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Columbanus – Saviour of Civilisation?

Columbanus was a highly political figure who argued with kings and bishops and popes. Famous in his lifetime, he came to be seen as an iconic Irish exile. How important was he?

Dr Elva Johnston (UCD)

Columbanus died on 23 November 615. To mark 1400 years since his passing, UCD History’s Dr Elva Johnston examines the man considered an iconic Irish exile.

“Columbanus (?543–615) was the most famous Irish cleric to leave Ireland for the Continent during the middle ages. He was inspired by a form of ascetic renunciation known as peregrinatio pro Christo or exile for Christ. As an exile, a peregrinus, Columbanus believed that he could best find salvation by leaving his homeland forever. However, he was no simple ascetic. Columbanus was an important monastic founder, a writer of note and a contributor to theological debate. He was intensely aware of his Irishness. Columbanus was a highly political figure who argued with kings and bishops and popes. Famous in his lifetime, he came to be seen as an iconic Irish exile. How important was he? Did he ‘save’ European civilisation as is sometimes argued or was his legacy more complex and nuanced?” – Dr Elva Johnston.

Columbanus – Saviour of Civilisation?

Dr Elva Johnston is a lecturer in the School of History, University College Dublin. She has published articles on early Irish society, especially on gender, literacy and sanctity. Her monograph Literacy and Identity in Early Medieval Ireland (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer 2013) was the winner of the Irish Historical Research Prize for 2015. She is the co-editor of Peritia: Journal of the Medieval Academy of Ireland.

Also available to podcast – Rob Meens on Columbanus and the Practice of Penance in Early Medieval Europe (ICM Plenary).

Header image: Bobbio Panorama via Wikimedia Commons.