I first visited Iona in the early 1990’s with a group called ‘Sunday Night Live’ from the church of St Mary the Virgin, Aylesbury Buckinghamshire. We met once a week to worship in quite a different way influenced by Taize, The Holy Island, Iona and maybe a bit of Quakerism. We were a motley bunch, mainly single folks who were searching for something just a bit different. While others in neighbouring churches were going to Spring Harvest I chose to travel to Iona and it turned out to be quite a pilgrimage.
Taking the night sleeper from London to Glasgow we then changed for the train to Oban. Spirits were high as we sped past Loch Awe, the castle reflecting in its still waters. As we boarded the ferry to Mull a mutual excitement took over, so far removed were we from our normal lives. From the ferry it was a local bus which travelled over to the far side of the island of Mull, passing bleak mountains and tiny inlets where communities seemed to cling to the coast line.
At Fionnphort – a small string of guest houses, homes and a pub – our destination was in site and Iona Abbey became the focal point of our horizon and the focus of many photos as we waited for the ferry to take us across the Sounds of Iona.
We spent a week staying with the Iona Community in rooms accessed though a door from the cloisters. It was Easter Week and the programme reflected a period of loss and rebirth in our lives and faith. The welcome was warm; the services rooted in the earth, its people and making the world a more wholesome place for us all. The island was the perfect backdrop for such a retreat from everyday life, with the nearest stores of any significance far away in Oban.
One highlight of the week out of many was the walk with the minister around the island. We visited Columba’s Bay, the place where Columba was supposed to have first landed with his monks back in 563AD with the idea of establishing a community. Prayers were said, both collectively and internally, as we enjoyed the beauty of our surroundings but one moment remains with me, above all others. It was whilst standing on the only hill of the island, Dun 1, with views in all directions that the minister said,
‘St Columba described Iona as a remarkable place where the air between this world and the next is thin.’
Another touching moment was as we gathered in the Cloisters for the Easter Sunday Service and we were handed oatcakes to share and converse with a person we did not know – such was the fellowship of Iona.
I have visited on several occasions since but it is hard to recapture such moments in ones life, but the memories are still vivid over twenty years on. A remarkable place!
That certainly is a remarkable place Diana. I know how wonderful it feels to be away from everything commercial and from mobile phones etc when I’m out on a long walk, to do that for a week must be bliss 🙂
There must be many places in Scotland where you can achieve that sense of peace – but i must admit a full week was pretty special 🙂
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