Festivals/Seasons & Holy Days

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Brian Lacey

Saint Columba: His Life and Legacy

ISBN: 9781 85607 879 5

Columba Press, Blackrock, Dublin, 2013

300 pp, £16.59

This is a rewarding and satisfying book. Its scope is considerable from four chapters on the life and legend of St. Columba himself, on to the development of Iona and its influence elsewhere in Scotland through to the Ionan houses in England (e.g. Lindisfarne), then to the growth of the cult of Columba on the continent of Europe and to a detailed history of the main Columban houses in the rest of Ireland. The book follows the Columban family up to its ultimate disappearance after the tragedies of the Viking attacks, the Norman invasion and finally the English occupation.

I particularly like the clarity with which the author distinguishes between what can reasonably be accepted as historical fact and what must be labelled folk-tale. The latter is sympathetically narrated and considered, but then relegated to its proper place, generally not to be believed. I also appreciated the way he can guide the reader, who otherwise might be quite befuddled, into the complications of the conflicts between the various groups and clans and how these affected the stories of the different monasteries.

But the legacy of Columba has not died with the death of the particular type of monastic life which he knew and promoted. The original Life of Columba written by Adomnan, Abbot of Iona, one hundred years after the saint’s death, continues to be published and widely studied. Other later lives, perhaps rather richer in folklore, were produced. Iona continues to be a holy place, marked by the burial of many kings and leaders, and is a very popular site in the modern practice of pilgrimage. The Iona Community has spread to continue the work of the church in social matters. So the book ends with the confidence that Columba can still inspire. It is an excellent source of this inspiration.

Kate Tristram