Intended for healthcare professionals


St Columba's case book

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 19 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:494
  1. Duncan Hunter, assistant professor in community health and epidemiology
  1. Kingston, Ontario, Canada

    Was St Columba of Iona a doctor or a saint? St Columba was an early Christian saint who founded a monastery on Iona, but his Life, published at the end of the fifth century by Adomnán, suggests that he was also one of Britain's early GPs.1 Written a century after his death, the stories rely heavily on Christian symbolism as they were based on tales circulating among the monks and were written by an abbot, about an abbot. However, if you ignore the miraculous hyperbole, Book II can be read as a description of early British medicine. Columba seems to have been a widely respected GP with some knowledge of public health medicine.

    He investigated two epidemics, once by identifying a point source infection from a well (anyone who drank from …

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