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              Tuesday, September 11 2001

Scottish travels 6

Having realized after reviewing my dispatches from the United Kingdom and Ireland last month that I had omitted highlights of our days in Scotland, I have been rectifying that with this series.

It was about 9:15 Sunday morning when we arrived on Iona, and the worship service wouldn't be until 11. The St. Columba Abbey, despite the fact that the state church of Scotland is Presbyterian, is under the care of the Church of England (Anglican), probably because traditional Anglican teaching is closer to the Celtic Christianity of St. Columba and his monastery.

None of the buildings on the island date before the 12th century, and only a mound or knoll is believed to be a burial place of the original monks dating as far back as the original sixth-century monastery. Later monastic communities and the abbey date from the Benedictine era, and those still in tact have been rebuilt or restored after having been neglected for several centuries after the Reformation. Columba's remains or relics were returned to Ireland from Iona because the monks feared the Viking invaders would carry them off, as they did anything of value.

Both the island's ocean weather and many such invasions of the island have erased all sizeable relics from Iona's earliest recorded history. But the written record of the exploits of Columba and his fellow monks are as well preserved and as reliable as any from the first millenium. And the island has never lost its spiritual appeal, drawing kings and poets (including Wordsworth) to come to this remote spot, along with millions of everyday faithful. Even Shakespeare refers to the island as a sacred burial place where, in Macbeth, it is cited as the resting place of the Scottish King Duncan. Many kings, not only from Scotland but as far away as France and Scandinavia, have chosen to be buried here, and their cemetery is marked by a cobblestone walkway.

Though the island is small enough to be seen in its entirety from its highest peak, climbing to that peak, even though it's not a tough mountain, would take over an hour's hike. Though there is a town at the ferry landing, there are no roads across the island. We were able to freely tour the grounds and buildings of the Abbey, and buy souvenirs in the well-appointed store on the grounds, but regretted that our schedule didn't afford time to really see and let the island soak into us. Three ferries awaited us between here and Belfast that evening, and so we took the first one from Iona after only an hour or two of exploring.

Today's photo, taken from part way up the center hill on the island, where St. Columba went to pray, depicts the island's oldest surviving edifice, St. Oran's Chapel, parts of which date to about 1100 A.D.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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