Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Story of Iona

The Story of Iona by Rosemary Power is a welcome and informative look at the long history of a famous location that is west of Glasgow in Scotland, and northeast of Ireland. A small island in the Inner Hebrides, surrounded by water, Iona can be reached by ferry from Oban in Scotland, to the Isle of Mull and then by bus to Fionnphort, and another ferry from there to Iona. It’s not a long distance, but it may be a wet day, or a very cold and windy day. Patient travelers will be rewarded.

Author Power begins with the early days of life on Iona, offering ideas and suggestionas as to who was there, what was their daily life like, were they farmers, what language was spoken, were they people who came from Ireland or from Scotland? Power has done her research and she is also a member of the current community there, knowledgeable and eager for visitors to know what she has learned about the history of Iona, a place of pilgrimage, as well as tourism.

She begins with describing Iona before the Irish Saint Columba arrived. He came to the island in the sixth century, in 563 AD, and began a monastery there. The monastery continued for many years, but Columba died in 597. So in chapters 1–8, Power describes changes that occurred in every hundred-year period. Using descriptions and photos of physical remains of the buildings and artifacts found, as well as written sources, she helps readers imagine life as it was on Iona.

After the Columban period, there were 350 years of Benedictine and Augustinian monastic life. The buildings changed and some were rebuilt by the monks of their time. Chapters 9 and 10 tell their stories. And in the Afterword, we hear of what happened during and after the Reformation, and the continuing life of the community that lives there. Power includes poetry, prose, and prayers of the early, medieval, and high medieval monastic communities.

A group called the Iona Community is not an official monastery but does live by a Rule, which includes daily prayer and Bible study, music and worship, as well as concern for justice and peace. There are other local residents who make a living by farming, fishing, and tourism. There are many visitors, some of whom are there for pilgrimage, some for historical interest, and some come as tourists. There are a few hotels, bed and breakfast places, a golf course. If you plan to go, The Story of Iona, published by Canterbury Press, would serve as a helpful guide.

—Lois Sibley