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The Legend of Columba and Oran

     Columba was born on December 7th, 521 CE, in Gartan in what is modern County Donegal. He is claimed to be the great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, a High King of Ireland in the 5th century.  He was baptised Christian as a child and eventually entered the abbey at Clonard and studied under Finnian of Clonard. Columcille, along with 11 other of Finninan's students, became known as the twelve apostles of Ireland. Eventually Columba was ordained, and became a priest as well as a monk.

    Columba studied under several different teachers at various monasteries until around 560, when he became embroiled in a conflict with Finnian of Moville over the rights to a psalter Columba had copied from the scriptorium under Finnian. Columba thought is was his to keep, Finnian disagreed, and eventually the mater came to a trial. Columba seems to have lost at trial, but the matter was not finished there. According to tradition, the Battle of Cul Dreimhne was fought, among other reasons, over the matter with many men losing their lives on the field of battle.   

     Recognizing the damage caused by his prideful actions, Columba agreed to exile from his beloved Ulster and in 563 gathered with 11 other brothers on a beach in the north of Ireland. The 12 monks set sail, eventually making their way to the island of Iona off the west coast of 


Scotland. Upon arriving on the island, Columba was resolved to establish a new monastic community there, and set about the raising a chapel as the first building of the new settlement.    

     The monks would carry stones, spread the mortar, and build the walls each day only to find their work had collapsed by the next morning. Trying every technique he knew, nothing Columba would do made the slightest difference. The island itself seemed to be opposed to his new building. Nearing his wits end, Columba sought the advice of Oran of Iona.

     The full legend of St. Oran is one for another place and time, but suffice it to say, his origin is somewhat shrouded in mystery. He may have accompanied Columba as one of the faithful brothers sailing from Ireland. Other legends place him as a Druid of the Olde Ways, steeped in lore and mystery, and already living on Iona. Regardless, Coumba sought his council and Oran told him that Ioan was an ancient land, suffused with ancient energies and presences and that a sacrifice was necessary for the walls to remain standing. Oran volunteered to be the sacrifice and instructed Columba to bury him in the footers of the new chapel's walls. 

     Feeling he had no other choice if he was to see his chapel built, Columba consented to Oran's proposal and buried him alive beneath the walls. Arriving at the site of the partially built chapel the next morning, Columba and his brothers were overjoyed to see the walls still standing. The stories say that three days passed and Columba, wanting to gaze one last time upon Oran's visage, bade his brother monks to unearth Oran. No sooner than had his body been uncovered but Oran sat bolt upright and began to regale the monks with tales of his journeys on the other side of the veil. Catching sight of Columba, Oran said to his friend that of Heaven, Hell, and the Almighty, "They way you think it is, may not be the way it is at all." Columba wasted no time re-covering Oran with dirt, claiming it was to save the souls of the monks from perdition. 

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