Those who have studied Celtic Christian spirituality for awhile have probably come across the phrase, “finding the place of your resurrection.” And its meaning is not exactly crystal clear to most of us. Does it mean finding the place in your life where you feel the most fully alive? After all, Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century wrote, “The glory of God is a human fully alive.” I think that is certainly one way of looking at it. And some have criticized the translation of Irenaeus’s Latin phrase, “vivens homo” as being merely “a human alive,” but I’m not ready to forfeit the deepening of life humans have the capacity to experience.
The tomb of Columbanus is in the crypt beneath the altar of the monastery church he founded in 614 AD. The inscription reads, “Here rests St. Columbanus, Abbot, in the peace of Christ.”
I have a strong hunch, however, that the Irish monks who set out as peregrini on the Irish Sea in their little coracles or even who crossed the sea to France had a deeper sense that finding the place of their resurrection meant finding their ultimate destination in this life. It would be the place of their burial and the place of their resurrection. And if that was true for Columbanus, he found his place of resurrection along the banks of the River Trebbia in Bobbio.
As my formal time of pilgrimage comes to an end, it seems like Bobbio is an appropriate place, since it is the final resting place of dear Columbanus, who had a long, hard journey to this place of beauty.
A beautiful contemporary statue of Columbanus in the abbey church, above his tomb.
I also see the places of Columbanus’s resurrection in St. Gallen (founded by his Irish follower), in Luxeuil, Annegray, Bregenz, Piacenza, Alessandria, Asti, Mantua, Besançon, and so many other communities across the heart of Europe. He is resurrected through the monasteries he founded, the lives they shaped, the amazing learning they injected into the continent in the “dark ages,” and through the liberating message of the gospel.
It seems hard to imagine the tenacity of generations of monks who have kept the flame of Christianity alive in the face of disease, violence, and shifting cultural priorities. Yesterday, I visited the Abbey of San Galgano in Tuscany, which was a large Cistercian foundation, but that succumbed not to the sword, but to the plague. (The remaining monks moved into Siena…surely not much safer!) At least it wasn’t Cromwell or Napoleon or Robespierre who got to them.
None of the monasteries I visited on my pilgrimage still has an active community of monks, which saddens me. But I’m left to question why I should feel bereft if it is not a life that I would choose for myself. After all, Columbanus was known for having the most draconian of monastic rules, and there were no conhospitae or joint male-female monasteries under his iron hand.
I see, though, the light of Celtic Christian monastic spirituality in the dispersed ecumenical communities like the Community of Aiden and Hilda, the Northumbria Community (both centered on or near Holy Island, Lindisfarne), and especially in the work of the Iona Community, whose work deeply influences my own ministry.
And so I conclude this leg of my own pilgrimage with a prayer of thanksgiving for Columbanus and for the people who have helped make my pilgrimage possible.
Yes, there was a Brigid’s Cross in the crypt at Bobbio!
I lift up to you the blessed and devoted life of your servant, Columbanus, who left family and friends and familiar surroundings to journey, like Abraham, to new lands that you would show him. I give thanks for your call to him, for his listening intently to you, and for his courage and tenacity in bringing your light into this land. May his memory continue to bless the people of Europe and of all who remember him and study his path.
I give thanks for my family, whose love and support has enabled my own pilgrimage. For Cameron and Chris, who are doing great things while I’m away. For Jane Anne, who is my companion in love and life, in ministry and in pilgrimage. I give you thanks for them. Bless them.
I give thanks for my congregation and colleagues: for time set apart for sabbatical, for financial support to help defray the costs of travel, for their faithfulness and love of growing in their pilgrimage with you, with one another, and with their neighbors.
In this world where suffering and greed and ill-will and violence and fear seem to surround us on all sides, help us all to become a force for light and love and peace.