St. Adamnan

Adamnan, born in Drumhome, Donegal, Ireland, became a monk at the monastery there. Later at Iona, of which he became ninth abbot in 679. He gave sanctuary to Aldfrid when the crown of Northumbria was in dispute after the death of Aldfrid’s father, King Oswy. In 686, when Aldfrid had ascended the throne, Adamnan visited him to secure the release of Irish prisoners. Two years later Adamnan visited several English monasteries and was induced by St. Ceolfrid to adopt the Roman calendar for Easter. Adamnan worked ceaselessly thereafter with much success to get Irish monks and monasteries to replace their Celtic practices with those of Rome. His success in convincing the Council of Birr that women should be exempt from wars and that women and children should not be taken prisoners or slaughtered caused the agreement to be called Adamnan’s law. A scholar noted for his piety, he wrote a life of St. Columba, one of the most important biographies of the early Middle Ages. He also wrote DE LOCIS SANCTIS, a description of the East told to him by a Frank bishop, Arculf, whose ship was driven ashore near Iona on the way back from Jerusalem. Adamnan is thought by some in Ireland to be the same as St. Eunan, though this is uncertain. He died at Iona on September 23 which is his feast day.

Adomnán’s most important work, and the one for which he is best known, is the Vita Columbae (i.e. “Life of Columba”), a hagiography of Iona’s founder, Saint Columba,[5] probably written between 697 and 700. The format borrows to some extent from Sulpicius Severus’ Life of Saint Martin of Tours.[6] Adamnan adapted traditional forms of Christian biography to group stories about Columba thematically rather than chronologically,[7] and present Columba as comparable to a hero in Celtic mythology.[8] Wetherill suggests that one of the motivations for writing the Vita was to offer Columba as a model for the monks, and thereby improve Adomnan’s standing as abbot.[2] The biography is by far the most important surviving work written in early medieval Scotland, and is a vital source for our knowledge of the Picts, as well as a great insight into the life of Iona and the early medieval Gaelic monk.

However, the Vita was not his only work. Adomnán also wrote the treatise De Locis Sanctis (i.e. “On Holy Places”), an account of the great Christian holy places and centres of pilgrimage. Adomnán got much of his information from a Frankish bishop called Arculf, who had personally visited the Egypt, Rome, Constantinople and the Holy Land, and visited Iona afterwards. Adomnán gave a copy to the scholar-king Aldfrith of Northumbria (685-704).[3] Also attributed to him is a good deal of Gaelic poetry, including a celebration of the Pictish King Bridei’s (671-93) victory over the Northumbrians at the Battle of Dun Nechtain (685).

 

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