Columba Biography

(Irish Abbot and Missionary Evangelist)

Birthday: December 7, 521 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Gartan, Donegal, Ireland

Columba was an Irish abbot and missionary evangelist, best remembered for converting Scotland to Christianity. He was born and raised in Northern Ireland. His ancestry is traced to Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish high king. He received his basic education at home and was later educated at the monastery of Movilla. After completing his education there, he moved to Southern Ireland, where he met Gemman, a Christian bard and teacher. He eventually began his studies of Celtic Christianity under Saint Finnian. He thus became one of the 12 pupils of the saint, who were later known as the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland.” He thus became a monk and was ordained as a priest. In 563, he moved to Scotland and settled on the island of Iona. One of the reasons he traveled to Scotland was the dense population of native Irish tribes there. He laid the foundation of an abbey on the island of Iona, which for many centuries, was known as the religious center of Scotland. He passed away there on June 9, 597, at the age of 75. He was later made the patron saint of Derry, one of the biggest cities in Ireland
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Colmcille

Died At Age: 75


father: Fedlimid

mother: Eithne

siblings: Cuimne, Iogen, Mincoleth, Sinech

Born Country: Ireland

Saints Irish Men

Died on: June 9, 597

place of death: Iona, Scotland

Recommended Lists:

Childhood & Early Life
Columba was born Colmcille, on December 7, 521, in Gartan, Donegal, Ireland, to Eithne and Fedlimid. He belonged to the Cenel Conaill tribe of people, who lived in Northern Ireland for centuries. Sources also claim that Columba was a direct descendent of Niall of the Nine Hostages, a controversial Irish royal figure from the 5th century.
Columba was baptized by his foster-uncle and teacher, Cruithnechan, at ‘Temple-Douglas,’ located at the parish of Conwal. Cruithnechan was a saint who became Columba’s mentor.
Like many other facts about him, Columba’s birth name is also heavily disputed. Many historians claim that his Irish birth name could have been “Crimthann.” His name, “Colmcille,” means “dove,” which is also the meaning of the name of Prophet Jonah. Thus, it is assumed that he had later adopted the name “Colmcille” to be associated with the legendary prophet.
He received his early education at his house and learned the basics that enabled him to read and write. Finnian of Movilla was a Christian missionary who taught at the monastic school of Movilla, at Newtownards. Columba studied there and became aware of many Christian concepts. After completing his education at 20, he moved toward the south.
Continue Reading Below
He traveled toward the south of Ireland, as he wanted to study further about Christianity and wished to be ordained a saint. He moved to Leinster and met Gemman, an aged bard. He learned a great deal from him and continued to move southward toward ‘Clonard Abbey,’ which was operated by Saint Finnian back then. Finnian was known as one of the best teachers of Christianity in the entire country.
Finnian himself had been a pupil of Saint David and had received the teachings in the traditions of the ‘Welsh Church.’ Columba was also taught in the same manner.
Back then, the spread of Christianity in Ireland had just started. The druidic traditions had collapsed in the country and had paved way for the new Christian faith. Christian theology and Latin teachings were rampant in the monasteries across the country.
Columba continued his journey toward the south and reached County Meath, where he joined a monastic school named ‘Clonard Abbey,’ located on the River Boyne. Some of the most iconic figures of 6th-century Christianity had studied there. It was also one of the biggest monasteries of the time and had more than 300 pupils at one time.
At ‘Clonard Abbey,’ Columba became a pupil of Saint Finnian, who had taken 12 students under his guidance. Those 12 students were later known as the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland.” Columba was finally ordained a priest and thus became a Christian monk there.
Following this, Columba made his way back to Ulster. He gained a lot of followers, owing to his oratory skills and his powerful and intimidating built. He had a beautiful, loud voice that reached quite far. Hence, his popularity kept increasing.
Over the next few years, Columba embarked on a mission to establish many monasteries in Ireland (in places such as Derry, County Meath, and Swords). While he was teaching at one of his monasteries, he planned visits to the holy lands of Christianity: Rome and Jerusalem. He started moving but could not go far.
Meanwhile, the ever-unstable political and religious climate of Ireland was disturbed further. Columba stood strictly by his own king, against the high king. This led to a lot of criticism and trouble for him. This is said to be one of the reasons for his motivation behind leaving Ireland for Scotland.
There are many debates about why Columba had left for Scotland. One of those legends states that St. Finnian had sent him to Scotland in order to turn Pagans into Christians. However, many also claim that it was his admiration for gospels that made him move to Scotland. According to one of the sources, the presence of numerous Irish tribes on the island of Iona had perhaps made him move to Scotland.
Continue Reading Below
In 563, he set sail for Scotland with 12 of his closest missionary aids. He was given some land on the Iona Island, which was located on the west coast of Scotland, not too far away from Ireland.
There are many stories of his time in Scotland, which are full of miraculous events, thus establishing his place as a highly spiritual man. Once, he wanted to visit Brude, the king of the Picts. The king did not want to allow a missionary to enter the city and thus ordered his men to close the city gates. However, as Columba began praying, the city gates opened miraculously. It is said that Brude was so moved by this event that he immediately converted to Christianity.
After setting up his base at Iona, Columba traveled to the faraway lands in Scotland, visiting churches and meeting other Christian leaders. He also kept in touch with missionaries back in Ireland, where he had opened around 100 churches.
He was also known as an esteemed poet and is said to have written around 300 books. It is also believed that he was full of energy even during the last few days of his life and was seen preaching, reading, or writing most of the time.
It is claimed that he performed many miracles over the years, such as raising the dead, healing the sick, and turning water to wine.
Death & Legacy
Columba passed away peacefully on June 9, 597, at Iona. He was 75 years old at the time of his death.
He is remembered among Christians as the man who spread Christianity in Scotland.
After the monastery of Iona was sacked by the Vikings a few centuries later, the missionaries moved to Northern Europe and spread the tales about the life and works of Columba. By the 1200s, Columba had become a well-known figure among Christians.
He was made the patron saint of Derry, a big city in Northern Ireland.

See the events in life of Columba in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Columba Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Brendan Biography
Albertus Magnus Biography
Albertus Magnus
St. Augustine Biography
St. Augustine
John of the Cross Biography
John of the Cross
Saint George Biography
Saint George
John Bosco Biography
John Bosco
Frances Xavier Cabrini Biography
Frances Xavier Cabrini
(American, Italian)
Thomas Aquinas Biography
Thomas Aquinas

Also Listed In