Sunday, July 10, 2011

Patron Saint of Bookbinders and Poets

St. Columba of Iona

Ever since reading the Deptford Trilogy, I have found hagiology fascinating. I recently came across Columba, who is the patron saint of poets and bookbinders, and inexplicably also invoked against floods. Born in Ireland, Columba was also a poet and is believed to have written the latin poem "Altus Prosator".

Best known for his love of books, Columba went to great lengths to obtain or make copies of valuable manuscripts. In 540 his first master procured a copy of St. Jerome's Vulgate. Columba got permission to view it and made a copy of it for his own use. His master, Finnian, on being told of this, laid claim not only to the original but also to the copy. Columba withheld this copy, made by his own hand, and the question of ownership was put before the King of Ireland. Columba lost, the trial ending with King's decree: "To every cow her calf, and to every book its son-book" (an interesting early case of copyright infringement).

Columba's skill as a scribe can be seen at the Irish Academy, where the oldest surviving example of Irish majuscule writing and the earliest existing example of a Celtic illuminated manuscript is on display.