So today was a BIG day for me. I have wanted to visit Iona for many many years and never managed it. Life (an a bundle of pathetic excuses/reasons) got in the way of me making the effort to come here. Well today all my expectations were surpassed as we made our way to this wonderful thin place where creation and creator feel as one, where spirit and human are unequivocally connected – indeed united! Let me take you through some of our day. The fuller version will be shared in some form on my return. For now, a glimpse of the wonder that is Iona.
We begin with the wonderful journey across Mull to Fionnphort where we were to catch the 10mins ferry to Iona.
Just before we got to Fionnphort, we encountered some of the locals – with HUGE horns!!!! Very friendly and magnificent to be so close to. We allowed them to pass peacefully, hoping they didn’t want to come much closer than this…
And then onto Iona!! After reversing the motorhome onto the ferry and gingerly driving off (that was an experience I don’t want to repeat!….) we were on the island and had a special day pass for our vehicle that you have to ask for in advance (vehicles not usually allowed onto the Island).
Our visit began with the Abbey itself. There are two crosses outside the Abbey, one of these is St Martin’s Cross. There are carvings on the cross in an interweaving Celtic pattern, symbolic of the intertwining of earth and heaven, the sacred and the secular (ref ‘Around a Thin Place’ p17).
Then we saw the Abbey itself. Our pictures here are all of the outside as the Abbey is currently closed. Did we get to go inside? I couldn’t possibly say!….. Here are some pictures of this amazing place, which has been a home for Christian pilgrims for 1400 years.
Near to the Abbey there is Reilig Odhrain (St Oran’s Chapel) which is the oldes remaining building not he island, dating back to the 12th century and in it’s grounds is a burial ground where it is thought 48 Scottis, 8 Norwegian and 4 Irish Kings are buried here (‘ref Off Road Pilgrimage p103). Along the road for here is Macleod’s Cross and the Nunnery (founded by Augustinians in the early 13th century).
And so we go off the the ‘Beach at the Back of the Ocean’. This is a beautiful beach with white sand (the pics don’t do it justice really) and gorgeous coloured pebbles. This is one of two beaches I had hoped to visit but the other (St Columbia’s Bay) was a bit too difficult trek on my own and the weather was not in our favour. So Koda and I settled very happily for some time on the beach at the back of the ocean, looking out to sea and savouring the majesty and wonder of the ocean. Pilgrims come to Iona for many reasons, one is to reflect on their journey thus far in life, and to recharge, in order to go on to their next chapters. They are encouraged to take a pebble at St Columbia’s Bay, throw it into the ocean to represent something they are leaving behind or letting go of. And then take another pebble, walking off the beach without looking back, to represent their journey going forward from that moment. Well Koda and I did this on our beach today and it felt just as powerful and releasing as it probably is at St Columbia’s Bay. It’s good for all of us sometimes to think about the things we should probably let go of (or put behind us) in order for us to look to tomorrow, confident that God will guide and equip us for whatever tomorrow may hold.
Columba is thought to haves landed on Iona in the year 563 and his legacy still lives on here today. I’ll be doing some further studies and reflections on St Columba later in my journey. For now I leave you with the Celtic rune of Hospitality that is often said at a service of welcome in the Abbey church:
‘We saw a stranger yesterday,
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place
And, with the sacred name of the Triune God,
He blessed us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song: Often, often goes Christ in the strangers’ guise. ‘
I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing a little of our travels to and around Iona today.
‘May God be a b right flame before you,
Be a guiding star above you,
Be a smooth path below you,
Be a kindly shepherd behind you,
Today, tomorrow and for ever. Amen’
(Traditional Gaelic blessing, from Iona Abbey Worship Book)