Death of Saint Columba

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900
CHAPTER IX. (concluded)

The Dove of the Cell made a comparatively long stay in Ireland, visiting with scarf-bound brow the numerous monastic establishments subject to his rule. At length he returned to Iona, where far into the evening of life he waited for his summons to the beatific vision. The miracles he wrought, attested by evidence of weight to move the most callous sceptic, the myriad wondrous signs of God's favor that marked his daily acts, filled all the nations with awe. The hour and the manner of his death had long been revealed to him. The precise time he concealed from those about him until close upon the last day of his life; but the manner of his death he long foretold to his attendants. "I shall die," said he, "without sickness or hurt; suddenly, but happily, and without accident." At length one day, while in his usual health, he disclosed to Diarmid, his "minister," or regular attendant monk, that the hour of his summons was nigh. A week before he had gone around the island, taking leave of the monks and laborers; and when all wept, he strove anxiously to console them. Then he blessed the island and the inhabitants. "And now," said he to Diarmid, "here is a secret; but you must keep it till I am gone. This is Saturday, the day called Sabbath, or day of rest: and that it will be to me, for it shall be the last of my laborious life." In the evening he retired to his cell, and began to work for the last time, being then occupied in transcribing the Psalter. When he had come to the thirty-third Psalm, and the verse, "Inquirentes autem Dominum non deficient omni bono," he stopped short. "I cease here," said he; "Baithin must do the rest. "

Montalembert thus describes for us the "last scene of all:" "As soon as the midnight bell had rung for the matins of the Sunday festival, he rose and hastened before the other monks to the church, where he knelt down before the altar. Diarmid followed him; but, as the church was not yet lighted, he could only find him by groping and crying in a plaintive voice, 'Where art thou, my father?' He found Columba lying before the altar, and, placing himself at his side, raised the old abbot's venerable head upon his knees. The whole community soon arrived with lights, and wept as one man at the sight of their dying father. Columba opened his eyes once more, and turned them to his children at either side with a look full of serene and radiant joy. Then, with the aid of Diarmid, he raised as best he might his right hand to bless them all. His hand dropped, the last sigh came from his lips, and his face remained calm and sweet, like that of a man who in his sleep had seen a vision of heaven."

Like the illustrious French publicist whom I have so largely followed in this sketch, I may say that I have "lingered perhaps too long on the grand form of this monk rising up before us from the midst of the Hebridean sea." But I have, from the missionary saint-army of Ireland, selected this one—this typical apostle—to illustrate the characters that illumine one of the most glorious pages of our history. Many, indeed, were the "Columbs" that went forth from Ireland, as from an ark of faith, bearing blessed olive branches to the mountain tops of Europe, then slowly emerging from the flood of paganism. Well might we dwell upon this period of Irish history! It was a bright and a glorious chapter. It was soon, alas! to be followed by one of gloom. Five hundred years of military fame and five hundred years of Christian glory were to be followed by five hundred years of disorganizing dissensions, leading to centuries of painful bondage.