This is the 1400th anniversary of the death of St. Columban. During this year Columban Sisters have travelled on several pilgrimages in the footsteps of St. Columban. It has been a wonderful experience as we journeyed and prayed together along the way.
We visited Bangor where Columban received his education and formation under the Abbot Comgall and where he set out on his missionary journey to Gaul.
The Bangor monastery was a school of learning for monks and lay people famous throughout Ireland and Europe.
On arrival in Bangor we visited the parish church of St. Comgall and were met by the Pastor Fr. Joe Gunne. He gave us a brief history of Bangor.
The Church was recently decorated and on a side altar a reliquary of multicoloured stain glass held the relics of St. Columban. There is communication between Bangor and all European Columban sites especially this year.
The Antiphonary of Bangor consisting of prayers and canticles copied by an Irish monk in the seventh century is now in the Ambrosian library in Milan.
Next we visited Bangor abbey. The site of the original monastery and is now a Presbyterian parish. We were greeted by the minister who briefed us on the history of the abbey.
They also have contact with Columban monastic sites and have good ecumenical relationships to day.
From the 9th century the Abbey was repeatedly attacked by invading Danes but still continued to be an important ecclesiastical site until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1542. All Bangor abbey property and possessions were surrendered to the crown.
The seventeenth century saw the rekindling of life in the abbey under Scots Presbyterianism in order to minister to the Scots settlers or planters.
In 1989 the catholic population was increasing and the present St. Comgalls church was built. Thankfully today, there is a good ecumenical spirit between the two communities, reverencing their heritage of Comgall, Columban.
We saw the bay where Columban and his twelve monks set out from Bangor in 589. Their boat was made of timber and wattle, lined with tanned cow hides to keep the water out. We saw a replica of this boat later on at the museum.
The extreme renunciation of leaving all for Christ, perigrinatio pro Christi was a feature of early Irish monastic life. Columban also wrote that he wished to bring the Gospel to the pagan peoples of Europe.
Our last stop was Nendrum a monastic site on the shore of Strangford lough, traditionally founded in the 5th century.
Excavations in 1920 unearthed three concentric rings of stone walled enclosures, a church ruin, a sundial and a graveyard. It was an awesome feeling to walk around this hallowed place where so much has happened.
The weather was good and we were tired and inspired.