Alexander O'Hara

Columbanus and the Politics of Exile:

Social Networks, Elite Identities, and Christian Communities in Europe,
c. 550- c. 750

The period c. 550 — c. 750 was one in which monastic culture became more firmly entrenched in Western Europe. The role of monasteries and their relationship to the social world around them were transformed during this period as monastic institutions became more integrated in social and political power networks. This project focuses on one of the central actors in this process, the Irish ascetic exile and monastic founder, Columbanus (c. 550 — 615), and the monastic network he and his Frankish disciples founded in Merovingian Gaul and Lombard Italy. Columbanus left Ireland in 590 in order to pursue an ideal of ascetic exile?a commitment to live the rest of his life in religious exile. This ideal of alienation informed every aspect of Columbanus′s exile on the Continent, his organization of his communities, and his relations with the Frankish elite. The language of exile was the language of separation as Columbanus attempted to shape his communities as sacred spaces apart from society with clear boundaries and rules of access. For reasons still insufficiently understood, this discourse appealed to the Frankish elite who increasingly sought to invest in the Church as a means of accruing spiritual benefits and to enhance their prestige and status. The boundaries that Columbanus established to mark off his communities and which derived from the rhetoric of ascetic exile inadvertently led to new ways of community-building based on Christian discourse. Monastic ideals began to influence the court culture of Chlothar II and Dagobert I while courtiers began to establish monasteries and to adopt a specific set of terms borrowed from Columbanian monastic discourse. This project aims to investigate further the dynamics of this vibrant inter-relationship between monastic and secular communities during this formational period and to explore how this interaction led to the development of hybrid forms of discourse and to new ways of thinking about community-building.