St. Columbanus, Ulysses, James Joyce

Ulysses CCD: St. Columbanus

His mother’s prostrate body the fiery Columbanus in holy zeal bestrode.

Part of an occasional series on Catholicism in Ulysses.

The line above appears on page 27 of ‘Nestor’ in the midst of Stephen’s musings on young Sargent, the student receiving the young Artist’s tutelage in algebra. It’s a random line in the midst of Stephen’s musing on amor matris – a mother’s love. Columbanus is the name of Irish saint who did exactly what this line states – stepped over the body of his own mother in order to follow a holy calling. This is a reference you could easily step over and get on your way, but let’s take a moment to learn about who this Columbanus fellow was.

St. Columbanus, pronounced like Call ‘em, Bannus, lived in the late 6th and early 7th centuries. His name is the Latinised form of Columbán, which means “white dove” in Irish (modern spelling is colm bán). There’s also an Irish saint who’s called both Columba and Colmcille, but he’s an entirely different person, so set him aside for now. St. Columbanus’ feast day is November 23, and he is patron saint of motorcycles, though they didn’t have motorcycles back in the 6th century.

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