Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Island of Iona, Scotland

Scotland and Ireland may not be local, but many people in Georgia have ancestors from those countries. Since I was just there, I want to report on some places which are important to the history of Christianity. I'll start with the Isle of Iona.

Iona is a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland. Getting there starts at a small town named Oban on mainland Scotland then taking a 45 minute ferry ride to the Isle of Mull. Then a bus takes you across Mull. It's 37 miles but takes 1 hr 15 min due to the one-lane road. From there, a 10 minute ride on another ferry gets you to Iona.

Christianity came to Iona in 562 A.D. when St. Columba and twelve followers went there after being exiled from Ireland.  They founded a monastery which became an important center for bringing Christianity to what is now Scotland. The Book of Kells may have been produced or begun on Iona towards the end of the 8th century. (I'll say more about that when I get to Ireland.) Stone crosses were carved and erected around this time, one of which still stands. 

However, a series of Viking raids on Iona began in 794 and in 806 Vikings slaughtered many of the monks at a spot known as Martyr's Bay.  After its treasures had been plundered many times, Columba's relics were removed and divided two ways between Scotland and Ireland in 849 as the monastery was abandoned. Many of the survivors returned to Ireland taking the Book of Kells with them and others left to found monasteries in France and Belgium. Some returned to Iona but the Vikings raided again in 825.

In 1164, the local ruler invited more Irish involvement and a Benedictine monastery was founded in 1203. The abbey which still stands was built then on the site of Columba's earlier church. The abbey was expanded in  the 15th century but after the Scottish Reformation, Iona and many other monasteries were dismantled and abandoned. The building was repaired and renovated in the early 20th century.

The oldest surviving building on the island isn't the abbey, however, but St. Oran's Chapel, built in the 1100s.
 Reportedly, 48 Scottish kings were buried here along with others from Ireland and Norway, but the graves are not identifiable and most scholars think that number is exaggerated.

The abbey itself:

Today the abbey is mostly a museum and tourist attraction but religious services are held there by the Community of Iona, an ecumenical Christian group founded in 1938.

A nunnery was built around the same time. Unlike the abbey, it has not been restored and only the ruins remain.

This cross, located between the abbey and nunnery, was erected in the 15th century (the 1400s) so it is "only" 600 years old. (The building in the background is a gift shop for the Community of Iona.)

The following pictures are included just to show something about the natural beauty of Iona. The photos look foggy for a reason. The weather alternated between rain and mist the whole time we were there.

      This one is from someone's back yard >>>

I don't know the exact population of the island, but the village there is quite small.

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