Iona was described by the founder of the contemporary Iona Community as a "thin place" - a place where heaven and earth seemed to be separated only by the finest of tissue papers. Certainly, even before Christianity came to Iona, it was recognised as a sacred place.
Iona's Christian origins begin with the arrival of St Columba - or Colmcille to give him his Celtic name.
He was born into a wealthy - indeed royal - family in Ireland. He followed the tradition of being educated by monks which inspired a love of learning and faith that led him to choose the monastic life himself. Unfortunately, this love of learning led to the dramatic events that led to his exile from his beloved Ireland. He had copied a manuscript belonging to King Finian without permission and the subsequent dispute exploded into a feud during which over 3000 people died. Overcome with remorse, Columba placed himself in a self-imposed exile - determined to save as many souls as had been lost in the battles.
He set out with 12 companions in a coracle. They landed on 2 islands before reaching Iona - but from each, Columba could still see the coast of Ireland. When he arrived on Iona, he climbed to the highest point on the island and, when he realised that he could no longer see his homeland, knew this was where he was to settle.
He established a monastery which quickly became a renowned centre for learning and spirituality. As the community grew,Columba set a maximum of 150 monks in the community. When this was reached, a new group of 13 monks would embark on the "White Martyrdom" -embarking on a journey into the unknown to establish a new community. Eventually, these journeys took them deep into Europe and monastic communities were established in France, Germany and as far south as Italy.
Columba's own reputation as a spiritual guide and diplomat grew and he too travelled widely - and welcomed many to the island who came in search of advice and guidance.
The island continued as a place of prayer for generations - a Benedictine Abbey - a nunnery - St Oran's chapel - all monuments to the spiritual life sustained there.
However, the buildings fell into disrepair and it fell to a visionary man to begin the work of restoration. This man was George MacLeod who, seeing the desperate plight of the unemployed people of Glasgow, decided to act. His first project was to take a group over to the island of Iona and between church ministers and craftsmen to begin the work of restoring the Abbey as a place of worship and hope.
This was the birth of the modern Iona Community. - a group committed to finding new ways of living the Gospel in the contemporary world.
Columba's name providentially meant the same as the name of Iona - "dove". This is a traditional symbol for the Holy Spirit and the early community were obviously filled to overflowing with the Spirit and Iona established as a haven of peace in a turbulent world.
However, the Celts also used the rather more forthright and unpredictable wild goose as a symbol of the Spirit. This has been adopted as the name of the Worship Resource Group of the Iona Community. They, like the Community in general, are seeking to find ways to bring the Gospel to people who are lost or marginalised.
Although there is a community resident on Iona, the Community itself is based in Govan, Glasgow and, through the work of the Wild Goose Resource Group, reaches out to the wider world. Their music and prayers are drawn from the Scottish folk tradition - but also from the World Church.
1500 years after Columba stood on the top of the hill of the Back Turned to Ireland and decided to make this the centre of his ministry, the spirit of the isle of Iona continues breathes new life and vigour into Christian spirituality.
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