Columbanus: The Monk Who United Europe
1400 years ago an Irish monk brought fresh and radical thinking to a divided Europe, in crisis following the fall of the Roman Empire. His name was Columbanus.
Columbanus was viewed as an outsider. Hailing from Hibernia (Ireland), he came from the only country in western Europe that had stayed outside of the Roman Empire – a land many in Europe had long-since believed was inhabited by backward barbarians.
He was born during the sixth century AD, at a time when the Western Roman Empire was breathing its last gasping breaths. As flux engulfed Europe, Ireland was also undergoing a great deal of change as Christianity trickled in to this far-flung land.
Columbanus was likely born into a Christian family, later becoming a monk and joining the religious community at Bangor Abbey. What arrived with Christianity was a whole array of Mediterranean Christian culture. The Irish monks at Bangor, and at many other similar places, quickly absorbed this rich culture, becoming masters of grammar, maths and argument.
In these places a depth of scholarship developed which, through Columbanus, would have a major impact on Europe.
In his 40s Columbanus decided to set sail from Bangor across the seas to a chaotic Europe on a missionary endeavour. He built the monasteries that became Europe’s first universities, established a writing system to encourage the spread of liberal values and risked his life when he demanded high standards of leadership from those in power – bishops, kings and even popes.
These foundations are said to have contributed greatly to the creation of Early Medieval Europe. In the often-fractured Europe of today, the lessons of Columbanus are just as relevant. Be reminded of how openness and diversity can encourage positive progression.
Columbanus: The Monk Who United Europe is presented by Mary McAleese, former Irish President and was broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland on 30 November 2015. It was written, directed and produced by Declan McGrath.Duration: 59 Min