My research of St Colmcille included reading, visiting the sites and pilgrimages associated with the saint and also looking at the portrayal of St Colmcille in our churches particularly in Donegal and Derry. From this research I have come up with the enclosed image.
The first book I read was Brian Lacey’s Saint Columba. I found this an excellent and well-researched book and from this I decided to show St Colmcille in the simple garments of a monk as he is know as “Father and founder of monasteries”, even though he is also well known for his preaching, healing, prophesizing and visions. What I have chosen to focus on in this representation is his work as a manuscript scribe and in particular his association with the earliest extant Irish illuminated manuscript, The Cathach, dated around AD 600. It has traditionally been regarded as written by Colmcille. The legend of the battle of Cúl Dreimne tells us that Colmcille was in a way responsible for this battle.
I also researched stained glass and marble representations of St Colmcille in St Columba’s, Church of Ireland, Churchhill, Donegal and St Euan’s, Letterkenny Cathedral, Donegal. I enclose below some photos I took from the above churches.
The Open Book
Colmcille holds a manuscript and I have used the same style of writing as is used in the Cathach. The quote is from Psalm 34, the last text he was writing the day he died “Ní bhíonn aon easpa ar lucht iarrtha an Tiarna”.
On his right side, I have placed the grey heron. I have chosen this because I read in Adamnan’s, Life of Colmcille, how Colmcille sent one of the monks to the seashore one day to await a guest from Ireland who would arrive in a very weary condition. He was ordered to take the guest, the heron, in, care for it for 3 days and then when it has recovered release it to return to its home, Ireland. I was informed in the Heritage Centre in Donegal that this heron was sent from Ireland to tell Colmcille that he had been forgiven for his part in the Cúl Dreimne battle.
I have found a few more images where we see St Colmcille with the heron, a stained glass window in St Euans, Donegal, a carved wooden statue in Glenstal, Limerick, (see images above), and in the Donegal Heritage Centre a silk banner.
Hands and Feet
St Colmcille gives us a blessing with his right hand and his left hand is covered as a mark of respect for the book, which is held therein. His left foot is stepping out showing how he was always willing to go out and preach the Word of God.
Around his waist his rope belt has three knots tied in it, depicting the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Even though this was a later development in monastic attire, probably originating with the Franciscans monks who today still wear this belt with the three knots. However, I used it in this icon as Colmcille wears the belt on the statue from St Euans, Letterkenny, Co Donegal (see photo above) and I have also read that the three knots depict the Trinity.
I have shown Colmcille as an old man close to the end of his life, bald headed, greying at the temples and a grey beard. I wasn’t keen on the images I have seen of the Celtic tonsure so to overcome this I left the head bald. I didn’t want to give him the roman tonsure, as the Irish monks wouldn’t have used this.
Colette Clarke 2016
The Cathach of Colum Cille (An Introduction), Ml Herity, Aidan Breen, Dublin RIA, 2002
Saint Columba: His Life and Legacy, Brian Lacey, The Columba Press, 2013
The Life of Columba (by Adamnan), Floris Books, Edinburgh, 1999
Ireland in the Medieval World AD 400 – 1000, Landscape, kingship and religion, Edel Bhreathnach, Four Courts Press, 2014
St Colmcille and the Columban Heritage, John Tunney, Colmcille Heritage Trust, 1987
Colmcille “The Object”, Emma Fallon, Dublin City Council, 2013
Spiritual Sites of Donegal, Virginia Fox, Donegal Printing Company, 2009
St Euan’s Cathedral, Letterkenny, Graham Harrison, The Irish Heritage Series: 62, Eason & Son Ltd. Dublin, 1988