A new documentary to be shown on BBC Alba, Calum Cille: An Naomh Dàna or Columba: The Bold Saint, looks at the lasting effect of tales told about the man credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland 1,500 years ago.
Among the most striking accounts was Vita Columbae, written by Adomnán, abbot of Iona, about a century later, in which he describes an incredible, in both senses, encounter with Nessie.
“The brute lay asleep in the river bed, waiting in his lair. He ascended to the surface and with a loud roar from his open heart, he lunged at the man. The Holy Man raised his hand and made a sign of the cross. At the sound of the saint’s voice, the brute retreated so quickly, it seems as if were pulled by a rope,” he wrote, adding the locals promptly converted to Christianity.
We may laugh at such stories, but it’s easy to spot the tall tales of a bygone age and much harder to see through those we tell ourselves today.
Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher are great heroes, like Columba, to many people, but also terrible demons – like the dragon, if possibly not the apparently cuddlier Nessie – to others. Churchill in particular has an aura of mythology that appears to incite criticism of him by some that seems all-the-more shocking to others.
The important thing to remember is that, like the real Columba, most of us are just people with a mix of human virtues and failings, much like any other.