Iona has been a destination of pilgrimage for centuries.
In fact, in Gaelic,
Iona is I Chalium Chille –
the isle of Columcille,
the Irish priest of royal blood
who was to become revered
as St Columba.
St Columba, whose feast day is June 5th, is the patron saint of poets, people who love books (both those who produce them and those who read them) and people dealing with floods.
(I mean, really,
take a look at my reading lists
of the last several years…
could he be more perfect for me!?)
He was baptized by Saint Crunathan, who served as a foster uncle to him and, with his encouragement, studied at the large monastery school in Ireland's Clonard Abbey, which became famous for educating students who became leaders in the Christian church.
He grew up to become a priest and would go on to establish several new monasteries (on the islands of Iona and Tiree as well as in Ireland).
A dispute Columba had with Saint Finnian over who owned a psalter that Columba had worked to copy at Finnian's abbey turned tragic in 561 AD, when the two men's argument sparked the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne. About 3,000 men were killed in that battle, and church officials were so upset at Columba as a result that they tried to excommunicate him, but finally settled for the plan that Columba suggested as his punishment: exile him to Scotland.
(Oh please, someone exile ME there!)
He founded a Benedictine monastery on Iona in 563, and it eventually became one of the most important centers of learning in all of Europe. Many people flocked there to learn how to write and hear the Gospel, and many studied there to become missionaries who spread the Christian faith throughout Europe and beyond.
Ancient stories tell of many miracles that God performed through Saint Columba's life, and details of some of those are recorded in the book Vita Columbae ("The Life of Saint Columba"), which was written in the 7th century by an abbot named Adnomam who succeeded Columba in leading the large monastery on Iona that Columba founded and led during his lifetime.
The most dramatic miracle associated with Columba is an account of how he raised a dead child back to life again in the presence of the child's parents. Other miracles involve physical healing from illness, spiritual deliverance from demons and prayer to change the winds to benefit a sailing mission.
The first reference to Scotland's famous Loch Ness Monster comes from an account of one of Columba’s miracles. When Columba saw a swimmer who was being threatened with attack by a large creature in the River Ness, Columba made the sign of the cross and told the wild beast: "You shall go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed." The creature then swam away, leaving the swimmer unharmed.
Columba also miraculously predicted future events both in his own life (such as the timing of his death and in other people's lives,"foretelling the future by the spirit of prophecy, with which he was highly favored from his early years." Followers believed he learned about the future from communicating with angels and one hill on Iona is reputedly where he was observed talking with them. "He was also favored with the sweet and most delightful society of bright hosts of the holy angels."
Columba predicted his own death, and was able to walk to the altar of the church to lay down before dying there in the presence of his monks on June 9, 597.
One of my favorite places on Abbey grounds was a hillock directly across from the Abbey doors called Torr An Aba - Hill of the Abbot - where tradition holds Columba had a writing hut; one which allowed him to work while having an unrestricted view of the Abbey, all the monks as well as across the sound to the Island Mull and any approaching visitors.
My preferred writing 'cell'
on the island -
found by chance on the first day of exploring -
was this protected spot on the North Shore -
with an unparalleled view of the sea;
the perfect spot for writing,
ok, I'll admit it,
God communicates in dreams too!
Lord of the silences -
speak to me:
in the blowing of the wind;
in the rustling of the grass;
in the sound of the sea;
in the beating of my heart;
in the stirring of my spirit -
I am listening.