This is the door of St Oran’s Chapel on the Isle of Iona and believe me there is no other place quite a thin as this. I have sat a sung ancient Gaelic songs in this chapel but sadly not on this trip….. there is a sort of magic about the island, a feeling of never quite being alone when wandering the open hills and it’s many bays. There is so much history here good and bad. It is said that the kings and Lords of Scotland are buried here. This is where St Columba (Colum Cille) arrived from Ireland with twelve others and set up his monastery in the 6th century. Tradition has it that the book of Kells was written here. It is also from this island that the missionary St Aiden set out to found the monastery at Lindisfarne where three brothers one of whom was called Chad trained. St Chad later founded a community after the Irish tradition in a town that is now know as The City of Lichfield. There are also famous names that come to mind when talking about Lindisfarne like St Cuthbert and St Bede from Jarrow who’s tombs are can be seen in Durham cathedral.
Looking from the top of Dun I towards the community of Iona and the restored medieval abbey which is now run by the Iona community (not to be confused with the community of Iona i.e. the population). St Oran’s chapel is just to the one side of the Abbey along the ancient road of the dead. You can just see the ferry making its way across the sound to Fionnphort where you can often see dolphins.
Dunn I is the largets hill on the island some 101 metres tall. Dun means hill in Gaelic and I is the old name for the Island, hence Dùn I. Just to the one side when you react the top is a small well known as the Well of Eternal Youth. It is especially associated with the 6th-century St Brigid of Ireland. Iona is one of the many islands of the Hebrides, which simply means ‘The Islands of Bride (or Brigid)’. Ancient Celtic myths speak of Brigid visiting Iona at midnight on the summer solstice. It is said that she blesses the waters of this little pool so that they carry healing for those who seek renewal.
Other places to visit on Iona is Columba’s bay where St Columba first set foot on the island and then looked back towards Ireland. As the tale goes he climbed to the top of the hill to the right of the photo to look back. He would not stay on the island if he could see the home that had left behind and as that day it was somewhat misty he could not..
This labyrinth has been in Columba’s bay ever since I have been visiting. Walking and praying the labyrinth is a very old tradition indeed, only if you pray here remember it’s a thin place.. I am often drawn to reading psalms and prayer whilst walking and exploring the many bays and hills on this Island. I once set out wandering and somehow could not find my way back so I stopped in what looked like an old cross road. As I rested I was drawn to a psalm and a feeling of not being alone but somehow reading with others or in a place where others have also read and maybe sung the psalms, came over me.
Here is another shot out to sea from the bay …
… and here at the White Strand of the monks.. The water is crystal blue and many are tempted to swim but beware it’s not the Mediterranean even if the water and the beach look like it. This is called the White Strand of the Monks as here in the 9th century when the Vikings arrived fifty monks were brutally murdered. The beach is a quiet and calm, an ideal place for deep reflection.
This is a great place for retreats not just to visit for the day but to really stay on the island. It remembers you and your thoughts will always go back to this place..
A final picture of the hermits cell as it is known. Traditionally this is known as the cell of St Columba but there is no evidence for this. It certainly could have been a hermits cell and is across the island from the abbey and the site of the original monastic community that was set up by Columba. It could well have been the very place that Columba himself sort peace and calm to write and reflect. Through the years it may have been used for other purposes such as a refuge for shepherds. Whatever, this island is where Christianity spread out through Scotland and the north of England down to the Midlands, Wales and out onto the continent. The traces of these wandering monks can be found all over France, in Brittany, Belgium and Luxembourg. It is certainly a thought to think that we also walk in their footsteps.