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April 30, 2006

Iona - a place of singular peace.

About a hundred years after the death of Patrick of Ireland, a young monk named Collum Cille copied a book he was not authorised to copy. His familial connections to the High King and his stubborn belief that books belonged to everyone, resulted in a civil war and his exile from Ireland. That exile also sparked the Christianisation of the Western Isles, the Highlands and the Lowlands of Scotland, for Columba as he is now known was a man of considerable gifts, deep faith and spirituality. He landed in Iona from a sea going corracle - a boat made from willow frames and covered with hides - sometime around 570AD to find an island with a population of around 1200 and, with his twelve monk companions, founded a monastery on the site of the present building.

Nothing remains of Collum Cille's round huts and wattle and daub church, such organic buildings need regular replacement and only some post holes from their orginal upright timbers have been found beneath the present building which dates from the 13th Century and the coming of the Benedictines. The community here suffered badly under the Vikings who raided it several times and the beautiful beach at it's North Eastern end is the site of a massacre of the monks, rounded up by the Vikings and slaughtered on the beach.

The legacy of Columba however, remains, and his presence can still be felt.

The Abbey on Iona, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, lovingly restored by the Duke of Argyll after it had fallen into ruin by the late 19th Century.

Today the Abbey is home to the Iona Community, and ecumenical group who keep the worship and the monastic traditions alive. The Community was the brainchild of the Rev George MacLeod in the 1938, a plan very much in keeping with the Deed of Trust set up by the Duke of Argyll who deeded it to the National Trust of Scotland for use as an Ecumenical place of worship, prayer and retreat.

The stretch of water that separates Iona from Mull, seen from Fionnphort looking across at the East of the Abbey.

The island itself is separated from Mull by a narrow channel of deep water, about a half mile in width. Access is by means of the Caledonian Macbrayne ferry from Fionphort, a small vehicle and passenger ferry which runs back and forth roughly every half hour. The astonishing clarity of the water is something to enjoy - in fact our fun photo of the crab was taken while waiting for the ferry on the Iona side of the channel - through about two feet of water!

Definitely a place to be visited again.

Posted by The Gray Monk at April 30, 2006 09:43 AM

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