Born around 540 CE, Columbanus was one of the most influential spiritual and cultural figures of the early Middle Ages and one whose legacy has lived on since. As recently as 28 August 2015 his influence has been recognised by none other than Pope Francis who called him the “Father of Europe”.
Not only did Columbanus play a pivotal role in the spread of Christianity in mainland Europe but his importance both here and in Europe has been recognised in that he was the first person to use the term “European”. He was notably our first “man of Letters”, famous for his poetry, and was the first Irish man of whom a biography was written, by fellow Monk, Jonas.
In 591 CE, he sailed from Bangor in Northern Ireland with twelve companions across Europe, founding communities and monasteries in territories which represent seven modern European countries: Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.
Columbanus and his closest disciple Gall were figureheads of ‘Irish monasticism’, the first great European monastic movement, promoting literacy and learning, foreshadowing the great monastic movements of the Middle Ages. Columbanus was the first writer to express the concept of a single European entity, united by common Christian roots, overcoming individual, ethnic and cultural barriers.
The cities and regions across Europe where his memory still lives have recently come together to create a Cultural Route, “The Columban Way”, an association based on exchange and mutual understanding. 2015 is the 1400th anniversary of his passing in Bobbio, Italy where he established his final monastic settlement and the year see’s celebrations of his life and work, and of the values he represents take place throughout these European localities.
This Story Map charts the life and travels of St Columbanus and the legacy he has created.