St Columbanus

St Columbanus was a missionary in Ireland known as Columbanus before becoming a saint. Many historians know him for his work in encouraging others to confess their sins and the monasteries that he established in Italy and France. This article will look at some of the surviving details about the life of St Columbanus.

Quick Facts About St Columbanus

  • Feast Day: November 21/23
  • Patron Saint of motorcycles
  • Born: circa 540
  • Died: November 21, 615
  • Beatified: Unknown
  • Canonized: Unknown

Early Life

Columbanus was born circa 540 in the Kingdom of Meath. His mother told others that she had visions and dreams before his birth. When she sought help interpreting her dreams, experts told her that she would have an intelligent son.

Columbanus exhibited signs of intelligence from a young age and was quick to pick up new skills. He studied both geometry and grammar before his mother sent him to Northern Ireland to further his education under the Abbot of Cleenish.


Though Columbanus studied with the abbot for many years, he also studied in other abbots and eventually decided to travel with 12 other men to France. They traveled to both Britain and Scotland before arriving in Brittany. The King of Burgundy approved of the group and granted them permissions that he did not give out before. They would move to the Vosges Mountains where Columbanus established the first of his monasteries.


Columbanus then traveled to Gaul, which is where he would spend the next two decades. Some of the bishops in the area did not approve of his work and thought that he was more influential than they were. Columbanus turned to Pope Gregory I for help and also asked Pope Boniface V for support. Their main dispute was over the celebration of Easter. Following his requests to the popes, Columbanus began following the date that the bishops used. He would also argue with the Frankish royal family, which only ended when the king died.

Later Years

Learning that he had less support than he thought, Columbanus began traveling again. He spent some time in other parts of France before making his way to Italy, establishing monasteries in both countries. Many of his enemies spoke out against him and warned him of what would happen if he returned to Burgundy. It wasn’t until 615 that he felt confident he could return after receiving a letter from King Clothar II. The King not only asked that he come back but made it clear that he would receive safe passage. Columbanus denied the King’s request but asked him to keep a watchful eye on the monks in his former abbey. He spent some of his last days in Bobbio Abbey before traveling to a cave where he died on November 21, 615.

Interesting Facts About St Columbanus

  • During his time in the Vosges Mountains, Columbanus often separated from his group. He believed that he needed time to reflect and be alone. The only person he allowed to visit him was a young man tasked with bringing messages back and forth.
  • One of the only surviving documents that Columbanus wrote during his life was a letter sent to Pope Gregory I. This letter requested that the pope help with the disputes between Columbanus and the bishops in Gaul.
  • Both the Bobbio Abbey and Luxeuil Abbey that he established are still standing and serve as religious sites in Italy and France.
  • The Roman Catholic Church celebrates his feast day on November 23, but the Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes his feast day as November 21.
  • Some of the miracles attributed to St Columbanus include escaping from a pack of wolves without suffering any injuries and restoring the sight of a blind man.