in winter the saint was much afflicted, and wept bitterly. His attendant, Diormit, asked the cause of his sadness, and received this answer from him, "With just reason am I sad today, my little child, seeing that my monks, now wearied after their severe labours, are engaged by Laisran in building a large house; with this I am very much displeased." Strange to say, at that very moment, Laisran, who was living at the time in the monastery of the Oakwood Plain (Derry), felt somehow impelled, and as it were consumed by a fire within him, so that he commanded the monks to stop from working, and some refreshments to be made ready for them. He also gave directions that they were to rest not only that day, but also on other occasions of severe weather. The saint, hearing in spirit these words of consolation addressed by Laisran to his brethren, ceased weeping, and though he himself was living in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), he rejoiced with exceeding great joy, and told all the circumstances to his brethren, while at the same time he blessed Laisran for his timely relief to the monks.
CHAPTER XXIV. How Feachna the Wise came as a Penitent to St. Columba, as he had foretold.
ANOTHER time the saint was sitting on the top of the mountain which overhangs this our monastery, at some distance from it, and turning to his attendant Diormit, said to him, "I am surprised that a certain ship from Scotia (Ireland) does not appear sooner: there is on board a certain wise man who has fallen into a great crime, but who, with tears of repentance, shall soon arrive." Not long after the attendant, looking to the south, saw the sail of a ship that was approaching the harbour. When its arrival was pointed out to the saint he got up quickly and said, "Let us go to meet this stranger, whose sincere penance is accepted by Christ." As soon as Feachna came on shore, he ran to meet the saint, who was coming down to the shore, and falling on his knees before him lamented most bitterly with wailing and tears, and there in the presence of all made open confession of his sins. Then the saint, also shedding tears, said to him, "Arise, my son, and be comforted; the sins thou hast committed are forgiven thee, because, as it is written, 'a humble and contrite heart God doth not despise.Ó He then arose, and the saint received him with great joy. After a few days he was sent to Baithene, who at that time was the superior of the monastery in the plain of Lunge (Maigh Lunge, in Tiree), and he journeyed thither in peace.
CHAPTER XXV. The Prophecy of the holy man regarding his monk Cailtan.
AT another time he sent two of his monks to another of them named Cailtan, who was then superior in the cell which is called to this day after his brother Dinni, and is situated near the lake of the river Aba (Lochawe). The saint gave them the following instructions, "Run quickly to Cailtan, and tell him to come to me without delay." In obedience to the saint's command they went to the cell of Dinni, and told Cailtan the object of their mission. At once, and without the least delay, he set out along with the messengers of the saint, and soon reached his abode in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona). On making his appearance he was addressed by the saint, "O Cailtan, thou hast done well by coming hither quickly in obedience to my summons; rest now for a while. I sent for you to come to me for this reason, that, loving thee as a friend, I would wish thee to end thy days with me here in true obedience. For before the close of this week thou shalt depart in peace to the Lord." When he heard these words he gave thanks to God, embraced the saint with tears, and receiving his blessing, retired to the guest-chamber. He fell sick that same night, and passed away to Christ the Lord during that very week, as the saint had said.
CHAPTER XXVI. The Foresight and Prophecy of the Saint Regarding the two brothers who were Strangers.
ONE Lord's day a loud cry was heard beyond the above-mentioned Sound of which I speak so often. As soon as the saint heard it, he said to the brethren who were then with him, "Go directly and bring here before us at once the strangers that have now arrived from a distant land." They went accordingly and ferried the strangers across. The saint, after embracing them, asked them at once the object of their journey. In reply they said, "We are come to reside with thee for this year." The saint replied, "With me, as you say, you cannot reside for a year, unless you take first the monastic vow." When those who were present heard these words addressed to strangers who were only newly arrived they wondered very much. But the elder brother, in answer to the saint's remarks, replied, "Although we never up to the present hour entertained the thought before, yet we shall follow thy advice, believing that it cometh from God." What more need I say? That very moment they entered the chapel with the saint, and on bended knees devoutly took the monastic vow. The saint then turned to his monks and said, "These two strangers who are presenting themselves 'a living sacrifice to God,' and within a short time are fulfilling a long time of Christian warfare, shall pass away in peace this very month to Christ our Lord." The two brothers, on hearing this, gave thanks to God, and were led away to the guest room. After seven days the elder brother fell sick, and departed to the Lord in the course of that week. After other seven days the other brother also fell sick, and within the same week passed to the Lord with joy, so that, according to the truthful prophecy of the saint, both closed their fires in this world within the space of one month.
CHAPTER XXVII. The Prophecy of the holy man regarding a certain Artbranan.
WHEN the blessed man was staying for some days in the Scian island (Sky), he struck a spot of ground near the sea with his staff, and said to his companions: "Strange to say, my children, this day, an aged heathen, whose natural goodness has been preserved through all his life, will receive baptism, die, and be buried on this very spot." And lo! about an hour after, a boat came into the harbour, on whose prow sat a decrepit old man, the chief of the Geona cohort. Two young men took him out of the boat and laid him at the feet of the blessed man. After being instructed in the word of God by the saint through an interpreter, the old man believed, and.was baptized at once by him, and when the baptism was duly administered, he instantly died on the same spot, according to the saint's prediction, and was buried there by his companions, who raised a heap of stones over his grave. This cairn may be seen still on the sea-coast, and the river in which he was baptized is called to this day by the inhabitants, Dobur Artbranan.
CHAPTER XXVIII. Of the Boat that was removed by the Saint's order.
ANOTHER time, as the saint was travelling beyond the Dorsal ridge of Britain (Drumalban), he came to a small village, lying amid deserted fields, on the banks of a river, where it flows into a lake. There the saint took up his abode, and that same night, while they were yet but falling asleep, he awoke his companions, and said to them: "Go out this instant with all speed, bring hither quickly the boat you left on the other side of the stream, and put it in a house near us." They did at once as they were ordered, and soon after they were again asleep, the saint roused Diormit, and said to him: "Stand outside the door, and see what has happened to the village in which you had left your boat." Diormit went out accordingly and saw the whole village on fire, and returning to the saint he told him what was taking place. Then the saint told the brethren the name of the rancorous foe who had burnt the houses that night.
CHAPTER XXIX. O Gallan, son of Fachtna, who resided in the jurisdiction of Golga, son of Cellach.
ONE day again, as the saint was sitting in his little hut, he said, in prophecy to the same Colca, then reading by his side, "Just now demons are dragging with them down to hell one of the chiefs of thy district who is a niggardly person." When Colca heard this, he marked the time accurately in a tablet, and, coming home within a few months, learned on inquiry from the inhabitants of the place, that Gallan, son of Fachtna, died at the very moment that the saint said to him the man was being carried off by demons.
The Prophecy of the blessed man regarding Findchan, a Priest, and the founder of the monastery called in Scotic Artchain, in the Ethican land (Tiree).
AT another time Findchan, the priest and soldier of Christ, named above, brought with him from Scotia (Ireland) to Britain, Aid, surnamed the Black, descended of a royal family, and a Cruthinian by race. Aid wore the clerical habit, and came with the purpose of residing with him in the monastery for some years. Now this Aid the Black had been a very bloodthirsty man, and cruelly murdered many persons, amongst others Diormit, son of Cerbul, by divine appointment king of all. This same Aid, then, after spending some time in his retirement, was irregularly ordained priest by a bishop invited for the purpose, in the presence of the above-named Findchan. The bishop, however, would not venture to lay a hand upon his head unless Findchan, who was greatly attached to Aid, in a carnal way, should first place his right hand on his head as a mark of approval. When such an ordination afterwards became known to the saint, he was deeply grieved, and in consequence forthwith pronounced this fearful sentence on the ill-fated Findchan and Aid: "That right hand which, against the laws of God; and the Church, Findchan placed on the head of the son of perdition, shall soon be covered with sores, and after great and excruciating pain shall precede himself to the grave, and he shall survive the burial of his hand for many years. And Aid, thus irregularly ordained, shall return as a dog to his vomit, and be again a bloody murderer, until at length, pierced in the neck with a spear, he shall fall from a tree into the water and be drowned." Such indeed was the end long due to him who murdered the king of all Scotia (Ireland). The blessed man's prophecy was fulfilled regarding both, for the priest Findchan's right hand festered from the effects of a blow, and went before him into the ground, being buried in an island called Ommon (not identified), while he himself survived for many years, according to the saying of St. Columba. But Aid the Black, a priest only in name, betaking himself again to his former evil doings, and being treacherously wounded with a spear, fell from the prow of a boat into a lake and was drowned.
Of the Consolation which the Monks, when they were weary on their journey, received from the Saint visiting them in spirit.
AMONG these wonderful manifestations of prophetical spirit it does not seem alien from the purpose of our short treatise to mention also here the spiritual comfort which the monks of St. Columba at one time received from his spirit's meeting them by the way. For as the brethren, on one occasion after the harvest work, were returning in the evening to the monastery, and came to a place called in Scotic Cuuleilne, which is said to lie on the western side of the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), midway between the field on the plain and our monastery, each of them thought he felt something strange and unusual, which, however, they did not venture to speak of to one another. And so they had the same feeling for some days successively, at the same place, and at the same hour in the evening.
The holy Baithen at that particular time had charge of the work, and one day he said to them: "Now, my brethren, if any of you ever notices anything wonderful and unusual in this spot which lies between the corn-field and the monastery, it is your duty to declare it openly." An elder brother said, "As you have ordered me, I shall tell you what I observed on this spot. For both in the past few days, and even now, I perceive the fragrance of such a wonderful odour, just as if all the flowers on earth were gathered together into one place; I feel also a glow of heat within me, not at all painful, but most pleasing, and a certain unusual and inexpressible joy poured into my heart, which on a sudden so refreshes and gladdens me, that I forget grief and weariness of every kind. Even the load, however heavy, which I carry on my back, is in some mysterious way so much lightened, from this place all the way to the monastery, that I do not seem to have any weight to bear." What need I add? All the other reapers in turn declared they had exactly the same feeling as the first had described. All then knelt down together, and requested of the holy Baithen that he would learn and inform them of the as yet unknown cause and origin of this wonderful relief, which both he and they were feeling. "Ye all know," he immediately replied, "our father Columba's tender care regarding us, and how, ever mindful of our toil, he is always grieved when we return later than usual to the monastery. And now because he cannot come in person on this occasion to meet us, his spirit cometh forth to us as we walk along, and conveyeth to us such great comfort." Having heard these words, they raised their hands to heaven with intense joy as they knelt, and venerated Christ in the holy and blessed man.
I must not pass over another well-authenticated story, told, indeed, by those who heard it, regarding the voice of the blessed man in singing the psalms. The venerable man, when singing in the church with the brethren, raised his voice so wonderfully that it was sometimes heard four furlongs off, that is five hundred paces, and sometimes eight furlongs, that is one thousand paces. But what is stranger still: to those who were with him in the church, his voice did not seem louder than that of others; and yet at the same time persons more than a mile away heard it so distinctly that they could mark each syllable of the verses he was singing, for his voice sounded the same whether far or near. It is however admitted, that this wonderful character in the voice of the blessed man was but rarely observable, and even then it could never happen without the aid of the Holy Ghost.
But another story concerning the great and wonderful power of his voice should not be omitted. The fact is said to have taken place near the fortress of King Brude (near Inverness). When the saint himself was chanting the evening hymns with a few of the brethren, as usual, outside the king's fortifications, some Druids, coming near to them, did all they could to prevent God's praises being sung in the midst of a pagan nation. On seeing this, the saint began to sing the 44th Psalm, and at the same moment so wonderfully loud, like pealing thunder, did his voice become, that king and people were struck with terror and amazement.
CHAPTER XXX. Concerning a rich man named Lugud Clodus.
AT another time, when the saint was staying some days in Scotia (Ireland), he saw a cleric mounted on a chariot, and driving pleasantly along the plain of Breg (MaghBregh, in Meath). On asking who the person was, the cleric's friend made this reply regarding him: "This is Lugud Clodus, who is rich, and much respected by the people." The saint immediately answered, "He does not seem so to me, but a poor wretched creature, who on the day of his death shall have within his own walled enclosure three of his neighbour's cattle which have strayed on to his property. The best of the strayed cows he shall order to be killed for his own use, and a part of the meat he shall direct to be cooked and served up to him at the very time that he is lying on the same couch with a prostitute, but by the first morsel that he eats shall he be choked and die immediately." Now all these things, as we heard from well-informed Persons, afterwards happened according to the saint's prophecy.
CHAPTER XXXI. Prophecy of the Saint regarding Neman, son of Gruthrich.
FOR when the saint corrected this man for his faults, he received the saint's reproof with derision. The blessed man then said to him, "In God's name I will declare these words of truth concerning thee, Neman, that thine enemies shall find thee in bed with a prostitute and put thee to death, and the evil spirits shall carry off thy soul to the place of torments." A few years after his enemies found this same Neman on a couch along with a prostitute in the district of Cainle (not identified), and beheaded him, as was foretold by the saint.
CHAPTER XXXII. Prophecy of the holy man regarding a certain Priest.
AT another time, as the saint was staying in that part of Scotia (Ireland), named a little before, he came by chance on the Lord's day to a neighbouring little monastery, called in the Scotic language Trioit (Trevet, in Meath). The same day a priest celebrated the holy mysteries of the Eucharist, who was selected by the brethren who lived there to perform the solemn offices of the Mass, because they thought him very pious. The saint, on hearing him, suddenly opened his mouth and uttered this fearful sentence: "The clean and unclean are now equally mingled together; that is, the clean mysteries of the holy sacrifice are offered by an unclean person, who just now conceals within his own conscience a grievous crime." The bystanders, hearing these words, were struck with terror; but he of whom they were said was forced to confess his sin before them all. And the fellow-soldiers of Christ, who stood round the saint in the church, and had heard him making manifest the secrets of the heart, greatly wondered, and glorified the heavenly knowledge that was seen in him.
CHAPTER XXXIII. The Prophecy of the holy man regarding the robber Erc Mocudruidi, who dwelt in the island Coloso (Colonsay).
AT another time, when the saint was in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), he called two of the brothers, Lugbe and Silnan, and gave them this charge, "Sail over now to the Malean island (Mull), and on the open ground, near the sea-shore, look for Erc, a robber, who came alone last night in secret from the island Coloso (Colonsay). He strives to hide himself among the sand hills during the daytime under his boat, which he covers with hay, that he may sail across at night to the little island where our young seals are brought forth and nurtured. When this furious robber has stealthily killed as many as he can, he then fills his boat, and goes back to his hiding-place." They proceeded at once in compliance with their orders, and found the robber lying hid in the very spot that was indicated, and they brought him to the saint, as they had been told. The saint looked at him, and said, "Why dost thou transgress the commandment of God so often by stealing the property of others? If thou art in want at any time, come to us and thy needs shall be supplied." At the same time he ordered some wethers to be killed, and given to the wretched thief in place of the seals, that he might not return empty. A short time after the saint saw in spirit that the death of the robber was at hand, and ordered Baithen, then steward in the plain of Lunge (Maigh Lunge, in Tiree), to send a fat sheep and six pecks of corn as a last gift. Baithen sent them at once as the saint had recommended, but he found that the wretched robber had died suddenly the same day, and the presents sent over were used at his burial.
CHAPTER XXXIV. Prophecy of the holy man regarding the poet Cronan.
AT another time, as the saint was sitting one day with the brothers beside the lake Ce (Lough Key, in Roscommon), at the mouth of the river called in Latin Bos (the Boyle), a certain Scotic poet came to them, and when he retired, after a short interview, the brothers said to the saint, "Why didst thou not ask the poet Cronan, before he went away, to sing us a song with accompaniment, according to the rules of his profession?" The saint replied, "Why do even you now utter such idle words? How could I ask that poor man to sing a song of joy, who has now been murdered, and thus hastily has ended his days, at the hands of his enemies?" The saint had no sooner said these words than immediately a man cried out from beyond the river, "That poet who left you in safety a few minutes ago has just now been met and put to death by his enemies." Then all that were present wondered very much, and looked at one another in amazement.
CHAPTER XXXV. The holy man's Prophecy regarding the two Noblemen who died of wounds mutually inflicted.
AGAIN, at another time, as the saint was living in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), on a sudden, while he was reading, and to the great surprise of all, he moaned very heavily. Lugbe Mocublai, who was beside him, on seeing this, asked the cause of such sudden grief. The saint, in very great affliction, answered him, "Two men of royal blood in Scotia (Ireland) have perished of wounds mutually inflicted near the monastery called Cellrois, in the province of the Maugdorna (Magheross, in Monaghan); and on the eighth day from the end of this week, one shall give the shout on the other side of the Sound, who has come from Hibernia, and will tell you all as it happened. But oh! my dear child, tell this to nobody so long as I live." On the eighth day, accordingly, the voice was heard beyond the firth. Then the saint called quietly to Lugbe, and said to him, "This is the aged traveller to whom I alluded, who now crieth aloud beyond the strait; go and bring him here to me." The stranger was speedily brought, and told, among other things, how two noblemen in the district of the Maugdorna, near the confines of the territory in which is situate the monastery of Cellrois, died of wounds received in single combat namely, Colman the Hound, son of Ailen, and Ronan, son of Aid, son of Colga, both descended of the kings of the Anteriores (the Airtheara, or people of Oriel in Ulster). After these things were thus narrated, Lugbe, the soldier of Christ, began to question the saint in private. "Tell me, I entreat of thee, about these and such like prophetic revelations, how they are made to thee, whether by sight or hearing, or other means unknown to man." To this the saint replied, "Thy question regardeth a most difficult subject, on which I can give thee no information whatever, unless thou first strictly promise, on thy bended knees, by the name of the Most High God, never to communicate this most secret mystery to any person all the days of my life." Hearing this, Lugbe fell at once on his knees, and, with face bent down to the ground, promised everything faithfully as the saint demanded. After this pledge had been promptly given he arose, and the saint said to him, "There are some, though very few, who are enabled by divine grace to see most clearly and distinctly the whole compass of the world, and to embrace within their own wondrously enlarged mental capacity the utmost limits of the heavens and the earth at the same moment, as if all were illumined by a single ray of the sun." In speaking of this miracle, the saint, though he seems to be referring to the experience of other favoured persons, yet was in reality alluding to his own, though indirectly, that he might avoid the appearance of vain-glory; and no one can doubt this who reads the apostle Paul, that vessel of election, when he relates the visions revealed to himself. For he did not write, "I know that I," but "I know a man caught up even to the third heavens." Now, although the words seem strictly to refer to another person, yet all admit that he spoke thus of none but himself in his great humility. This was the model followed by our Columba in relating those visions of the Spirit spoken of above, and that, too, in such a way that even Lugbe, for whom the saint showed a special affection, could hardly force him to tell these wonders after much entreaty. And to this fact Lugbe himself, after St. Columba's death, bore witness in the presence of other holy men, from whom I learned the undoubted truths which I have now related of the saint.
Of Cronan the Bishop. AT another time, a stranger from the province of the Munstermen, who in his humility did all he could to disguise himself, so that nobody might know he was a bishop, came to the saint; but his rank could not be hidden from the saint. For next Lord's day, being invited by the saint, as the custom was, to consecrate the Body of Christ, he asked the saint to join him, that, as two priests, they might break the bread of the Lord together. The saint went to the altar accordingly, and suddenly looking into the stranger's face, thus addressed him: "Christ bless thee, brother; do thou break the bread alone, according to the episcopal rite, for I know now that thou art a bishop. Why hast thou disguised thyself so long, and prevented our giving thee the honour we owe to thee?" On hearing the saint's words, the humble stranger was greatly astonished, and adored Christ in His saint, and the bystanders in amazement gave glory to God.
The Saint's prophecy regarding Ernan the Priest. AT another time, the venerable man sent Ernan, his uncle, an aged priest, to preside over the monastery he had founded many years before in Hinba island (Eilean-na-Naoimh). On his departure the saint embraced him affectionately, blessed him, and then foretold what would by and by happen to him, saying, "This friend of mine, who is now going away from me, I never expect to see alive again in this world." After a few days this same Ernan became very unwell, and desired to be taken back to the saint, who was much rejoiced at his return, and set out for the harbour to meet him. Ernan also himself, though with feeble step, attempted very boldly, and without assistance, to walk from the harbour to meet him; but when there was only the short distance of twenty-four paces between them, death came suddenly upon him before the saint could see his face in life, and he breathed his last as he fell to the ground, that the word of the saint might be fulfilled. Hence on that spot, before the door of the kiln, a cross was raised, and another cross was in like manner put up where the saint resided at the time of his death, which remaineth unto this day.
The Saint's prophecy regarding the Family of a certain Peasant. AT another time, when the saint was staying in that district which is called in the Scotic tongue Coire Salchain (Corrie Sallachan, now Corry, in Morvern), the peasants came to him, and one evening when he saw one of them approaching he said to him, "Where dost thou live?" "I live," said he, "in that district which borders the shore of Lake Crogreth (Loch Creran)." That district of which thou speakest," replied the saint, "is now being pillaged by savage marauders." On hearing this, the unhappy peasant began to lament his wife and children; but when the saint saw him so much afflicted he consoled him, saying, "Go, my poor man, go; thy whole family hath escaped by flight to the mountains, but thy cattle, furniture, and other effects the ruthless invaders have taken off with their unjust spoils." When the poor man heard these words he went home, and found that all had happened exactly as the saint foretold.
The Saint's prophecy regarding a Peasant called Goire, son of Aidan. AT another time, in the same way, a peasant, who at that time was by far the bravest of all the inhabitants of Korkureti (Corkaree, in Westmeath), asked the saint by what death he would die. "Not in the battle-field shalt thou die," said the saint, "nor at sea; but the travelling companion of whom thou hast no suspicion shall cause thy death." "Perhaps," said Goire, "one of the friends who accompany me on my journey may be intending to murder me, or my wife, in her love for some younger man, may treacherously kill me." "Not so," replied the saint. "Why," asked Goire, "wilt thou not tell now the cause of my death?" "Because," said the saint, "I do not wish to tell more clearly just now the companion that is to injure thee, lest the frequent thought of the fact should make thee too unhappy, until the hour come when thou shalt find that my words are verified. Why dwell longer on what I have said?" After the lapse of a few years, this same Goire happened to be lying one day under his boat scraping off the bark from a spear-handle, when he heard others fighting near him. He rose hastily to stop the fighting, but his knife, through some neglect in the rapid movement, fell to the ground, and made a very deep wound in his knee. By such a companion, then, was his death caused, and he himself at once remembered with surprise the holy man's prophecy. After a few months he died, carried off by that same wound.
The Saint's foreknowledge and prophecy concerning a matter of less moment, but so beautiful that it cannot, I think, be passed over in silence. FOR at another time, while the saint was living in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), he called one of the brothers, and thus addressed him: In the morning of the third day from this date thou must sit down and wait on the shore on the western side of this island, for a crane, which is a stranger from the northern region of Hibernia, and hath been driven about by various winds, shall come, weary and fatigued, after the ninth hour, and lie down before thee on the beach quite exhausted. Treat that bird tenderly, take it to some neighbouring house, where it may be kindly received and carefully nursed and fed by thee for three days and three nights. When the crane is refreshed with the three days' rest, and is unwilling to abide any longer with us, it shall fly back with renewed strength to the pleasant part of Scotia (Ireland) from which it originally hath come. This bird do I consign to thee with such special care because it cometh from our own native place." The brother obeyed, and on the third day, after the ninth hour, he watched as he was bid for the arrival of the expected guest. As soon as the crane came and alighted on the shore, he took it up gently in its weakness, and carried it to a dwelling that was near, where in its hunger he fed it. On his return to the monastery in the evening, the saint, without any inquiry, but as stating a fact, said to him, "God bless thee, my child, for thy kind attention to this foreign visitor, that shall not remain long on its journey, but return within three days to its old home." As the saint predicted, so exactly did the event prove, for after being nursed carefully for three days, the bird then gently rose on its wings to a great height in the sight of its hospitable entertainer, and marking for a little its path through the air homewards, it directed its course across the sea to Hibernia, straight as it could fly, on a calm day.
The blessed man's foreknowledge regarding the Battle fought many years after in the fortress of Cethirn, and regarding the Well near that place. ANOTHER time, after the convention of the kings at the Ridge of Ceate (Druim Ceatt) that is, of Aidan, son of Gabran, and Aid, son of Ainmure the blessed man returned to the seacoast, and on a calm day in summer he and the Abbot Comgell sat down not far from the above-named fort. Then water was brought in a bronze vessel to the saints from a well that was close by to wash their hands. When St. Columba had received the water, he thus spoke to Abbot Comgell, who was sitting at his side, "A day shall come, O Comgell ! when the well whence this water now poured out for us was drawn will be no longer fit for man's use." "How?" said Comgell; "shall the water of this spring be defiled?" "From this," said St. Columba, "that it shall be filled with human blood; for thy relatives and mine that is, the people of the Cruithni and the race of Niall shall be at war in the neighbouring fortress of Cethirn (now called the Giant's Sconce, near Coleraine). Whence, at this same well, an unhappy relative of mine shall be slain, and his blood, mingling with that of many others, shall fill it up." This truthful prophecy was duly accomplished after many years, for in that battle, as is well known to many, Domnall, son of Aid, came off victorious, and at that well, according to the saint's word, a near kinsman of his was slain.
Another soldier of Christ, called Finan, who led the life of an anchorite blamelessly for many years near the monastery of the Oakwood Plain (Derry), and who was present at the battle, in relating these things to me, Adamnan, assured me that he saw a man's dead body lying in the well, and that on his return from the battlefield the same day to the monastery of St. Comgell, which is called in the Scotic tongue Cambas (on the river Bann, in diocese of Derry), and from which he had first set out, he found there two aged monks, of St. Comgell, who, when he told them of the battle he saw, and of the well defiled with human blood, at once said to him: "A true prophet is Columba, for he foretold all the circumstances you now mention today regarding the battle and the well, many years indeed before they occurred; this he did in our hearing to St. Comgell, as he sat by the fort Cethirn."
How the Saint was favoured by God's grace with the power of distinguishing different Presents. ABOUT the same time Conall, bishop of Culerathin (Coleraine) collected almost countless presents from the people of the plain of Eilne (Magh Wine, on the Bann), to give a hospitable reception to the blessed man, and the vast multitude that accompanied him, on his return from the meeting of the kings mentioned above.
Many of these presents from the people were laid out in the paved court of the monastery, that the holy man might bless them on his arrival; and as he was giving the blessing he specially pointed out one present, the gift of a wealthy man. "The mercy of God," said he, "attendeth the man who gave this, for his charity to the poor and his munificence." Then he pointed out another of the many gifts, and said: "Of this wise and avaricious man's offering, I cannot partake until he repent sincerely of his sin of avarice." Now this saying was quickly circulated among the crowd, and soon reaching the ears of Columb, son of Aid, his conscience reproached him; and he ran immediately to the saint, and on bended knees repented of his sin, promising to forsake his former greedy habits, and to be liberal ever after, with amendment of life. The saint bade him rise: and from that moment he was cured of the fault of greediness, for he was truly a wise man, as was revealed to the saint through that present.
But the munificent rich man, called Brenden, of whose present mention was made above, hearing the words of the saint regarding himself, knelt down at his feet and besought him to pray for him to the Lord. When at the outset the saint reproved him for certain other sins of which he was guilty, he expressed his heartfelt sorrow, and purpose of amendment. And thus both these men were cured of the peculiar vices in which they were wont to indulge. With like knowledge at another time, on the occasion of his visit to the Great Cell of Deathrib (Kilmore, in Roscommon), the saint knew the offering of a stingy man, called Diormit, from many others collected in that place on his arrival.
To have written thus much in the course of this first Book selecting a few instances out of many of the prophetic gifts of the blessed man, may suffice. Indeed, I have recorded only a few facts regarding this venerable person, for no doubt there were very many more which could not come to men's knowledge, from being hidden under a kind of sacramental character while those mentioned were like a few little drops which oozed out, as it were, like newly fermented wine through the chinks of a full vessel. For holy and apostolic men, in general, in order to avoid vain-glory, strive as much as they can to conceal the wonders of God's secret working within them. Yet God sometimes, whether they will or no, maketh some of these known to the world, and bringeth them into view by various means, wishing thus, as He doth, to honour those saints who honour Him, that is, our Lord Himself, to whom be glory for ever, and ever.
Here endeth this first Book, and the next Book treateth of the wonderful miracles, which generally accompanied his prophetic foreknowledge.
Source: Life of Saint Columba, Founder of Hy. Written by Adomnán, ed. William Reeves, ( Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874) This text was taken from the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
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