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Columbanus is important for two reasons: he was the earliest Irish scholar to have composed a significant corpus of writings in Latin, and he founded an austere but influential form of monasticism which flourished in France and Italy from the 7th century onwards. He was born in Leinster about 550 ce; his Irish name was Columba (perhaps a diminutive of Irish Colmán, perhaps a baptismal name influenced by Latin columba “dove,” which was subsequently Latinized as Columba-nus). (Scholars often refer to him as “Columba the Younger,” in order to distinguish him from the well-known abbot of Iona.) His earliest studies took place at Clain Inis (Cleenish, county Fermanagh) under one Sinell, but he subsequently became a monk at Bennchor (Bangor, county Down) under Abbot Comgall. The only written testimony to his years at Bangor is a Latin hymn for Eastertide in rhythmic verse (beginning “Precamur patrum”), which is preserved, anonymously, in the famous “Antiphonary of Bangor,” written around 700 and now preserved in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan (MS. C 5 inf.). With the permission of Abbot Comgall, Columbanus left Bangor in 590 or 591, accompanied by twelve monks (a number symbolic of the twelve disciples of Christ), on a “pilgrimage for the love of God,” the aim of which was to convert pagan peoples to Christianity. His journey took him first to Brittany, then subsequently to Burgundy, where, apparently through the patronage of King Guntram (d. 592), he was granted the site of a hermitage in the wilderness at Annegray (département Haute-Saône), probably in 592; a year or so later, through the patronage of Guntram’s son Childebert II (d. 596), he was given a site for a monastery in the Roman ruins at Luxeuil (Luxovium), where he became the abbot of an ever-growing community of monks, both Irish and Frankish. While at Luxeuil, Columbanus enjoyed the patronage and protection of Childebert’s son Theuderic II (596–612); however, he lost this support when he chastised Theuderic for consorting with concubines, and, without royal support, the Burgundian bishops and nobles, who were unhappy with his (royally protected) independence from their jurisdiction, were able to secure his arrest and expulsion from Burgundy in 610. After proceeding to Auxerre and Nevers, Columbanus took a boat down the Loire to Nantes. When he failed to find a boat to take him to Ireland, he refocussed his attempts to find a permanent home for his monks, looking first in the region of Lake Constance, then ultimately in the Lombard kingdom of northern Italy, where at Milan in 612 he secured the patronage of the Lombard king Agilulf, from whom he obtained possession of a ruined church at Bobbio. After rebuilding the church there, he re-established his monastic community and ended his days, dying there on 23 November 615.

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Benedict of Nursia was an Italian abbot active in the hinterland of Rome at Subiaco and Monte Cassino in the early 6th century. He is best known as the author of a normative guide for monastic life, The Rule of Benedict (Regula Benedicti; hereafter RB), the only surviving work that bears his name. The earliest account of Benedict’s life and independent reference to the RB appeared in the second book of the Dialogues on the Miracles of the Italian Fathers by Gregory the Great (pope590–604ce). Composed at Rome in 593–594ce, the Dialogues were a popular compendium of hagiographical portraits of 6th-century Italian saints cast as a conversation between the pope and one of his disciples. Gregory’s endorsement of Benedict’s sanctity was instrumental in promoting the RB in the early Middle Ages. As a result, the authority of the RB as a guide to monastic life was unassailable from the time of the Carolingians to the end of the 12th century, so much so that historians have traditionally referred to this period (c.