Iona is a “thin place,” a place where you’re closer to the spiritual. Iona is magical. Iona is beautiful. Iona was my favorite stop on the trip. I want to go back and soak in the glory a little bit more. Many Christians take pilgrimages to Iona, and I understand why.
A brief history: The island was the site of a highly important monastery, the Iona Abbey, during the Early Middle Ages. According to tradition the monastery was founded in 563 by the monk Columba who had been exiled from his native Ireland. Columba and twelve companions went into exile on Iona and founded a monastery there. The monastery was hugely successful, and played a crucial role in the conversion to Christianity of the Picts of present-day Scotland.
Iona has a population of 177 (according to Google), so there are very few people, even fewer cars, and lots of sheep. There’s a hostel and a couple of hotels on the island. I stayed at the St. Columba, and highly recommend it. They book up almost a year in advance, so make your reservation today!
After all the coach rides and touring and rushing, it was nice to just sit and reflect on the trip.
The people of Iona take pride in good food, and since they live on an island, they have to be mostly self-sustaining. Each hotel has its own organic garden!
We spent our two days on the island eating, walking, and exploring the tiny town. We had a wonderful, local tour guide who showed us around and told us the history of the place.
The gnome game was strong on the island. I wonder if Amazon shipped all these.
The Abbey is home to the Iona Community.
A brief history: The community began as a project led by George MacLeod to close the gap which he perceived between the Church and working people. He took a group of ministers and working men to Iona to rebuild the ruined medieval Iona Abbey together. The Iona Community is a dispersed community. It has members who work and live throughout world. There were 270 Full Members, “around 1,800” Associate Members and 1,600 Friends of the Community. Among them are Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Quakers, Roman Catholics and people of no denominational allegiance. The community has a strong commitment to ecumenism and to peace and justice issues.
No photography was allowed inside, but we attended two services here. Interesting fact: Because of its historic status, they let the plants that are growing out of the walls remain.
i would walk 500 miles
The island is only 3.4 sq. mi., but I still didn’t cover it all. I was processing a lot, which I will explain in my next post. Iona is a place for dreamers.
the sheep kept me company
I had two goals when I went to Scotland: play a bagpipe and pet a sheep. The first one didn’t happen, but the second one did.
Tasha and I were walking and there were sheep everywhere. After wasting some time chasing sheep that were awake, I spotted a lamb that seemed to be asleep. Funny fact: Sheep literally eat themselves into food comas. I crept over to the comatose lamb, wondering with every step what would happen if he woke up. Do sheep have a war cry? A war bleat? Would he alert his sheep brethren to my impending grope? Would they lock their beady, black eyes on my creeping self and charge their woolly, fat bodies at me?
I was probably overthinking things.
I made it to the lamb without any alarms sounding. His belly was rising slowly. I held my breath, reached out a tentative finger and gently touched his white wool. Then snatched my hand back and waited to see if I woke him up. I did not. I reached out two fingers and touched him again. This time he stirred, lifted his head, and looked me in the eye. I froze. Would this be the reckoning?
Unimpressed, he lowered his head back to the green grass and went back to sleep.
I backed away slowly with my hands lifted over my head in victory. Tasha just laughed at me. Pet a sheep: check!
These are hairy cows. They only live in Scotland. I did not try to pet them.
The bread at my hotel was the best. Before I left, I asked for the recipe, and the baker scribbled it on a piece of paper that was nearby! I’ve attempted it once, but the Austin weather didn’t mesh with the Scottish recipe. Someday, I’ll try it again, but I’ll keep this piece of paper forever.
till we meet again
Before we knew it, our time on Iona was over, and we found ourselves back on the ferry, bidding adieu to the lovely island.
I kept thinking, it’s like Denver meets the Pacific Northwest meets the Caribbean. I can only imagine what it’s like to live here; I dreamt about it.
Up next: Afterthoughts