St Vincent, martyr, 2nd or 3rd century. Saints Primus and Felicianus, martyrs, 286. St Pelagia, virgin and martyr, 311. St Columba, or Columkille, Abbot and Apostle of the Picts, 597.
Born. – Andrew M. Ramsay, author of Travels of Cyrus, 1686, Ayr; John Howard Payne, American actor and dramatist, 1792, New York; Schamyl, patriotic imaum of Circassia, 1797.
Died. – Jeanne D’Albret, Queen of Navarre, mother of Henry IV., 1572; Secretary Maitland, 1573, Edinburgh; Benedict Pictet, learned Protestant divine, 1724, Geneva; Louis XVII. of France, 1795, Temple, Paris; Dr Abraham Rees, encyclopædist, 1825, Finsbury.
A short distance from one of the wildest districts of the western coast of Scotland, opposite the mountains of Mull, only three miles to the south of Staffa, so famous for its stately caverns, lies a little island, which is celebrated as the centre from which the knowledge of the Gospel spread over Scotland, and indeed over all the North, and which, rocky and solitary, and now insignificant as it may be, was a seat of what was felt as marvellous learning in the earliest period of mediæval civilization. Its original name appears to have been Hi or I, which was Latinized into the, perhaps, more poetical form of Iona, but it is now commonly called I-com-kill, or I of Columba of the Cells, from the saint who once possessed it, and from the numerous cells or monastic establishments which he founded.
Columba was an Irish priest and monk of the sixth century, who was earnest in his desire to spread among the ignorant pagans of the North that ascetic form of Christianity which had already taken root in Ireland. According to Bede, from whom we gather nearly all we know of this remarkable man, it was in the year 565 that Columba left his native island to preach to the Picts, the inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands. Encouraged by their chieftain, his mission was attended with success. The chieftain gave him, as a place to establish himself and his companions, the island of I, which Bede describes as in size, ‘only of about five families, according to the calculation of the English,’ or, as this is explained by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, five hides of land. It is now three miles in length, and not quite a mile broad. Here Columba built a church and a monastery, of which he became abbot, and collected around him a body of monks, under a rule which was remarkable chiefly foe the strict enforcement of self-denial and asceticism. Their hours each day were divided between prayer, reading or hearing the Scriptures, and the labours required for producing the necessaries of life, chiefly cultivating the land, and fishing. Others were employed in writing copies of the books of the church service, which were wanted for their own use, or for the religious missions sent out amongst the neighbouring barbarians. The art most cultivated among the early Irish monks appears to have been calligraphy, and Columba himself is said to have been a very skilful penman, and, we may no doubt add, illuminator; and copies of the Psalter and Gospel, still preserved in Ireland, are attributed to him. Such of Columba’s monks at I as were capable, were employed in instructing others, and this employment seems to have best suited their tastes, and education became the great object to which Columba’s successors devoted themselves. For ages youths of noble, and even of royal blood, flocked hither from all parts, not only of Scotland, England, and Ireland, but from Scandinavia, to profit by the teaching 0fo the monks; at the same time, colonies of Columba’s monks went forth to establish themselves in various parts of the Scottish Highlands, and the neighbouring islands, in Iceland, and even in Norway. Bede tells us that, about thirty-two years after he settled in I, or Iona, which would carry us, according to his dates, to the year 597, St Columba died and was buried in his island monastery, being then seventy-seven years old. The 9th of June is usually assigned as the day of his death. The reputation of Iona as a seat of learning, and as a place of extraordinary sanctity, continued to increase after the death of the founder of its religious establishment, and his memory was held in the most affectionate love. His disciples, or we may say the monks of his order, who formed the Pictish church, became known by the name of Culdees, a Celtic word meaning simply monks. Their first religious house of any importance on the mainland was Abernethy, the church of which is said to have been built in Columba’s lifetime, and which became the principal seat of royalty and episcopacy in the Pictish kingdom. St Andrew’s, also, was a foundation of the Culdees, as well as Dunkeld, Dunblane, Brechin, and many other important churches. From the particular position held by Columba towards his disciples in all parts, when Culdee bishoprics were established, all the bishops were considered as placed under the authority of the abbots of Iona, so that these abbots were virtually the Metropolitans of the Scottish church. In the ninth century the Danes, who ravaged with great ferocity the Scottish coasts, repeatedly visited Iona, and so completely destroyed its monks and their monastery, that the island itself disappears from history, until the twelfth century, when, in the reign of William the Lion, it was re-occupied by a convent of Cluniac monks. Long before this the Culdees had lost their character for sanctity and purity of life, and they were now so much degenerated that the Scottish King David I. (who reigned from 1124 to 1153), after an ineffectual attempt to reform them, suppressed the Culdees altogether, and supplied their place with monks and canons of other orders, but chiefly of that of St Augustine.*
JOHN HOWARD PAYNE.
An amusing proof of the singular popularity of Mr Payne’s song was afforded, soon after its first appearance, by a Dumbartonshire clergyman of the Established Presbyterian Church. He was preaching upon the domestic affections – he had wrought himself up a good deal – finally, forgetting all the objections of his cloth to stage matters, he recited the whole of the verses of ‘Home, sweet home,’ to the unutterable astonishment of his congregation.
* For more on Columba see ‘Old Glasgow’ First Bishop, ‘Scots Lore’ article Highland Folklore gives a suggestion of his genealogy, human sacrifice is discussed in connection with Columba in the ‘Scots Lore’ Journal for April 1895, he’s also discussed in association with St Mungo’s article for 13th of January and the 17th of March associated with St Patrick.
For the Culdees see the ‘Scots Lore’ Journal for February 1895 and in ‘Scotland Illustrated’, Plates I. and V, Also ‘Sketches’ chapter for ‘Scone’.
On this Day in Other Sources.
‘That April, right evil weather; and the May, mickle weet and rain; and June, right evil, weet and wind; and the beir-seed right late in all places, while after Sanct Colm’s Day [9th June, 1574].’ – C. F.
– Domestic Annals, pp.56-80.
I. The Young King of Easaidh Ruadh.
As told by James Wilson, Blind Fiddler, June 9th, 1859, to Hector MacLean in Islay, Argyll.
– Popular Tales, Vol. 1, pp.1-11.
Glasgow Evening Citizen, Thursday 9th June 1870, p.2.
SINGULAR DEATH OF A BOY NEAR ABERDEEN. – On Tuesday afternoon, as Thomas Williamson, aged eleven years, was proceeding along a turnpike road, leading a cow belonging to his father, Mr. Williamson, farmer, Nether Tertowie, Kinnellar, near Aberdeen, he had tied the end of the rope by which the animal was led round his waist. The cow ran away, dragging the boy along the road for a distance of about 500 yards, whereby he was injured so severely that death resulted.