top of page
  • Writer's pictureJill Ball

To The North

Celtic Christianity spread first from Ireland to Scotland, then on to Northern England.

Saint Columba sailed to Iona in Scotland in AD 563.

Saint Columba or Colmcille

Columba was a tall, strong man with a booming voice, who was expected to become a warrior. He was from the royal line of Ulster, which claimed descent from Niall of the Nine Hostages.

However he had a love of books and of God and decided to become a monk as a young man. His family gave him the hill called Daire Choluim Cille, where he founded his first monastery. This place later became the city of Derry, sometimes called Londonderry.

One day he visited Finnian's monastery and secretly copied a book of Psalms. Finnian demanded the copy but Columba refused. Both appealed to King Diarmaid, who ruled that 'to every cow belongs her calf.' This disagreement along with a separate blood feud sparked a war between the Southern and Northern o'Neills.

traditionally the manuscript copied by Saint Columba
The Cathach of St Columba

Despite Columba's prayers, his side lost.

So, although he was reluctant to, he needed to go into exile.

a deserted bay on Iona, Scotland
A bay on the island of Iona

He and several relatives set sail in a currach ( an old Irish hide boat) for Iona in 561 AD to found a monastic community there. He was clearly homesick and said it the first place that he couldn't see Ireland from. One place in Iona is still called 'the hill with its back to Ireland.'

He taught the people of Galloway and the Western Isles, before travelling to the land of the Picts. The Pictish priests of Inverness tried to stop him with their spells, but Columba chanted Psalm 44 , his booming voice terrifying the local people. The king had ordered that the gates would remain closed, but when Columba raised his arm and did the sign of the cross, the gates were hurriedly opened.

King Brude confirmed his possession of Iona and gave him permission to carry out his mission. Columba himself went on missionary journeys to Skye, Ardnamurchan, Tiree, Kintyre, Loch Ness, Lochaber and monks from Iona travelled throughout Scotland.

When he saw that a peasant women was surviving on nettle soup, he decided it was good enough for himself and the monks. However the cook decided to secretly add milk through a hollow stick, that he used to stir the soup. When Columba discovered this deception, after a moment of formidable anger, he roared with laughter and decreed a more sensible diet in the future.

Bede writes that Columba had 'joy in the Holy Spirit in his inmost heart.' He is a man I would love to have met, who was both charismatic and passionate.

Unfortunately I don't have space to tell the stories of the others who first took the gospel to the North of Britain. Saint Ninian and Saint Kentigern (also known as Saint Mungo) are most notable, but there were unnamed Christians who took the Gospel over Hadrian's Wall in the Roman period. Probably the first 'Scottish' Churches were founded there.

The Blessing from the modern Scottish Church

To the West tells the story of St Patrick

Saints tells the story of St Aidan left Iona for Holy Island to bring the gospel to the Anglo-Saxons and of St Hilda.

- to hear about new series and guest speakers

- if you would like to contribute original artwork to the online gallery

- if you want make a comment, please sign up


bottom of page