Saint Columba





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

Connal.



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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