Setting Out for Iona

In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be setting out again to travel to Iona. It will be my third trip in three years so you know it is a place that draws me. I’m not alone in this. Each year, women and men make their way to this little island from all around the world.

So how did Iona get started and why do people come? Well, it’s a bit of a mystery.

Legend has it that people lived on the island before Columba arrived in 563 AD to found a monastic community. Opinions differ on why Columba left his beloved country of Ireland to come to Iona. Some believe he fled in disgrace, exiling himself in penitence after helping to start a bloody civil war. Other scholars think he was part of a broader Celtic practice of pilgrimage or peregrinatio, holy men and women who traveled constantly, often by water, sailing around the islands of Britain and Ireland as a kind of spiritual penance or “martyrdom.” They left all that they knew and loved to spread the good news of the gospel as well as learning, art, and culture.

Columba’s reasons for setting out may remain veiled in mystery but the pull of the island remains, drawing people from all over the world. I look forward to being one of those pilgrims once again.

To walk Iona’s quiet roads, look across the great sweep of green fields to the blue of the ocean water beyond, to traverse the windswept landscape, thinking of those who have gone before me in this place: all of that calls to me.

Ancient stone, wide sky, natural beauty, pilgrim paths. All that awaits. I am ready to set sail.

Jenny Rankin