Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 11.djvu/421

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Columban
Columban
415

asking his protection. Columban at this time was strong in the favour of the royal house, and so the bishops seem to have taken no further steps against him.

Before long Columban lost the support he derived from the Burgundian court. Attracted by his holiness Theodorik II, king of Orleans and Burgundy, often came to Luxeuil to seek his prayers and counsel. The king, who had put away his wife, lived very evilly, and in 609 Columban took advantage of one of his visits to urge him to put away his concubines, and have children by a lawful wife and queen. The king was inclined to obey him. Columban's conduct, however, enraged the king's grandmother, the famous Brunhild, for she feared that if her grandson married she would lose much of her dignity and power. It chanced one day that Columban visited the old queen at the town now called Bourcheresse. When Brunhild saw him enter the hall, she brought the sons that different concubines had borne the king and set them before him. He asked what they wanted of him. 'They are the king's sons,' she answered ; 'strengthen them with thy blessing.' The quick temper of the Celtic saint was thoroughly roused. 'Know this,' said he, 'that these boys shall never hold the kingly sceptre, for they are the offspring of the stews' (Fredegarius, c. 36). After this Brunhild and the king acted spitefully towards Columban, and though a temporary reconciliation took place the abbot again excited their anger by writing to warn Theodorik that unless he amended his life he would withdraw from communion with him he would, that is to say, personally separate himself from him, as St. Ambrose did from the Emperor Theodosius, a wholly different matter from a general excommunication (Lanigan, ii. 279). On this Brunhild stirred up the nobles against the abbot, and incited the bishops to find fault with his monastic rule (Vita, 18). Urged by the party thus formed, Theodorik went to Luxeuil and ordered the abbot to grant free access to his convent to every one alike, according to the custom of the country. Columban refused, and shortly afterwards the king sent him to Besancon that he might there await his pleasure. No restraint was put upon the abbot's movements while he was there, and so he quietly returned to Luxeuil. When the king heard of his return he sent soldiers to drive him out of the monastery, ordering that none save his Celtic monks were to accompany him. Columban left Burgundy in 610, after having spent twenty years there. He and his companions were conducted with considerable harshness to Auxerre, and thence to Nevers, where they were made to embark on the Loire. From Tours, where he visited the tomb of St. Martin, Columban sent a message to Theodorik warning him that in three years he and his children would be destroyed utterly. At Nantes the party was to be shipped off to Ireland. While waiting there for a vessel Columban wrote a touching letter of farewell to the monks he had left in his Burgundian monasteries. With many passionate expressions of grief he bade them obey their new head, Attala, and requested that he would remain with them unless there arose some danger of division about the Easter question (Collect. 132). It is said that the ship that was to have taken him back to Ireland was miraculously driven ashore, and that he and his monks were allowed to go whither they would (Vita, 22; Fredegarius). They visited the court of Hlotair (Clothaire) II, king of Neustria, at Soissons, and were warmly welcomed. While Columban was at the Neustrian court the king consulted him as to whether he should join Theodebert or Theodorik in the quarrel that was then impending between them. Columban, it is said, bade him help neither of them, declaring that within three years the dominion of both should be his. Although earnestly pressed to abide in Neustria, he refused to do so, for he desired to visit other countries. In 611 he left Neustria, and, guarded by an escort provided him by Hlothair, travelled to the court of Theodebert, king of Austrasia, at Metz. Theodebert received him graciously and offered to settle him in any place that he thought would be a suitable station for mission work among the heathen people of the surrounding districts. Columban went to seek out a field of labour for himself; he ascended the Rhine, and entered the present canton of Zug. Here he and his monks preached to the Alemanni and the Suevi. In his zeal he set fire to a heathen temple, and this so enraged the people that he and his party were forced to flee. They went to Arbon on the Lake of Constance, and thence to the ruins of the ancient Bregentium, now Bregenz, where they established themselves. Columban again destroyed the images of the heathen people, but the preaching of St. Gall, who was one of his companions, and who knew the language of the country, had considerable effect, and the missionaries appear to have been unmolested.

The overthrow of Theodebert at Tolbiac in 612 brought Bregenz under the power of Columban's enemies, Theodorik and Brunhild (Fredegaritus, c. 38). He therefore departed for Italy, leaving St. Gall, who either was or pretended to be sick, behind him