Saint, Witch or Both? The Strange Case of St Columba of Sens

Saint, Witch or Both? The Strange Case of St Columba of Sens

(Read the article on one page)

The cult of St Columba is connected to France, where she died. She was beheaded in Sens - the major center of her cult now. However, while French religious people pray to the historical figure as an iconic saint, hundreds of kilometers from Sens there are people who worship her as a witch.

St Columba was probably born in the current territory of Spain, but her life, death, and cult is mostly associated with France. However, specialists in the lives of saints suggest that Columba of Sens is the same woman as Columba of Spain, who lived during the 9th century AD. The French saint is known as a very different person in some regions of Spain.

The St Columba cult is very strong in France and connected with a specific story, thus linking her with the Spanish woman may be a misinterpretation. There is also a possibility that the legend of Columba of Spain was just another way to stop the cult of women who were seen as dangerous for the Church.

Saint Columba with a bear.

Saint Columba with a bear. ( hartzulo)

The Legend of Saint Columba the Martyr

According to the popular Christian legend, St Columba was a martyr who was murdered by the Roman Emperor for her beliefs and disagreements about pagan domination. Her original name was probably Eporita, and she was a member of a very influential noble family. Her relatives worshiped the old deities and didn't follow the new religion. Members of her family were some of the most important people related to the Roman Empire.

When she was 16 years old, she decided to leave her homeland and go to the region of modern Vienna, where she was baptized and received the name Columba or Comba. The legend of St Columba says that when Emperor Aurelian wanted to arrange the marriage of his son with Columba she refused. For her disobedience, Aurelian decided to close her in the brothel of the amphitheater, which is known in Christian literature as a place used by the Roman Empire for torturing and killing Jesus’ followers.

While Columba was imprisoned, someone tried to rape her, but the legend says she was saved by a she-bear. Aurelian was furious and decided to burn the animal and Columba together, but the bear escaped and survived. Moreover, the legend says that God sent rain, stopping them from starting the fire. Therefore, Columba was beheaded instead. The execution took place next to a fountain known as the fountain d'Azon. Later, people recovered her body and buried her in a grave, which is now under the famous Abbey of Sens.

St Colomba Saved by a Bear. (1340s) By Giovanni Baronzio.

St Colomba Saved by a Bear. (1340s) By Giovanni Baronzio. ( Public Domain )

Although the story may not convince anyone who has a deeper knowledge of the Roman Empire, it survived for centuries and became the basis for the huge cult dedicated to this woman seen as a symbol of innocent virgins and martyrs.

Main altar of Église Saint-Colombe, Hattstatt, France. The statue on top depicts Columba of Sens.

Main altar of Église Saint-Colombe, Hattstatt, France. The statue on top depicts Columba of Sens. (Ralph Hammann/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

The Spanish Witch

The cult of Saint Columba or Comba flourished during the Middle Ages, but Allyson M. Poska, a researcher and author of the book ''Women and Authority in the Early Modern Spain. The peasants of Galicia'' , found another version of the story. Although Christianity believes that Columba was a martyr, the old Galician resources reveal a different story. According to Poska, the woman known as a saint from Sens was none other than a famous witch in Spanish Galicia. As she wrote:

''Across Galicia, St Comba is known as the patron saint of witches, a curious notion in and of itself. On the one hand, she acts as an intercessor on behalf of witches, while on the other hand, people go to her to defend themselves against witches. One informant told Marisa Rey-Henningsen, ‘there . . . you can see she was a great witch, and now she is the greatest of saints.’ Even today, Galegos remain comfortable with both the positive and negative connotations of having witches in their midst.''

Santa Columba at Santa Coloma, in Arceniega (Álava, Spain).

Santa Columba at Santa Coloma, in Arceniega (Álava, Spain). ( Public Domain )

The Galician version of the legend about the saint says that St Columba was a witch who met Jesus Christ on the road. He told her that she would not enter his kingdom, so she decided to change her life. However, it seems that she remained a witch while being a Christian. This was a common mixture in the early times of Christianity.

Comments

One has to be aware of the life of Hildegard of Bingen who was one of those educated women and aware of a lot more than just nature.  She was so well accepted she travelled freely in Germany (it was not a country but a conglomerate of duchies) 

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Strange how the ‘church’ still builds shrines to people they’ve executed for heresy. But I guess it brings in lots of money.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Ancient Places

View point towards Katun River, Atlai Mountains
Giant ramparts guarded Altai Mountains against attack from the north, says leading archaeologist Professor Andrey Borodovsky. The wall complex - now almost hidden to the naked eye - is believed to date from a long era that also saw such constructions as the Great Wall of China and Hadrian's Wall.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article