Nessie: Stories of the Scottish Highlands from the Vita Columbae

Nessie: Stories of the Scottish Highlands from the Vita Columbae

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Nessie: Stories of the Scottish Highlands from the Vita Columbae

By Caitlin Playle

Sweet Briar College Honors Journal (Fall 2012)

Introduction: When I first began to think about what I wanted to do for my research, I knew that it should be as interdisciplinary as my major in medieval studies and I wanted to work with manuscripts. I had previously done some work on a single page of a manuscript held by Sweet Briar’s art gallery for an art history class.1 However, the work I did that time was less in depth than what I have done in my research. Although I did not work on the entire manuscript, the sections I did work on were much longer then the single page I had worked on previously. The previous manuscript was also written at a later date, around 1480. For another, when I worked on the other manuscript I had not yet studied Latin, so the translation part consisted of typing phrases into Google and seeing what came up.

I selected the Vita Columbae with the help of Tasha Gefreh, who is working on her PhD in Edinburgh and has done work with an emphasis in Irish medieval art in in the same time period as what I am studying, while studying abroad in Scotland the past semester. Adomnan’s Vita Columbae or The Life of Saint Columba, in particular the Schaffhausen Stadtbibliothek Gen. 1 manuscript, was chosen because it is one of the oldest manuscripts produced at St. Andrews University, Scotland. Many manuscripts are do not have easily definable sections that would allow for research to be done on a small scale that encompassed only part of the manuscript. Saints’ lives are different than other manuscript as they allow for the selection of single sections for study as a saint’s life is comprised of the miracle stories of whichever saint it is written about. As such, the ability to select some of the stories instead of translating everything fit the time constraint that I had.

The first story that influenced my decision to use this manuscript was Columba’s encounter with the Loch Ness Monster. It caught my attention that a common folk tale that everyone knows of today was already in existence in the 690s AD. I knew that if I worked on the Vita Columbae then I would most definitely be including the Loch Ness Monster story among the stories I worked on. All of the stories have the common theme of taking place within Pictland except for two. One of the stories that was not set in Pictland is the very last one in the entire manuscript and the death of Columba. The other story that took place outside of Pictland is important because it contains an excerpt from a previous book on Columba’s miracles written by Cummene. Cummene was the seventh abbot of Iona from 657-69 AD. Cummene’s book, Liber de uirtutibus Sancti Columbae, most likely grew out of work completed under his predecessor, the fifth abbot of Iona from 623-652 AD, Segene. Under Segene, there was a procedure of collecting accounts of Saint Columba’s deeds while the people who knew Saint Columba still lived. As Segene’s nephew, Cummene may have helped gather the accounts of Columba’s deed. The excerpt is important because Cummene’s book no longer exists so the excerpt is the only instance of finding out what someone even earlier than Adomnan had to say about Columba as the later lives of Columba are even more disconnected from reality at the time Columba lived then Adomnan, who lived only century after Columba’s death.

Watch the video: Breaking News: Loch Ness Monster Spotted! (July 2022).


  1. Shaktitaxe

    What an incomparable topic

  2. Tasi

    Quick response, a sign of mind :)

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