Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Studies in the Cult of Saint Columba

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Studies in the Cult of Saint Columba

Article excerpt

Studies in the Cult of Saut Columba, ed. (Cormac Bourke (Dublin and Portland, Oregon: Four Courts Press, 1997). z5z pp.; ii maps, 44 illustrations. ISBN 1-8 518z-z68I/2. 17. So (p/b); ,;qo.00 (hard covers). This excellent volume of studies presents various aspects of Columba, his cult, and the communities which owed their existence to Iona, and has been published to commemorate the 1,400th anniversary of the saint's death. The book only glimpses the historical figure of the saint (his life was written a hundred years after his death), but rather its constituent articles trace the influence exerted by the saint and that of the Columban federation of monasteries that stretched from Ireland through Scotland to Lindisfarne and which was instrumental in evangelizing both Picts and Northumbrians. Tomas O'Loughlin attempts to reconstruct the mental view which the monks living on Iona in the earliest phase of its existence would have had concerning their geographical position in the world: an island in the deserted, demon-filled ocean, as far from Jerusalem, the centre of the world, as it was possible to be. Aidan MacDonald suggests what the physical appearance of the monastery may have been like, using evidence from the text of Adomnan's life of Columba; he proposes a design for the original church, and postulates that the monks shared a common dormitory. MacDonald's reconstruction is paired with Finbar McCormick's summary of the archaeological evidence for the early period. The material is both suggestive and admittedly inconclusive: evidence for MacDonald's communal dormitory might only be a pigsty. More instructive, perhaps, is the information gleaned concerning the foodstuffs consumed by the monks and pilgrims in the guest house (deer and seals as well as cattle and sheep), and on burials in various parts of the island. …

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