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Reading list

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).

Primary texts
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.

Secondary texts
M Lapidge, ed., Columbanus: Studies on the Latin Writings (Woodbridge, Boydell, 1997) (TCD, Berkeley, 270.2 N7)
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 Irish arrived.

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, 944.01N41:1)
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 as kingdoms.

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, 1999)
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 continent.



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