Colman was born probably in Connacht, West of Ireland, around 605 and became a monk on Whitby. Here he defended the Celtic ritual practices at the Synod of Whitby, but when the decision was that Roman practice would prevail for the sake of unity, he resigned and went first to Iona and then to Inishbofin, Co Galway. He probably was among the group of monks that went with St Aidan to Lindisfarne in 635. On the death of Aidan’s successor, St Fionán, as abbot-bishop of Lindisfarne, Colman became its third abbot-bishop. Patrick Duffy tells his story.
Third abbot-bishop of Lindisfarne
The Venerable Bede gives a glowing account of the church of Lindisfarne under Saint Colman’s rule. He points to the example of frugality and simplicity of living set by Colman and the complete devotion of his clergy to their proper business of imparting the Word of God and ministering to their people.
Synod of Whitby (663/4)
At this time the before mentioned differences between the Celtic and Roman ritual practices, especially about Easter and about the tonsure, were coming to a critical stage with Wilfrid, returned from the continent, now the articulate leader of the faction favouring the Roman method of calculating Easter. This had been introduced earlier by Paulinus and the second group of monks that came to Kent from Rome in 601. At the Synod of Whitby King Oswy of Northumbria ruled that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than according to the customs practised by Iona and its satellite institutions.
Resignation: return to Iona and Ireland
Colman resigned his abbacy-bishopric and retired, first to Iona and then to Inishbofin off the Connacht coast. All the Irish monks went with him and thirty of the English. But the two groups within the community disagreed, the English complaining that the Irish monks went wandering, preaching around the country and that all the harvest work was left to them. Colman then made a separate foundation for the English monks at what came to be called “Mayo of the Saxons”. Its first abbot was an Englishman, St Gerald of Mayo, who lived till 732. See 13th March.
Death and memory
Colman died in comparative obscurity probably around 676. Bede praised the new Irish monastery of the Anglo-Saxon monks, especially the fact that the abbots of Mayo were elected, rather than following Celtic custom as a “hereditary” monastery, but studiously avoided reference to Colman and the Irish monks.