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This Saturday June 9 is the feast day of St Columba and, fittingly, I will be making my first visit to the Isle of Canna for a symposium on St Columba.
The day is organised by the National Trust for Scotland and will examine Columba’s connection with Canna as well as celebrating Gaelic culture. I will begin the day with Mass in St Columba’s Church before participating in the symposium’s events, including leading the group in prayer at a Celtic cross dating from the seventh century.
I am very much looking forward to the whole experience.
Columba, or Colum Cill,e means ‘dove of the church’. St Columba came from Ireland to Iona in 563. He was not the first person to preach Christianity in our locality but he is the most famous. His personal holiness, charisma and integrity attracted many followers during his lifetime.
His monastery of Iona left a legacy of spirituality, learning and culture that benefited not only Scotland, Ireland and England but much of mainland Europe. For example, the Book of Kells (written on Iona but transferred to the Irish monastery of Kells for safe keeping during the Viking attacks) is a book of the Gospels.
It is widely considered as one of medieval Europe’s masterpieces. The book’s inks came from many places, including Afghanistan! Today we see Iona as remote but there was nothing inward about Columba’s monastery.
Some say that Canna is the island formerly known in Gaelic as Hinba. This is where Columba often retreated to for quiet prayer.
Columba’s legacy demonstrates that he encouraged academic learning, dialogue and culture but it must not be forgotten that everything he did was rooted in faith.
Today there is a temptation to think that we are too busy to pray. Likewise some claim that there is no place for faith in academia or culture.
Columba not only showed that this is false thinking but that a deep relationship with God is necessary for helping us both to reach out to others in love and to achieve our own true fulfilment.
Right Reverend Brian McGee,
Bishop of the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles.