Columbanus , abbat of Luxeuil and Bobbio, Nov. 21. On this day, in the Mart. Doneg. (by Todd and Reeves, 315), is the entry "Columban, abbat, who was in Italy." Thus simply does the Irish calendar refer to an Irishman famous in France, Switzerland, and Italy, the great champion of public morals at a cruel and profligate court, the zealous preacher of the Gospel in lands where it had been all but forgotten, and the pious founder of monasteries. His life, written with great care and minuteness by Jonas, of Susa in Piedmont, a monk of his monastery at Bobbio, in the time of Attala and Eustace, his immediate successors, is now pub. by Mabillon (in Acta SS. Ord. St. Bened. tom ii. Sec. ii. 2–26), and by Messingham ( Flor. Ins. Sanct. 219–239), who appends the account of miracles omitted by Jonas, and other additions ( ib. 239–254), also adding the Rule of St. Columbanus in ten chaps., a short Homily by the saint on the fallaciousness of human life, and some carmina ( ib. 403–414). The fullest account of his life, works, and writings is in Fleming's Collectanea Sacra (fol. Lovan. 1667), which includes Jonas's Life and St. Columbanus's writings. His writings are also in Bibl. Mag. Vet. Pat. vol. viii. (Paris, 1644), and Bibl. Max. Vet. Pat. vol. xii. (Lyons, 1677). His poems were first printed by Goldastus ( Paraen. Vet. pars. i. 1604). Wright ( Biog. Brit. Lit. 157 seq.) gives useful particulars of the editions of his writings.

St. Columbanus was born in Leinster in or about a.d. 543, the year in which Benedict, his great monastic predecessor, died at Monte Cassino. His chief training was in the monastery of Bangor, on the coast of Down, under the eye of St. Comgall, where he accepted the monastic vows and habit. At the age, most probably, of a little over forty, he was seized with a desire to preach the Gospel beyond the limits of Ireland, and with 12 companions crossed over to France, c. a.d. 585, making a short visit to Britain as he went. For several years he traversed the country, teaching the faith, but apparently without building any monastery, till, coming to Burgundy at the solicitations of Gontran the king, he took up his abode in a deserted part of the Vosges mountains. He first chose the ruined Roman fort of Anagrates, now Annegray, a hamlet of the commune of Faucogney (Haute-Saône); then, needing a larger foundation, removed, a.d. 590 or 591, to the ruins of the ancient Luxovium, about 8 miles from Annegray, and established his celebrated monastery of Luxeuil, on the confines of Burgundy and Austrasia. But soon he had to erect another monastic establishment at Fontaines, or Fontenay, and divide his monks among these houses. Over each house he placed a superior, who yet was subordinate to himself, and for their management he drew up his well-known Rule, derived no doubt in great measure from his master St. Comgall, and perhaps to some extent from St. Benedict of Monte Cassino. The great principle of this Rule was obedience, absolute and unreserved; and the next was constant and severe labour, to subdue the flesh, exercise the will in daily self-denial, and set an example of industry in cultivation of the soil. The least deviation from the Rule entailed a definite corporal punishment, or a severer form of fast as laid down in the Penitential (see the Rule in Messingham, u.s. , Fleming, u.s. , and Max Bibl. Vet. Patr. tom. xii. Lyons, 1677; and on it see Montalembert, Monks of the West , ii. 447 seq.; Lanigan, Eccl. Hist. Ir. ii. 267–269; Neander, Gen. Ch. Hist. v. 36, 37; Ussher, Eccl. Ant. c. 17, wks. vi. 484 seq.; Mabillon, Ann. Bened. lib. viii. sect. 17). For 20 years in the wooded and all but inaccessible defiles of the Vosges mountains St. Columbanus laboured with his monks, and all classes of men gathered round him, notwithstanding the severe discipline. His own inclination was always to retire into the wood and caves and hold unrestrained communion with God; but besides the claims of his monasteries, Christian zeal and charity drew him forth. He excited against himself strong feeling among the Gallican clergy and in the Burgundian court. A worldly priesthood felt the reproach of his exceeding earnestness and self-denial, and his pure severity was a constant accusation of loss of love and truth in them. Moreover, he carried with him the peculiar rites and usages of his Irish mother-church; the Irish mode of computing Easter, the Irish tonsure, and the "Cursus Scotorum" which he had received from St. Comgall. This gave great offence to the Gallo-Frank clergy, and in 602 he was arraigned before a synod, where he defended himself boldly, pleading that if error there was it was not his, but had been received from his fathers, and he asked but the licence "to live in silence, in peace and in charity, as I have lived for 12 years, beside the bones of my 17 departed brethren." At the same time he wrote to pope Gregory the Great several letters on the subject, as afterwards to pope Boniface IV., but with what immediate result we know not, though the haughty bearing and generally independent tone, in words and letters, of "Columbanus the sinner" were little calculated to propitiate the favour of bishops or popes; while Gregory's very friendly connexion with queen Brunehault would make that pope give little heed to the appeals of the stranger whom she disliked. But he received great opposition from the Burgundian court. Thierry II., called also Theodoric, was under age, and his grandmother Brunehault ruled in violent and arbitrary fashion, and encouraged the young king in every form of vice, that she might retain the control of the kingdom. This open profligacy St. Columbanus reproved by word and writing, and thus incurred the bitterest enmity of the king, and specially of the queen-mother. Gifts and flattery proving in vain, he was first carried prisoner to Besançon, and finally banished from the kingdom, A.D. 610. He departed from Luxeuil after 20 years' labour there, never to return. With his Irish monks he eventually arrived at the Lake of Constance. First he came to Arbon on its W. coast; then, hearing of the ruins of Bregentium, now Bregenz, at its S.E. corner, he went thither with St. Gall and his other monks, and spent three years preaching to the people, and contending with privation and difficulty. When Bregenz was brought under the power of Burgundy, St. Columbanus had again to flee, and leaving St. Gall at Bregenz he himself, with only one disciple, passed S. across the Alps into Lombardy, where he was honourably received by king Agilulf. At Milan he was soon engaged in a controversy with the many Arians of Lombardy, and about this time wrote to the pope Boniface IV. at the suggestion of king Agilulf and his queen Theodelind. Agilulf, in 613, presented Columbanus with a district in the wild gorges of the Apennines, between Genoa and Milan, not far from the Trebbia, and there he built his celebrated monastery of Bobbio, and there, Nov. 21, 615, calmly resigned his spirit. For his life and times, see Lanigan, Eccl. Hist. Ir. ii. c. 13; Ussher, Eccl. Ant. cc. xv. xvii.; Ind. Chron. A.D. 59, 614; Montalembert, Monks of the West , ii. bk. vii.; Butler, Lives of the SS. xi. 435 seq.; Neander, Gen. Ch. Hist. v. 35 seq.; Milman, Hist. Lat. Christ. ii. bk. iv. c. 5. In his writings St. Columbanus everywhere shews sound judgment, solid ecclesiastical learning, elegant taste, and deep spiritual discernment, which says much for the man and for the school in which he was educated. This is well pointed out by Moore in his Hist. of Ireland (i. p. 267).


It is the great distinction of Columbanus, as Neander has observed, that he set the example at the end of the 6th cent. of that missionary enterprise in remote countries of Europe which was afterwards so largely followed up from England and Ireland, as the names of Cilian, Wilfrid, Willebrord, Boniface, Willibald, Willehad, remind us. Colonies of pious monks journeyed forth under the leadership of able abbats, carrying the light of Christianity through the dangerous wilds of continental heathendom. It was about 12 years before the arrival of the Roman mission in England (A. D. 597) and the same length of time before the death of Columba the apostle of Caledonia, that Columbanus, fired perhaps by the example of this energetic missionary, passed over into Gaul.

Columbanus's foundation of Luxeuil achieved as great a celebrity as his Rule, and a more enduring one. It became the parent of numerous streams of monastic colonies, which spread through both Burgundies, Rauracia (the ancient bishopric of Basel), Neustria, Champagne, Ponthieu, and the Morini. Luxeuil was, in short, as Montalembert expresses it, the monastic capital of Gaul, as well as the first school in Christendom, a nursery of bishops and saints; while Bobbio, although for so brief a period under the government of its founder, became a stronghold of orthodoxy against the Arians, and long remained a school of learning for North Italy.

The works of Columbanus contained in Fleming's Collectanea Sacra (Lovanii, 1667) are as follows. Prose :—I. Regula Monastica , in 10 short chaps. II. Regula Coenobialis Fratrum, sive Liber de Quotidianis Poenitentiis Monachorum , in 15 chaps. III. Sermones sive Instructiones Variae , 17 discourses, the first being "de Deo Uno et Trino," and the last, "Quod per Viam Humilitatis et Obedientiae Deus quaerendus et sequendus sit." IV. Liber seu Tractatus de Modo seu Mensura Poenitentiarum , the second title being de Poenitentiarum Mensura Taxanda . It prescribes penances for various sins. V. Instructio de Octo Vitiis Principalibus , less than a column in length. The vitia are gula, fornicatio, cupiditas, ira, tristitia, acedia, vana gloria, superbia. VI. Five Epistolae Aliquot ad Diversos : (1) "ad Bonifacium IV."; (2) "ad Patres Synodi cujusdam Gallicanae super Quaestione Paschae Congregatae"; (3) "ad Discipulos et Monachos suos"; (4) "ad Bonifacium Papam"; (5) "ad S. Gregorium Papam." These are especially interesting for the information they give on the dispute between the Roman and Irish churches. In reference to (1), see Bonifacius IV. The poetical works, Poemata Quaedam , occupy about 8 pp. fol., ranging in length from 4 lines to 164. The metres are both classical and medieval.