Colum Cille, who had preached the Gospel to the heathen Picts, and built the monastery of Iona in the Hebrides, the chief seat of religion in the Highlands and isles for centuries, died there after a most active life, telling his monks in his last hours that he wished his remains to be laid by those of the blessed Patrick and Brigid. Festina lente was the order of the day. Most leisurely was their haste in the execution of his wishes. In fact, they could not bring themselves to expedite the removal of the holy relics from the scene of his past and their own present labours. Perhaps they might find courage to commence the voyage to-morrow, next week, next year. No one could tell what might occur if sufficient time were given. However, they were rather dismayed one fine morning on finding the coffin absent from its accustomed place. Dire was the alarm, earnest the search ; out instead of recovering coffin or body, a little barque, which yesterday floated at its mooring beside the quay, was also missing. The pious but procrastinat-ing community did the wisest thing under the circumstances. They sent three of the brethren, men skilled in the simple navigation of the time, with directions to explore all the waters that lay been Iona and Down, and, if unsuccessful so far, to make inquiries of the ecclesiastical authorities of the latter place concerning the missing body of St. Columba.
The legend says nothing of the voyage till the questing barque was made fast to a post within the loch of Down. As the three monks disembarked they discovered an old brother of theirs, from whom they had been separated for years. Salutations, questions, and answers crossed one another rather confusedly on both sides at first, each party being full of the one absorbing subject. The following is the account given by their recovered friend, divested of the ejaculations and interruptions which accompanied it :-
"A week since, just as the sun was directly in the south, the loiterers and labourers on the shore observed a small object far at sea making for the harbour, but their wonder was great when, as it approached, they found it to be a decked boat with sails closely furled, yet proceeding at a rapid speed through the water. No oars were visible, but still it came swiftly onward, leaving a long, straight line of foam behind. The crowd that thronged the shore as it came in, were on their knees, as much from fear as piety, and praying earnestly, but no one dared to enter the enchanted boat till the bishop and three of his clergy, who had learned the news, came from the cathedral, in their robes, and went on deck, scattering incense and singing hymns. They went below, and after what seemed a long hour to the crowd, they came up again bearing a coffin, which they laid upon the deck. The bishop then addressed the assembly, informing them that within the coffin lay the still unde-cayed body of St. Colum Cille, evidently sent by Heaven to repose beside those of St. Patrick and St. Brigid. The whole multitude broke out at once with the hymn, ' Laudate Dominum,' and when it ended, with the ' Gloria Patri, Filio, et Spiritui Sancto : sicut erat,' etc. The precious burden was removed on the shoulders of the clergy to the cathedral, and at this moment our most skilful artificers are preparing a fitting monument to be placed beside those of our other patron saints."
Our three voyagers shared but moderately in the general joy that prevailed among all classes. They visited the cathedral along with hundreds of the curious and devout, and were hospitably entertained by the bishop and chapter. The people of Down would have gladly retained the miraculous boat, but in a council held by the clergy and Brehons it was resolved that it should be sent back to its owners in I. Colmkil. It was not fitting that the loss sustained by the islanders should be aggravated. These last, on the return of the exploratory expedition, resigned themselves as well as they could to their loss, and went on their noiseless and useful course. Concerning the abode of the saints in Down, we quote the distich :-
" Hi tres in uno tumulo tumulantur in Duno- Brigida, Patricius, atque Columba pius."
"These three rest in one tomb in Down- Brigid, Patrick, and pious Columba."