As the mists lift on the West coast of Ireland, the silhouette of this ancient Celtic Christian cross stands out against the early morning clouds – a relic of Britain’s Christian history.
Such historic landmarks are places of mystery, nostalgic reminders of the past that has largely been lost. Our modern secular world, as it races towards an unknown future, needs such ‘soul’ places as a reminder of a simpler, more sustainable way of life lived in harmony with nature and aware of its Creator.
These Celtic Christians were hardy men and women living in a rugged environment. Here we are with the wind, sea mists, the smell of seaweed draped over ancient rocks and the sound of the waves on the sand. There is the silence of deep time in these rocks with the ever-changing rhythm of the tides and the cry of seabirds.
Iona and Lindisfarne
The Celtic people were seafarers. Iona had been at the heart of the sea- routes of the time. Inevitably as its fame spread people began visiting and these strangers were always welcomed.
The monasteries were great centres for Christian mission. According to tradition, Columba’s cave at Ardnamurchan marks the spot where, on one such mission journey, Columb met and baptized two privateers he met and persuaded to become followers of Christ. Oswald came to faith on a visit to Iona and invited the monks to establish a monastery on Lindisfarne in his kingdom of Northumbria. These monks were traveling evangelists. Aidan in Northumbria, Chad in Mercia and Cedd the missionary to the East Saxons. Their success in converting the pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity was very remarkable.
In those Dark Ages these monasteries became beacons of light and centres of learning, including the copying of manuscripts such as The Book of Kells at Iona (now kept in Ireland), the Lindisfarne Gospels at Lindisfarne and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People‘ – a major source of Anglo-Saxon history and the origin of the English people.
Unlike popular Iona, few tourists come to this tiny, deserted isle, Eileach an Naoih – also called ‘Holy Isle‘. It’s easy here to imagine those early monks singing psalms and praying in this quiet spot. Columba used this as a quiet retreat when things became too busy at Iona. There’s a well on the island known as ‘Columb’s Well’.
‘This was beyond: a place where silence spoke –
……..These were the simple things that made their lives.
What mattered more was breaking through
from out of solitude and quiet, now and then,
into somewhere else; a realm
where they could know the voice of God,
that took them from the ordinary
into a deeper light and out of time.‘
From ‘The Holy Isle’ by Kenneth Stevens
‘…even the very stones will cry out‘.Words of Jesus in Luke 19:40
These British Isles are full of such sacred places where ‘the very stones cry out‘ giving witness to their Creator. ‘Bethels‘ where past ‘Jacobs‘ once exclaimed ‘Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not This is the gate of heaven!’ (Genesis 28).
With our modern world left behind for a brief moment, to be open and silent in such a quiet place is to feel the silence of eternity, and sense the presence of our Eternal God who holds us, nature, deep time and eternity in his hands.
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