Adomnan of Iona vs. Joseph Vaz

Did you miss us? Well, ready or not we’re back for another full week of saintly action! Today it’s Adomnan of Iona vs Joseph Vaz in an iconic battle of the islands (Iona vs. Sri Lanka).

On Friday, Cyprian of Carthage sent Pachomius packing 56% to 44%. He’ll face Canaire in the Saintly Sixteen.

Time to vote!

Adomnan of Iona

How to hagiographize the hagiographer?

Also known as Eunan, Adomnan was born around 624 in what is now County Donegal, Ireland. As a young man, he became renowned for his scholarship, mastery of scripture, and deep theological thought. It’s not entirely clear when he joined the famous monastery at Iona, but this learned monk is closely identified with it.

His most well-known work is the Life of Columba, the story of the founder and first abbot of the island-based Iona Abbey, where Adomnan himself also served as abbot (in 679 he became the ninth abbot after Columba). Not only does Adomnan’s story recount the founding of the abbey, it also (for all its inconsistencies) gives the most thorough history of medieval Scotland. This hagiography is part of how Columba became known as one of the 12 Apostles of Ireland and helped vault him to his status as a beloved and popular saint.

Adomnan promoted his Law, AKA Cain Adomnain, AKA the Law of Innocents, which took root throughout Ireland. The law exempted women, children, and clerics from going to battle. It’s widely credited with making medieval warfare more humane. Or at least less monstrous. This was the first agreement of its kind, and some have called it an ancient Geneva Accords.

The Catholic cathedral in Letterkenny, County Donegal is named for both him and St. Columba in a cute combo of canonicity. Because of their geographical and biographical proximity, Adomnan and Columba are often considered a two-for-one deal.

Adomnan was instrumental in Iona’s (and eventually all of Ireland’s) official adoption of the Roman calculation of Easter – that is, the decision that the feast falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. So next time you’re googling “what date is Easter this year,” you can thank Adomnan.

Adomnan died on September 23, 704, and soon thereafter was named a saint in Scotland and Ireland. His feast day is celebrated on the 23rd of September, and his relics reside in Iona.

If you, too, have an appreciation for

  1. Your ancestors, predecessors, and institutional memory
  2. The protection of women, children, and clerics
  3. Consistency in calendaring

Then you should love Adomnan.

Collect for Adomnan of Iona

O God, by whose grace your servant Adomnan, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP)

Keegan Osinski

Joseph Vaz

Joseph Vaz is known as the Apostle of Sri Lanka, though it took him 36 years to reach the country.

Vaz was born on April 21, 1651, in the Indian state of Goa.

He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1676, going barefoot in solidarity with the poor and requesting an assignment to Sri Lanka, which was largely Buddhist. Many Catholics who lived in the country did not have access to a priest or church. Even more were persecuted by Dutch colonists, who were Protestant.

Vaz was sent instead to what is now Karnataka in southwestern India, where he spent several years before returning to Goa. There, he worked with the indigenous people to found the Goa Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, which is believed to be the “first fully native religious community of the Latin rite in Asia,” .

Finally, he made his way to Sri Lanka in April 1687.

The first non-European missionary to the country, he went door to door, begging for his living, getting to know the local Catholics and their languages, and performing the sacraments in secret. He encountered a church that was not only persecuted, but divided.

He eventually won favor in the independent Kingdom of Kandy, outside of Dutch rule, either because of his care for the sick during a smallpox epidemic or because of an Elijah-like showdown with Buddhist leaders to produce rain after a drought, depending on your source. He made long missionary journeys, reviving the spirits and faith of Catholics across Sri Lanka.

Vaz died — “exhausted,” as Pope Francis noted during the saint’s canonization — on January 16, 1711, and was canonized by Francis during the pope’s 2015 apostolic visit to Sri Lanka.

At a mass celebrating the canonization, Pope, “I encourage each of you to look to Saint Joseph as a sure guide. He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved.”

Collect for Joseph Vaz

Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Joseph to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP)

Emily Miller

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63 comments on “Adomnan of Iona vs. Joseph Vaz”

  1. Some of my ancestors came from Donegal County so naturally I was frown to Adomnan but also because without scribes we would not have much knowledge of Jesus and the growth of Christianity.

  2. I knew I was going to vote for Adimnan, until I read Pope Francis' praise of Joseph. I have a negative reaction to missionary efforts intended to convert those of other faiths. But Joseph ministered in the 'peripheries' by helping all the people with daily life needs and serving the persecuted Roman community with their religious needs. And doing all with great humility. Joseph is my kind of missionary.

  3. Bare and windswept a place is Iona,
    Holy isle of few trees and much stona.
    Yet for many a year
    Pilgrim feet have trod here,
    Where I someday hope to place miona.

    1. My husband and I had the wonderful privilage of going to Iona several years ago when we were visiting family in England. It is a beautiful place and I hope anyone reading this has the opportunity to go there, if you haven't already.

    2. Oh, John, you must go! I’ve been twice to Iona and am badly in need of another visit. Such a thin and beautiful place! So it had to be Adomnan today!!

  4. Don’t think Joseph V will meet Joseph of A in the other bracket, but I tried! Never heard of either one before, convincing storie, good bloggers!

  5. I don't know if Joseph is the first India born Saint in Lent Madness, but it seems right to vote for him. To go in to serve in dangerous circumstances is honorable.

  6. I am so happy to vote for Adomnan at last, having been persistently nominating him in Nominationstide for some years. His vision and work to protect women and children in times of war is desperately needed today. His biography of Columba is also well worth reading.

  7. Good Morning All!

    Yes! I enthusiastically voted for Adomnan! I went on a pilgrimage to Iona and Lindesfarne about five years ago! My mother had gone ten years before I had my pilgrimage there. She would remind on occasion how much I would enjoy Iona. She was very ill and dying, when another pilgrimage was offered. I asked if she could help me pay for the trip. She said, “Don’t worry. You will be able to go.” She died about two months later. She was correct. I was now able to go - with her help!

    Iona is a thin place. I so enjoyed walking on the charming island of 177 inhabitants. The Celtic Cross is so beautiful! The island has such an amazingly violent history and yet the people were never discouraged after an attack by the Vikings!
    Standing in an interior site of ruin for women was a bit uncomfortable as well as awed! Women being raped, maimed and killed repeatedly was different to imagine. And yet they rebuilt their dwelling.

    So, Adomnan has my vote…

  8. Having visited Iona only once (so far), I thought "this is where I would like to die."
    Plus I liked "cute combo of canonicity"

  9. Recently I went to a weekend retreat led by John Philip Newell, so I have been thinking about Iona a lot, I was there briefly in 1978 and have always wanted to return. Celtic Christianity calls to something deep and true within me. I'm voting for Adomnan.

  10. Because I so love the countries of Ireland and Scotland and have been to Iona, I have to vote for Adomnan.

  11. As Lent Madness ages, and we learn about more and more obscure saints (which is interesting), I am disappointed that we have never had the opportunity to learn about and appreciate an Episcopalian and heroic chaplain from the WW II era. Ted Howden is now on the saints calendar and deserves a Golden Halo, not this year, but soon!

    1. During Eastertide when nominations for 2025 are open, please nominate him. If you have nominated him before, nominate him again! It took me five years of nominations before "my guy" Ananias of Damascus made it to the brackets.

  12. On this monday morning, I'm amused and astonished at how many photo puzzles I needed to complete before captcha allowed me to vote. But I was not daunted, I wanted to show my appreciation for Adomnan of Iona. As a librarian, he had me at institutional memory. As a human, anyone who works to reduce the grasp of war, and calendaring is cool too.

  13. I'm very drawn to Celtic Christianity and have real issues with 17th century Catholicism, so Adomnan it is.

    I'm sure there is genuine sanctity in some aspects of 17th century Catholicism, but it is so tied up in Spanish colonial conquest, cultural (and male and clerical) arrogance, and a reactionary response to Protestantism (doubling down on all the things that the Protestants objected to) that it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

  14. Having briefly visited Iona, although I didn’t know about Adomnan when I was there, my vote goes to him and his skill as a scribe to preserve the story of Columba. Happy Easter Adomnan!

  15. "women, children, and clerics from going to battle." This is did not sit well with me. This is why I voted for Joseph Vaz.

  16. I came in completely convinced I would be voting for Adomnan. But reading how Joseph Vaz waited ten years to fulfill his desire to serve God in Sri Lanka. His dedication to serving the poor and marginalized wherever he went was inspirational.

  17. I voted for Joseph Vaz partly because we tend not to give a lot of recognition to Christian figures in India and southwest Asia but also partly because of his efforts to combine ora and labora in missionary activity. He went out into the world to put his faith into practice. The divisions in the church spoken of were yet another "papal crisis" in which local Christians were being excommunicated for going to the "wrong" bishop. It's hard to be a practicing Christian when your leadership is busy punching down in lieu of tending to the faithful. I appreciated Father Joseph's efforts to find some sort of work-around if not to reconcile the warring parties in the church hierarchy. Yet at the same time, I can see how local Hindus would be threatened by his missionary activities, and I can see how the Roman Catholic church wasn't presenting itself in a positive light in the region. For a little known part of the Christian world, I vote for Joseph Vaz.

  18. My mother loved Iona dearly, and on a beautiful June day years ago we laid her ashes there. So I'd vote for Adomnan anyway. But I hadn't known about his writings, which decide me even more. That plus John Cabot's dad joke sealed it. 🙂

  19. This was a tough one. I'm a woman, have children and grandchildren, and am a licensed lay preacher under the auspices of the bishop of my diocese. But I had to go with Vaz. " . . . who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light." We need to do this now more than ever in my lifetime.

  20. I had no knowledge of Joseph Vaz before I read this biography. Heis a wonderful man, a great example, and he has my vote although I very highly regard Adomnan.

  21. I heard a wonderful concert on Saturday from the Heartland Harp ensemble of Celtic harps and other instruments playing Celtic and sacred selections. Many of the players had visited Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. So I’m in that frame of mind today and Adomnan gets my vote todayand kudos to John Cabot for today’s limerick.

  22. Everybody has heard of Iona, so Adomnan is sure to win. I voted for Vaz, from a part of the world we don't know and seldom honor. Brave evangelist and lover of God's neglected children

  23. My Irish Grandmother was born in Donegal. I have visited Ireland 4 times but unfortunately was not able to cross to Iona. I was however able to follow the path of Columba through the Gaeltacht many years ago. Ireland is Sacred space for me. Thank you!

  24. Joseph's call to work among estranged minority appeals to my support of the underdog. My life has been within my own culture, but I honor those who venture out.

  25. "T'was a tuffy", but had to go with my recently discovered Scots heritage; over my patronage loyalty. While my patron Saint is Joseph, it is not this more recently canonized St. Joseph. May God bless us all.