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November 23

St Columbanus - November 23

Saint Columbanus or Columban
Abott, Missionary
(543 – 615)

Nothing is sweeter than calm of conscience, nothing safer than purity of soul, which yet no one can bestow on himself because it is properly the gift of another.”

Saint Columbanus

Saint’s Life Story

His Early Life

Columbanus was born in 543 in West Leinster, Ireland. He was of noble birth, handsome, and well-educated in the Bible, classical authors and the Latin Fathers. However, despite his privileged position, Columbanus felt torn between his desire for God and the easy access to worldly pleasures. He sought counsel from a holy anchoress, who advised him to withdraw from the world. However, his family strongly opposed his decision, with his mother even blocking the door to prevent him from leaving.

Undeterred, Columbanus learned with another holy abott, Sinnel, on Cluain Inis, one of the hundred islands of Lough Erne. Here, he studied Scripture extensively, even writing a commentary on the Psalms. Later, he joined the monastery at Bangor under the leadership of Saint Comgall and became a monk.


At about the age of forty he seemed to hear incessantly the voice of God bidding him preach the Gospel in foreign lands. At first his abbot declined to let him go, but at length he gave consent.

As a wandering pilgrim for Christ, Columbanus set sail with twelve companions that included Saint Attala, Columbanus the Younger, Cummain, Domgal, Eogain, Eunan, Saint Gall, Gurgano, Libran, Lua, Sigisbert and Waldoleno.

Columbanus and missionary group passed over to Britain, landing probably on the Scottish coast. They remained but a short time in England, and then crossed over to France, where they arrived probably in 585. At once, they began their apostolic mission. Wherever they went the people, were struck by their modesty, patience, and humility.

The area, though nominally Christian, had fallen far from the faith but were ready for missionaries and they had some success. Columbanus, by his holiness, zeal, and learning, was eminently fitted for the work that lay before him. They were warmly greeted at the court of Gontram and king of Burgundy invited the band to stay.

Choosing the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains as their new home, Columbanus became the abbot of this small community. The group’s simple lives and obvious holiness attracted many disciples and the sick sought healing through their prayers. Columbanus often sought solitude for prayer in a cave seven miles from the monastery, maintaining contact through a messenger.

Two More New Monasteries

As the number of new monks grew, King Gontram granted them the old castle of Luxeuil to establish a new monastery in 590 that was eight miles from Annegray in a wild district, thickly covered with pine forests and brushwood. Soon after, they founded a third house at Fontaines.

Columbanus served as the master of all three monasteries and wrote a Rule for them, embodies the customs of Bangor and other Celtic monasteries incorporating the customs of Bangor and other Celtic monasteries and their many practices. This Rule was approved by the Council of Macon in 627, though it was later superseded by the Benedictine Rule.

Conflict with Frankish Bishops

Columbanus and his missionaries’ austere way of life, codified in Columbanus’ own Rule, attracted many followers. But, in the 7th century, their Irish customs, with a bishop subordinate to the abbot, a different date for Easter, and the Irish tonsure across the front part of the head, and some very penitential practices based on those of the desert fathers, all annoyed the Frankish bishops, who summoned Columban to explain himself at a synod in 602. But instead, he sent a letter advising them to hold more synods and to focus on more important matters than which rite was used to celebrate Easter and should leave him, “a poor stranger in these parts for the cause of Christ”, and his monks in peace. The dispute over Easter continued for years, with Columbanus appealing to multiple popes for help. In addition to the Easter question, Columbanus had to wage war against vice in the royal household, including King Thierry, to whose kingdom the Abbey of Luxeuil belonged, was living a life of debauchery.

Eventually, Columbanus abandoned the Celtic calendar when he moved to Italy. However, he faced further challenges in Italy as he spoke out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court, which was embroiled in power struggles. King Thierry and Queen Brunehault opposed him, leading to his brief imprisonment in Besançon. However, Columbanus managed to escape and returned to Luxeuil.

Then, King Thierry and Queen Brunehault sent an armed force to forcibly return Columbanus and his foreign monks to Ireland. However, as their ship set sail, a storm blew them back to shore, and the captain took it as a sign to set the monks free. They sought refuge at the court of King Clothaire in Soissons, and then later at the court of King Theodebert of Austrasia in 611. From there, they traveled to various regions, including Metz, France; Mainz, Germany; Suevi, Alamanni, and Lake Zurich, Switzerland. The group had some success in evangelizing and founded a new monastery with Saint Gall taking the lead.

Founded Bobbio Abbey in Italy

However, political upheaval led Columbanus to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. In Milan, Columbanus preached against the heresies of Arianism and Nestorianism and received support from the Lombard royal family. In gratitude, the Lombard king granted him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa. There, Columbanus rebuilt a half-ruined church dedicated to Saint Peter and founded an abbey, which became a center for evangelization in northern Italy for centuries to come. Throughout his life, Columbanus had a close connection to nature, often walking in the woods where birds and squirrels would ride on his shoulders.

His Death

As he grew older, word reached him that his old enemies were dead, and his brothers wanted him to return to the north. However, Columbanus declined and retired to a cave for solitude. He died in this cave as he had predicted on November 21, 615, in Bobbio, Italy.

In 1918, the Missionary Society of St. Columban was formally founded from the Irish seminary of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth sending missionaries especially to China, taking its name from Saint Columbanus. There are presently over 500 Columban priests of ten nationalities and many lay missionaries in the Society ministering in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Britain, China, Chile, Hong Kong, Fiji, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Taiwan, Rome, Mexico and the United States.

Born:                   543 in West Leinster, Ireland

Died:                   November 21, 615, in Bobbio, Italy

Beatified:           Pre-Congregation

Canonized:        Pre-Congregation

Feast Day:         November 23

Patron Saint:    Against Floods; Bargino, Italy; Bobbio, Italy; Luxeuil Abbey; Luxeuil-les-Bains, France; Motorcyclists



Saint Columbanus was an monk that left Ireland to be a missionary in France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy building the famous Luxeuil Abbey in France and Bobbio Abbey in Italy. As busy as Saint Columbanus was evangelizing those around him in many countries and preaching conversion, he would always find time to retire into a mountain or cave to pray and meditate undisturbed going into a spiritual solitude. During this time, he would seek God more fully.

Where is your “cave” to retreat today for spiritual solitude asking God – what might keep you from heaven and what might help you to gain it? Pray for pardon for your sins, and make new resolutions as to your future course of life.


Saint Columbanus,

You, who were a faithful missionary traveling far and wide to establish monasteries and to spread the light of the Gospel,

Intercede for us, so that we may possess the same zeal for evangelization and the same commitment to living a life of holiness.

Guide us to be fearless in our witness to Christ and to trust in God’s providence as we journey through life.

Help us to cultivate a deep spirit of prayer and to seek God’s presence in all that we do.

Saint Columbanus, pray for us that we may grow in faith, hope, and charity. Amen.

Saint Links 

Aleteia – The patron of bikers: an early medieval monk

All Saints & Martyrs – Saint Columbanus or Columban

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 23 November – St Columban (543-615)

Butler’s Lives Of The Saints Complete Edition – St Columban, Abbot of Luxeuil and Bobbio

Catholic Fire – St. Columbanus, Irish Monk, model for “new evangelization”

Catholic Insight – Pro, Clement and Columbanus

Catholic News Agency – St. Columbanus Feast day: Nov 23

Catholic Online – St. Columban

CatholicSaints.Info – Saints of the Day – Columbanus of Luxeuil, Abbot – by Katherine I Rabenstein

CatholicSaints.Info – Father Francis Xavier Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Columban, Abbot

CatholicSaints.Info – The Life of Saint Columban, by the monk Jonas

Daily Prayers – Columbanus

Franciscan Media – Saint Columban

Independent Catholic News – St Columban

Life and Writings of Saint Columban, by George Metlake

Melanie Rigney – Columban

New Advent – Edmonds, C. (1908). St. Columbanus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

RC Spirituality (Uncle Eddy) – St. Columbanus

Saints, Feast, Family – Saint Columban’s Story

Sanctoral – Saint Columban or Columbanus Abbot (559-615)

Video Link

Cradio Saint of the Day: Saint Columban – YouTube (CatholicSaints.Info)