The mysterious island of Iona is calling – who will sojourn with us for a time? The natural and spiritual appeal of this tiny island in the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland has been drawing travelers to its shores at least since the 500’s when St. Columba and his companions arrived from Ireland and established a monastic community there. A a “thin” place where eternity and the present meet in a palpable way – so much so that kings vied for the blessing of being buried in this holy ground. Intrigued?
I had begun hearing about a mysterious place called “Iona” at a church I attended – specifically, an “Ionian Communion” – where congregants file to a table of the “bread and wine” and instead of a church leader serving communion, serve each other. From there I learned there was still a practicing ecumenical community on the Island to this day. The allure of an unbroken community seeking peace for our world, built on an ancient, but simple and accessible vision of faith intrigued me.
But it wasn’t until I further began to explore Celtic Christian History and Spirituality that I understood more fully the significance of this little island off the coast of Scotland. As my friend (and Culture Honey contributor Catherine Hommes) and I began to chart our course for Sacred Ireland I learned more about one of the three Patron Saints of Ireland, St Columba, or “Colmcille”. Along with many other accomplishments, ultimately Columba made his way to Iona and founded an influential spiritual community there in 562 AD. I knew I had to go and experience the wonder of Iona for myself, and then potentially offer to lead small groups there to our newly forming travel company, Culture Honey Touring.
The journey to Iona, beginning on the plane ride from Dublin, is one that I’ll never forget and can’t wait to take again! After an overnight stay in Glasgow, the journey to Iona consists of a train, a ferry, a bus and then another ferry. Not only is it a total adventure, but it’s some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve seen.
Above is the view from the train window, and here is a beautiful lake in the distance…
Once on Iona, I partook in some of the most fresh fish and organic garden grown meals I’ve ever eaten. Combined with a nice glass of wine, I was ready for sleep and to awake the next day to experience the island.
These beautiful arches inside the Abbey on Iona have echoed back the worship and prayer of Pilgrims since in an effort led by George MacLeod, the Abbey was restored in 1939. But the same heart of Pilgrims have been traveling to the Abbey since the late 500’s. There are morning and evening prayer services daily, led by the Iona Community, quiet, mediative and faith-filled.
A special time is welcomed in the Orian Chapel. Built in the 12th century, this simple structure draws one in and provides amazing acoustics for song and chant. According to the “Undiscovered Scotland” site,
“But if Iona’s oldest complete building post-dates St Columba’s day by 500 years, the same cannot be said of the graveyard that surrounds it. Known as Relig Odhráin, it was named after one of St Columba’s followers, Odhráin or Oran, who according to legend volunteered to be buried alive as a sacrifice to prevent the walls of the first church built here from falling down. Many believe Relig Odhráin has been in continuous use as a graveyard since Columba’s day. It became the traditional burial place for the Kings of Dalriada and, later, Scotland, for many centuries, and a survey conducted in 1549 listed 48 Dalriadan/Scottish kings buried here, as well as 8 Norwegian and 4 Irish kings.”
Emerging from the chapel, blinking in the light, one’s heart begins to soar. What further delights await? How about a walk to the sea…
In spending time on the well-known Pilgrimage destination of Iona, Scotland, I had a deeply expansive experience that I will always cherish. In fact, when I travelled to Iona to plan out Culture Honey Touring‘s Pilgrimage there, I experienced such a profound and centering time that I have only now felt compelled to write about, over 3 years later.