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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Columba 1400

Looking Back

Jackie Macadam
Jackie Macadam



Looking Back: the Columba 1400 Anniversary

Extracts from June 1963's Life and Work, which celebrated the 1400th anniversary of Columba's arrival on Iona.



"Tomorrow a son will be born in Raith-cro", wrote an Irish poet, "of whom Ireland and Scotland will be full. He will be a scholar, a seer, a poet, a sage of the God of heaven; he will be a warrior and cleric, pure and fierce; a celibate, a priest".

All these Columba was in his time, and his name is written large both in the history of his native island and of the land to which he came.

It is fourteen hundred years ago this summer since Columba sailed north from Rathlin to make his home at Iona.

In Victorian times there was a tendency to regard Columba as the missionary who first brought the Christian faith to Scotland. This is far from the truth; the Church had entered the Lowlands of Scotland from the Roman province to the south, and from the Lowlands its message had been taken up the east coast by the route which, on their occaisonal punitive raids, the legions had taken. But, as Bede tells us, the people of the north of Scotland were still heathen, and it is Columba and the men of Iona who have the main responsibility for their conversion.

Few men of that age are so vividly recorded; few accomplished so much. Iona, which he founded, through its daughter house of Lindisfarne, was to be responsible for the evangelising of Northumbria from Stirling and West Lothian to the Humber, and even further south.

The Christian faith had been born into the world of the Roman Empire, but in the hour of the Empire's collapse the missionary work of the Celtic Church carried this faith into lands untouched by Roman conquest or culture.

For almost a couple of centuries the Church among the Celts lived in enforced separation through accidents of history; it not merely survived but kept the faith and spread it far - a fact of relevance in the twentieth century when the Christian Church in China is also separated and deprived of outer support.

Thus the memory of Columba's coming to Scotland holds not only records of bygone days but encouragement for the Church in our own century.



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