Saint Columba of Iona and Knapdale

Saint Columba (c520 CE to c600 CE) was an aristocrat who founded a monastery at Iona, as well as others north of Ireland. Unlike other foundations (cf those of Maelrubha and Moluag), Iona's connections helped its people survive the Viking raids of the 9th century. This was probably because the ties with the safer Irish mainland houses (eg, Durrow and Kells) were strong enough to provide a haven for Iona's monks. In addition, Iona became a burial place for Scotland's early kings.

At its high point, Iona was the centre of the cultural crossroads of Ireland, Pictland and Northumbria. Its importance to our vision of the "Celtic Church" cannot be overestimated. The "Book of Kells" is one of the West's most beautiful objects. It was most probably created at Iona. As Viking raids became too great to bear, it was sent for safety to Kells. The accompanying picture is from that book. As one of the most wealthy foundations of its time, Iona produced not only the Book of Kells, but several splendid crosses, many of which can be seen today on the Island of Iona.

A monastery's most important work was in the production of copies of the gospels. The "Cathach" or "Battle Book" of St Columba was very probably written by St. Columba himself. It consists of a psalter in small parchment leaves, and was enclosed in a reliquary as a sacred object. Only in 1813 was the reliquary opened, and the Cathach rediscovered. As Ireland's oldest illuminated surviving manuscript, it is presently in the care of Dublin's Royal Irish Academy.

A "Life of Saint Columba" exists. It was written by Adomnan (born c 628 CE), the ninth Abbot of Iona. A translation by Richard Sharpe, with extensive notes and commentary, is available from Penguin Books.

The name "Columba" derives from the Irish "Columb" meaning "dove." Columba's relation to other Celtic saints can be seen here. Remains associated with St. Columba exist in Knapdale, and are described here.