- A Beacon of Light Through the Dark
the spiritual heart of Scottish Christianity on the
Hebridean island of Iona. For over 1,400 years the
fame of its monastic founder, St Columba, has made
it one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Scotland,
and for centuries it was the burial ground of her
Dark Age kings.
Iona - Factsheet
island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland,
is the symbolic centre of Scottish Christianity.
Through 1400 years of history its fortunes have
fluctuated, from its heights as one of the greatest
centres of learning in Dark Age Europe, to its
lows as a crumbling ruin. However, thanks to the
fame of its monastic founder, St Columba, the
island has always been revered as a holy place,
and, over the centuries, Iona has continually
been re-invented and reconstructed as a centre
fame began in 563 AD when Columba, with thirteen
followers, landed at the south end of the island,
at St Columbas Bay, to establish a monastery.
- The great
abbey we see today belongs to a later era. Columbas Iona
was a very different affair, and he wasnt very interested
in grand buildings, rather he was seeking seclusion among the
desert of the Atlantic ocean. Almost nothing remains
of his original monastery. Traces of the vallum, or ditch, that
surrounded the monastic enclosure, can still be seen. Inside would
have been a settlement that resembled a small village - a modest,
timber church, surrounded by huts for the monks to live and work
in, and small cells to provide the solitude necessary for prayer.
These cells, or chambers, used for prayer, are also found on the
nearby islands of Canna and Eileach Naoimh, and certain islands
off the coast of Ireland such as Skellig Michael.
- From Adomnan,
who wrote Columba's biography 100 years after his death, we know
a great deal about the early monasterys daily life. Withdrawn,
contemplative and austere, its primary purpose was the contemplation
of God through prayer and learning. Holy texts from around Europe
were copied, poetry flourished and Adomnan himself wrote a guide
to the Holy land - a fact which illustrates that the monastery's
intellectual horizons stretched right across Christendom. As a
consequence Iona amassed one of the greatest libraries
in Western Europe and became a powerhouse of Dark Age learning.
- Columba died
on the 9th June 597 AD. Adomnan writes that his final day was
spent copying a psalter, on the Torr An Alba (the Hill of Scotland):
the rock which stands in front of the Abbey today. He urged his
successor as abbot to take up his work, then went to the church,
dying in prayer before the altar with a final gesture of blessing
on his monks. He is believed to have been buried below the small,
stone chapel shrine, which is attached to the front of the abbey.
It was around this building, or an earlier version of it, that
the cult of Columba developed.
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