Vita sancti Columbae ‘Life of Saint Columba’

  • Latin
  • Irish hagiography

Latin Life of St Columba (Ir. Colum Cille), Irish missionary, monk and founder of Iona, written by Adomnán, abbot of Iona, about a century after the saint’s death. The work is organised into three books: one on the saint’s prophetic revelations, another on the miracles performed by him and the final one on angelic apparitions. Despite its hagiographic content, it remains an important source of historical study.

(fl. c.628–704)
Adomnán mac Rónáin was abbot of Iona (r. 679–704) and author of the Latin Life of St Columba and an account of the holy places of the Near East (De locis sanctis). He is credited with the proclamation of the Lex innocentium or Cáin Adomnáin at the Synod of Birr.

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Longer recension:
ff. 192–217
London, British Library, MS Royal 8 D ix
ff. 1–70
Shorter (abridged) recension:
Zwettl, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 24
Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS 336
ff. 294v–310v
Melk, Stiftsbibliothek, MS M 5
ff. 151v–172v
Heidelberg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, MS Salem IX 31
ff. 113v–135v
Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August-Bibliothek, MS 357
Pseudo-Cumméne, i.e. the abridged recension wrongly attributed to Cumméne (cf. the fragment of Cumméne's Life)
Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS Ser. Nova 12
ff. 802–804
Sanctilogium of John Gieleman.
Other manuscript versions:
Metz, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 523
ff. 51r–65r
Abridged version.
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS 5308
ff. 287v–292v
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS 5278
ff. 393–399
Le Mans, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 217
ff. 102v–106v
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Ashburnham 58
ff. 117–131
London, British Library, MS Additional 19726
f. 59
  • Latin
7th century
Textual relationships
Related: Columcille circulColumcille circul

A set of Old English instructions, with included diagram, for building a magical device with which to protect a bee-enclosure (apiary). It is attested in a Gallican Psalter from Winchester, where it is part of an Old English gloss that includes various charms for healing animals. The present item follows directly on one for protection from theft of bees. The user is instructed to take a knife and use it to inscribe the circular device depicted in the diagram on a malmstone, along with the Latin words it contains (certain numerals and the words contra apes ut salui [sic] sint et in corda eorum [sic] s[crib]am h[anc]). Next, one is to drive a stake into the center of the enclosure and impose the stone on the stake until only the writing surface remains visible.


Irish hagiographyIrish hagiography

Irish hagiographyIrish hagiography


Colum Cille
Colum Cille
(fl. 6th century)
founder and abbot of Iona, Kells (Cenandas) and Derry (Daire).

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Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] [tr.] Anderson, A. O. [ed.], and M. O. Anderson [ed., rev.], Adomnan’s Life of Columba, revised ed., Oxford Medieval Texts, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
[ed.] [tr.] Reeves, William, Life of St. Columba, founder of Hy, written by Adamnan, 1st ed., Dublin: Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society, 1857.
CELT – edition: <link> CELT – translation: <link> Internet Archive – original print: <link> Internet Archive – 1874 reprint: <link> Digitale-sammlungen.de: <link> Digitale-sammlungen.de: View in Mirador
Out of date.
[ed.] Reeves, William [ed.], and J. T. Fowler, Adamnani Vita S. Columbae, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894.  
Based on the original edition by William Reeves, with introduction, glossary and notes by Fowler.
Internet Archive: <link> Internet Archive: <link> Internet Archive: <link>
[tr.] Zhivlova, Nina, Жизнь Святого Колумба Нина Живлова, Studia historica, Языки славянских культур, 2019.  
Russian translation, with commentary and notes; along with a translation of the Annals of Ulster, s.a. 563–713.
Russian translation.
[tr.] Sharpe, Richard [tr.], Adomnán of Iona: Life of St. Columba, London, et al.: Penguin Books, 1995.
[tr.] Fowler, J. T. [tr.], Adamnani Vita S. Columbae: prophecies, miracles and visions of St. Columba (Columcille) first abbot of Iona, A.D. 563-597, London: Oxford University Press, 1895.
Internet Archive: <link>
[ed.] Brüning, Gertrud, “Adamnans Vita Columbae und ihre Ableitungen”, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 11 (1917): 213–304.
Internet Archive: <link>
291–304 An edition of the pseudo-Cumméne text.
[ed.] Migne, Jacques-Paul (ed.), Venantii Fortunati, Pictaviensis episcopi, opera omnia ... Defensori monachii [etc.], Patrologia Latina, 88, Paris, 1864.
Internet Archive: <link> Wikisource – De locis sanctis: <link>
725–776 (text); 721–726 (prefaces)

Secondary sources (select)

Woods, David, “Crowd-control in sixth-century Clonmacnoise (Adomnán, VC 1.3)”, Ériu 60 (2010): 131–136.  
This article considers Adomnán's account in Vita Columbae 1.3 of how St Columba was protected from being crushed by enthusiastic monks during a visit to the monastery at Clomacnoise, and offers a new interpretation of his description of the means used to protect the saint from the crowd.
Ritari, Katja, “How should Christians lead their lives? An exploration of the image of lay people in Adomnán’s Vita Columbae”, Studia Celtica Fennica 2 — Essays in honour of Anders Ahlqvist (2005): 138–151.
SFKS – PDF: <link>
Picard, Jean-Michel, “Schaffhausen Generalia 1 and the textual transmission of Adomnán’s Vita Columbae on the continent”, in: Próinséas Ní Chatháin, and Michael Richter (eds), Ireland and Europe in the early Middle Ages: texts and transmissions / Irland und Europa im früheren Mittelalter: Texte und Überlieferung, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2002. 95–102.
Stalmans, Nathalie, “Le jugement de l'âme dans la Vie de Columba”, in: John Carey, Máire Herbert, and Pádraig Ó Riain (eds), Studies in Irish hagiography: saints and scholars, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001. 41–48.
Picard, Jean-Michel, “Adomnán’s Vita Columbae and the cult of Colum Cille in continental Europe”, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 98 C (1998): 1–23.  
The study of the text transmission of Adomnán's Vita Columbae on the Continent brings new insights into the diffusion of the cult of Colum Cille in Continental Europe in the early Middle Ages. Continental writers were able to supplement the information found in Adomnán's Vita Columbae with oral tradition collected from Irish monks travelling or living in the Continent; this is evident in the works of Walahfrid Strabo of Reichenau (†849), Notker Balbulus of St-Gall (†912) and Hermann of St-Félix (982-3). The evidence drawn from calendars, martyrologies, missals and catalogues of relics confirms the extent of his cult from Brittany to Austria. Continental folklore traditions complete the information found in hagiographical and liturgical texts and suggest that the transmission of the lore concerning Colum Cille was a live phenomenon linked to Irish activity in specific areas on the Continent.
Herbert, Máire, Iona, Kells, and Derry: the history and hagiography of the monastic familia of Columba, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.
Enright, Michael J., “Royal succession and abbatial prerogative in Adomnán’s Vita Columbae”, Peritia 4 (1985): 83–103.
MacDonald, A. D. S., “Aspects of the monastery and monastic life in Adomnán’s Life of Columba”, Peritia 3 (1984): 271–302.
Picard, J. M., “The purpose of Adomnán’s Vita Columbae”, Peritia 1 (1982): 160–177.
Picard, J. M., “The Schaffhausen Adomnán—a unique witness to Hiberno-Latin”, Peritia 1 (1982): 216–249.
Kenney, James F., “Chapter V: The monastic churches: II. The churches of the sixth to ninth centuries; general treatises”, in: James F. Kenney, The sources for the early history of Ireland: an introduction and guide. Volume 1: ecclesiastical, Revised ed., 11, New York: Octagon, 1966. 372–485.
429–433 (§ 214) [id. 214.]
Brüning, Gertrud, “Adamnans Vita Columbae und ihre Ableitungen”, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 11 (1917): 213–304.
Internet Archive: <link>
C. A., Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
May 2012, last updated: January 2024