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. These are two really wonderful saints. I had to vote for Adomnan because I am Irish and Scottish, and he mitigated war. To bad he couldn't eliminate it. But Vaz only made it this century. I am honored to be introduced to a saint who was cannonized this century. Terrible decision.

  2. I tend toward the more modern Saints (the capital "S" kind) because we have a better historical record. However, I was attracted to Adomnan because of the "ancient Geneva Accords." Adomnan it is.

  3. Adomnan was one of the Celtic equivalents of the Desert Fathers. Were it not for them, their vision, their energy, their scholarship and holiness, Western Civilization may have descended completely into darkness.

  4. I told my SS class yesterday that, when in doubt, choose the Celt to stay with the Lent Madness voters.I voted for Joseph, bringing diversity to the bracket.

  5. I had to vote for Joseph since my daughter-in-law is a native of Sri Lanka. Plus, I liked his determination to reach the Catholics of that country.

  6. It is interesting, that well the one thought for the rights of women not to be in the military, today’s women fight for the right to be in the military. But at least clergy and children are exempt still. And women aren’t conscripted into it.

  7. While it was clear from the get-go that the Irish, and Scots, would take the day, I vote for Joseph because we hear so very little of the fellowship of Christ-followers in Asia generally and the Indian subcontinent especially. Plus one of my favourite graduate students is from Sri Lanka. We never talked “organized” religion but Dulan is a great guy, always putting his family and grace and love before whatever we did as engineers.

  8. I voted for Adomnan because of his efforts to create a code of war exempting civilians. Given the ongoing horror in Gaza, with more than 29,000 civilians dead (in response to the barbaric Hamas attack that killed close to 800 civilians, if my sources are correct), I had to honor Adomnan's attempt to keep war between combatants only.

  9. "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."

    You state that he was Joseph was canonized in 1711 and also 2015. Did you mean beatification in the first reference?

    1. 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.

      Vaz died in 1711; he was canonized in 2015.

      The pope noted, parenthetically (in 2015), that Vaz was exhausted (in 1711) (when he died).

  10. Another difficult choice today. As an amateur historian, I appreciate the work of Adomnan and the importance of Iona in ecclesiastical history. On the other hand, Joseph sought out marginalized indigenous people and the minority of Catholics in Sri Lanka to whom he brought the sacraments and support. I finally went with Joseph, but will be happy with whichever saint wins today’s match.

  11. Having been to Iona four times and read Adomnan’s Life of Columba, I voted for Adomnan, particularly because of his work for the Law of Innocents, his role in the history of Iona and Ireland and Scotland. I did a church history project for a course years ago about the monastic communities originating in Iona, spreading to the Border Abbeys, and then Lindisfarne. I keep going back to the thin places.

  12. I'm glad Adomnan of Iona won. I toured the Isle of Iona with my wife. I wish we had more time there. Oddly enough, our tour mimicked St. Columcille (Columba) journey through Scotland but in reverse.

  13. It is a well known fact that thousands of find folks have left their hearts in San Francisco (at least thousands sing about leaving their hearts 'high on a hill') but I left my heart on Iona. Now that I know that St. Adomnan's relics are enshrined on Iona, I'm more determined to make that fabled 3rd pilgrimage to that sacred island.

  14. Another tough choice today. I definitely have an appreciation for ancestors, predecessors, and institutional memory, the protection of women, children, and clerics, and consistency in calendaring. So I love Adomnan. But I love Vaz too for his example of looking to the interests of others, caring for them, and getting to know them and their languages. I'd like to see them both go to the next round.
    Voting for Vaz as I would most like to hear more about him.

  15. Good writing vs good works. Monastic live writing the Word vs one taking and spreading the word to an oppressed people. Seems that the latter should win out.