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E06061: Adomnán, in his Life of *Columba (abbot of Iona, ob. 597, S02167), relates how a stone blessed by Columba floated in water and healed a wizard; and the subsequent uses of that stone, which was kept in the Pictish royal treasury. Written in Latin at Iona, 696/704.

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posted on 2018-07-30, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Adomnán, Life of Columba 2.33

For an overview of this work, see E06056.

De Broichano mago ob ancellae retentionem infirmato, et pro eius liberatione sanato

Eodem in tempore uir uenerandus quandam a Broichano mago scoticam postulauit seruam humanitatis miseratione liberandam. Quam cum ille duro ualde et stolido retentaret animo, sanctus ad eum loquutus hoc profatur modo: 'Scito Broichane scito quia si mihi hanc perigrinam libere capituam nolueris priusquam de hac reuertar prouincia, citius morieris.'

Et hoc coram Bruideo rege dicens domum egresus regiam ad Nesam uenit fluium. De quo uidelicet fluio lapidem attollens candidum, ad comites: 'Signate,' ait,' hunc candidum lapidem, per quem dominus in hoc gentili populo multas egrotorum perficiet sanitates.'

Et hoc effatus uerbum consequenter intulit, inquiens, 'Nunc Broichanus fortiter concussus est; nam angelus de caelo misus grauiter illum percutiens uitream in manu eius de qua bibeat confregit in multa biberam fragmenta, ipsum uero anchellantam egra reliquit suspiria morti uicinum. Hoc in loco paululum expectemus binos regis nuntios ad nos celeriter misos, ut Broichano morienti citius subueniamus. Nunc Broichanus formidabiliter correptus ancellulam liberare est paratus.'

Ad huc sancto haec loquente uerba, ecce sicuti praedixit duo a rege misi equites adueniunt; omnia quae in regis munitione de Froichano iuxta sancti uaticinium sunt acta enarrates; et de poculi confractione et de magi correptione et de seruualae parate absolutione. Hocque intulerunt dicentes: 'Rex et eius familiares nos ad te miserunt, ut nutricio eius Broichano subuenias mox morituro.'

Quibus auditis legatorum uerbis sanctus binos de comitum numero ad regem cum lapide a se benedicto mittit, dicens: 'Si in primis promiserit se Broichanus famulam liberaturam, tum deinde hic lapillus intinguatur in aqua et sic eo bibat, et continuo salutem recuperabit. Si uero renuerit refragans absolui seruam, statim morietur.'

Duo misi uerbo sancti obsequentes ad aulam deueniunt regiam, uerba uiri uenerabilis regi enarrantes. Quibus initimatis regi et nutricio eius Broichano ualde expauerunt. Eadem hora liberata famula sancti legatis uiri adsignatur; lapis in aqua intingitur, mirumque in modum contra naturam lithus in quis supernat quasi pomim uel nux, nec potuit sancti benedictio uiri submergi. De quo Broichanus natante bibens lapide statim a uicina rediit morte, intigramque carnis recuperauit salutem.

Talis uero lapis postea in thesauris regis reconditus multas in populo egritudinum sanitates, similiter in aqua natans intinctus, domino miserante efficit. Mirum dictu, ab his egrotis quorum uitae terminus superuenerat requisitus idem lapis nullo modo reperiri poterat. Sic et in die obitus Brudei regis quaerebatur, nec tamen in eodem loco ubi fuerat prius reconditus inueniebatur.

'How Broichan, a wizard, was stricken with sickness when he refused to release a female slave, but was healed when he released her

At the same time St Columba asked a wizard called Broichan to release an Irish slave-girl, having pity on her as a fellow human being. But Broichan's heart was hard and unbending, so the saint addressed him thus, saying: 'Know this, Broichan. Know that if you will not free this captive exile before I leave this prouincia [Pictland], you will have very little time to live.'

He said this in King Bridei's house in the presence of the king. Then leaving the house, he came to the River Ness, where he picked up a white pebble from the river and said to his companions: 'Mark this white stone,' he said, 'through which the Lord will bring about the healing of many sick people among this heathen race.'

After a moment's pause, he went on: 'Now Broichan has suffered a heavy blow. For an angel sent from heaven has struck him, breaking into fragments the glass cup in his hand just as he was drinking from it. He is now struggling to get his breath and is near to death. But we should wait here a little while. The king will send two messengers hurrying out to us to call on our help for Broichan, and urgently, for he is dying. This seizure has put fear into him. Now he is willing to release the slave-girl.'

The saint was still speaking when there came two men on horseback, sent by the king, who told what had happened to Broichan in the king's fortress. Everything matched St Columba's prediction: the breaking of the cup, the wizard's seizure, his readiness to release the slave-girl. And they added: 'The king and his household have sent us to you to call on your help for Broichan, who will soon die.'

The saint listened to their speech, and then sent two of his own companions to the king, handing them the stone that he had blessed, saying: 'If Broichan will first promise to release the Irish girl, then and only then will he dip this stone in some water and let him drink it. He will be well again immediately. But if he is intransigent and refuses to release her, he will die on the spot.'

The two men went to the king's hall and there, following St Columba's directions, they repeated to the king all he had said. The king and Broichan, his foster-father, were very much afraid when they learnt all this. Within the hour the slave-girl was free and handed over to Columba's messengers. The stone was dipped in some water, where, in defiance of nature, it floated miraculously on the surface of the water like an apple or a nut, for that which the saint had blessed could not be made to sink. When Broichan drank from it, though he had been near to death, he recovered his bodily health.

The stone itself was kept in the royal treasury. Whenever it was put in water, it floated, and by the Lord's mercy it brought about the healing of many ailments among the people. But if the sick person seeking help from the stone was one whose appointed term of life was finished, then - strange to say - no way could the stone be found. So it happened on the day King Bridei died. The stone was sought but it could not be found in the place where till then it had been kept.'

Text: Anderson and Anderson 1991, 140-44. Translation: Sharpe 1995, 181-2, very lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Columba, abbot of Iona (north-west Britain), ob. 597 : S02167

Saint Name in Source

sanctus / uir uenerandus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Iona St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Saint denying or suspending miracles Power over objects Power over life and death Healing diseases and disabilities Punishing miracle Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Foreigners (including Barbarians) Monarchs and their family Slaves/ servants

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - other


The Life of Columba was composed by Adomnán (ob. 704), a distant kinsman of the saint and, from 679, his eighth successor as abbot of the island-monastery of Iona (modern-day western Scotland). Although the Life contains few concretely datable events, Adomnán’s implication that he had been abbot for at least seventeen years during his account of a certain miracle (2.44) provides a terminus post quem of 696 for his composition, while his remark that another took place when he had been on his way home from an Irish synod (2.45) probably refers to the meeting held at Birr in June 697. That year, or some point shortly after, seems particularly attractive for the dating of the composition, coinciding as it does with the centenary of Columba’s death. Remarkably, a manuscript of the Life in the hand of the Ionan priest Dorbbéne, datable to around 700, and thus probably produced within the author’s own lifetime, survives at Schaffhausen (Switzerland). Later manuscripts suggest two distinct traditions of the Life: Dorbbéne’s ‘A’ text circulated in abbreviated form in continental Europe, while a slightly revised ‘B’ text was copied in England and Scotland. The ‘B’ Life appears to be roughly contemporary with ‘A’, and is thought to reflect Adomnán’s own revisions. For an overview of Adomnán’s Life of Columba, see E06056.


Adomnán is clear about neither the extent nor success of Columba's missionary activities among the Picts, and he gives no suggestion in his account that King Bridei/Brude (ob. c. 586) ever converted to Christianity. With that in mind, the king's supposed retention - and, apparently, successful use - of Columba's blessed stone in his treasury is interesting. Whether we should consider it a contact relic sensu stricto, rather than a miraculous object of some sort of different order, seems debatable (on Columba in Pictland, see further Sharpe 1995, 30-34, 332-37).


Edition: Anderson, A.O., and Anderson, M.O., Adomnán’s Life of Columba, revised edition (Oxford, 1991). Translation, introduction and commentary: Sharpe, R., Admonán of Iona, Life of Columba (London, 1995). Further reading: Anderson, M.O., 'Brude [Bridei] mac Maelchon, (d. c. 586),' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), Ní Dhonnchadha, Máirín, ‘Adomnán [St Adomnán], (627/8?-704),’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), Sharpe, R., Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives: An Introduction to the Vitae sanctorum Hiberniae (Oxford, 1991).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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