Yes, suddenly the sun was shining as we headed into Iona or at least sort of shining.
Iona is mostly known for it’s abbey, first built in 563 by St. Columba. (The modern Gaelic name for Iona is Icolmkill (phoneticlly) which means Iona of Columba.)
When Columba and his twelve friends landed here in 563, they were retreating from the Battle of Cul Dreimhne in Ireland. At that time Iona was part of the Irish kingdom. The abby/monastery flourished and they used it as a base to convert people to Christianity. Researchers have spent years defining what these original inhabitants believed and the conclusion is no one knows for sure. One of their tenets seems to have been not recognizing the authority of the Pope and also establishing their own practices and traditions such as determining the date of an Easter celebration. Iona quickly became the center of Celtic Christianity and a known center for learning for Great Britain and Ireland. It is said the Book of Kells was at least partially (if not all) written on Iona.
Throughout history, Iona was often destroyed by the Vikings. Each time, the island once again flourished. After the Viking raid in 794, Iona lost prominence among the Irish, but now became a center of both spiritual and royal importance in Scotland. In fact, for a time, the Scottish kings were buried on the island.
We (in 2010) didn’t have a lot of time on the island, so immediately we headed over to the abbey.
A man began giving us a tour, but I quickly became disappointed. Instead of giving us a good sense of the history, he emphasized that today the abbey is ecumenical – that seemed to be the key factor. In fact, there are still regular services held weekly (or maybe it’s daily). Hymnbooks are in the pews (though a quick glance through did not yield any hymns I knew) and a bookcase included every version of “religious” book you could think of so everyone could worship as they wish. Not being overly familiar with Iona, I wish we could’ve heard a clearer story of the background.
So we wandered away from the tour and headed back outside. RM and DG headed to a shore cafe and FG and I decided to look at some of the shops with unique Iona handiwork. We both bought silver necklaces depicting symbols from the abbey. We then wandered around some and stopped in a small grocery store to buy some crackers, cheese and fruit and went down to the shore to munch as we waited for the others to gather to catch the ferry back across the water. Beautiful place and if I had had more time, I would’ve taken 1,000 pictures! Alas… we were once again on a schedule.