The Island of Iona


Whilst staying on the west coast of Scotland I did a lot of island visiting.  There were the beautiful tranquil islands of Kerrera, Luing and Lismore, the magnificent Fingal’s Cave on Staffa and the romantic Duart Castle on Mull.  I also went to the small island of Iona, which is very close to Mull.  It is so close that in the old days a traveller wishing to go there would simply shout across the water for a ferry.


It was in May 563 that a tall man in his early forties with curly hair and piercing grey eyes landed.  This man was Columba and he had travelled with twelve other monks from Ireland to found a monastery here.  Iona is a long way from Sussex, but Columba’s arrival there influenced what happened here and still leaves mark today.


The monastery of Iona flourished under Columba and missionaries went out from it all over the world; some travelled as far as Russia.  It also helped bring the faith to England.  When the young Oswald, King of Northumbria, was forced into exile he went to the island of Iona.  When he recovered his kingdom he asked for help from Iona to share the good news of Jesus Christ with his own people.  He was sent Aidan, who was given the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, Holy Island, as his base.  Aidan, on account of his love, humility and holiness, was remarkably successful.  He set up an island school, which in time trained two young men called Chad and Wilfrid.  Chad may be the founder of Catsfield Church and Wilfrid certainly brought the Christian faith to Sussex.


Iona has also left its mark in more physical ways in our parishes.  The Catsfield War memorial is in the shape of what is known as a Celtic cross; so-called because of the ring of stone it has at the top of the cross.  Iona is famous for its ancient, outdoor, free-standing Celtic crosses and is now considered to be the place where they were invented.  The ring of stone symbolises the ongoing nature of God’s love for us.

The name Iona comes from Io, the early Irish word meaning yew tree.  Crowhurst, of course, has its own ancient yew tree.  Yew since it stays green all year is also a symbol of God’s ongoing love for us. (The Crowhurst yew was probably also planted for a practical reason, since in the middle ages they used to carry branches of yew on Palm  Sunday in procession).


Columba’s small community of May 563 went on to achieve great things.  Sometimes we may feel small and insignificant, but we must always stand up for what we know to be right and be willing to construct the foundation for others to build upon.


Father Michael



Posted By: valerie

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