Saturday, 2 February 2013

Saint Columbanus of Ghent, February 2


February 2 is the commemoration of a tenth-century Irish recluse at Ghent in Belgium. It seems, to judge from the footnotes to Canon O'Hanlon's entry for Saint Columban, that he has been confused with his more famous namesake, Saint Columban (Columbanus) of Bobbio. It also seems that the saint is commemorated on the day of his enclosure as a hermit, February 2 in the the year 957, rather than on the day of his death, February 15. Canon O'Hanlon relies on the efforts of the seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, to uncover what was known about the Belgian Saint Columban and does not hesitate to give the Scottish calendarist, Thomas Dempster, short shrift for his attempts to claim our saint for his own country:

ST. COLUMBAN, ABBOT AND RECLUSE, AT GHENT, BELGIUM.

[TENTH CENTURY.]

AS during his wanderings, the Trojan exile found the fame of his country extended, by the valour and toil of her chiefs, in far distant lands so, may the Irish pilgrim trace the labours of our saints, not alone on their own soil, but in the remote places of their adoption. At the 2nd of February, Colgan and the Bollandists have given St. Columban's Acts, compiled from various sources and authorities. This saint, there can be little doubt, was a native of Ireland; and the Belgian writers agree on this matter Yet,  Dempster, with his usual effrontery, tries to make him a Scotchman, and he also assumes Columban was a writer. He says, that this saint always lived in Scotland, and he refers to Molanus, who has not a single word of what Dempster pretended to quote from him. So much for the credibility of Dempster's statements. Regarding the family and origin of Columban, we have no authentic accounts. He is supposed to have been an emigrant from Ireland, either about the time when Forannan, with his twelve companions, left it for Belgium; or, subsequently, in the year 946, when it has been supposed, Saints Cathroe and Maccallan abandoned their native island, for the shores of the Continent. Yet, it is thought to be still more probable, that our saint had been the responsible leader of a missionary band. Colgan remarks, that as the mission of the two saints, already named, took place, about A.D. 946, as our saint was called an abbot, and as he became a recluse A.D. 957, it seems probable, he was rather the leader of a new missionary band, than a member of that circle of disciples, who followed Saints Cathroe and Macallan. Columban is related to have fled away from worldly honours. Neither does Colgan conceive it probable, that our saint remained as a private individual, under the rule of those holy men, for eleven intervening years, during which Macallan and Cathroe successively ruled over Wasor Monastery.  

Columban was an abbot, either before leaving Ireland, or after his arrival on the Continent; however, having resigned that dignity, the holy man shut himself up as a recluse, in a cemetery, attached to a monastery at Ghent, on the 2nd of February, A.D. 957. He lived here, exercising most austere penance, for the short space of two years, in this city. His death took place, on the 15th day of February, A.D. 959, according to Sanders. He was buried in the Blessed Virgin's crypt, before the altar of St. Andrew, at Ghent and, his tomb was a little retired from the entrance, under a stone arch. The name of this saint was invoked as a confessor, but not as a bishop, amongst other patrons of Belgium, in litanies, which were recited, during times of public necessity or calamity. It appears not possible to state more particulars regarding this saint; for, his Acts have either perished, or have not been published. Besides some few notices, recorded of Columban, and drawn from Belgian authors cited by him,  Colgan found other writers, relating matters respecting our saint, which were conformable neither to truth nor to credibility. Like the Apostle St. Paul, this holy man gloried in the testimony of a good conscience, living in simplicity of heart and in the grace of God. He passed away from the world, for which he felt no attachment, to enjoy the happiness of eternal life.

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