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Saint Columba

Source: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland

Soon after Saint Columba established his residence in Iona, tradition
says that he paid a visit to a great seminary of Druids, then in the
vicinity, at a place called Camusnan Ceul, or Bay of Cells, in the
district of Ardnamurchan. Several remains of Druidical circles are still
to be seen there, and on that bay and the neighbourhood many places are
still named after their rites and ceremonies; such as Ardintibert, the
Mount of Sacrifice, and others. The fame of the Saint had been for some
time well known to the people, and his intention of instructing them in
the doctrines of Christianity was announced to them. The ancient
priesthood made every exertion to dissuade the inhabitants from hearing
the powerful eloquence of Columba, and in this they were seconded by the
principal man then in that country, whose name was Donald, a son of

The Saint had no sooner made his appearance, however, than he was
surrounded by a vast multitude, anxious to hear so celebrated a preacher;
and after the sermon was ended, many persons expressed a desire to be
baptized, in spite of the remonstrances of the Druids. Columba had made
choice of an eminence centrally situated for performing worship; but
there was no water near the spot, and the son of Connal threatened with
punishment any who should dare to procure it for his purpose. The Saint
stood with his back leaning on a rock; after a short prayer, he struck
the rock with his foot, and a stream of water issued forth in great
abundance. The miracle had a powerful effect on the minds of his
hearers, and many became converts to the new religion. This fountain is
still distinguished by the name of Columba, and is considered of superior
efficacy in the cure of diseases. When the Catholic form of worship
prevailed in that country it was greatly resorted to, and old persons yet
remember to have seen offerings left at the fountain in gratitude for
benefits received from the benignant influence of the Saint's blessing on
the water. At length it is said that a daughter of Donald, the son of
Connal, expressed a wish to be baptized, and the father restrained her by
violence. He also, with the aid of the Druids, forced Columba to take
refuge in his boat, and the holy man departed for Iona, after warning the
inhospitable Caledonian to prepare for another world, as his life would
soon terminate.

The Saint was at sea during the whole night, which was stormy; and when
approaching the shores of his own sacred island the following morning, a
vast number of ravens were observed flying over the boat, chasing another
of extraordinary large size. The croaking of the ravens awoke the Saint,
who had been sleeping; and he instantly exclaimed that the son of Connal
had just expired, which was afterwards ascertained to be true.

A very large Christian establishment appears to have been afterwards
formed in the Bay of Cells; and the remains of a chapel, dedicated to
Saint Kiaran, are still to be seen there. It is the favourite place of
interment among the Catholics of this day. Indeed, Columba and many of
his successors seem to have adopted the policy of engrafting their
institutions on those which had formerly existed in the country. Of this
there are innumerable instances, at least we observe the ruins of both
still visible in many places; even in Iona we find the burying-ground of
the Druids known at the present day. This practice may have had
advantages at the time, but it must have been ultimately productive of
many corruptions; and, in a great measure, accounts for many
superstitious and absurd customs which prevailed among that people to a
very recent period, and which are not yet entirely extinct. In a very
ancient family in that country two round balls of coarse glass have been
carefully preserved from time immemorial, and to these have been ascribed
many virtues--amongst others, the cure of any extraordinary disease among
cattle. The balls were immersed in cold water for three days and nights,
and the water was afterwards sprinkled over all the cattle; this was
expected to cure those affected, and to prevent the disease in the rest.
From the names and appearance of these balls, there is no doubt that they
had been symbols used by the Archdruids.

Within a short distance of the Bay of Cells there is a cave very
remarkable in its appearance, and still more so from the purposes to
which it has been appropriated. Saint Columba, on one of his many
voyages among the Hebrides, was benighted on this rocky coast, and the
mariners were alarmed for their own safety. The Saint assured them that
neither he nor his crew would ever be drowned. They unexpectedly
discovered a light at no great distance, and to that they directed their
course. Columba's boat consisted of a frame of osiers, which was covered
with hides of leather, and it was received into a very narrow creek close
to this cave. After returning thanks for their escape, the Saint and his
people had great difficulty in climbing up to the cave, which is elevated
considerably above sea. They at length got sight of the fire which had
first attracted their attention. Several persons sat around it, and
their appearance was not much calculated to please the holy man. Their
aspects were fierce, and they had on the fire some flesh roasting over
the coals. The Saint gave them his benediction; and he was invited to
sit down among them and to share their hurried repast, with which he
gladly complied. They were freebooters, who lived by plunder and
robbery, and this Columba soon discovered. He advised them to forsake
that course, and to be converted to his doctrines, to which they all
assented, and in the morning they accompanied the Saint on his voyage
homeward. This circumstance created a high veneration for the cave among
the disciples and successors of Columba, and that veneration still
continues, in some degree. In one side of it there was a cleft of the
rock, where lay the water with which the freebooters had been baptized;
and this was afterwards formed by art into a basin, which is supplied
with water by drops from the roof of the cave. It is alleged never to be
empty or to overflow, and the most salubrious qualities are ascribed to
it. To obtain the benefit of it, however, the votaries must undergo a
very severe ordeal. They must be in the cave before daylight; they stand
on the spot where the Saint first landed his boat, and nine waves must
dash over their heads; they must afterwards pass through nine openings in
the walls of the cave; and, lastly, they must swallow nine mouthfuls out
of the holy basin. After invoking the aid of the Saint, the votaries
within three weeks are either relieved by death or by recovery. Offerings
are left in a certain place appropriated for that purpose; and these are
sometimes of considerable value, nor are they ever abstracted. Strangers
are always informed that a young man, who had wantonly taken away some of
these not many years since, broke his leg before he got home, and this
affords the property of the Saint ample protection.

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