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Book VII
Note A

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book VII
Chapter 4

Book VII (continued)

Vol. VI
Chapter III

Saint Columbanus


Sources: —

Our chief authority for the history of Columbanus is the life of that saint by Jonas, a monk of Bobbio, who, though not himself personally acquainted with Columbanus, wrote what he had heard from the saint's friends and companions.​a The date of the composition of this biography is probably between 640 and 650. Jonas was evidently well trained in the school attached to the monastery, and knew the classical poets only too well for the comfort of his readers. Sometimes his sentences are a mere cento of quotations from their works. Take for instance the first:

'Columbanus igitur qui et Columba ortus est in Hiberniâ insulâ quae est in extremo Oceano Sita, et spectat Titanis occasum, dum vertitur orbis et lux occiduas ponti descendit in umbras: unde denuo peracto cursu noctis irradiat totum redivivo lumine mundum.'

Jona is not perfectly informed as to Gaulish affairs: for instance — he makes Sigibert, the husband of Brunichildis, king of Austrasia and Burgundy. But upon the whole he seems to be an honest narrator, though intent, like all the authors of this kind of literature, on magnifying the miraculous achievements of his hero.

The letters of Columbanus are quoted from the text given in Monumenta Germaniae Historica.

We have also the life of Gallus by Walafrid Strabo (ninth century?) to which we are indebted for some passages in the later life of the saint, who was the spiritual superior of Gallus.  p106 He, too, writes in a somewhat florid but not absolutely barbarous style.

Guides: —

Les Moines de l'Occident, by Count Montalembert. Six Months in the Apennines; or a Pilgrimage in search of Vestiges of the Irish Saints in Italy, by Margaret Stokes.

In relating the history of the four great duchies, we have travelled far down through the seventh century. We must now retrace our steps to the very beginning of that century, and follow the fortunes of the Lombard kingdom established at Pavia, from the year 603 onwards. It will be remembered that this year witnessed the greatest of King Agilulf's triumphs. Cremona, Mantua, Brexillum, all surrendered to his generals; the whole valley of the Po became a Lombard possession; the Exarch Smaragdus was forced to conclude peace on terms humiliating to the Empire; the kidnapped daughter of Agilulf, with her husband Gottschalk, was restored to her father; and, most fortunate event, as it seemed, of all, the new dynasty was consolidated by the birth of Theudelinda's son Adalwald, who was baptized according to the Catholic rite by Bishop Secundus of Trient.

Last years of Agilulf. Agilulf lived for twelve or thirteen years after this year of triumph, but, with one exception, that period seems to have been marked by no political events of great importance for the Lombard kingdom. Circa 610 The exception referred to — and it was a lamentable one — was the terrible invasion of the once friendly Avars which (as was told in the last chapter) blasted the reviving prosperity of the border duchy of Friuli.

Renewals of the Peace with the Empire. Relations with the Empire consisted chiefly of a series of renewals of the peace of 603. It had been  p107 arranged that that peace should endure till the 1st of April, 605.​1 In the summer of that year we must suppose the war to have been in some measure renewed, and the Lombards to have been successful, for two cities on the east of Lake Bolsena, Orvieto and Bagnorea,​2 were lost by the Empire. In November of this year (605) Smaragdus was fain to conclude a year's peace with Agilulf at a cost of 12,000 solidi.​3 In 606 the peace was renewed for three years more. It was, perhaps, in 609, at the end of this interval that Agilulf sent a great officer of the household​4 to the Emperor Phocas. He returned, accompanied by the Imperial ambassadors, who brought gifts from their master, and renewed the yearly peace.​5 And so the diplomatic game went on, somewhat in the same fashion as between Spain and the United Provinces in the early part of the seventeenth century. The Roman Emperor could not recognise the Lombards as lawful possessors of any part of the soil of Italy, but he was willing to postpone from year to year the effort to expel them; and the Lombard king, sometimes by the inducement of a large payment of money, was made willing to allow the operation to be so postponed. Emperor succeeded Emperor at Constantinople — the revolution which placed Heraclius on the Imperial throne broke  p108 out in the autumn of 610 — and Exarch succeeded Exarch at Ravenna, but the long-delayed war never came during that generation.

Relations with the Franks. With his powerful neighbours on the west, the relations of Agilulf were also in the main peaceful. When, in July, 604, the infant Adalwald was solemnly raised upon the shield in the Roman hippodrome at Milan, and declared king over the Lombards, the ambassadors of the Austrasian king, Theudebert II, were standing by, and in their master's name they swore to a perpetual peace between the Lombards and the Franks, to be sealed by the marriage of the royal babe with their master's daughter.6

League against Theodoric II of Burgundy. 607 A few years later we hear of Agilulf as joining a quadruple alliance against Theodoric II of Burgundy. This young king, sensual and profligate like all the Merovingian brood, had repudiated with insult the daughter of the Visigothic king, Witterich. Some said that the divorce was suggested by Theodoric's godmother Brunichildis, who in her eager clutch of regal power would rather that her descendant wallowed in sinful lusts than that she herself should be confronted in the palace by the influence of a lawful queen. But however this may be — and Brunichildis, struggling against the increasing power of the great nobles of the Court, was bitterly assailed by the calumnies of her foes — the offence seemed likely not to go unpunished. A powerful combination was formed. The  p109 insulted Witterich obtained the alliance of the culprit's brother, Theudebert of Austrasia, of his cousin Chlotochar of Neustria, and even, strange to say, of Agilulf of Italy, who perhaps considered himself bound to follow his ally Theudebert wheresoever he might lead him. However, this formidable combination led to no results, and the meagre annals of the time do not even inform us whether Burgundy was ever invaded by the confederate kings. Evidently Theodoric II, the resources of whose kingdom were directed by the wary old politician Brunichildis, was the most powerful of all the Frankish monarchs. The long-smouldering feud between him and his brother broke out in 612 into open hostilities. Theodoric was twice victorious, took his brother prisoner, and put him, together with his infant son, to death. What became of the little princess, the affianced bride of Adalwald, we are not informed. Theodoric then turned against the only remaining Frankish king, Chlotochar of Neustria, whose neutrality in the previous struggle he had purchased by a promised cession of territory. It seemed as if the long rivalry between the offspring of Fredegundis and that of Brunichildis was about to end in the triumph of the latter, and as if the grandson of Sigibert was to reunite under his sceptre all the wide dominions of Clovis and Chlotochar I. But just at this critical moment Theodoric II died, leaving four infant, but bastard, children behind him. In the name of her great-grandson Sigibert, eldest of the four, Brunichildis aspired to rule over Burgundy and Austrasia, and hoped to conquer Neustria. But the deadly enmity of the Austrasian nobles to the old queen prevented their consummation. Two great nobles, Arnulf, bishop  p110 of Metz, and Pippin,​7 went over to the party of Chlotochar, and by their defection determined the result of the campaign. The battle, which was to have been fought at Châlons-sur‑Aisne,​b was only a sham fight, the armies of Austrasia and Burgundy turning their backs without striking a blow. Brunichildis and her great-grandchildren were captured. Two of the latter were put to death; one escaped, but vanished from the eyes of men; the life of the fourth was spared because he was the godson of the conqueror. Death of Brunechildis. Brunichildis herself, after being — so it is said — tormented for three days, and then paraded through the Frankish camp on a camel, was tied by her hair, her hands and her feet to a vicious horse, and so dragged and trampled to death. The long strife between the two houses was at an end, and 597 while Fredegundis, unquestionably the most wicked of the two queens, had died quietly in her bed sixteen years before, the able, unscrupulous, and beautiful Brunichildis lived on into old age only to meet this shameful and terrible end.

With the unfortunate Frankish queen and her descendants is closely connected the name of one who exercised a mighty influence on the spiritual history of Theudelinda, and, through her, on the religious history of Italy — the Irish saint Columbanus.

Early years of Columbanus. Columbanus or Columba (the second) was born in West Leinster probably in 543,​8 the same year which  p111 saw the death of the greatest of monks, St. Benedict. He was well born, and was educated in those arts and sciences a knowledge of which still lingered in Ireland while Gaul and Italy were almost submerged under the flood of barbarian invasion. When the fair and noble youth was growing up into his comely manhood,​9 visions of beautiful women began to haunt his imagination. Marriage was hopeless, for he had been in some sort vowed by his mother to the service of the Church. Renewed earnestness in his studies, devotion to grammar, rhetoric, geometry, the reading of the Scriptures, failed to banish the alluring dream. At length, by the advice of a pious nun, though against the earnest entreaties of his mother, he resolved to leave his paternal home in Leinster; and, after spending some time in the school (which was probably also a monastery) taught by St. Sinell on an island in Lough Erne, he entered the great monastery which had then been recently founded by St. Comgall at Benchor or Bangor in the county of Down. Here, too, he was doubtless still engaged in intellectual labour, for this was one of the most learned monasteries of the time. Ovid and Virgil were studied within its walls; music was held in high honour; some, probably, of those beautiful Irish MSS. which are among the most precious possessions of our great libraries were illuminated by the monks of Bangor.

He goes forth as a missionary. Columbanus, however, though no foe to liberal culture,  p112 was possessed by the missionary spirit, and, after spending many years at Bangor, he set forth with twelve companions, bent on preaching the Gospel, but not knowing whither they should go.​10 They reached the shores of Britain, where the Saxons and Engles were then dwelling in heathen darkness; but it was not reserved for them to anticipate the glory of Augustine and Aidan. After a short stay in the island they again set sail with anxious hearts, and landed in Gaul. After they had pursued their missionary career in this country for some time, the fame of St. Columbanus reached the ears of Sigibert, king of Austrasia,​11 the husband of Brunichildis. He sent for the Irish saint, begged him to remain in his kingdom, and at length overcame his reluctance to do so by the gift of a ruined village named Anagratis,​12 in a wild and rocky region of the Vosges.

Columbanus at Anagratis. Here Columbanus established his monastery, and here he dwelt in peace during the stormy years that followed the death of Sigibert. There was nothing in his possessions to tempt the cupidity of the fierce dukes and simoniacal bishops of the Frankish kingdoms.  p113 The diet of Columbanus and his monks was for some time the bark of trees, wild herbs, and little crab apples,​13 but as we afterwards hear of the monks ploughing and reaping, we may infer that, at any rate from their second season onwards, they were not destitute of bread. For the saint himself, even the austerities of the coenobitic life were not sufficient. Leaving his monastery to govern itself for a time, he retired to a cave in the rocks, which was already the abode of a bear. On hearing the word of command from the saint, 'Depart hence, and never again travel along these paths,' the wild beast meekly obeyed. The fame of the preaching of the saint, and, still more, the fame of his miracles and exorcisms, drew so large a number of postulants to Anagratis that Luxovium. Columbanus found it necessary to establish another monastery, larger and more famous, at Luxovium (now Luxeuil), which was situated within the dominion of Guntram of Burgundy, and was eight miles south of Anagratis. This place, though a ruin like the other, was the ruin of a larger and less sequestered settlement. It still shows the remains of a Roman aqueduct, and when Columbanus and his companions settled within its walls, the hot springs which had supplied its baths were still flowing, and the marble limbs of the once-worshipped gods of the heathen gleamed through the thickets which had been growing there probably since the days of Attila. Ad Fontanas. Eventually, even Luxovium was found to be insufficient to hold all the monks who flocked to its holy shelter, and a third monastery was reared on the neighbouring site of Ad Fontanas.

 p114  Unfriendly relations with the Gaulish prelates. But all this fame and popularity brought its inevitable Nemesis of jealousy and dislike. Columbanus was revered by the common people, but with the high ecclesiastics of Gaul his relations were probably unfriendly from the first. We can see that there was not, and could not be, sympathy between the high-wrought, mystical Irish saint, and the coarse and greedy prelates of Merovingian Gaul. He was, intensely, that which they only pretended to be. To him the kingdom of God was the only joy, the awful judgment of Christ the only terror. They were thinking the while of the sensual delights to be derived from the revenues of the bishoprics which they had obtained by simony. If they trembled, it was at the thought of the probable vengeance of the heirs of some blood-feud, the next of kin of some Frankish warrior whom they had lawlessly put to death. Intellectually, too, the gulf between the Gaulish bishops and Columbanus was almost as wide as the moral divergence. He retained to the end of his days that considerable tincture of classical learning which he had imbibed under Sinell and Comgall. He and his Irish companions were steeped in Virgil and Horace. When they sat down to write even on religious subjects, quotations from the Aeneid flowed with only too great copiousness from their pens; and the Latin prose of Columbanus himself, though often stilted and somewhat obscure, is almost always strictly grammatical. Comparing him with one of the most learned of his Gaulish contemporaries, Gregory of Tours, whose countless grammatical blunders would be terribly avenged on an English schoolboy, we see that the Irish saint moved in an altogether different intellectual plane from his Gaulish  p115 episcopal neighbours, and we can easily believe that he did not conceal his contempt for their ignorance and barbarism.

Dispute about Easter. Another cause of difference between Columbanus and his Frankish neighbours, and one which could be decorously put forward by the latter as the reason for their dislike, was the divergence between him and them as to the correct time for keeping Easter. In this matter the Irish ecclesiastics, with true Celtic conservatism, adhered to the usage which had been universal in the West for more than two centuries, while the Frankish bishops, dutifully following the see of Rome, reckoned their Easter‑day according to the table which was published by Victorius in the year 457, and which brought the Roman usage into correspondence with the usage of Alexandria. The difference, much and earnestly insisted upon in the letters of Columbanus, turned chiefly on two points: (1) The Irish churchmen insisted that in no case could it be right to celebrate Easter before the vernal equinox, which determined the first month of the Jewish calendar; (2) they maintained that since the Passover had been ordained to fall on the night of the full moon, in no case could it be right to celebrate Easter on any day when the moon was more than three weeks old. In other words, they allowed the great festival to range only between the 14th and the 20th day of the lunar month, while the Latin Church, for the sake of harmony with the Alexandrian, allowed it to range from the 15th to the 22nd. In theory it would probably be admitted that the Irishmen were nearer to the primitive idea of a Christian festival based on the Jewish Passover; but in practice — to say nothing of  p116 the unreasonableness of perpetuating discord on a point of such infinitely small importance — by harping as they did continually on the words 'the 14th day,' they gave their opponents the opportunity of fastening upon them the name of Quarto-deciman, and thereby bringing them under the anathema pronounced by the Nicene Council on an entirely different form of dissent.14

Letter to Pope Gregory. On this subject, the celebration of Easter, which absorbed an absurdly large amount of his time and thoughts, Columbanus addressed a letter to Pope Gregory the Great.​15 The dedication is too characteristic not to be given in full: —

'To the holy lord and father in Christ, the most comely ornament of the Roman Church, the most august flower, so to speak, of all this languishing Europe, the illustrious overseer,​16 to him who is skilled to enquire into the theory of the Divine causality, I Bar‑Jonah (a mean dove) send greeting in Christ.'

It will be seen that Columbanus, here, as in several other places, indulges in a kind of bilingual pun on his own name. The Hebrew equivalent of Columba, a dove, is Jonah. So here he makes Columbanus equivalent to Bar‑Jonah, which in his modesty he translates 'vilis  p117 Columba'; and elsewhere he recognises that is his fate to be thrown overboard like his namesake Jonah, for the peace and safety of the Church.

The letter itself argues with much boldness and some skill against the practice of celebrating Easter at a time when the moon does not rise till after two watches of the night are past, and when darkness is thus triumphing over light. He warns the Pope not to set himself in opposition to the great Jerome by condemning the Paschal calculations of Anatolius, whom Jerome had praised as a man of marvellous learning. He asks for advice on two points, (1) whether he ought to communicate with simoniacal and adulterous bishops, and (2) what is to be done with monks who, through desire of greater holiness, leave the monasteries in which they have taken the vows, and retire to desert places, without the leave of their abbot. He expresses his deep regret at not being able to visit Rome for the sake of seeing Gregory, and asks to have some of the Pope's commentary on Ezekiel sent to him, having already perused with extreme pleasure his book, sweeter than honey, on the Regula Pastoralis.

It would be interesting to know what reply the great Roman Pope made to the great Irish abbot, but Gregory's letter to Columbanus, if written, has not come down to us. Letter to the Gaulish Synod, 603‑4. Some years later, about 603 or 604, a synod was held (probably at Chalons-sur‑Saone) at which the question of the schismatical observance of Easter in Luxovium and the sister monasteries was the chief subject of discussion. To the Gaulish bishops 'his holy fathers and brethren in Christ, Columba​17 the sinner' addressed a remarkable letter. He praised  p118 them for at last assembling in council, even though it was in order to judge him; and this praise recalls Gregory's oft‑repeated censure of the Gaulish bishops for their neglect of synodal action. After exhorting them to the practice of humility, he discusses at some length the great Paschal question, and begs them not to celebrate the Resurrection before the Passion by allowing Easter to fall before the equinox, and not to overpass the 20th day of the lunar month, 'lest they should perform the sacrament of the New Testament without the authority of the Old.' Then he turns to more personal affairs, and utters a pathetic prayer for peace.

'In the name of Him who said, "Depart from Me: I never knew you," suffer me, while keeping your peace and friendship, to be silent in these woods, and to live near the bones of my seventeen departed brethren. Suffer me still to live among you as I have done for these past twelve years,​18 and to continue praying for you as I have ever done and ought to do. Let Gaul, I pray you, contain both you and me, since the kingdom of heaven will contain us if we are of good desert, and fulfil the hope of our one calling in Christ Jesus. Far be it from me to contend with you, and to give our enemies, the Pagans and the Jews, occasion to triumph in our dissensions. For if it be in God's ordering that ye should expel me from this desert place, whither I came from across the seas for the love of my Lord Jesus Christ, I can only say with  p119 the prophet [Jonah], "If for my sake this tempest is come upon you, take me and cast me into the sea, that this turmoil may cease." '

Columbanus and the animal world. Thus not only amid the increasing cares of his three great monasteries, but amid increasing conflicts with the hostile bishops of Gaul, passed the middle years of the life of Columbanus. If men hated him, the brute creation loved him. Many of the stories told of him reveal that mysterious sympathy with the lower animals which he shared with an even greater religious revivalist, St. Francis of Assisi. One of his disciples long after told his biographer that often when he had been walking lonely in the desert, his lips moving in prayer, he had been seen to call birds or wild creatures to him, who never disobeyed the call. Then would the saint stroke or pat them, and the shy, wild things rejoiced like a little dog in his caresses. Thus, too, would he call down the little squirrels from the tops of the trees, and they would nestle close to his neck, or play hide and seek in the folds of his great white scapular.19

We have already heard how the bear at the summons of Columbanus quietly yielded up to him its dwelling in the cave. One day when he was walking through the forest, with his Bible hung by a strap to his shoulder, he pondered the question whether it were worse to fall into the hands of wild beasts or of evil men. Suddenly, as if to solve the problem, twelve wolves rushed forth, and surrounded him on the right hand and on the left. He remained immovable, but  p120 cried aloud, "Oh! Lord, make haste to help me.' The savage creatures came near, and gathered round him, smelling at his garments; but, finding him unmoved, left him unharmed, and disappeared in the forest. When he came forth from the wood, he thought that he heard the voices of Suevic robbers roaming through the desolate region, but he saw not their forms, and whether the sounds were real, or an illusion of the Evil One to try his constancy, he never knew.20

One day, when he came into the monastery at Luxovium to take some food, he laid aside the gloves which had shielded his hands while working in the field. A mischievous raven carried off the gloves from the stone before the monastery doors on which the saint had laid them. When the meal was ended, and the monks came forth, the gloves were nowhere to be found. Questions at once arose who had done this thing. Said the saint, 'The thief is none other than that bird which Noah sent forth out of the ark, and which wandered to and fro over the earth, nor ever returned. And that bird shall not rear its young unless it speedily bring back that which it has stolen.' Suddenly the raven appeared in the midst of the crowd, bearing the gloves in its beak, and, having laid them down, stood there meekly awaiting the chastisement which it was conscious of having deserved. But the saint ordered it to fly away unharmed.​21 Once upon a time a bear lusted after the apples which formed the sole fruit of the saint and his companions. But when Columbanus directed his servant, Magnoald, to divide the apples into two portions, assigning one to the bear, and reserving the other for the use of the  p121 saint, the beast, with wonderful docility, obeyed, and, contenting itself with its own portion, never dared to touch the apples which were reserved for the man of God. Another bear, howling round the dead body of a stag, obeyed his bidding, and left the hide untouched, that out of it might be made shoes for the use of the brotherhood; and the wolves, which gathered at the scent of the savoury morsel, stood afar off with their noses in the air, not daring to approach the carcass on which the mysterious spell had been laid.

Dispute with Theodoric and Brunichildis. But the time came when the saint had to solve his own riddle, by proof that men, and still more wise men, could be harder and more unpitying even than the wolves. The young king of Burgundy, Theodoric, already, at the age of fourteen, had a bastard son born to him, and by the year 610 he had several children, none of them the issue of his lawful wife. These little ones their great-grandmother, Brunichildis, brought one day into the holy man's presence, when he visited her at the royal villa of Brocoriacum.​22 Said Columbanus, 'What do you mean by bringing these children here?' 'They are the sons of a king,' answered Brunichildis, 'fortify them with your blessing.' 'Never,' said he, 'shall these children, the offspring of the brothel, inherit the royal sceptre.' In a rage, the old queen ordered the little ones to depart. As the saint crossed the threshold of the palace, a thunderstorm or an earthquake shook the fabric, striking terror into the souls of all, but not even so was the fierce heart of Brunichildis turned from her purpose of revenge.

 p122  His enemies at Court. There were negociations and conversations between the saint and the sovereign. Theodoric, who throughout seems to have been less embittered against the saint than his grandmother, said one day, in answer to a torrent of angry rebuke for his profligacy, 'Do you have to win from me the crown of martyrdom? I am not so mad as to perpetrate such a crime.' But the austere, unsocial habits of the saint had made him many enemies. There was a long unsettled debt of hatred from the bishops of Gaul for the schismatical Easter and many other causes of offence; and the courtiers with one voice declared that they would not tolerate the continued presence among them of one who did not deem them worthy of his companion­ship. Thus, though the harsh words concerning the royal bastards may have been the torch which finally kindled the flame, it is clear that there was much smouldering indignation against the saint in the hearts of nobles and churchmen before ever these words were spoken. By the common people, on the other hand, Columbanus seems to have been generally beloved.

Captivity at Besançon. The resultant of all these conflicting forces was an order from the Court that Columbanus should leave his monastery at Luxovium, and take up his residence in a sort of libera custodia at Vesontio (Besançon). Finding himself laxly guarded, he went up one Sunday to the top of the mountain which over­looks the city of Besançon and the winding Doubs. He remained till noon, half expecting that his keepers would come to fetch him; but, as none appeared, he descended the mountain on the other side, and took the road to Luxovium. By this daring defiance of the royal  p123 orders he filled up the measure of his offences, and Brunichildis at once sent a cohort of soldiers to arrest the holy man and expel him from the kingdom. They found him in the church of the monastery, singing psalms with the congregation of the brethren. It seemed as if force would have to be used in order to tear him from his beloved Luxovium, but at length, yielding to the earnest entreaties of his monks, and of the soldiers, who prayed for forgiveness even while laying hold of the saint's garments, he consented to go with them quietly. The monks all wished to follow him, but only his Irish fellow-countrymen were allowed to do so, while those of Gaulish birth and the strangers from Britain were ordered to remain behind. Transportation to Nantes. He was taken by way of Besançon and Autun to Nevers, and there was put on shipboard and conveyed down the Loire to Nantes. Many miracles, especially the cure of those afflicted with evil spirits, marked his progress. At Auxerre he said to a certain Ragamund, who came to act as his escort, 'Remember, oh! Ragamund, that this Chlotochar, whom you now despise, will within three years be your lord and master.' The prophecy was the more remarkable because the king of Neustria was at that time much the weakest member of the Frankish partner­ship, and quite over-shadowed by his cousins of Austrasia and Burgundy. Theodoric, especially, was then at the zenith of his power; and the route traversed by Columbanus and his guards shows that something like three-quarters of that which is now France must have owned his dominion. When, in their voyage down the stream, they came opposite the shrine of the blessed Martin of Tours, Columbanus earnestly besought his keepers to let him  p124 land and pay his devotions at the holy sepulchre. The inexorable guards refused, and Columbanus stood upon the deck, raised sad eyes to heaven in mute protest against their cruelty. But suddenly the vessel stopped in her course, as though she had let down her anchor, and then began mysteriously to turn her head towards the water-gate of Tours. Awed by this portent, the guards made no further resistance to his will; and Columbanus, landing, spent the night in vigils at the tomb of St. Martin. It was a memorable scene, and one worthy to be celebrated by an artist's or a poet's genius; for there the greatest Gaulish saint of the sixth century knelt by the tomb of his greatest predecessor of the fourth century, the upbraider of Brunichildis communed with the spirit of the vanquisher of Maximus.

Columbanus at Tours. When day dawned Columbanus was invited by Leuparius, bishop of Tours, to share his hospitality. For the sake of his weary brethren he accepted the invitation, though it came from a Gaulish bishop, and spent the day at the Episcopal palace. At the evening meal, when many guests were present, Leuparius, either through ignorance or want of tact, asked him why he was returning to his native country. 'Because that dog, Theodoric, has forced me away from my brethren,' said the hot‑tempered saint. At the table was a guest named Chrodoald, a kinsman by marriage of Theudebert, but loyal to Theodoric.​23 He, with demure face, said to the man of God, 'Methinks it is  p125 better to drink milk than wormwood,' thus gently hinting that such bitter words ill became saintly lips. Columbanus said, 'I suppose you are a liege man of Theodoric?' 'I am,' he answered, 'and will keep my plighted faith so long as I live.' 'Then you will doubtless be glad to take a message from me to your master and friend. Go, tell him that within three years he and all his race shall be utterly rooted up by the Lord of Hosts.' 'Oh! servant of God,' said Chrodoald, 'why dost thou utter such terrible words?' 'Because I cannot keep silence when the Lord God would have me speak.' Like another Jeremiah denouncing woe on the impious Jehoiakim was this Irish saint, as he hurled his fierce predictions among the trembling courtiers of Theodoric.

Is not carried back to Ireland. After all, the dauntless Irishman was not carried back to his native land. When he arrived at Nantes, the bishop and count of that city, in obedience to the king's orders, set him on board a merchant vessel carrying cargo to 'the Scots,' that is to the inhabitants of Ireland.​24 But though the ship, impelled by the rowers and by favouring gales, was carried out some way from the land, great rolling waves soon forced her back to the shore. The ship-master perceived that his saintly cargo was the reason of his disappointment. He put Columbanus and his friends ashore, and the ship proceeded on her voyage without difficulty.

At the Courts of Chlotochar Columbanus, who seems to have been left at liberty to go whither he would, so long as he did not return to Burgundy, visited Chlotochar in his Neustrian  p126 capital, gently chided him for his Merovingian immoralities, and advised him to remain neutral in the war which had now broken out between Theodoric and Theudebert. Under the protection of an escort given him by Chlotochar and Theudebert. he reached the dominions of Theudebert,​25 who gave him a hearty welcome, and invited him to choose some place in the Austrasian territory suitable for the erection of a monastery, which might serve as a base of operations for the missionary work planned by him among the pagans on the border. Such a retreat, after two abortive attempts by the lake of Zurich and at Arbon, he found finally at Bregenz, by the Lake of Constance, whither he travelled up the Rhine, doubtless with much toil of oar to the rowers assigned him by the king. The barbarous Alamanni who dwelt by the banks of the Upper Rhine were still worshippers of Wodan, and filled a large barrel, holding ten gallons, with the beer which they brewed and drunk in his honour.​26 When the saint heard from the idolaters  p127 what hateful work they were engaged in, he drew near and breathed upon the barrel, which suddenly burst asunder with a loud crash, spilling all the liquor on the ground.

Columbanus at Bregenz. In the 'temple' of Bregenz (a ruined Christian oratory once dedicated to St. Aurelia) the stranger found three brazen images gated to the wall. These images received the idolatrous worship of the people, who said, 'These are our ancient gods, by whose help and comfort we have been preserved alive to this day.' His friend and follower, Gallus, who was able to preach not only in Latin, but in the 'barbaric tongue,' exhorted the multitude who had assembled in the temple to turn from these vain idols and worship the Father and the Son. Then, in the sight of all, Columbanus seized the images, hammered them into fragments, and threw the pieces into the lake. Some of the bystanders were enraged at this insult to their gods, but the more part were converted by the preaching of Gallus. Columbanus sprinkled the temple with holy water, and, moving through it in procession with his monks chanting a psalm, dedicated it afresh to God and St. Aurelia.

St. Gallus on the shore of the lake. This Gallus, whose knowledge of the Suevic tongue proved so helpful on this occasion, was the same St. Gall who, by the monastery which he founded, has given his name to one of the cantons of Switzerland. He was an Irishman of noble birth who came with Columbanus to the country of the Franks, and accompanied him in all his journeys but the last. From his life we learn some comparatively unimportant particulars about the life of the saint and his followers in Switzerland which need not be repeated here. But  p128 it would be wrong to omit one narrative which has in it a touch of poetry, and which shows how the grandeurs of the Swiss landscape blended themselves with those thoughts of the spirit world which were ever uppermost in the souls of those denizens of the convent. St. Gallus, who was the chief fisherman of the party, and who in fact provided all their food except the wild fowl and the fruits of the wilderness, was once, in the silence of the night, casting his nets into the waters of Lake Constance, when he heard the Demon of the mountain calling from the cliffs with a loud voice to the Demon of the lake. 'Arise,' said he, 'for my help, and let us cast forth these strangers from their haunts; for, coming from afar, they have expelled me from my temple, have ground my images to powder, and drawn away all my people after them.' Then the Demon of the lake answered, 'All that thou complainest of I know too well. There is one of them who ever harasses me here in the water, and lays waste my realm. His nets I can never break, nor himself can I deceive, because the divine name which he invokes is ever on his lips; and by this continual watchfulness he frustrates all our snares.' Hearing these words, the man of God fortified himself with the sign of the cross, and said, 'In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command you that ye depart from this place, and do not presume to injure any one here.' Then he returned and told the abbot what he had heard. The brethren were assembled at once in the church, though it was the dead of night, and their voices filled the air with psalmody. But even before they began the holy song, there were heard dread voices of the Demons floating about from  p129 summit to summit of the mountains, cries and wails as of those who departed in sadness from their home, and confused shrieks as of those who were pursued by the avenger.27

Again at the Court of Theudebert. About this time visions of missionary service among the Sclavonic tribes on the border of Venetia began to float before the mind of Columbanus, but an angel appeared to him in a dream, and, holding forth a map of the world, indicated to him Italy as the scene of his future labours.​28 Not yet, however, he was told, was the time come for this enterprise: meanwhile he was to wait in patience till the way should open for his leaving Austrasia. It was by the bloody sword of fratricidal war that the way to the saint's last harvest-field was laid open. It has been told how the long grudge between the two grandsons of Brunichildis burst at last into a flame, and hostilities began. Columbanus, with prophetic foresight of the result, perhaps also with statesmanlike insight into the comparative strength of the two kingdoms, left his solitude, sought the Court of Theudebert, and exhorted him to  p130 decline the contest and at once enter the ranks of the clergy. The king and all his courtiers raised a shout of indignant derision. 'Never was it heard that a Merovingian, once raised to the throne, of his own will became a priest.' 'He who will not voluntarily accept the clerical honour,' said Columbanus, 'will soon find himself a clergyman in his own despite'; and therewith he departed to his hermitage. The prophecy was soon fulfilled. The two armies met on the field of Toul. Theudebert was defeated, fled, gathered a fresh army, and was again defeated on the field of Tolbiac,​29 where a terrible slaughter was made in the ranks of both armies. Betrayed by his friends, he was captured by his brother and carried into the presence of their grandmother, who had never forgiven him or his for her exile from Austrasia. She at once shore his long Merovingian locks, and turned him into a tonsured cleric; and not many days after, she or Theodoric ordered him to be put to death. Close upon these events followed, as has been already related, the sudden death of Theodoric II, the murder of his children, and the reunion of the whole Frankish monarchy under the sceptre of the lately despised and flouted Chlotochar.

Battle of Tolbiac seen by Columbanus in a vision. The bloody day of Tolbiac was seen in a dream by Columbanus, overtaken by sudden slumber as he was sitting reading in a hollow oak in his beloved wilderness.​30 The disciple who listened to his story of the  p131 battle said, 'Oh, my father, pray for Theudebert, that he may conquer his and our enemy, Theodoric.' 'Unwise and irreligious is thy advice,' said Columbanus. 'Not thus hath the Lord commanded us, who told us to pray even for our enemies.' Afterwards, when the tidings came of the great encounter, the disciple learned that it had been fought at the very day and hour when the saint beheld it in his vision.

Columbanus in Italy, 613. The battle of Tolbiac broke the last thread that connected Columbanus with the kingdom of the Franks, and accordingly, leaving Gaul and Germany behind him, he pressed forward into Italy. One only of his faithful band of followers did not accept him. Gallus, who had sickened with fever, and who perhaps felt that his special gifts as a missionary to the Suevi would be wasted when he had crossed the Alps, remained behind on the shores of Lake Constance, which he had learned to love. As St. Paul with Mark when he departed from him and Barnabas at Perga, so was Columbanus deeply grieved with the slackness of spirit of his disciple, upon whom he laid a solemn injunction never to presume to celebrate mass during the lifetime of his master.

Columbanus was received with every mark of honour and esteem by Agilulf and Theudelinda.​31 He remained  p132 apparently for some months at Milan, arguing with the Arian ecclesiastics who still haunted the Lombard Court. 'By the cautery of the Scriptures,' as his biographer quaintly says, 'he dissected and destroyed the deceits of the Arian infidelity, and he moreover published against them a book of marvellous science.'​32 At Bobbio. But all men who knew Columbanus knew that he would not be content to dwell long in palaces or cities, but that he must be sighing for the solitude of the wilderness and the silence of the convent. It was doubtless from a knowledge of this desire that a certain man named Jocundus came one day to King Agilulf, and began to expatiate on the advantages for a monastic life afforded by the little village of Bobium (Bobbio), about twenty-five miles from Placentia. This place, situated on the banks of the little river Trebia (which witnessed the first of Hannibal's great victories over the Romans), lies away from the great high-roads of the Lombard plain, its cities and its broad river, and nestles in a fertile valley shut in by the peaks of the  p133 central Apennine chain. It has its own little stream, the Bobbio, confluent with the Trebia and abounding in fish. Everything marked it out as being, according to the description of Jocundus, a place well suited for the cultivation of monastic excellence; and thither Columbanus joyfully retired. He found there a half-ruined basilica of St. Peter, which he at once began to restore with the help of his followers. The tall firs of the Apennines were felled, and their trunks were transported over rough and devious ways down into the fertile valley. The alacrity of the aged saint, who personally helped in the pious toil, became in the next generation the subject of a miracle. 'There was a beam which, if placed on level ground, thirty or forty men would have drawn with difficulty. The man of God, coming up to it, placed the immense weight on the shoulders of himself and two or three of his friends; and where before, on account of the roughness of the road, they had, though unencumbered, walked with difficulty, they now, laden with the beam's weight, moved rapidly forward. The parts seemed reversed, and they who were bearing the burden walked with triumphant ease, as if they were being borne along by others.'

Special importance of Bobbio. Such were the beginnings of the great monastic house of Bobbio. It has for us a special interest (and this is our justification for spending so long a time over the life of its founder), for there can be little doubt that the monastery of Bobbio, even more than the holiness and popularity of Queen Theudelinda, was the means of accomplishing that conversion of the Lombards to the Catholic form of Christianity, which at last, though not in the first or second generation,  p134 ended the religious duality of Italy. True to his early literary and philosophical instincts, Columbanus seems, with all his austerities, ever to have preserved the character of an educated Churchman. Learned as the Order of Benedict became in after years, we shall probably not err in supposing that at this time it was surpassed in learning by the Order of Columbanus. The library of Bobbio was for many century one of the richest, probably the richest, in Italy, and many of the most precious treasures now deposited in the Ambrosian library at Milan have been taken thither from the monastery of Columbanus.33

Arian treatises. It is noteworthy that among these treasures are to be found some considerable fragments of the Gothic Bible of Ulfilas, and of his Commentary on the Gospel of John.​34 Apparently Columbanus, in his controversies  p135 with the Arians at Milan, did not neglect the wholesome practice of studying his opponents' arguments in their own books, and to this wise liberality of thought may have been due some portion of his success. Pagan literature. Nor was the secular, Pagan side of literature unrepresented in the library of Bobbio. The great palimpsest now in the Vatican, in which Cardinal Mai discovered, under St. Augustine's Commentary on the Psalms (119‑140), Cicero's lost treatise, De Republicâ, bears yet this inscription on one of its pages, 'Liber Sancti Columbani de Bobio.'35

The Saint's Sapphics. A quaint exemplification of the saint's unextinguished love for classical literature is furnished by the verses which, at the age of seventy‑two, and probably within a few months of his death, he addressed to a certain friend of his named Fedolius. They are written in a metre which he calls Sapphic, but which a modern scholar would rather call Adonic, being entirely composed of those short lines (dactyl and trochee) with which the Sapphic verse terminates:

'Take, I beseech you,

Now from my hands this

Trumpery gift of

Two‑footed verses;

And for your own part

Frequently send us


Verses of yours by way of repayment.

For as the sun‑baked

Fields when the winds change

Joy in the soft shower,

So has your page oft

Gladdened my spirit.'

Columbanus then proceeds through about eighty lines to warn his friend against avarice. The examples of the curse of riches are all drawn from classical mythology. The Golden Fleece, the Golden Apple, the Golden Shower, Pygmalion, Polydorus, Amphiaraus, Achilles, all are pressed into the poet's service; and as the easy and, on the whole, creditable lines flow on, the idea is suggested to the reader's mind that probably Fedolius was no more inclined to avarice than his adviser, but that the commonplaces about avarice expressed themselves so easily in the Adonic metre that the saint had not the heart to deny himself the pleasant exercise. He ends at last thus: —

'Be it enough, then,

Thus to have spun my

Garrulous verses.

For when you read them,

Haply the metre

May to you seem strange.

Yet 'tis the same which

She, the renowned bard

Sappho, the Greek, once

Used for her verses.

You, too (the fancy

Haply may seize you

Thus to compose verse).

Note my instructions:

Always a dactyl

Stands in the first place;

After it comes next


Strictly a trochee,

But you may always

End with a spondee.

Now then, my loved one,

Brother Fedolis,º

Who when you choose are

Sweeter than nectar,

Leave the more pompous

Songs of the sages,

And with a meek mind

Bear with my trifling.

So may the World-King,

Christ, the alone Son

Of the Eternal,

Crown you with Life's joys.

He in his Sire's name

Reigneth o'er all things

Now and for ever.

Such is the verse I have framed, though tortured by cruel diseases,

Born of this feeble frame, born too of the sadness of old age.

For while the years of my life have hurried me downward and onward,

Lo! I have passed e'en now the eighteenth Olympian milestone.

All things are passing away: Time flies and the traitor returns not.

Live: farewell. In joy or in gift remember that Age comes.'

Resumes a hermit life. These dallyings with the classic Muse surprise us, not unpleasantly, in the life of so great a saint, who was the founder of a rule more austere than that of St. Benedict. Still greater becomes our surprise when we learn that, according to a tradition which, though late, seems to be not wholly unworthy of belief, even monastic austerity was not sufficient for the saint in these years of his failing strength, and that he must needs resume the life of a hermit. To this day a cave is pointed out in a mountain gorge a few miles from  p138 Bobbio, to which Columbanus is said to have retired for the last few months, perhaps years, of his life, only returning to the monastery on Sundays and saints' days to spend those seasons of gladness with his brethren.36

Intercourse with the Lombard king and queen. We hear more of Columbanus in the monastery and in the cave than in the palace, but there can be no doubt that his interviews with Agilulf and Theudelinda were frequent and important. He helped the Bavarian queen with all the energy of his Celtic nature in fighting against Arianism, Three Chapters Controversy. but he also (unfortunately for his reputation with the ultra-orthodox) threw himself with some vehemence into her party in the dismal controversy of the Three Chapters. For Theudelinda, it is evident, notwithstanding the pious exhortations of popes and archbishops, still remained unconvinced of the damnation of the three Syrian ecclesiastics; and now, finding that the new light which had risen upon Italy was in the same quarter of the theological heaven with herself, she determined to use his influence on behalf of the cause which she held dear. At her request and Agilulf's, Columbanus addressed a long letter to Pope Boniface IV,​37 the third successor of Gregory the Great in St. Peter's chair.

Letter of Columbanus to Pope Boniface IV. The address of his letter is peculiar. Columbanus often alludes to the garrulity which has been for centuries the characteristic of his race, and as we seem to  p139 hear the words of this fulsome dedication, uttered in the rich, soft Irish brogue, an epithet unknown to the dignity of history seems the only one which will describe the saintly communication: —

'To the most beautiful Head of all the Churches of Europe, to the sweetest Pope, to the lofty Chief, to the Shepherd of Shepherds, to the most reverend Sentinel, the humblest to the highest, the least to the greatest, the rustic to the citizen, the mean speaker to the very eloquent, the last to the first, the foreigner to the native, the beggar to the very powerful: Oh, the new and strange marvel! a rare bird, even a Dove, dares to write to his father Bonifacius.'

However, when Columbanus has fairly commenced the letter thus strangely preluded, no one can accuse him of indulging in 'blarney.' He speaks to the Pope with noble independence, recognising fully the importance of his position as representative of St. Peter and St. Paul, but telling him plainly he, the Pope, has incurred suspicion of heresy, and exhorting him not to slumber, as his predecessor Vigilius did, who by his lack of vigilance has brought all this confusion upon the Church.38

It is not very clear what Columbanus desired the Pope to do, for the letter, which is inordinately long and shows traces of the garrulity of age as well as of the eloquence of the Irishman, is singularly destitute of practical suggestions, and evinces no grasp at all of the theological problem. It appears, however, that he recommends the Pope to summon a council, and that  p140 he does not recognise 'a certain so‑called fifth council in which Vigilius was said to have received those ancient heretics, Eutyches, Nestorius, and Dioscorus.'​39 What we are concerned with, however, is the information afforded us by this letter as to the sentiments of the Lombard king and queen; and this is so important that it will be well to extract the sentences containing it in full.

If I am accused of presumption, and asked as Moses was, "Who made thee a judge and a ruler over us?" I answer that it is not presumption to speak when the edification of the Church requires it; and if the person of the speaker be cavilled at, consider not who I, the speaker, am, but what it is that I say. For why should the Christian foreigner hold his peace when his Arian neighbour has long said in a loud voice that which he wishes to say, "For better are the wounds of a friend than the deceitful kisses of the enemy?" . . . I, who have come from the end of the world, am struck with terror at what I behold, and turn in my perplexity to thee, who art the only hope of princes through the honour of the holy Apostle Peter. But when the frail bark of my intellect could not, in the language of the Scriptures, "launch out into the deep," but rather remained fixed in one place​40 (for the paper cannot hold all that my mind from various causes desires to include in the narrow limits of a letter), I found myself in addition entreated by the king to suggest in detail to your pious ears the whole  p141 story of his grief; for he mourns for the schism of his people, for his queen, for his son, perchance also for himself: since he is reported to have said that he, too, would believe if he could know the certainty of the matter. . . . Pardon me, I pray, who may seem to you an obscure prater, too free and rough with his tongue, but who cannot write otherwise than he has done in such a cause. I have proved my loyalty,​41 and the zeal of my faith, when I have chosen to give opportunity to my rebukers rather than to close my mouth, however unlearned it be, in such a cause. These rebukers are the men of whom Jeremiah has said,​42 "They bend their tongues like their bow for lies." . . . But when a "Gentile" king begs a foreigner, when a Lombard begs a dull Scot to write, when the wave of an ancient torrent thus flows backward to its source, who would not feel his wonder overcome his fear of calumny? I at any rate will not tremble, nor fear the tongues of men when I am engaged in the cause of God. . . .

'Such, then, are my suggestions. They come, I admit, from one who is torpid in action, from one who says rather than does; from one who is called Jonah in Hebrew, Peristera in Greek, Columba in Latin; and though I am generally known only by the name which I bear in your language, let me now use my old Hebrew name, since I have almost suffered Jonah's shipwreck. But grant me the pardon which I have often craved, since I have been forced to write by necessity, not from self-conceit. For almost at my first entrance into this land I was met by the letters of a certain person, who said that I must beware of you, for you had fallen away into the error of Nestorius.  p142 Whom I answered briefly and with astonishment that I did not believe his allegation; but lest by any chance I should be opposing the truth, I afterwards varied my reply, and sent it along with his letter to you for perusal.​43

'After this, another occasion for writing was laid upon me by the command of Agilulf, whose request threw me into a strangely blended state of wonder and anxiety, for what had occurred seemed to me hardly possible without a miracle. For these kings have long strengthened the Arian pestilence in this land by trampling on the Catholic faith; but now they ask that our faith shall be strengthened. Haply Christ, from whose favour every good gift comes, has looked upon us with pitying eye. We certainly are most miserable, if the scandal is continued any longer by our means. Therefore the king asks you, and the queen asks you, and all men ask you, that as speedily as possible all may become one; that there may be peace in the country, peace among the faithful; finally, that all may become one flock, of which Christ shall be the shepherd. Oh, king of kings! do thou follow Peter, and let all the Church follow thee.​44 What is sweeter than peace after war? What more delightful than the union of brethren long separated? How pleasant to waiting parents the return of the long-absent son! Even so, to God the Father the peace of His sons will be a joy for countless ages, and the gladness of our mother the Church will be a sempiternal triumph.'

The letter ends with an entreaty for the prayers of  p143 the Pope on behalf of the writer, 'the vilest of sinners.'

Was Agilulf converted from Arianism? Statement of Paulus. Now I must ask the reader to set over against this letter of Columbanus, written probably about 613 or 614, very shortly before Agilulf's death, the following statement of Paulus, which occurs at an early point in the history of his reign:​45 — 'By means of this queen [Theudelinda] the Church of God obtained much advantage. For the Lombards, when they were still involved in the error of heathenism,​46 plundered all the property of the Churches. But the king, being influenced by this queen's healthful intercession, both held the Catholic faith,​47 and bestowed many possessions on the Church of Christ, and restored the bishops, who were in a depressed and abject condition, to the honour of their wonted dignity.'

These words certainly seem to imply that Agilulf was persuaded by his wife to embrace her form of faith. We should indeed have expected some other words than 'held' to describe the conversion of a heretic, and throughout the paragraph the historian is thinking more of the outward and visible effects of the king's conversion than of the internal process. Still, the passage cannot, as it seems to me, be made to assert anything less than the catholicity of Agilulf, and it does not describe a death‑bed conversion, but the whole character of his reign.

On the other hand, the letters of Gregory for the  p144 first fourteen years of that reign, and this letter of Columbanus within a couple of years of its close, bring before us an entirely different mental state. The Agilulf whom they disclose to us is tolerant, and more than tolerant, of the religion of the queen who has invited him to share her throne. He allows his son, the heir to the Lombard crown, to be baptized with Catholic rites. He is anxious that the Three Chapters Schism should be ended, and that there should be religious peace in his land. If the orthodox would but agree among themselves, and not worry him about the damnation of Theodore, Ibas, and Theodoret, he is almost ready himself to believe as they believe, but meanwhile he is still 'vicinus Arius'; and in the Arian faith, for anything that the contemporary correspondence shows us, he died as well as lived. Different readers will perhaps come to different conclusions on such conflicting evidence, but upon the whole I am inclined to disbelieve the alleged conversion of Agilulf.48

Religious laxity of the Lombards. The whole discussion is to my mind another evidence of the loose, limp hold which the Lombards had on any form of Christian faith. The Vandals, in their bitterness of trade Arianism, made the lives of their Catholic subjects in Africa miserable to them. Visigothic Alaric, Arian though he was, would rather lose a campaign than fight on Easter Day; and his successors, when  p145 they at length embraced the orthodox form of faith, became such ardent Catholics that they virtually handed over the government of the state to the councils of bishops. But the Lombards, though heterodox or heathen enough to plunder and harry the Church, had no interest in the theological battle, and whether their greatest king was Arian or orthodox was probably more than many of his counsellors knew, perhaps more than he could himself have told them.

Visit of Eustasius to Columbanus. The last event recorded in the life of Columbanus was the visit of Eustasius, his dear friend, disciple, and successor in the Abbotship of Luxovium. He came on an embassy from Chlotochar, now, after the death of Theodoric, unquestioned lord of all the Frankish kingdoms. Chlotochar knew well how the saint had been harassed by their common foe, Brunichildis, and how in the days of his own humiliation Columbanus had predicted his coming triumph. Gladly, therefore, would the king have had him return to Luxovium, that all things might go on as aforetime in the Burgundian monastery. But Columbanus probably felt himself too old and weary to undertake a second transplantation. He kept Eustasius with him for some time, giving him divers counsels as to the government of the monastery, and then dismissed him with a grateful message to Chlotochar, commending Luxovium to his special protection.

Death of Columbanus. After a year's residence at Bobbio Columbanus died, on the 23rd of November, 615, having on his death‑bed handed his staff​49 to a deacon, with orders to carry it to Gallus as a sign that he was forgiven for his old  p146 offence, and was now at liberty to resume his ministrations at the altar.

Subsequent history of his rule. The rule of Columbanus, somewhat harsher than that of Benedict, both in respect of abstinence from food and of corporal chastisement for trivial offences, spread far and wide over Gaul. Luxovium (or Luxeuil) became the mother of many vast monasteries, the schools of which were especially renowned for the admirable education which the sons of Frankish nobles there received from the disciples of Columbanus. In Italy, already preoccupied by the followers of Benedict, the spread of the Columbanian rule was probably less universal, as Bobbio does not seem to have vied with Luxeuil in the number of her daughter convents. But in all, whether Gaulish or Italian, the rule of Columbanus early gave way to that of Benedict, in whose monastic code there was perhaps less of the wild Celtic genius, more Roman common sense, less attempt to wind men up to an unattainable ideal of holiness, more consideration for human weakness than that of the Irish saint. Above all — and this was perhaps the chief reason for the speedy triumph of the Benedictine rule — Gregory the Great had given the full, final, and emphatic sanction of Papal authority to the code of his master, Benedict; while in Columbanus, with all his holiness of life and undoubted loyalty to the chair of St. Peter, there had been a touch of independence and originality, a slight evidence of a disposition to set the Pope right (in reference both to the keeping of Easter and the controversy about the Three Chapters), which perhaps prevented the name of the Irish saint from being held in grateful remembrance at the Lateran. Whatever the cause,  p147 in Burgundy at any rate, at the Council of Autun in 670, the rule of Benedict was spoken of as that which all persons who had entered into religion were bound to obey. Thus little more than fifty years after his death the white scapular of Columbanus was disappearing before the black robe of Benedict.

Death of Agilulf. We have seen that Columbanus died in the year 615. In the same or possibly the following year​50 Agilulf, king of the Lombards, died also, and Theudelinda was a second time left a widow.

The Author's Notes:

1 Paulus, H. L. IV.28.

2 Urbs Vetus, Balneus Regis.

3 £7200.

4 'Misit rex Stablicianum notarium suum ad Focatem imperatorem' (Paulus, H. L. IV.35). Stablicianus is generally taken as a proper name, but is it not more probably the description of an office, like that of Comes Stabuli, Grand Constable?

5 '[Stablicianus] rediens cum legatis imperatoris, factâ pace annuali, Agilulfo regi idem legati imperialia munera optulere' (Paulus, H. L. IV.35).

6 'Igitur sequenti aestate mense Julio levatus est Adaloaldus rex super Langobardos apud Mediolanum in Circo, in praesentiâ patris sui Agilulfi regis, adstantibus legatis Teudiperti regis Francorum et desponsata est eisdem regio puero filia regis Teudiperti et firmata est pax perpetua cum Francis' (Paulus, H. L. IV.30).

7 Commonly but erroneously called Pippin of Landen.

8 We derive this date from a poem addressed to his friend Fidolius, in which Columbanus says that he has now completed his eighteenth olympiad (i.e. his seventy-second year): 'Nunc ad olympiadis ter senos venimus annos.' As Columbanus died in 615, we cannot put the date of his birth later than 543: but as the poem need not have been written in the year of his death (though he speaks of himself as 'morbis oppressus acervis'), it is quite possible that his birth should be put somewhat earlier than that date.

9 'Cum eum elegantia formae praesertim corporis candor et pubertas nobilis omnibus gratum redderet' (Jonas, cap. ii).

10 Jonas says, 'Vicesimum ergo aetatis annum agens,' but this does not agree with his previous statement, 'Peractis itaque annorum multorum in monasterio circulis.' Montalembert says, 'Columban, alors âgé de trente ans, sort de Bangor,' and if there be any authority for reading 'tricesimum' instead of 'vicesimum,' this would give a much more satisfactory chronology.

11 Jonas, as already stated, erroneously makes Sigibert king of Austrasia and Burgundy, but this error does not seem to me to be a sufficient reason for expunging Sigibert's name from the narrative altogether. As that king was killed in 575, we cannot refer Columbanus' arrival in Gaul to a later date.

12 Said to be now represented by the hamlet of Faucogney in the department of Haute-Saône.

13 'Pomorum parvulorum quae eremus illa ferebat, quas etiam Bulgulas vulgo appellant' (Jonas, cap. viii).

14 The Quarto-decimani condemned by the Nicene Council kept the day of the Passion on the fourteenth of Nisan, on whatever day of the week it might happen to fall. Columbanus and his friends always commemorated the Passion on Friday, and the Resurrection on Sunday. The difference between them and their opponents was as to the beginning and end of the period during which, in order to ensure this result, Good Friday must be allowed to swing to and fro on either side of the fourteenth of a month corresponding to the Jewish Nisan.

15 Dated in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica 595‑600. It does not seem possible to fix the date more accurately.

16 'Speculatori egregio.'

17 He uses here the shorter form of his name.

18 It will be observed that he speaks of having been among them twelve years. He probably dates from the time of his coming into the kingdom of Burgundy, thus confirming the suggestion that Anagratis was in Austrasia, and that when he migrated to Luxovium he crossed from one kingdom to another. The letter was probably written about thirty years after his arrival in Gaul.

19 'Et ferusculam quam vulgo homines Squirium vocant, saepe de arduis arborum culminibus accersitam' (Jonas, cap. xvi). The classical word for squirrel is sciurus.

20 Jonas, cap. vii.

21 Jonas, cap. xiv.

22 'Bourcheresse, near Autun,' says Montalembert.

Thayer's Note: I have been unable to find Bourcheresse, and I don't think anyone else has found it for several hundred years, either: if ever. Multiple authors do parrot each other and variously put the place "south of Autun" and "between Autun and Chalon", but never add any details, and no place by that name seems to exist today. Already in 1848, one scholar was unable to find the place on any map (Roger de Belloguet, "Carte du premier royaume de Bourgogne, avec un Commentaire sur l'étendue et les frontières de cet Etat" in Mémoires de l'Académie des sciences, arts et belles lettres de Dijon, Années 1847‑1848, Dijon, 1849: p460).

The 19c writer Montalembert was one of those majority authors, however, quite possibly getting his identification from Fleury, Histoire ecclésiastique (1721), p215: "entre Challon et Autun". Earlier still, I find the place listed by Johann Jacob Hofmann in his Lexicon Universale Historiam Sacram et Profanam . . . Explanans, (1698 edition, vol. I p588 s.v. Brocariacum), where he credits Valesius.

Hofmann's entry, as can readily be seen, is a very close paraphrase of the entry in Adrien de Valois' massive topographical dictionary, Notitia Galliarum (1675), pp101 f. That book is online at BnF Gallica, but in the form of one huge photostat that loads and scrolls slowly and erratically — and the content of which is not indexed by search engines, so someone in a few years just might be grateful to find the entry here, in its entirety:


Villam Regiam nomine Brocariacum memorant Jonas in Vita Columbani Abbatis Luxoviensis, & Fredegarius in libro V.º ac ultimo Chronici, quò Columbanus ad Reginam Brunichildem venerit: qui videtur esse vicus Bourcheresse, inter Cabillonum Regiam Theodorici ac Brunichildis & Augustodunum positus. Ibidem Villa Regia Spinsia vel Spissia, in qua commorantes Theodoricum ac Brunichildem ejus aviam adiit Columbanus, videtur esse Espoisse locus inter Aballonem et Sinemurum.

As for where the place might actually be, I'll remark first off that "royal villa", in plain modern speech, is almost certainly not any kind of imposing palace, let alone a town: it's merely a farm (Latin villa) belonging to the king, and one attested, as far as I can tell, only in this context; also, that we are dealing with a surmise, no details given, by an early modern author. That said, "Bourcheresse" may be a printer's error, and the variant Boucherasse is worth noting; the name may have changed (for example, to something like *Cheresse by apocope of a popularly perceived "bourg"); and of course any aboveground remains of the place must surely have completely vanished.

Some few writers have placed Brocariacum at La Boucherasse, a tiny place near Trévilly, which is at some distance from Autun, and in the opposite direction from Chalon-sur‑Saône, although on the way to Châlons-en‑Champagne; and the 18c Benedictine canon and antiquarian Dom Grappin, who entered religion at the abbey of Luxeuil, placed Brocariacum near Epoisses at a place called Rouvre, surmising that the 7c placename had long been supplanted.

In sum, if you are an enterprising amateur of puzzles with time on your hands, I leave the matter to you: yet if Brocariacum was anything more than a pit stop where the Frankish royals just happened to be staying when Brunhild and St. Columban had their famous run‑in, it might yield interesting archaeological remains, making the search for Bourcheresse worthwhile.

And then on the other hand, Krusch, the editor of Jona's Life of Columban, identifies Brocariacum with Bruyères-le‑Châtel which, according to Cocheris, Anciens noms des communes du département de Seine-et‑Oise s.v., was called Brocaria in the 7c: a morphologically easier fit than Bourcheresse; but in no way can Bruyères, SSW of Paris and rather close to the city, be said to be between Châlons and Autun. Happy hunting!

23 'Unus e convivis, Chrodoaldus nomine, qui amitam Theudeberti regis in conjugium habebat, regi tamen Theodorico fidelis erat.' This distinction between the relations of Theudebert and Theodoric looks as if they were the sons of different mothers.

24 'Reperta ergo navi quae Scotorum commercia vexerat' (Jonas, cap. xxii).

25 In the course of this journey he arrived at the villa of Vulciacum on the banks of the Marne, where he was welcomed by its lord, Autharius, and his wife Aiga. He gave his blessing to their children Ado and Dado, who afterwards rose high in the service of the kings Chlotochar and Dagobert, but retired from the world, and founded monasteries in the Jura according to the rule of Columbanus. Note here the names of this Austrasian nobleman and his wife, so similar to those of two successive Lombard kings, Authari and Ago (= Agilulf).

26 'Reperit eos sacrificium prophanum libare vele, vasque magnum quod vulgo Cupam vocant quod vingintiº modia (sic) amplius nec minus capiebat, cervisiâ plenum in medio positum aiunt illi se Deo suo, Vadono nomine, quem Mercurium ut alii aiunt autumant esse, litare velle' (Jonas, cap. xxvi). Notice the word 'cupa,' which explains our own cooper.

27 This passage in the life of St. Gall recalls two well-known utterances of our own poets: — Wordsworth's

'Two voices are there, one is of the sea; one of the mountains';

and Milton's

'The lonely mountains o'er,

And the resounding shore,

A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;

From haunted spring, and dale

Edged with poplar pale,

The parting genius is with sighing sent.'

28 The passage in Jonas (cap. xxvi) is obscure, but the description of the map is interesting: 'Angelus Domini per visum apparuit parvoque ambitu velut paginali solent stylo orbis describere circulum, mundi compagem monstravit.'

29 Zulpich, near Cologne.

30 I venture here on a slight deviation from my authority. 'Eâ horâ ergo quâ apud Tulbiacum commissum est bellum, supra quercus putrefactum truncum vir librum legens resistebat.' I imagine him to have been reading, not over, but in the decayed tree.

31 Was this the first occasion on which Columbanus visited Italy? Abbot L. della Torre started the theory that the saint paid a previous visit in 595; that he then founded the monastery of Bobbio, and remained in Italy till 598. This theory was accepted by Pagi and many other scholars, among the latest of whom is Carlo Troya (Storia d'Italia, IV.2.27). Muratori, however, never adopted it, and there can be little doubt that he was justified in his scepticism. There is no hint in his biography by Jonas of any such early interruption to the saint's Gaulish career, and in fact the only evidence for the theory is certain documents by Troya (IV.1, ccxlvi and ccxlix) under the date 601. These documents profess to be (1) a grant from Agilulf to Columbanus of the basilica of Bobbio and the territory for four miles round it, and (2) a letter from Columbanus to Gregory I, by which the former places his newly founded monastery under the protection of the Pope. The dates of these documents, however, are confessedly quite wrong, as they quote years of the Indiction which do not correspond with the regnal years also quoted by them; and it is now generally admitted that (as argued by Waitz in the Götting. Gelehrte Anzeigen, 1856) these early Bobbio documents are forgeries. With this admission the whole theory of an earlier visit of Columbanus to Italy falls to the ground, and it is needless to spend any more time on its refutation.

32 'Contra quos etiam libellum florentis scientiae edidit' (Jonas, cap. xxix).

33 The monograph by G. L. Krafft, 'De Fontibus Ulfilae Arianismi ex Fragmentis Bobiensibus erutis' (Bonn, 1860), brings out very well this special connexion of the monastery of Bobbio with the literature of the Arian controversy. He concludes: 'Thus the convent of Bobbio became a citadel for the defense of the Catholic faith, and for the attack on German Arianism, which the Lombards alone of all the Germanic nations were at that time professing and strongly upholding. Accordingly in this one abode, as in an arsenal, almost all the writings relating to German Arianism have been preserved for us. I mention here in passing the Paris Codex, which contains the memoir of Auxentius on the Arian teaching of Ulfilas, the origin of which G. Waitz says to be uncertain, but which I think must be traced back to this same convent of Bobbio, whose most ample treasures have been dispersed in all directions. Nor is it to be wondered at that after Arianism was vanquished the monks of Bobbio should have begun to turn these codices to another account, writing Latin treatises over those which were in the Gothic or Lombard tongue, the knowledge of which they had completely lost.'

34 'Skeireins Aivaggeljons thairh Johannen' (edited by Mommsen, Munich, 1834).

35 See Cardinal Mai's preface to Cicero de Republicâ, 1823 (p. xxiii). He says that these words, written apparently in the tenth century, are to be found in nearly all the codices which once belonged to the library of Bobbio. They do not therefore imply any personal connexion with Columbanus. Mai attributes the original MS. of Cicero to a date not later than the sixth century, possibly as early as the second or third. The superimposed text of Augustine he thinks to be not later than the tenth century.

36 Jonas says nothing about this cave-retreat, which is particularly described in the Miracula (tenth century). See the description of the cave in Miss Stokes' charming book, Six Months in the Apennines, p143.

37 Successors of Gregory I: — Sabinianus, 604‑606; Boniface III, 607; Boniface IV, 608‑615. The letter is No. 5 in the collection of St. Columbanus's letters in the M. G. H. (p170).

38 'Vigila itaque, quaeso papa, vigila et iterum dico: vigila, quia forte non bene vigilavit Vigilius, quem caput scandali isti clamant qui vobis culpam injiciunt.'

39 'Dicunt enim Eutychem, Nestorium, Dioscorum antiquos ut scimus hereticos a Vigilio in synodo nescio quâ in quinta receptos fuisse.' It cannot be necessary to point out how utterly wild is this accusation against the unfortunate Vigilius.

40 Have we an allusion here to the reported miracle which prevented the saint's return to Ireland?

41 'Germanitatem meam.'

42 Jer. ix.3.

43 Columbanus is here very obscure, and I am not sure that I have caught his meaning.

44 'Rex regum, tu Petrum, te tota sequatur ecclesia.'

45 H. L. IV.6.

46 'Cum adhuc gentilitatis errore tenerentur.' I do not see how we can translate 'gentilitatis' by any weaker word than heathenism.

47 'Et catholicam fidem tenuit.'

48 This is the conclusion reached by Weise (pp271‑273), and he supports it by the description of a marble bas‑relief in the church of St. John the Baptist at Monza. Herein Theudelinda and her two children were represented as standing in the foreground, bringing consecration offerings to the Baptist; while Agilulf — as one not in full church communion with them — kneels behind them praying with folded hands. I do not think we can lay much stress on this difference of representation.

49 'Baculum ipsius quem vulgo Cambotam (?) vocant' (Vita S. Galli, cap. xxv).

50 The date assigned to this event by Waitz in the edition of Paulus in the M. G. H. and by many other enquirers is 616; but Weise, p253, seems to show good reason for dating it in 615. Even so, it is difficult to get room for the ten years of Adalwald, and the twelve of Ariwald before the accession of Rothari. There must in any case a great deal of guess-work in Lombard chronology.

Thayer's Notes:

a The original Latin text of Jona's Vita S. Columbani Abbatis is to be found in Mabillon, Acta Sanctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti, Saeculum II (quod est ab anno Christi DC ad DCC), Paris, 1669, available as a photostat at Archive.Org.

An English translation, maybe the only one to date, by Dana Carleton Munro, is provided in Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Vol. II No. 7, by the Department of History of University of Pennsylvania, n. d., and copied at Fordham University's "Medieval Sourcebook" with slightly edited footnotes. Jona's Latin is often unclear, and translation is a matter of choices, so the English has its shortcomings. Munro himself seems not to have been completely satisfied, feeling the need in his introduction for example to apologize for "modernizing" placenames, possibly without sufficient warrant. Some further elements of critique, sometimes on target, can be found in the American Catholic Quarterly Review, XXIII.484 ff. as part of a long review of the entire Volume of the Translations and Reprints.

I should add that the Translations and Reprints citation of the (later) edition of Mabillon, "Acta Sanctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti, Vol. I, Venice, 1733, pp. 3-26", is incorrect; or at least the citation is incomplete so as to be useless, since the biography of St. Columban appeared in Mabillon's collection of documents belonging to the second century of the Benedictine order, and could not therefore be in Volume I of the collection as a whole. Not having found that edition online, I haven't come up with a correct citation of it either.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Jonas of Bobbio", sends us instead to Migne's P. L. LXXXVII, 1011‑88; and, the entry being written later than Hodgkin's book, it can cite the "better" Krusch edition in the M. G. H.: " 'Script. Rer. Mer.' III 406‑13, 505‑17; IV, 61‑512 (Hanover, 1896 and 1902)", where the last is the Life of Columban, preceded by sixty pages of introduction and critical notes.

b There is no place in France by this name — among other things, I traced the entire course of the Aisne River to check — nor does there seem ever to have been one. I suspect Hodgkin meant Châlons-sur‑Marne (now Châlons-en‑Champagne), which is not very far from the Aisne River although not actually on it; but it might be the much smaller town of Châlons-sur‑Vesle, in the same general area: the Vesle is a tributary of the Aisne.

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