Iona Pigrimage

The Iona Abby church and northern Iona as viewed while approaching the main community and port of Baile Mòr

Iona is a small island off the western cost of Scotland, near the Island of Mull. Thanks to the fame of the founder of its monastery, St. Columba, it has been revered as a holy place since 536 AD and continues to be the symbolic center of Scottish Christianity. At its height  it was one of the greatest centers of learning in Dark Age Europe.

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My wife and I traveled to Iona as part of a pilgrimage organized by Veriditas, a group that organizes events and training related to labyrinths as a spiritual tool. Today, the main site of interest on the island is the restored abbey, now an ecumenical church with daily worship offered by the Iona Community.

The Iona Abby church and northern Iona as viewed while approaching the main community and port of Baile Mòr
The Iona Abbey church and northern Iona as viewed while approaching the main community and port of Baile Mòr
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The Iona Abbey and church
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Iona Abbey at night
Window over the altar of the Iona Abbey church
Window over the altar of the Iona Abbey church

Several high crosses are on the island. Just outside the abbey is St. Martins cross which dates from the 8th century.

St Martins Cross
St Martins Cross

A inventory made in 1549 claimed that the abby’s cemetery is the final resting place of  48 Scottish kings, although this may be a myth promolgated to enhance the abbey’s reputation. However several leading figures including various Lords of the Isles and leaders of West Highland Clans are burried there. There is an excellent display of late-medieval graveslabs.

Tomb covers on display in the Iona Abbey
Tomb covers on display in the Iona Abbey

Also of note are the ruins of an Augustinian convent, established in 1203 (the monastery is Benedictine). It was founded by Raghnall mac Somhairle (Reginald, son of Somerled, Lord of the Isles) who installed his sister, Bethóc, or Beatrice, as its first prioress. The pink granite walls that remain are amongst the best examples of a medieval nunnery left in Britain.

Ruins of the Iona nunnery, scene from one of the main roads of Iona.
Ruins of the Iona nunnery, seen from one of the main roads of Iona.

Next: Labyrinths and the natural beauty of Iona…

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2 Comments

  1. Wonderful church and stone buildings. If you remove the buildings, then, not surprisingly, the landscape is very similar to the tundra of the Northwest Territories of Cnada.

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