Columbanus and a postscript on Margery Kempe

Five years ago, while still at Belfast Cathedral, I was invited to help in the celebration of the 1,400th anniversary of the death of St Columbanus.  The thought was that, though an Irish Saint from a monastery in Bangor, in what is now County Down, Northern Ireland, he was a missionary of international significance and his role in the contemporary life of Christianity in Europe should be noted.

Sadly, the project never attracted the kind of impetus that is required for a major celebration and the anniversary passed with quiet dignity and joy amongst those who saw his importance.  It was, after all, a long time ago!

Columbanus was born in Leinster in sometime around the years 540-543 and it was much later, he having been a monk for many years, that at the age of over 40 he was given the commission to go to Continental Europe with the message of Christ.  He was, naturally enough, of the Celtic tradition and his band of Irish monks was not found to be entirely compatible with the style of Church life in Burgundy.  His mission, like others from Ireland, had a heart for the penitential and self-sacrificial, and is likely to have been ascetical as much as evangelical, preaching as much to lax Christians as to pagans, so they crossed the Alps to Lombardy and he founded the great Abbey of Bobbio in 614.  His foundations, which were marked by a highly disciplined rule of life, were gradually dotted across a large area of north-west Europe, but he himself died on this day in the year 615.   

On an entirely different matter, and by way of a postscript to my blog on Margery Kempe two weeks ago, I was reading an interview being given by the feminist writer Caitlin Moran in the paper last Saturday, and she mentioned that the book that she most often gave as a gift was, interestingly, “The memoir of Margery Kempe”.  She said that it has been recently re-published under the title How to be a Medieval Woman.  (Review section of The Guardian, Saturday 21st November 2020, p. 5).  She wants to see it adapted for the stage or screen.  Fascinating!

John Mann

P.S.  Helen and I, on an early morning walk today. saw a grey seal in the sea off Anvil Point, whilst chatting to one of the Durlston Country Park wardens about our sighting of dolphins the other day.  The seal appeared right on cue!