The Whole Illand is Church Land

Aerial view of Iona Abbey.
Aerial view of Iona Abbey.

Icollumkill, antiently called Iona, lays from Colle to the south and south-east about thirty-six myils of sea, and is distant from the south end of Mulle about one myil of sea. It is two myills in lenth, and almost from east to west, and one mile in bredth. It is very fertill; commodious for fishing and fowling. It hes two fresh water lochs, goud springs, and medicinall herbs.

Port-a-Churaich (St. Columba's Bay), Iona.
Port-a-Churaich (St. Columba’s Bay), Iona.

Here the sea casteth up in one place a number of small stones of divers collours, and transparente, very fair to looke upon; they are really peculiar to the place, for the longer they lay upon the shoar, they reapen and turn more lively in their coulors, yield to the feil, and admits of gouid polishing and engraving. Marble also, of divers colours, and with beautyful vains, is found in this Illand. It hes been counted renound pairtly for the goud discipline of Columbus, who is buried in it, and partly for the monuments of the place; for it has two monastryes, one of monks, another of nuns; a church of considerable dimensions dedicated to Columbus.

Iona Abbey.
Iona Abbey.

This hes been the Cathedrall of the Bishops of the Illes since Sodora in the Ill of Man came into the Englishes hands. In this Illand are many other small chapells; the vestiges of a citie is yet visible in it, which, as some old manuscripts testifie, was called Sodora.

Rèilig Odhrain and St. Oran’s Chapel, Iona.
Rèilig Odhrain and St. Oran’s Chapel, Iona.

Many of the Kings of Scotland, some of the Kings of Ireland and Noraway, were buryet heer. Many tombs appropriat to the families of the Illanders, as ther inscriptions, though now allmost obliterate, do testify; heer the famous Columbus himself was also interred. The coast round about Iona is very bade, full of rocks and violent tides. The whole Illand is Church land, so is also a goud pairt of Tyrie, the Ill of Gonna wholly, and the two ends of Colle. It is remarkable that there is in Iona a few people called to this day Ostiarii, from their office about the Church in Columbus’ tyme; this people never exceed the number of eight persons in perfyte age; this is found to had true, and there is a tradition that for some miscarriage in ther predecessors in Columbus’ tyme this malediction was left them. The inhabitants of all the said Illands are naturally civill and bountiful, right capable of all goud instructions. All thir Illands have been possossed by M’Leane and the cadette of his family.

— Description of Iona by Rev. John Fraser, an Episcopal clergyman in the Highlands, who was the author of a “Treatise on Second Sight,” printed at Edinburgh, 1707; from the collections of MacFarlane of MacFarlane and published in The Spottiswoode Miscellany: A Collection of Original Papers and Tracts, Illustrative Chiefly of the Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, Spottiswoode Society, 1845.

Like An Unsullied Sun

Replica of St. John's Cross, by the door of Iona Abbey.
Replica of St. John’s Cross, by the door of Iona Abbey.

Now when Colomb Cille came to his ending, and when the bell for nocturn was struck on the night of Pentecost Sunday, he went before the rest to the church and made prostration and fervent prayer at the altar. Then an angelic radiance filled the church around him on every side, and there the venerable old man sent forth his spirit to heaven, into the delight and into the joyance of heaven’s household.

His body is here on earth with honour and with reverence from God and menfolk, with marvels and miracles every day; and though great be his honour at present, greater will it be at the assembly of Doom, when his body and his soul will shine like an unsullied sun. There in sooth shall he have that great glory and great elevation in union with the nine orders of heaven that have not transgressed, in union with the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ in union with the Godhead and Manhood of God’s Son, in the union that is nobler than any union, in the unity of the holy, noble, venerable Trinity, even Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Old Irish Life of St. Columba.

Relics of Patrick

The Bell of St. Patrick and its Shrine; Armagh, Ireland.
Shrine of the Bell of St. Patrick’s Will; National Museum of Ireland.

The relics of Patrick were enshrined sixty years after his death by Columcille. Three precious reliquaries were found in the tomb, sc. the Cup, the Angel’s Gospel, and the Bell of the Will. The angel directed Columcille to divide the three reliquaries thus: the Cup to Down, the Bell of the Will to Armagh, the Gospel of the Angel to Columcille himself. And it is called the Gospel of the Angel, because Columcille received it at the Angel’s hand.

Annals of Ulster, U553.3,
copied from a chronicle called the Book of Cuanu.

Back Turned to Ireland

Delightful would it be to me to be in Uchd Ailiun
On the pinnacle of a rock,
That I might often see
The face of the ocean;
That I might see its heaving waves
Over the wide ocean,
When they chant music to their Father
Upon the world’s course;
That I might see its level sparkling strand,
It would be no cause of sorrow;
That I might hear the song of the wonderful birds,
Source of happiness;
That I might hear the thunder of the crowding waves
Upon the rocks;
That I might hear the roar by the side of the church
Of the surrounding sea;
That I might see its noble flocks
Over the watery ocean;
That I might see the sea monsters,
The greatest of all wonders;
That I might see its ebb and flood
In their career;
That my mystical name might be, I say,
Cul ri Erin‘;
That contrition might come upon my heart
Upon looking at her;
That I might bewail my evils all,
Though it were difficult to compute them;
That I might bless the Lord
Who conserves all,
Heaven with its countless bright orders,
Land, strand and flood;
That I might search the books all,
That would be good for any soul;
At times kneeling to Beloved Heaven;
At times at psalm-singing;
At times contemplating the King of Heaven,
Holy the Chief;
At times work without compulsion;
This would be delightful.
At times plucking duilisc† from the rocks;
At times fishing;
At times giving food to the poor;
At times in a carcair‡.
The best advice in the presence of God
To me has been vouchsafed.
The King whose servant I am will not let
Anything deceive me.

Columcille fecit, attributed to St. Columba; translated by Michael O’Curry from an Irish MS. in the Burgundian Library of Brussels.

† seaweed
‡ prison, perhaps a solitary cell

Vitreus Codex

OF THE ANGEL OF THE LORD WHO APPEARED VISIBLY TO
ST. COLUMBA WHILE STAYING IN HINBA ISLAND, WHEN SENT TO ORDAIN AEDHAN TO BE KING.

At another time, while the famous man was staying in Hinba island†, one night in an ecstasy of mind he saw an angel of the Lord sent to him, who had in his hand the glassy book (vitreum librum) of the ordination of kings, which the venerable man, when he had received it from the hand of the angel, at his bidding began to read. And when he refused to ordain Aedhan to be king, as was recommended to him in the book, because he loved logenan his brother more; suddenly the angel put out his hand and smote the Saint with a scourge, the livid mark of which remained on his side all the days of his life. And he added this word, saying, “Know for certain that I am sent unto thee from God with the glassy book (vitreum codicem), that, according to the words which thou hast read in it, thou mayest ordain Aedhan to the kingdom. And if thou art not willing to obey this command, I will smite thee again.” When, therefore, this angel of the Lord appeared for three nights in succession, having in his hand that glassy book, and committed to him the same commands of the Lord concerning the ordination of that king, the Saint, obeying the word of the Lord, sailed over to the Iouan island (Iona), and there ordained Aedhan, who arrived in those days, to be king, as he had been commanded. And among the words of ordination he prophesied future events concerning his sons and grandsons and great grandsons, and, placing his hand upon his head, ordained and blessed him.

Cuimine (Cummian) the Fair, in the book which he wrote of the virtues of St. Columba, has thus said, that St. Columba began to prophesy of Aedhan and his posterity, and of his kingdom, saying, “Believe without doubting, Aedhan, that none of thine adversaries will be able to resist thee, until thou first actest fraudulently against me and against my successors. Wherefore, then, do thou commend it to thy sons, that they may commend it to their sons and grandsons and posterity, lest they through evil counsels lose the sceptre of this their kingdom out of their hands. For at whatsoever time they do anything against me or against my kinsmen who are in Ireland, the scourge, which for thy sake I have endured from the angel, shall by the hand of God be turned upon them to their great disgrace and the heart of men shall be taken away from them, and their enemies shall be greatly strengthened over them.”

Now this prophecy has been fulfilled in our own times, in the battle of Roth‡, when Domhnall Brecc, grandson of Aedhan, without cause wasted the province of Domhnall, grandson of Ainmire. And from that day to this they are ever on the decline through means of strangers, which excites in the breast deep sighs of grief.

— St. Adomnán’s Vita Columbæ, Book III, Chapter v.

† The Columban retreat isle of Hinba is perhaps Eileach an Naoimh (Eilean-na-Naoimh) [rocky place/island of the saint], the Holy Isle, southernmost of the Garvellachs archipelago, lying in Firth of Lorne between Mull and Argyll.
‡ The Battle of Moira, known archaically as the Battle of Mag Rath, was fought in the summer of 637 by the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son King Congal of Ulster, supported by his ally Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dalriada. The battle was fought near the Woods of Killultagh, just outside the village of Moira in what would become County Down. It was allegedly the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland, and resulted in the death of Congal and the retreat of Domnall Brecc.

Do Thou Assoil Me and Give Me the Sacrament

On a certain day Columcille was going to Tara of the Kings, and by adventure he met Bee mac De, the druid of Diarmaid mac Cerbail, King of Erin. And Bee had the gift of prophecy from God, albeit he was a druid, and he had made no false prophecy ever. But Columcille had foretold that Bee should twice prophesy falsely ere his death. And Colcumcille saluted him, and entered into friendly converse with him.

And he said: “Great is thy wisdom and knowledge, Bee mac De, in the tidings thou givest to other folk touching their deaths. Hast thou knowledge also of when thou shalt thyself die?”

“Thereof have I knowledge in sooth,” saith Bee. “There be yet for me seven years of life.”

“A man might do good works in shorter space than that,” saith Columcille. “And knowest thou for a surety that thou hast so much of life still?”

Then was Bee silent for a space, and thereafter spake he to Columcille and said, “I have not. It is but seven months of life I have.”

“That is well,” saith Columcille, “and art certain thou hast still so much of life to come?”

“I am not,” saith Bee, “and this is a token, O Columcille. I cannot withstand the prophecy thou hast made. For thou didst foretell that I should make two false prophecies ere I should die. There is left me but seven hours of this same day,” saith he. “Do thou assoil me and give me the sacrament.”

“It was to give thee this that I came hither today,” saith Columcille, “for God revealed to me that thou shouldst die today.”

Then did Columcille succor Bee with the consolation of Holy Church, and gave him the sacrament from his own hand. And Bee died then. And his soul went to Heaven through the goodness of God and the intercession of Columcille.

– Betha Colaim Chille (Life of Columcille),
X. Of Sundry Miracles and Prophecies of Columcille in Erin and of Certain Visions, 129;
compiled by Manus O’Donnell in 1532; edited and translated from manuscript Rawlinson B. 514 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

I Would Not Speak Falsehood

View from atop Dunadd, (Scottish Gaelic Dún Add, 'fort on the [River] Add'), an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.
View from atop Dunadd, (Scottish Gaelic Dún Add, ‘fort on the [River] Add’), an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.
On a time that Columcille was in Alba, he sent holy Baithin on certain errands to Aedan son of Gabhran. Aedan inquired of him who that man was, to wit, Columcille, of the which the folk of the Western World gave such great report.

“He is a good man,” saith Baithin, “for he hath not broken his virginity, and he hath done naught, small or great, in vain-glory, and never hath he spoken falsehood.” Then Aedan bethought him how he might confute that. And he brought Columcille to him. And he let seat his own daughter Coinchenn in a chair in the presence of Columcille, and she with royal robes upon her.

“Beautiful is the maiden,” saith Aedan.
“She is in sooth,” saith Columcille.
“Were it pleasing to thee to lie with her?” saith Aedan.
“It were pleasing,” saith Columcille.

“Hearest thou him of whom it hath been said that never hath he broken his virginity, and he saying he were fain to be lying with a maiden!” saith Aedan.

“I would not speak falsehood,” saith Columcille. “And know thou, O Aedan, there is none in the world that is without the desire to sin. Natheless he that leaveth that desire, for God’s sake, shall be crowned in the Kingdom of God. And wit thou well, I would not lie with the damsel for the lordship of the world, albeit for the lust of the fleshly body that is about me, it is indeed my desire.”

If now Columcille had said at that time that he had no wish to lie with the damsel, Aedan had laid that against him as a lie, according to the word he had himself spoken, to wit, that save the human body of Jesu Christ, there hath none put on flesh that doth not have desire toward sin.

— Betha Colaim Chille (Life of Columcille),
XVII. More of the Labors of Columcille in Iona, 241;
compiled by Manus O’Donnell in 1532; edited and translated from manuscript Rawlinson B. 514 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.