Thursday, 20 February 2014

Saint Colga the Wise, February 20


The Irish calendars commemorate an eighth-century scholar saint, Colga the Wise, (Colgu, Coelchu) lector of Clonmacnoise, on February 20. The Martyrology of Tallagh has the simple entry 'Colgu Mac h. Dunechda' at February 20th, as does the Martyrology of Gorman. The Martyrology of Donegal, however, has a fuller entry, which tells of one of the stories associated with Saint Colga - his miraculous meeting with Saint Paul the Apostle:

20. B. DECIMO KAL. MARTII. 20.

COLGA, Mac Ua Duinechda, i.e. Lector of Cluan-mac-nois. It was he that composed the kind of prayer, called the Scuab Chrabhaidh (Broom of Devotion). It was to him Paul the Apostle came to converse with him, and to help him on his road, and he took his satchel of books at Moin-tire-an-air, and it was he that pleaded for him to the school of Cluain-mac-Nois, and the prologue or preface which is before that prayer states that this Colga was a saint, was a priest, and was a scribe of the saints of Erin, etc. And there is a Saint Colga, with his pedigree, among the race of Dathi, son of Fiachra, son of Eochaidh. Muidhmhedhoin, and he may perhaps be this Colga.

In his book on the monastic schools, Archbishop John Healy expands on the story of Saint Paul, which was recorded by the 17th-century hagiologist Father John Colgan. It seems that the great apostle intervened in a theological dispute between the scholars of Clonmacnoise, represented by our saint, and some other monastic school:

One day returning from his class hall with his leathern book-satchel on his shoulder, he sat down to rest at the place called Mointireanir. As he sat a stranger came up and began to converse in the kindest and most affable way with the professor, and even ventured to give him counsel and instruction. Nay, more, he took up the book-satchel, and carried it on his own shoulders, letting the tired master walk on by his side. The kind stranger turned out to be the Apostle Paul himself. On another occasion when public disputation was being held at the college, it seems certain scholars were objecting vigorously to Colgu's views, when St. Paul once more appeared as a learned stranger, and was invited to take part in the discussion.

The unknown scholar accepted the invitation, and reasoned so convincingly that in a very short time he clearly showed to the satisfaction of all present that Colgu's view of the question at issue was the correct one.


There are a couple of writings which still survive which are linked to Saint Colga. The first is the prayer, mentioned in the Martyrology of Donegal entry above, called the Scuab Chrabhaidh (Broom or Besom of Devotion). The second is a letter written by Saint Alcuin of York from the court of Charlemagne to 'Colcus, a lector in Scotia'. Colgan believed that Saint Colga of Clonamacnoise was Alcuin's correspondent.

The 20th of February is established on the calendars as the feast of Saint Colga and the annals variously give his death as occuring in the year AD 789, 791, or 794.

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