Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Colman

COLMAN, Saint (d. 676), bishop of Lindisfarne, sometimes confused with St. Colman, an Irish martyr put to death in Austria, and erroneously credited with the conversion of Penda, king of the Mercians (Forber, Kalendar of Scottish Saints, 303), was probably a native of Mayo. He became a monk of the Scottish (Irish) monastery of Hy or Iona, and left it to preach the Gospel to the English. He was consecrated bishop of Lindisfarne in 661 after the death of Finan. On his succession the dispute between the Roman and Celtic parties on the date of Easter and on other usages became especially violent. The Northumbrian court was divided by the quarrel; King Oswiu, who greatly loved Colman, and who had been baptised by the Celtic monks, upheld the doctrine of his early masters. His queen Eanflsed, and his son Alchfrith [q. v.], who was associated with him in the kingship, were on the side of the Roman party which found its ablest advocate in Wilfrith. In 664 the kings held a synod at Strenaeshalch (Whitby), in the convent presided over by the abbess Hild, to settle the dispute between the churches. Thither came Colman and his Irish clergy, and on their side were Bishop Cedd [q. v.] and the abbess. Colman, who was then acting as bishop in Yorkshire during the vacancy of the see (Eddius, Vita Wilfridi, c. 10), was the spokesman of the Scottish party, and Wilfrith conducted the debate on the other side. In answer to Wilfrith, who sneered at the isolated position of the Celtic church, and derided its teaching, Colman warmly replied that he and his party were followers of St. John, and later on argued that men so holy as Columba [q. v.] and his successors could never have acted in opposition to the divine will. Wilfrith declared that St. Peter was to be preferred to Columba, and in the peroration of his speech quoted Matthew xvi. 18 as a proof of the dignity of the chief of the apostles. Then King Oswiu asked: 'Is it true, Colman, that these things were said by the Lord to Peter?' And when the bishop said that it was true, he asked again whether he could assert that his Columba had received any such power. 'No,' replied Colman. Then the king declared that he would be on the side of the doorkeeper of heaven lest when he should come to the gates he should find none to let him in. All agreed in the king's decision, and so Colman and his party were defeated (Bæda, Hist. iii. 25).

Colman would not yield to the decision of the synod, indeed it is said that he dared not do so for fear of his countrymen (Eddius, c. 10). Finding that his doctrine was slighted and his party despised, he determined to return to Ireland to take counsel with his friends there. It is often asserted (Dict. of Christian Biog. i. 599) that the place where he intended to take refuge was Hy, and that he went thither to seek the advice of the ' family ' of Columba. Bseda, however, who says (Hist. Eccl. iv. 26) ' in Scottiam regressus est,' never uses ' Scottia ' except in the sense of Ireland (Skene), and it may therefore be considered certain that Colman set out for Ireland in order to seek the opinion of the abbots of the great monasteries there on the course to be pursued on the overthrow of the Celtic church in England. Before he left he asked and obtained from Oswiu, 'who loved him for the wisdom that was in him,' that the brethren who were to remain at Lindisfarne might be under the charge of Eata, abbot of Melrose. Then he took with him part of the bones of Aidan [q. v.], the founder of the house, leaving the rest in the church, and bidding the monks lay them in the sacristy, and departed in company with the Irish monks and such of the English brethren as clung to the Celtic usages and wished to follow him. Instead of going straight to Ireland, he and his party went to Hy, and dwelt there for four years. His route is perhaps marked by the dedication of the church of Fearn in Angus to St. Aidan, and that of Tarbet in Easter Ross to St. Colman. During his stay at Hy he must have told the abbot Cummene the particulars of his dispute with Wilfrith, and how he appealed to the holiness and the miracles of Columba, and so probably led the abbot to write his 'Life' of the saint which is still extant, and is embodied in the 'Life of Adamnan ' (Skene). In 668 he and his company left Hy and sailed for Ireland, taking with them the sons of Gartnaith, the king of Alban, and 'the people of Skye,' i.e. the Columban clergy there, who after a while returned to their old home (Tighernac). They settled in Inisboufinde, or, as it is now called, Inishbofin (the island of the white heifer), in the barony of Murrisk, off the coast of Mayo, and there Colman built a monastery. After a while, however, the monks of the two nations disagreed because the Irish left the monastery during the summer, and went each one to his old home or whither he would, and when they came back at the approach of winter, expected to share in the harvest that had been gathered in during their absence by the toil of their English brethren. Accordingly Colman bought land in Mayo, obtaining it at a small price, for the noble who sold it added the condition that the monks should pray for him, and there he built another monastery, and settled the Englishmen of his party in it. The Irish monks he kept on the island, and he himself remained with them there. He died at Inishbofin on 8 Aug. 676. The ruins of his church are still to be seen in the town-land of Knock. St. Colman's day in the Irish calendar is 8 Aug., and in the Scottish 18 Feb.

[Bædæ Hist. Eccl. iii. 25, 26. iv. 4 (Eng. Hist. Soc.); Tighernac's Annals, ap. Rerum Hibern. Script. Vet. (O'Connor), ii. 206, 209; Eddius. Vita S. Wilfridi, c. 10, ap. Historians of York (Rolls Ser.); Bollandist's Acta SS. Feb. iii. 82-8; Fordun's Scotichronicon (Hearne), 168, 242; Chron. Scotorum, 101, 105 (Rolls Ser.); Bishop Forbes's Kalendar of Scottish Saints, 303; Usher's Primord. 825, 964, 1164; Skene's Celtic Scotknd, i. 258, 259, ii. 163-8; Lanigan's Eccl. Hist, of Ireland, iii. 59-79; Ware's Irish Antiq. iii. 125; Montalembert's Monks of the West, iv. 153-173; Dict. of Christian Biog. i. 599.]

W. H.