Sacred Island: The Scottish Island of Iona

Sacred Island: The Scottish Island of Iona

The Scots prevented the end of the world. Not at the climate conference in Glasgow, but on its tiny Atlantic island of Iona. We visited them.

As if she knew a trip to a particular place deserved a special start, Scottish morning sun powder is a delicate layer of gold dust sweeping the globe. Everything sparkles and sparkles – the blinding blue sky with no beginning or end, the creamy white beaches and the turquoise sea that gallops to the shores of the island in small waves.

“You must have St. Peter,” the captain calls to the passengers as he drives his ferry against the strong current from Mull to Iona. So in Scotland Peter is also responsible for the weather, and apparently he rewards travelers who have shown their perseverance with sunshine like the South Seas.

Perseverance was also necessary, as getting to Iona, one of the islands of the Inner Hebrides, is not easy. Hav Bred I – “island on the edge of the sea” – the Vikings called them. 200 kilometers in length, about 500 islands lie off the coast of Scotland like a giant protective wall against the waves of the Atlantic. From Glasgow you drive first on the west coast, take the ferry from Oban’s old wool trading port to Mull, where you take the bus that takes you to the other end of the island, from where another ferry finally to Iona It is the holiest place in the country.

The island, which is not so easy to find on Google Maps, is only two kilometers wide and five kilometers long. On maps of the faith, however, it is marked as the Jerusalem of the north, as the starting point for the Christianization of Scotland, and indeed the whole of northern Europe.

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The Irish monk Columban, who came to Iona in AD 563, founded an abbey there and immediately began to spread the gospel, was responsible for this massive missionary campaign. His missionary monks came to Scandinavia, Russia and Switzerland. Meanwhile, the brothers staying at home invented the Celtic cross. The original St John’s Cross, the first Celtic cross, can be seen at the Iona Heritage Center next to the abbey. It was built in 750 AD. His arms were so long at first that they broke soon after the cross stood. The construction was stabilized by adding a supporting stone circle around the center. A design that was also widely copied in Scotland and Ireland because it offered a lot of room for luxurious decorations.

But the monks of Columban created their masterpiece not with a Celtic cross, but – sorry, dear Irish – with the legendary Book of Kells. With its exquisitely beautiful illustrations and the elaborate decoration of the Four Gospels, fellow believers equally skilful and pious gave the world one of the most important books of the Middle Ages. Today, this art treasure impresses visitors to Trinity College in Dublin as it was brought to Ireland by Iona to protect it from invading Viking hordes.

The last monks eventually surrendered to the horrors of the brutal raid and left the island, which had been quiet around Iona for centuries. Apart from a brief revival of monastic life, which ended with the English Reformation in the 16th century, religious life returned to the island only with George MacLeod. The charismatic Scottish clergyman and founder of the now world-renowned Iona community rebuilt the dilapidated abbey in 1937 with some collaborators.

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Massive granite walls of a replica of the church protect an interior whose simple beauty exudes a fairytale-like force. “What fills the eye, also fills the heart” is a Gaelic proverb, and with every glance at the tall columns, lichen-yellow walls, wooden ceiling beams and wonderful marble altar, the contemplation of the place really deepens the visitor. enters. Anyone who stays so long until outer peace becomes inner will understand that Iona is not only a sacred, but also a healing place.

Even the monastery’s cemetery, Relig Odhren, promises a miraculous effect. As a burial place, it must therefore be popular even today. According to legend, when the world ends, everything except Iona will sink into the sea, and who wants to be seen, wet as a powder, before the Last Judgment? With the prospect of a dry resurrection, more than 60 Scottish, Irish and Nordic kings are buried in Iona’s cemetery, including Duncan and Macbeth – the victim and her killers. To read in Shakespeare, but unfortunately no longer to prove, as his graves have long been missing.

Visitors who spend a long time on the Relig Odhrain, constantly scouring the tombs, picking up stones and taking photographs, are not looking for Macbeth. Your target is not a grave, but a flat stone. Generations of pilgrims turned the pebbles clockwise three times over it. The world ends when the middle of the stone is rubbed and a hole is made, he says. The swirling of the pebbles made a crater, which was very light. Visitors can no longer turn a little at the end of the world, as the Clache Breath, the Stone of Judgment, had to be visited at the Iona Abbey Museum for conservation reasons. A resourceful way to put fate out of circulation and make the end of all time inaccessible. Macbeth must cancel his resurrection.

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