04 August 2012
Pilgrimage to Iona, part 1
They say that everyone who takes a pilgrimage to Iona has their own journey tale to tell. Mine started years ago, when I first read about Iona in some long forgotten book. Something about it captured my imagination. It sat there in the far reaches of my mind, tucked away until a few years ago when I acquired Celtic Prayers from Iona by J. Philip Newell, which became a mainstay of my daily devotions. It wasn't long before a burning desire to visit Iona began for me. So, when planning this trip, I knew it needed to be a big part of my trip. When the trip planner made my first itinerary, they just had me visiting for an afternoon. I knew it wouldn't be enough and asked for the trip to be rearranged to allow me to actually stay on Iona for at least a couple of nights.
I was anxious about getting here as it involved a type of travel that I've done very little of... driving a car onto a ferry! But I ordered my ticket online, drove up and they guided me through the entire process, which left me wondering just why I had been so anxious about it!
The ferry ride as about 45 minutes long and took me from Oban to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. As we sailed alongside the shore of Mull, we had a great view of Duart Castle!
I was completely unprepared for Mull. After all, it's an island, and on the map doesn't really look very big. Oh my! The stunning views of green peaks and lush grassy hillsides was amazing.
Then there was this view of what I think is Lochbuie. Gorgeous! And the landscape was simply so grand in scale, just vast and open ~ and so few people.
Loch Scridain is enormous and extends far inland from the sea. The water was a blue as can be. According to the Sat Nav, this trip should have taken me just over an hour ~ but I was so absorbed by the scenery (not to mention the single track road!) that it took me well over 2 hours!
Fionnphort sits at the western-most tip of Mull. Here, the rocks are pinkish, which makes quite a contrast with the deep blue of the Sound of Iona! It was low tide when I arrived, so lots of the rocks and tidal flat are showing.
There was another ferry ride to Iona. But no cars allowed on this one, unless you happen to live on Iona and have a special permit. So I left the car parked in Fionnphort and boarded the ferry as a foot passenger.
We had a prime view of Iona Abbey as we crossed! There is just a mile of sea between Mull and Iona. Pretty straightforward on a calm day like this.
I made my way to the B&B, got settled there and walked towards the Abbey. This view is just down the road from my B&B, looking back towards Mull.
Just a bit further on the road was this high cross, a war memorial for soldiers lost in WWI and WWII,
The path led through the ruins of the Nunnery. The pink and grey stones were beautiful in the late afternoon sun! The grounds were filled with flowers!
And then at last, I arrived at the Abbey. The building in front is St. Oran's Chapel.
There are two High Crosses on the property. This one is St. Martin's Cross, erected sometime between 750 and 800 A.D. It's really an amazing thing to see, and miraculous that it has stood all these years!
St. John's Cross is actually a replica. The original had been broken, repaired with concrete and re-erected, by blew down in the late 1950's. This replica was place in the late 1970's. The little building directly behind it is known as Columba's Shrine and is though to be one of the places where Columba's grave was moved to.
Inside the Nave, one immediately senses the deep peace of a place of active worship. While this building was actually built in the 1500's, it had fallen into ruin and wasn't rebuilt until the 1900's. Since then, it has undergone continual restoration. It has been back in active use as a place of worship and prayer since 1902.
It's difficult to put into words how I felt in this space. It had that deep sense of old peace ~ a "knowing" somehow, a deep worshipfulness. Maybe it was the silence ~ the stone seemed to absorb every extraneous sound rather than echo like so many stone buildings do. Maybe it was the simplicity of decoration. Regardless, it offered what I came for. A chance to be in this space, where so much history of Christianity has passed before, where the book of Kells originated and where a man, around 560 A.D. led a life devoted to Christ, and established a center of worship that is still strong today despite the passing of centuries and many trials.
When I looked at the Bible, it was open to the Psalms ~ Psalm 121 yet again!
The rebuilding has utilized old stones as well as new, such as the lovely carvings.
As I left the Abbey, I peered through the doorway of St. Oran's Chapel. The cross in the interior reflecting light.
As I walked back, I saw a cross that somehow I had missed on my way to the Abbey. This one is known as McLean's Cross and was erected around 1500. It was a fitting end to my first day on Iona.