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St Columba of Iona

To tell the story of St Columba and show how saints are ordinary people who get things wrong.

by The Revd Catherine Williams

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To tell the story of St Columba and to show that great saints are ordinary people who get things wrong, and learn from their mistakes.

Preparation and materials

  • Play some Celtic music as the children enter.
  • You could use pictures or props to illustrate the story, such as a dove, a crown, a picture of a coracle, a map of Scotland, swords, Celtic artwork, a Loch Ness monster, a cross, etc.


  1. Begin by telling the children that 9 June is the day we remember St Columba, a very important Celtic saint, who lived on the island of Iona. Explain that the Celts were ancient people with their own special style of thinking about God and Jesus.

    Tell the story of Columba as set out below, either using an OHP/Powerpoint presentation, or by choosing some children to act out the story using appropriate props.

  2. Columba was born in County Donegal in Ireland in the year 521 (about 500 years after Jesus). His mother and father were from the royal family, so he was a very important child. They called their son 'Columba' which means 'dove'. The dove is a sign for peace, and for God, and the Holy Spirit too.

    Columba could have become king in Ireland, but chose instead to give up all his riches and become a priest and a monk. He travelled all over Ireland teaching people about God and building churches.

    One day, while he was working in the library making beautiful illuminated manuscripts (books with intricate and colourful designs), he copied someone else's work and pretended it was his own. He lied to cover up what he had done. When he was discovered, he refused to accept that he was wrong, and he gathered a great army together and went into battle against the people who were accusing him. In the end 3,000 people were killed.

    Columba realized that he had done a very bad thing, and so he left Ireland in a little boat called a coracle and crossed over to Scotland. He landed on the island of Iona, and there built a new monastery. He promised God that he would tell 3,000 people about Jesus, as a way of saying sorry for all the people who had been killed.

    Columba travelled around Scotland teaching people about God, and there are lots of legends about things that he did. One of the best is that he is said to have used his cross to save someone from being eaten by the Loch Ness monster.

    Columba worked for thirty years in Scotland, and many people learnt about God from him and became Christians. He always returned to the tiny island of Iona when he wanted to rest and to pray, and listen to God. Today Iona is a place of pilgrimage where Christians go when they want to rest and be close to God, just like Columba.

  3. Explain that St Columba is important for us today because he shows us that even holy people like saints didn't always start life as good people. Columba copied someone's work, lied to cover up what he'd done, and had a really bad temper. But he also knew when he was wrong and tried really hard to say sorry and put things right, and with God's help he was able to become a good man. It took Columba a long time to live up to his name - 'dove'.

  4. You may wish to add that in the Bible it tells us that God forgives us when we say sorry (Matthew 6.14), and that we should forgive others too. Also, God can work powerfully through people who are weak, and who do things wrong (2 Corinthians 12.9). Just like St Columba, we can always have a fresh start with God.

Time for reflection

Pray this blessing adapted from St Columba, or say the Lord's Prayer together:

Be at peace, and love each other.
Follow the example of good people
and God will comfort and help you,
now and in the future.


Sing a Celtic hymn, e.g. 'Be thou my Vision'; 'Spirit of God, unseen as the wind'; or 'Peace is flowing' (Come and Praise, 144). Or play some Celtic music.

Publication date: June 2004   (Vol.6 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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