01-05-2007 - Traces, n. 5

A Spiritual Father
of Christian Europe

Exhibition curated by P. Gulisano, A. Morganti, and M. Steffenini

by Adolfo Morganti

The Meeting of Rimini, always attentive to current developments relevant to the Christian event, will be devoting an important space in 2007 to one of the greatest founding saints of Christian Europe, St. Columbanus of Ireland. Born in Ireland in 540, he was a monk first at Cluain-Inis in Ulster and later in the monastery of Bangor near Belfast. From there, he began his “pilgrimage for Christ” and was given permission to set sail with twelve companions. First, they landed on the tip of Cornwall, then they set sail again and came to a port in Gaul, in the Gulf of Saint-Malo, where they founded the Abbey of Annegray. King Childebert II granted them the ancient spa town of Luxeuil, demolished three centuries before and reduced to a bog, where they founded their second abbey. Soon after, they founded a third at Fontaines. Twenty years later, Columbanus was sent into exile by the Gauls. After many vicissitudes, he reached Arbon, on Lake Costanza, where he found hospitality at the ancient castle of Bregenz, on the Roman road. There, at the age of 72, he founded a new abbey. Then, after a long journey by tracks across the mountains, he finally reached Milan. The Lombard sovereign Agilulf welcomed his eminent guest and permitted him to settle in his dominions, granting his wish to find a suitable place for a new monastery.
He founded it at Bobbio, on the left bank of the Trebbia, some thirty miles from Piacenza. Under the burden of age and penitential works, with his last remaining companions he set to work to build a new monastery, destined to become a great center of culture in the Middle Ages. His last journey and his final unsparing labors took their toll on the last of his strength. After little more than a year spent in Italy, he died on November 23, 615, according to tradition, in the cave of San Michele, close to Bobbio, where he withdrew for solitude and prayer. He lies buried in the crypt of the Abbey Church of Bobbio, which ever since has been a major center of pilgrimage continuously down to our own time. The testimony of St. Columbanus, with its elevated spiritual and cultural value, testifies to the concrete process of integration of the European peoples, fostered in the early Middle Ages by the spread of Christianity through monasticism. Columbanus gave rise to that “pilgrimage for Christ “that was one of the most important factors in the evangelization of Europe and its cultural revival. The Road of St. Columbanus is still, fourteen centuries later, an animated and living path of life. Robert Schuman, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, has often affirmed that “St. Columbanus is the patron saint of all those who want to build a united Europe.”