While the life of a seventh-century saint might not
be everyone's favourite reading, I've been hitting the books in preparation
for the trip. Here's a selection of the good places to start if you'd
like more information about Columbanus and his times. Where I've got
them to hand, I've also included the Trinity College, Dublin and/or
National Library classmarks to help any Dublin-based Dark Age detectives
(links are to the book's page on Amazon.co.uk).
Jonas of Bobbio, The
Life of St Columban, ed D C Munro (repr. Felinfach, Llanerch, 1993) (TCD PL-217-20)
Jonas' life was written in 648 and purports to be fair and comprehensive.
He did travel to Luxeuil and St Gallen and talk to people who would
have known Columbanus. But remember the political context too - it
dumps on Brunhilde and Theuderic, at least partly beacuse the contemporary
Frankish king Clothair had defeated them, and it's at pains to stress
Bobbio's independence from local episcopal jurisdiction.
G S M Walker, Sancti
Columbani Opera (Dublin, DIAS, 1957) (TCD,
Berkeley research area, stall 87)
Side-by-side Latin and English text of Columbanus's own writings. The
intro is interesting if a little dated, but watch for some dodgy translating
and some works credited to Columbanus that are probably not his, like
the famous rowing song.
Maud Joynt, The
Life of St Gall (London, SPCK, 1927) (NL: IR92g194)
The standard translation of Walahfrid Strabo's Vita Sancti Galli, complete
with talking demons. This is the earliest source for the story of Gall's
foundation of St Gallen (about which Jonas is completely silent). Also
includes much more information on the history of the monastery than
you'll ever need.
M Lapidge, ed., Columbanus: Studies
on the Latin Writings (Woodbridge, Boydell, 1997) (TCD, Berkeley,
Good collection of essays on Columbanus's history and writings. Sorts
out some attributions of stray material, and is excellent on his
style and scholarship. Play's down the saint's classical learning,
but plays up the exegesis and computistical and stuff, which seems
fair enough to me. But I might be biased, as a lot of the contributors
taught me at Cambridge.
H B Clarke, ed., Columbanus
and Merovingian Monasticism (Oxford, BAR, 1981) (TCD, 1937, LEN930L598.113)
Hit and miss proceedings of a Columbanus conference. Good on culture
of Merovingian church that Columbanus encountered. Useful for laying
the ghost that the locals were all benighted ignorant pagans when the
K Lack, The
Eagle and The Dove (London, Triangle SPCK, 2000)
A pretty straight retelling of the story, complete with useful quotations
from the sources. A little too much devout approval of Columbanus's
spirituality for my taste, but he was a saint after all.
I Wood, The
Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751 (London, Longman, 1994) (TCD Berkeley,
The Merovingians have always got a bad press for not being Romans and
not being Carolingians. Contemporaries like Gregory of Tours exaggerated
the disruption and sinfulness of this able bunch, and later historians
saw no reason to change that view. But they managed to control a huge
area of France while the Anglo-Saxons for example were chasing around
being much less Christian, and only able to carve out Sussex and Essex
C Wickham, Early
Medieval Italy (London, Macmillan, 1981) (TCD Berkeley, 945M1,1)
Despite first the Ostrogoths and then the Lombards and Byzantines stamping
all over most of Italy for the best part of a century, plus sundry famines
and plagues, what's amazing is the continuity of life in Italy from
400 to 700. The cities by and large survived, and an administrative
structure remained, and farming kept on keeping on. The same cities
survive now - that's over 2000 years of continuous habitation, wine
and olives. You can't beat that with a big stick.
M Richter, Ireland
and her Neighbours in the Seventh Century (Dublin, Four Courts,
Very good on the two-way traffic between Ireland and Europe. Argues
that Columba was nothing like the hardcore exile that Columbanus was
- Columba had to leave, he only went as far as Iona (certainly in the
Irish sphere of influence) and he went back to Ireland. A big girl's
blouse, then. Richter stresses the early stages of the christianization
of Ireland from 400-550 that we don't know much about. With this in
mind, the outpouring of scholarship and peregrini later is less miraculous
but much more understandable.
Thomas Charles-Edwards, Early
Christian Ireland, (Cambridge, CUP, 2000)
Excellent full history (part of the Cambridge History of Ireland series)
that puts Columbanus in his Irish context and provides all the detail
most of us will ever need.
Geroid Mac Niocaill, Ireland
before the Vikings (Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, 1972)
Solid political history, especially for those with the stomach for scads
of royal family trees.
Daibhi O'Croinin, Early
Medieval Ireland (London, Longman, 1995)
Useful overview of the recent thinking on problematic issues - such
as the influences of Palladius' work in Ireland, and the over-egging
of Patrick's importance.
Thomas Cahill, How
The Irish Saved Civilization (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1995)
Actively hostile to good history, this trashy best-seller never lets
the truth get in the way of a good story. Plays fast and loose with
history (has Columbanus ministering to the pagan Sueves in Luxeuil,
for example, which must have been news to the Christian Gallo-Romans
who lived there), creating the very outdated view of Irish monks talking
to each other in Greek and going to rebuild shattered European culture
on their own. Cahill (an Irish-American publishing executive) thanks
Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis for her comments on the book - she was known
for her insights on early medieval Europe, of course.
K Hughes, A Hamilton, The
Modern Traveller to the Early Irish Church (2nd ed. Dublin, Four
Courts Press, 1997)
A comprehensive but approachable introduction to the history of the
early Irish Church, with detailed descriptions of the archaeological
remains. Gives a good overview of the life Columbanus led while in Bangor,
and an insight into how he might have run his own monasteries on the
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