THE STORY OF SAINT COLUMBA
In Ireland there lived a priest called Columba. He was
very tall and strong and beautiful. He was the son of a
king and might himself have been a king, but he did not
care to sit upon a throne nor to wear a crown and royal
robes. He did not long to fight and kill, as kings in
these fierce days did. He was gentle and loving, and he
longed rather to make people happy. So he was called
Columba, which means a dove.
When a little boy, Columba had heard the story of
Christ, and he had become a Christian. When he grew
up, he spent his time teaching other people to be Christian
too. For at that time nearly all the people in the world
The Picts were heathen. Some of the Scots may
have heard the story of Christ before they left Ireland,
but if they had, they very soon forgot it amid the fierce
wars and rough, wild life they led.
Often Columba turned his kind grey eyes across the
blue waters to the islands where his fellow-countrymen
had gone, and he longed to sail over the sea to tell his
story there, and to teach the wild people of these islands
to be kind and gentle.
At last he had his wish. He found twelve friends
who were willing to go with him, and together they
sailed across the sea in a little boat
THE STORY OF SAINT COLUMBA 15
The boat, which was called the Dewy-Red, was small
and frail. It was made of wickerwork covered with the
skins of animals, and seemed hardly fit for so long a
But these thirteen men were not afraid, and taking
with them bread and water and a little milk, enough to
serve them for a few days, they set sail. They were
dressed in long white robes, their feet were bare except
for sandals, and although they were going among fierce,
wild people they took no weapons. God would guard
them, they said.
The sun shone brightly and a soft wind blew as the
Dewy-Red slid out upon the waters. Columba sat at the
stern, steering straight for Albion. But as the shores of
Ireland faded in the distance he looked back with tear-
dimmed eyes. The rowers bent to the oars, and their
eyes too were dim. These men loved their country dearly,
but they were leaving it for love of others.
At last they reached the islands of Albion, and they
landed upon one of them. But looking back across the
sea they still faintly saw the shores of Ireland. ‘We
must go further,’ they said, ‘if day by day we see our
dear country in the distance, our hearts will for ever return
to it. Let us go where we cannot see it, so that we may
be content to live among strangers, in a strange land.’
So once more Columba and his friends entered their
boat. They sailed on till they came to an island then
called Hy, but which is now called Iona.
The sun was setting as the frail little boat touched the
rocky shore. Once more Columba looked back. The sea
shone golden in the evening light, but across the spark
ling waves no glimmer of the Irish shore was to be seen.
Columba and his white-robed followers landed, and
climbing to the highest point in the island again turned
their eyes westward Still no faintest outline of the Irish
shore was to be seen. They had found what they sought,
and kneeling on the rocky shore they gave God thanks
who had brought them in safety over the sea. The dove
and his message of peace had found a resting-place.
Upon this spot a cairn or pile of stones was raised
which is called Cam cul ri Erin. That means ‘ The back
turned upon Ireland.’
For two years Columba remained in Iona. During
that time, besides teaching the people, he and his men
built houses to live in, and also a church. Most of the
people who lived in Iona and the islands round were
Scots. Many of them became Christian ; then Columba
made up his mind to go to the Picts to teach them too
The King of the Picts lived then at Inverness, and
from Iona to Inverness the journey was long and difficult.
But Columba had no fear. Through the dark forests
where wild animals roared and prowled, by pathless
mountain sides, among fierce heathen people he travelled
on until he reached the palace of the King.
But the King and his heathen priests had heard of the
coming of Columba, and the gates of the palace were
barred against him and guarded by warriors.
Still Columba had no fear. Right up to the gates he
marched, and raising his hand he made the sign of the
cross upon them. Immediately the bolts and bars flew
back. Slowly and silently the great gates turned upon
their hinges and opened wide of their own accord. At
the sight, the guards fled in terror to tell the King, who
sat among his lords and priests.
When the King heard the wonderful story, he rose up
from his throne, and crying out, ‘ This is a holy man,’ he
hurried to meet Columba.
THE STORY OF SAINT COLUMBA 17
Dressed in beautiful robes, Columba came slowly
through the palace followed by his white-clad monks.
As soon as the King saw him he knelt before him, pray
ing for his blessing and protection. So the King became
Columba’s friend, and helped him in every way.
But not so the heathen priests. They hated Columba,
they hated his teaching, and they did everything they
could to keep him from speaking to the people.
One day when Columba’s followers were singing
hymns, the heathen priests tried to stop them, lest the
people should hear. But instead of being silent, Columba
himself began to sing, and his voice was so wonderful that
it was heard for miles and miles around. It was heard
by the King in his palace and by the peasant in his hut.
And yet although it was heard so far away it sounded
sweet and low to those who were near. The sound
struck terror to the hearts of the heathen priests, so
that they too were silent, and listened to the beautiful
For four-and-thirty years Columba lived among the
people of Scotland. He travelled over all the land telling
to the fierce heathen the story of Christ.
Many wonderful tales are told of Columba, and
although we cannot believe them all, they help us to
know that in those far-off times there lived a man whose
heart was large and tender, who loved the helpless and
the ignorant, and who gave his life to bring them
Besides preaching and teaching, Columba spent much
of his time in writing. In those days all books were
written by hand, and Columba copied the Psalms and
other parts of the Bible. One night as he worked he
grew very weary. He wrote the words ‘ They who seek
the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good,’
18 SCOTLAND’S STORY
then he said to those around him, ‘Here I must rest
Some one else must finish my work.’
Then sitting upon the hard stones which served him
for bed and pillow he spoke to his followers. ‘Dear
children, this is what I command with my last words—
Let peace and charity be among you always. If you do
this, following the example of the saints, God who gives
strength to the just will help you. And I who shall be
near Him will pray Him to give you all that is needful
to you in this life, and to greatly reward you in the life
that is to come.’
These were his last words.
At midnight Columba rose, and, going into the dark
church, knelt before the altar. His servant followed him,
but in the darkness could not find him. So in distress he
called out, ‘ Where art thou, my father ? ’ There was no
At last groping about the church the man came upon
Columba lying upon the steps of the altar. He raised his
head and rested it against his knees, calling aloud for help.
Soon all the monks were roused, and lights were
brought. With cries and tears they crowded round their
dying master. Columba could not speak, but he smiled
upon them, and raising his hand seemed to bless them.
Then with a long sigh he closed his eyes and was at rest
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