5 Jun 2019


Mural in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery showing Saint Columba preaching to the Picts. (William Brassey Hole, c. 1899). The Druid Broichan is presumably the elderly gentleman leaning towards the seated king.

Sadly we only have the accounts of his enemies to tell us about Broichan, the Druid of King Bridei of the Picts, who lived in the time of Saint Columba (521-597).

The only mention of the Druid is in Adomnan’s Life of Saint Columba, a highly fanciful and chronologically scattered account of the Irish saint. The first mention of Broichan is in Chapter 34 of Book II of the Life, which mentions a visit by Columba to the Pictish capital of Inverness.

After bringing a dead boy back to life, the saint decided to take his pagan rival down a few pegs, commanding him to liberate a Scottish female slave. When Broichan refused, Columba threatened him.
"Know, O Broichan, and be assured that if thou refuse to set this captive free, as I desire thee, that thou shalt die suddenly before I take my departure again from this province," he is reported as saying,
After this he left, and went to the banks of the River Ness. After a while, two messengers of the king arrived with the news that Broichan was gravely ill and begged the by-now-very-smug saint to return and save Briochan in the king’s name. 

Having heard the messengers, St. Columba sent two of his companions to the king with a pebble which he had blessed, and said to them:
"If Broichan shall first promise to set the maiden free, then at once immerse this little stone in water, and let him drink from it and he shall be instantly cured; but if he breaks his vow and refuses to liberate her, he shall die that instant."
On the threshold of death, Briochan was understandably in a mood to compromise. Accordingly, he released the slave and drank the water in which the pebble had been immersed. Immediately he recovered.

If this account were true, however, it seems odd that shortly afterwards, Briochan was still not reconciled to Columba. In the sequel, he was so ungrateful for Columba supposedly saving his life that he actually threatens him, according to  Adomnan’s account.

In Chapter 35 of the Life it is reported that the two had the following conversation:

Broichan: “Tell me, Columba, when dost thou propose to set sail?”
Columba: “I intend to begin my voyage after three days, if God permits me, and preserves my life.”
Broichan: “On the contrary, thou shalt not be able, for I can make the winds unfavourable to thy voyage, and cause a great darkness to envelop you in its shade.”
Columba: “The almighty power of God ruleth all things, and in His name and under His guiding providence all our movements are directed.”

Columba then set off for Loch Ness, presumably to sail down the Loch in the general direction of Iona, his monastic base. But, on his arrival at the water's edge, the Loch was wild and stormy and the winds unfavourable for his voyage. Columba, however, chose to ignore the danger. Calling on Christ, he embarked in his small boat and ordered the reluctant sailors to raise the sails against the wind.

As often happens with the Scottish weather, there was a sudden change. The Loch waters calmed down and the wind softened to a breeze and veered round to help Columba on his way. No mention is made of how Broichan took this new "miracle." One suspects he was glad to see the back of the Saint.

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