Monday, April 06, 2009


Walking over to Iona Abbey from the McLeod centre, on Iona, you can clearly see the vallum or boundary earthwork and wall of the original monastery set up by St Columba. It gives you a remarkable sense of connection with generations of Christians who have come to this place before you.

Before his body was removed for safety from Viking raids, there was a shrine to Columba, and a small Chapel marks the probable spot, near the door of the present Abbey buildings. Marking the path to the Chapel were several "high crosses". Some are now preserved in the museum, a replica of St John's cross stands outside St Columba's Chapel, but this is St Martin's cross. Given we used to be St Martin's College, I couldn't resist taking a photo!

This cross is 8th or 9th century (depending who you read on the subject!) but that means it has stood as a witness to the Christian faith and to Columba's work for over a thousand years.

I find this stuff fascinating and compelling. The Book of Kells may have been created on Iona, many Scottish kings are buried there, including probably Duncan and Macbeth. Then there was a priory and a nunnery and still it survives after Vikings, Reformation and hundreds of years of Hebridean weather.

I was also quite interested in the arrangement that the Iona Community have with Heritage Scotland. The Abbey is now looked after by Heritage Scotland, and they charge admission, etc throughout the day. However, the community have the use of the abbey for worship, and to house musical resources, etc. It seemed better to keep the heritage / maintenance / admission charges handling administered separately from the people responsible for the worship. Didn't have the same feel as the cathedral itself demanding money at tills by the door.

Given the ongoing prospects for the Church's finances, I expect the Church of England will probably have to consider similar arrangements for its cathedrals with English Heritage probably within the next few decades. It may prove to be very liberating.

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