Saint of the Day – 31 December – Saint Columba of Sens (c 256-273) Virgin Martyr Born as Eporita in c257 in Spain and died by beheading in 273 at Sens, France near a fountain named d’Azon. Patronages – for rain, of bears. St Columba is a Colonnade Saint at St Peter’s – you can find her as Saint Number 40 on the North Colonnade.
Columba was a virgin and martyr at Sens. Though little historical information is known, popular devotion made her one of the most famous and revered Martyrs in the Middle Ages.
The Roman Martyrology states: “At Sens in Lugdunense Gaul, now in France, Saint Colomba, Virgin and Martyr.”
Colomba is presented as belonging to a noble but pagan family of Spain and lived in the third century. To escape the cult of the gods, she left her family and went to Gaul (France) first to Vienne, where she received Baptism, then to Sens. It appears that her real name was Eporita and that she would later be called the Dove (the meaning of Columba) due to her innocence.
In Sens, she was arrested as a Christian in the ongoing persecution throughout the Roman Empire. The Emperor Aureliano Lucio Domizio (270-275), being present in Sens at that time, had Columba and others, brought before him,. In an attempt to make her renounce her Christian virginity, he proposed marriage to her. But then irritated by her refusal, he condemned her to be locked up in the amphitheater in a prostitution cell. When a young soldier arrived there to abuse her, a she-bear who had been kept in the amphitheater, intervened to protect her, putting the man to flight.
Since none of the soldiers, fearful of their lives, now wanted to take his place,Aureliano furiously ordered, that both the Virgin and the Bear be burned but a cloud coming from Africa, procured a providential rain, which extinguished the fire already prepared, while the bear ran away into the forests. The stubborn Emperor then sentenced Colomba to be beheaded, after one last attempt to make her change her faith.
The young woman, just sixteen years old, suffered Martyrdom not far from Sens and was buried by a Christian who, immediately invoking her intercession, recovered his sight. This happened in the second half of the third Century, in the years between 270 and 275, referring to the Emperor Aurelian, who found himself in Sens for his wars in Gaul.
Highly venerated in France at the time, in 620 King Lothair III founded the famous Royal Abbey of Sainte-Colombe-les-Sens on the Tomb of the Saint. In 623 the Bishop of Sens, St Wolf († 623) wanted to be buried at the Martyr’s feet; in 853 the Bishop Wessilone in Consecrating the new Church, found the relics of the two Saints united and had them wrapped in a precious shroud in oriental fabric. Pieces of this shroud were found in the nineteenth Century and are kept in the Treasury of the Cathedral.
The Abbey Church was built a third time and Consecrated in 1164 by Pope Alexander III, then destroyed in 1792 at the time of the French Revolution. The remains of the Abbey and Church complex were purchased in 1842 by the Nuns of the Holy Childhood of Jesus and Mary, who built their Mother House there, safeguarding the remains of the ancient crypt. The relics of St Columba had ,however ,in a803, been transferred to the Cathedral of Sens.
There are numerous Churches dedicated to the holy Martyr in France, Spain, Flanders, Germany and Italy, where her cult spread, most especially in Rimini. According to local traditions, some merchants who sailed in the Adriatic had, with them, a relic of the head of St Columba but were forced to land in Rimini, where the relic was welcomed by Bishop Stennio and placed in the Cathedral.
In 1581 Msgr. Castelli, Bishop of Rimini, being Apostolic Nuncio to France, obtained, from the Monks of the Abbey of Sens, the relics of a rib and two teeth of the Martyr, which since the 18th Century, are preserved in a Reliquary bust now placed in the Malatesta TChurch the new Cathedral , which replaced the other, which was demolished in 1815 AND dedicated to the St Trinità and St Columba.
There was talk of a translation of the body of Columba to Bari in the 17th Century but without any serious foundation.
Starting from the Geronymian Martyrology, up to the Roman one, the feast of St Columba is reported to be celebrated on 31 December. The popularity of the cult in France then slowly waned and an attempt to bring it back into widespread circulation in the 14th Century failed. In Sens, however, due to a local festival, concomitant with New Year’s Eve, St Columba’s feast was postponed to 27 July and is still honoured on this day as well as further devotions and celebrations, on the anniversary of the transfer of her relics and the dedication of her Church. All of these memorials are still observed with great devotion in Sens and the neighbouring area.