Christ Was Victor in the North

A fanciful, 19th century depiction of St. Columba converting the Pictish King Bridei, a mural painting by William Brassey Hole, in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
A fanciful, 19th century depiction of St. Columba converting the Pictish King Bridei, a mural painting by William Brassey Hole, in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Of the manner in which St. Columba overcame Broichan the Druid and sailed against the wind.

On a certain day after the events recorded in the foregoing chapters, Broichan, whilst conversing with the saint, said to him: “Tell me, Columba, when dost thou propose to set sail?” The saint replied, “I intend to begin my voyage after three days, if God permits me, and preserves my life.” Broichan said, “On the contrary, thou shalt not be able, for I can make the winds unfavourable to thy voyage, and cause a great darkness to envelop you in its shade.” Upon this the saint observed: “The almighty power of God ruleth all things, and in His name and under His guiding providence all our movements are directed.” What more need I say? That same day, the saint, accompanied by a large number of followers, went to the long lake of the river Nesa (Loch Ness), as he had determined. Then the Druids began to exult, seeing that it had become very dark, and that the wind was very violent and contrary. Nor should we wonder, that God sometimes allows them, with the aid of evil spirits, to raise tempests and agitate the sea. For thus legions of demons once met in the midst of the sea the holy bishop Germanus, whilst on his voyage through the Gallican channel to Britain, whither he was going from zeal for the salvation of souls, and exposed him to great dangers, by raising a violent storm and causing great darkness whilst it was yet day. But all these things were dissipated by the prayers of St. Germanus more rapidly than his words were uttered, and the darkness passed away.

Our Columba, therefore, seeing that the sea was violently agitated, and that the wind was most unfavourable for his voyage, called on Christ the Lord and embarked in his small boat; and whilst the sailors hesitated, he the more confidently ordered them to raise the sails against the wind. No sooner was this order executed, while the whole crowd was looking on, than the vessel ran against the wind with extraordinary speed. And after a short time, the wind, which hitherto had been against them, veered round to help them on their voyage, to the intense astonishment of all. And thus throughout the remainder of that day the light breeze continued most favourable, and the skiff of blessed man was carried safely to the wished-for haven.

Let the reader therefore consider how great and eminent this venerable man must have been, upon whom God Almighty, for the purpose of manifesting His illustrious name before a heathen people, bestowed the gift of working such miracles as those we have recorded.

Vita Columbæ, Lib. II., Cap. xxxv.

THE DRUID.

Our Colum’s bark was in the bay,
But sore our oarsmen were dismayed,
The Druid Brochan barred our way,
And shouted to his gods for aid;
And swore by earth and sea and sun
No Christian hound should sail upon
The lake that he forbade.

His old grey hair hung loose and long
About his shoulders bowed with age,
He poured to heaven the piercing song
(Men said) of some old Pictish sage.
His eyeballs gleamed unearthly fire,
And, as his song rose ever higher,
He shook with palsied rage.

I swear his mountain demon heard,
Who knew not that our Saint was nigh,
Nor that a bearer of the Word
Was come beneath his own wild sky,
Where, king of all men’s hopes and fears,
Himself, they said, a thousand years,
Had ruled as God on high.

He heard, I swear, his priest’s distress,
And launched himself in one black cloud
Upon the bosom of Loch Ness,
While Pict and Scot in terror bowed,
And like a fiery thunder-snake
Came tearing down the long dark lake,
We heard him roar aloud.

Upon the wings of one wild storm,
Rushing with furious haste, he came;
I hardly saw his dragon form,
Through sheets and tongues of forkèd flame.
Unceasing thunder crashed behind
The rushing of the mighty wind,
Men trembled at his name.

But through the howling of the gale
More shrill arose the Druid’s cry,
“Now wretched Christian wilt thou sail?
Down on thy knees, adore and die,
And thinkest thou to cope with me?
Ye Picts and Scots, at last ye see
I am his master, I.”

And all men on their faces fell,
Only St. Colum, meek and pale,
Rising against the Druid’s spell,
Passed in the teeth of that wild gale,
Down to his bark, nor blenched with fear,
But bade us cross ourselves and rear
His mast and span his sail.

We strained the aching mast on high,
The raving sail we scarcely reared,
The screaming cordage lashed the sky,
We trembled while the Pagans jeered,
For there was never human oar
Could push that wind-caught bark from shore,
When such a tempest neared.

While Colum signed the cross above
Our floundering boat with outstretched hand,
The howling whirlwind burst and drove
Enormous breakers roods on land.
Yet, lo, our vessel put about,
And through the storm went up their shout,
“His boat has left the land.”

There in the teeth of that great wind,
Through blinding clouds of driving spray,
They saw us sail and leave behind
Themselves and their accursèd bay.
Our boat sailed on with even keel,
The billows could not make us reel,
The tempest could not stay.

Old Brochan cursed his powerless god,
His starting eyeballs wild with fear,
His demon, like a monstrous clod,
Dropped in the lake to disappear.
But far and wide the word went forth
That Christ was victor in the north,
And Colum was His seer.

— Douglas Hyde (ed.), The Three Sorrows of Storytelling and Ballads of St. Columkille, London, 1895.

Author: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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