Our only full day on Tuesday in Iona was well spent. We attended a Morning Prayer service at Iona Abbey as well as an evening healing prayer service. In between, we ate a marvelous breakfast of scrambled eggs, sautéed mushrooms and toast at our hostel. We assembled sandwiches to pack, chose a bag of "crisps" and added a banana (they were huge!) or a tasty apple. After we filled our water bottles, we set off for St. Columba's Bay to visit the spot where St. Columba and 12 brother monks landed on Iona so many centuries ago.
The peak of Dune I beckoned the pilgrims. The mountain filled our view from the Hostel's kitchen window, and as we walked toward the Abbey for the second time that day, its heights called out to the pilgrims' youthful spirit and energy. Views from the top are spectacular as reported by those who climbed to the tip-top.
After everyone regrouped at the base we strode along the one-lane road for only a few more minutes, past farm homes and fields of sheep and a Celtic cross. Our next stop was to tour the Abbey, its grounds and the small museum. A rich history of saints, famous and ordinary, was told through stone carvings, restored buildings and the ministry of the residents of the Iona Community.
We walked through the ruins of the Nunnery and continued past the ferry landing to head to the southern end of Iona. We reached a beautiful field that stretched for hundreds and hundreds of yards. Indeed, it was part of the Iona Golf Course. Just past the sand trap for Fairway #3, our path rose a bit higher to overlook the edge of the island. We continued onward and at last were greeted with a most surprising site- a beach of smooth rounded stones, large to small, tens of feet high, overlooking a very small inlet. Hillsides on either side rose sharply from the beach, and one large rock outcropping in the middle of the beach sent out its siren call to the adventurous. The acoustics of the bay are interesting. Pilgrims on the beach could hear conversations from the hillside, and vice versa. The stones were warm and colorful. The grassy area was soft and comfortable. We ate our sandwiches, chose rocks to bring home, laughed and talked, climbed hills, and rested our sore calves. We walked the narrow paths of two labyrinths made of stone, created by pilgrims who preceded us.
As we left, we each chose a stone from the special place in the life of Christianity to add to a cairn, a "way marker" in formation. John Spencer, our most wonderful Wonder Voyage director, told us cairns were built along pathways to guide pilgrims to holy places, and mark thoroughfares in earlier times. He shared with us his tradition of offering a prayer for someone special or for a particular concern and placing a rock from the beach onto the cairn before leaving this beautiful bay. The pilgrims stood silently as each in our turn walked to the cairn, placed our rock onto the monument and quietly strode toward the path toward home, contemplating our prayers.
Dinner in Iona awaited us, and we eagerly devoured our evening repast. Seafood at Martyr's Bay Restaurant is excellent!
After a beautiful evening healing prayer service, complete with laying on of hands, the pilgrims, weary but spiritually nourished, walked back to the hostel where our beds welcomed us. Before everyone retired, we went around the room for "Joy, Junk and Jesus." Each pilgrim revealed a moment from the day that sparked great joy, the moment of deepest despair and the moment when the presence of Jesus was most evident.
We heard from John S. of the opportunity to celebrate Eucharist with an American Episcopalian priest in residence for one week at The Bishop's House at 8:00 am Wednesday morning. We agreed to an early start for the next day and headed off to our rooms to sleep for the last night on Iona.