Today is the feast of St Gall, one of St Columban's twelve companions when they set out around 585 from the monastery in Bangor, in what is now Northern Ireland, on their Peregrinatio pro Christo, Pilgrimage for Christ. Their journey was to have an enormous impact on the history, culture and Catholic faith of Western Europe.
St Gall (c.550 - c.646)
Columban Fr Cyril Lovett, editor of Far East, the Columban magazine in Ireland and Britain, has an article in the current issue, 1400 Years of San Gallen, which gives some details of the story of St Gall, his relationship with St Columban and the Swiss town named after him. Here is the first part of the article:
San Gallen is a picturesque city, with 75,000 inhabitants, close to Lake Constance and represents the centre of eastern Switzerland. It takes its name from St Gall, a disciple of Columban and, according to Irish tradition, one of the original twelve who left Bangor with him around 585. San Gallen has been the site of a great monastery since the 8th century. Today it features the splendid baroque Cathedral of St Gallus and Otmar. The Abbey Library, a World Heritage Site, is Switzerland’s oldest, and holds a magnificent collection of early manuscripts and books, some dating back as far as 400 A.D. How did Gall come to settle in this beautiful place?
Fourteen hundred years ago, in 612, St Columban and his little band of monks had been expelled from Eastern France and from the great monasteries at Annegray, Fontaine and Luxeuil in the Vosges Region. He was preparing to leave the area of the Franks and his most recent foundation at Bregenz. Walafrid Strabo (808-849), whose manuscript of the Life of Gall can be seen in the Abbey Library, tells the story as it had come down in the monastery of San Gallen, “When the time of their departure was at hand, Gall suddenly fell ill of a fever. He threw himself at the abbot’s feet and said he was suffering from a severe illness and unable for the journey. Columban said to him, ‘Brother I know that now it seems a heavy burden to you to suffer further fatigue for my sake. Nevertheless, this I enjoin on you before I go, that so long as I live in the body, you do not dare to celebrate Mass’.”
The decision seems very hard to us today. Even Walafrid Strabo felt that some excuse had to be made for it, as he added that Columban thought Gall was held back by love of the place where he had worked, and by fear of the fatigue of a long journey. Yet Columban was usually full of tenderness to his monks when they were ill. Not knowing the full circumstances of the incident we cannot presume to judge between saints. But it is another example of the fact that faced with a hard decision which he believed to be his duty, Columban would let no personal ties stand in his way.
Collect for Feast Day of St Gall
Lord, our God,
who drew Saint Gall to seek you in solitude,
and in the lofty splendour of the mountain
revealed yourself to him;
grant us by is intercession
to follow the pattern
of his meekness and unyielding faith
and so enter with him into the joy of Christ our Lord
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Agnus Dei by the choir and orchestra of the Cathedral at the Abbey of St Gallen