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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Saint Columbanus

saint-columbanusColumbanus, Irish missionary notable for founding a number of monasteries on the European continent from around 590 in the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms, dies on November 21, 615. He is one of the earliest identifiable Hiberno-Latin writers.

Columbanus is born in 543 in the Kingdom of Meath, now part of Leinster. Well-born, handsome and educated, he is torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decides to withdraw from the world. His family opposes the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He leaves home and studies Scripture extensively under Sinell, Abbot of Cluaninis in Lough Erne. He then moves to Bangor Abbey on the coast of Down, where Saint Comgall is serving as the abbot. He stays at Bangor until his fortieth year, when he receives Comgall’s permission to travel to the continent.

In middle age, Columbanus feels a call to missionary life. With twelve companions (Saint Attala, Columbanus the Younger, Cummain, Deicolus, Eogain, Eunan, Saint Gall, Gurgano, Libran, Lua, Sigisbert and Waldoleno) he travels to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, has fallen far from the faith, but are ready for missionaries, and they have some success. They are warmly greeted at the court of King Gontram of Burgundy, and the king invites the band to stay. They choose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columbanus as their abbot.

The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group draws disciples to join them and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columbanus, to find solitude for prayer, often lives for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks over-crowds the old fortress, King Gontram gives them the Gallo-Roman castle called Luxovium in present-day Luxeuil-les-Bains, some eight miles from Annegray, in 590. Soon after, a third house called Ad-fontanas is founded at present-day Fontaine-lès-Luxeuil. Columbanus serves as master of them all, and writes a Rule for them. It incorporates many Celtic practices, is approved by the Council of Mâcon in 627, but is superseded by the Benedictine.

Problems arise early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops object to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602 he is summoned to appear before them for judgment. Instead of appearing, he sends a letter advising them to hold more synods and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he uses to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continues for years, with Columbanus appealing to multiple popes for help. It is only settled when Columbanus abandons the Celtic calender when he moves to Italy.

In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columbanus speaks out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court, which is in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunhilda of Austrasia stirs up the bishops and nobilty against the abbot. Theuderic II orders him to conform to the local ways and shut up. Columbanus refuses and is briefly imprisoned at Besançon, but he escapes and returns to Luxeuil. Theuderic II and Brunhilda send an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship sets sail, a storm drives them back to shore. The captain takes it as a sign and sets the monks free.

They make their way to King Chlothar II at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theudebert II of Austrasia in 611. Columbanus travels to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, where he sails up the Rhine to the lands of the Suebi and Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelization work there is unsuccessful and the group passes on to Arbon, then Bregenz on Lake Constance. Saint Gall, who knows the local language best, takes the lead in this region. Many are converted to the faith and the group founds a new monastery as their home and base. However, a year later political upheaval causes Columbanus to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treats him well, and he preaches and writes against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, King Agilulf, the king of the Lombards, gives him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilds a half-ruined church of Saint Peter, and around it he founds an abbey that is to be the source for evangelization throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.

Columbanus always enjoys being in the forests and caves, and as he walks through the woods, birds and squirrels ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life comes word that his old enemies are dead and his brothers want him to come back north, but he declines. Knowing that his time is almost done, he retires to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia River. Columbanus dies of natural causes at Bobbio, Italy on November 21, 615.

Columbanus’ influence continues for centuries as those he converted hand on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelize untold numbers more, and his brother monks found over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.

(Pictured: Saint Columbanus stained glass window, Bobbio Abbey crypt)

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Archbishop Paul Cullen Elevated to First Irish Cardinal

cardinal-paul-cullenArchbishop Paul Cullen,  Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and previously of Armagh, is elevated to the cardinalate as Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Montorio on June 22, 1866, becoming the first Irish cardinal.

Cullen is born at Prospect, Narraghmore, Athy, County Kildare. He enters St. Patrick’s, Carlow College, in 1816, and proceeds to the Pontifical Urban College in Rome in 1820.

Cullen is ordained in 1829 and is appointed Rector of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome in late 1831. He successfully secured the future of the college by increasing the student population and thereby strengthening the finances of the college.

Cullen is promoted to the primatial See of Armagh on December 19, 1849 and is consecrated by the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda at the Irish College in Rome on February 24, 1850. He is also named Apostolic Delegate. Cullen is transferred to the See of Dublin on May 1, 1852.

Cullen is sent to Ireland to bring the Irish church into conformity with Roman canon law and usage. His first major act as Archbishop of Armagh is to convene the Synod of Thurles, the first national synod held in Ireland since the Reformation. This occurs during the period of the debilitating Irish Famine which reduces the population of the country by over 2 million people through starvation, disease, and emigration. After a series of disastrous harvests in the 1860s, he founds, along with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Mansion House Relief Committee in 1862. Cullen also starts the practice of Irish priests wearing Roman clerical collars and being called “Father” rather than “Mister” by their parishioners.

Cullen pays frequent visits to Rome. He takes part in the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1854, and with the eighteenth centenary of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul in 1867.

After his elevation to cardinal, Cardinal Cullen takes an active part in deliberations during the Vatican Council. Towards the close of the council at the express wish of the Central Commission, Cardinal Cullen proposes a formula for the definition of Papal Infallibility. It is a matter of great delicacy, as promoters of the definition are split up into various factions, some anxious to assign a wide range to the pope’s decisions, while others wish to set forth in a somewhat indefinite way the papal prerogative.

Cullen is the most important Irish political figure in the thirty years between Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell. In political matters Cullen makes it a rule to support every measure, whatever its provenance, conducive to the interests of his vision for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Cullen is also a frequent visitor at the vice-regal lodge to lobby the government.

Cardinal Paul Cullen dies in Dublin on October 24, 1878, at the age of 75. He is buried at Holy Cross College in Drumcondra.