This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November 24 - St. Columbanus

The feast of St. Columbanus, the patron of motorcycle riders, is generally on November 23, but in Ireland and among the Benedictines, it is on November 24. Since I haven't yet figured out what to make out of the Martyrs of Vietnam (who are collectively celebrated on the 24th), I'm preferring to mark Columbanus Day with the Benedictines.

He was an Irish missionary who went deep into the heart of Frankish territory to re-Christianize the people. Thus, he is a key player in the process described by Thomas Cahill as the Irish saving civilization.

Of course, not everyone wants to be saved. Frankish kings tended to get fed up with his criticism of their ways. Columbanus himself had enjoyed "lascivious wenches" as a young man, but after becoming a monk, he felt entitled to criticize kings like Childebert II for their wanton behavior. Oddly enough, Childebert's grandmother, Brunhilda, took her grandson's side in the dispute -- perhaps because as long as he didn't marry, she'd be the top woman at court. She saw to it that Columbanus and all his Irish monks were tossed out of the kingdom.

They bounced around Europe for a while. After quarreling with his fellow Irish monks, Columbanus eventually settled in Bobbio, Italy where he lived out his days as a venerable old saint. He carefully dodged the Arian / Orthodox split, having fought earlier battles over core theological questions like "Which Sunday is Easter?" and "How should a monk's hair be cut?"

At some point, he lived in caves like a good hermit should. He was surrounded by wolves once, but just walked right past them. He also asked a bear to leave its cave so he could have it; it did. He asked another bear if he could harness it for plowing a monastery's fields; the bear consented and the fields got plowed.

I like the evolution of this guy. Most of the martyrs are marked from the start. They were born holy and they die young -- especially the beautiful virgins who refuse to marry Roman magistrates. Others, following Augustine's pattern, enjoy the sinful life while young, but then mature and burn hot with zeal for the Lord. Columbanus is the first guy I know who sinned hard, burned hot, and then mellowed into a cool, old saint. The third stage, it seems to me, is an important one.


  1. I like the life of this saint. The young need to follow his schedule and become mellow and good at the end. Maybe a little before the "end" but later in life, when the fires have burned out anyway.

  2. November 21 is also often celebrated as his feast. Basically, he gets the fourth week of November.