Bobbio is a town in the Trebbia valley in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, with a population about the size of Castleblayney’s. The Abbey of Bobbio, on which the abbey in Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose was in part based, was one of the principal centres of religious learning in Italy in the Middle Ages with a famous scriptorium and library.
Columbanus was born in Navan (town-twinned with Bobbio) in about 543 and was probably of noble origin. He embraced the religious life as a young man, despite fierce opposition from his mother; one version of his story says that she lay down in the doorway of the house to stop him leaving, but her son climbed over her.
He lived many years at Bangor, under the Abbot St. Comgall, until when he was about 45 years old he went firstly to Gaul, taking twelve companions. Columbanus never returned home, but as he said himself, “to go on pilgrimage is to take Ireland with me.”
In fact, his uncompromising adherence to the customs of the Irish church wherever he went got him into trouble regularly. These practices included a ‘druidic’ style tonsure, the use of St. Jerome’s psalter, bishops being subordinate to abbots, and the calculation of the date of Easter according to Irish tradition.