Some ancient stone crosses are yet standing near this ancient pile [i.e. the ruins of Iona Abbey], with inscriptions no longer intelligible. Previous to the Reformation, there existed 860 of various sizes and beautiful workmanship. Many of which, were carried away to adorn the streets of distant towns and villages; and in Cowal, there is a popular tradition, that a great number of crosses and tomb-stones were sunk in Loch Fyne opposite to Strachur, where, if we believe the fishermen of that place, they are still to be seen at low water.
Steam-boat Companion, or Stranger’s Guide to the Western Isles & Highlands of Scotland, Glasgow, James Lumsden & Son, 1839, p. 175.
In spiritual geography Iona is the Mecca of the Gael. It is but a small isle, fashioned of a little sand, a few grasses salt with the spray of an ever-restless wave, a few rocks that wade in heather and upon whose brows the sea-wind weaves the yellow lichen. But since the remotest days sacrosanct men have bowed here in worship. In this little island a lamp was lit whose flame lighted pagan Europe, from the Saxon in his fens to the swarthy folk who came by Greek waters to trade the Orient. Here Learning and Faith had their tranquil home, when the shadow of the sword lay upon all lands, from Syracuse by the Tyrrhene Sea to the rainy isles of Orcc. From age to age, lowly hearts have never ceased to bring their burthen here. Iona herself has given us for remembrance a fount of youth more wonderful than that which lies under her own boulders of Dûn-I. And here Hope waits. To tell the story of Iona is to go back to God, and to end in God. Fiona MacLeod (William Sharp), Iona.
Baithen was a man of tender soul, of whom we would fain speak at greater length, if it were not needful to circumscribe the wide and confused records of Celtic hagiography. Columba compared him to St John the Evangelist; he said that his beloved disciple resembled him who was the beloved disciple of Christ, by his exquisite purity, his penetrating simplicity, and his love of perfection. And Columba was not alone in doing justice to the man who, after having been his chief lieutenant in his work, was to become his first successor. One day, in an assembly of learned monks, probably held in Ireland, Fintan, a very learned and very wise man, and also one of the twelve companions of Columba’s exile, was questioned upon the qualities of Baithen. “Know,” he answered, “that there is no one on this side of the Alps who is equal to him in knowledge of the Scriptures, and in the greatness of his learning.” “What!” said his questioners — “not even his master, Columba?” “I do not compare the disciple with the master,” answered Fintan. “Columba is not to be compared with philosophers and learned men, but with patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. The Holy Ghost reigns in him; he has been chosen by God for the good of all. He is a sage among all sages, a king among kings, an anchorite with anchorites, a monk of monks; and in order to bring himself to the level even of laymen, he knows how to be poor of heart among the poor; thanks to the apostolic charity which inspires him, he can rejoice with the joyful, and weep with the unfortunate. And amid all the gifts which God’s generosity has lavished on him, the true humility of Christ is so royally rooted in his soul, that it seems to have been born with him.” It is added that all the learned hearers assented unanimously to this enthusiastic eulogium. Charles Forbes René, comte de Montalembert, The Conversion of England, Being a Sequel to the Monks of the West, Volume 1, Edinburgh (1872).
Perhaps, in the revolutions of the world, Iona may be sometime again the instructress of the Western Regions.
James Boswell, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides
Icollumkill, antiently called Iona, lays from Colle to the south and south-east about thirty-six myils of sea, and is distant from the south end of Mulle about one myil of sea. It is two myills in lenth, and almost from east to west, and one mile in bredth. It is very fertill; commodious for fishing and fowling. It hes two fresh water lochs, goud springs, and medicinall herbs.
Here the sea casteth up in one place a number of small stones of divers collours, and transparente, very fair to looke upon; they are really peculiar to the place, for the longer they lay upon the shoar, they reapen and turn more lively in their coulors, yield to the feil, and admits of gouid polishing and engraving. Marble also, of divers colours, and with beautyful vains, is found in this Illand. It hes been counted renound pairtly for the goud discipline of Columbus, who is buried in it, and partly for the monuments of the place; for it has two monastryes, one of monks, another of nuns; a church of considerable dimensions dedicated to Columbus.
This hes been the Cathedrall of the Bishops of the Illes since Sodora in the Ill of Man came into the Englishes hands. In this Illand are many other small chapells; the vestiges of a citie is yet visible in it, which, as some old manuscripts testifie, was called Sodora.
Many of the Kings of Scotland, some of the Kings of Ireland and Noraway, were buryet heer. Many tombs appropriat to the families of the Illanders, as ther inscriptions, though now allmost obliterate, do testify; heer the famous Columbus himself was also interred. The coast round about Iona is very bade, full of rocks and violent tides. The whole Illand is Church land, so is also a goud pairt of Tyrie, the Ill of Gonna wholly, and the two ends of Colle. It is remarkable that there is in Iona a few people called to this day Ostiarii, from their office about the Church in Columbus’ tyme; this people never exceed the number of eight persons in perfyte age; this is found to had true, and there is a tradition that for some miscarriage in ther predecessors in Columbus’ tyme this malediction was left them. The inhabitants of all the said Illands are naturally civill and bountiful, right capable of all goud instructions. All thir Illands have been possossed by M’Leane and the cadette of his family.
— Description of Iona by Rev. John Fraser, an Episcopal clergyman in the Highlands, who was the author of a “Treatise on Second Sight,” printed at Edinburgh, 1707; from the collections of MacFarlane of MacFarlane and published in The Spottiswoode Miscellany: A Collection of Original Papers and Tracts, Illustrative Chiefly of the Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, Spottiswoode Society, 1845.
Now when Colomb Cille came to his ending, and when the bell for nocturn was struck on the night of Pentecost Sunday, he went before the rest to the church and made prostration and fervent prayer at the altar. Then an angelic radiance filled the church around him on every side, and there the venerable old man sent forth his spirit to heaven, into the delight and into the joyance of heaven’s household.
His body is here on earth with honour and with reverence from God and menfolk, with marvels and miracles every day; and though great be his honour at present, greater will it be at the assembly of Doom, when his body and his soul will shine like an unsullied sun. There in sooth shall he have that great glory and great elevation in union with the nine orders of heaven that have not transgressed, in union with the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ in union with the Godhead and Manhood of God’s Son, in the union that is nobler than any union, in the unity of the holy, noble, venerable Trinity, even Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
— Old Irish Life of St. Columba.
OF THE ANGEL OF THE LORD WHO APPEARED VISIBLY TO
ST. COLUMBA WHILE STAYING IN HINBA ISLAND, WHEN SENT TO ORDAIN AEDHAN TO BE KING.
At another time, while the famous man was staying in Hinba island†, one night in an ecstasy of mind he saw an angel of the Lord sent to him, who had in his hand the glassy book (vitreum librum) of the ordination of kings, which the venerable man, when he had received it from the hand of the angel, at his bidding began to read. And when he refused to ordain Aedhan to be king, as was recommended to him in the book, because he loved logenan his brother more; suddenly the angel put out his hand and smote the Saint with a scourge, the livid mark of which remained on his side all the days of his life. And he added this word, saying, “Know for certain that I am sent unto thee from God with the glassy book (vitreum codicem), that, according to the words which thou hast read in it, thou mayest ordain Aedhan to the kingdom. And if thou art not willing to obey this command, I will smite thee again.” When, therefore, this angel of the Lord appeared for three nights in succession, having in his hand that glassy book, and committed to him the same commands of the Lord concerning the ordination of that king, the Saint, obeying the word of the Lord, sailed over to the Iouan island (Iona), and there ordained Aedhan, who arrived in those days, to be king, as he had been commanded. And among the words of ordination he prophesied future events concerning his sons and grandsons and great grandsons, and, placing his hand upon his head, ordained and blessed him.
Cuimine (Cummian) the Fair, in the book which he wrote of the virtues of St. Columba, has thus said, that St. Columba began to prophesy of Aedhan and his posterity, and of his kingdom, saying, “Believe without doubting, Aedhan, that none of thine adversaries will be able to resist thee, until thou first actest fraudulently against me and against my successors. Wherefore, then, do thou commend it to thy sons, that they may commend it to their sons and grandsons and posterity, lest they through evil counsels lose the sceptre of this their kingdom out of their hands. For at whatsoever time they do anything against me or against my kinsmen who are in Ireland, the scourge, which for thy sake I have endured from the angel, shall by the hand of God be turned upon them to their great disgrace and the heart of men shall be taken away from them, and their enemies shall be greatly strengthened over them.”
Now this prophecy has been fulfilled in our own times, in the battle of Roth‡, when Domhnall Brecc, grandson of Aedhan, without cause wasted the province of Domhnall, grandson of Ainmire. And from that day to this they are ever on the decline through means of strangers, which excites in the breast deep sighs of grief.
— St. Adomnán’s Vita Columbæ, Book III, Chapter v.
† The Columban retreat isle of Hinba is perhaps Eileach an Naoimh (Eilean-na-Naoimh) [rocky place/island of the saint], the Holy Isle, southernmost of the Garvellachs archipelago, lying in Firth of Lorne between Mull and Argyll.
‡ The Battle of Moira, known archaically as the Battle of Mag Rath, was fought in the summer of 637 by the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son King Congal of Ulster, supported by his ally Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dalriada. The battle was fought near the Woods of Killultagh, just outside the village of Moira in what would become County Down. It was allegedly the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland, and resulted in the death of Congal and the retreat of Domnall Brecc.
Kal. iv. A.D. 518
Battle of Detna, in Droma-Bregh, in which fell Ardgal, son of Conall Crimhthann, son of Niall. Muircertach Mac Earca, and Colga, son of Cloith, son of Crunn, son of Fedhlimidh, King of Airghiall, were the victors.
Buti, son of Bronach, died, and Colum Cille was born, of whom was said:—
- The gentle birth of Colum, our cleric,
To-day over noble Erinn;
On the same day occurred — no arrogant saying—
The bright, victorious death of the son of Bronach.
Ailill, Abbot of Ardmacha, slept.
Beoid, Bishop of Ardcarna, rested.
— Chronicon Scotorum, Annal CS518.
Nar this forsaid iyle on the west syde of it layes Ila, ane ile of twentie myle lenthe from the north to the south, and sixteen myle in breadth from the eist to the west, fertill, fruitfull, and full of natural grassing, with maney grate Diere, maney woods, faire games of hunting beside everey toune, with ane watter callit Laxay, wherupon maney salmon are slaine, with ane salt water Loch, callit Lochegunord, quherin runs the water of Gyinord, with high sandey bankes, upon the quhilk bankes upon the sea lyes infinit Selccheis, whilkis are slayne with doges learnt to the same effect. In Ila is meikle lead ure in Moychills. In this iyle there is ane guid raid for schipps, callit in Erische Polmoir, and in English the Mechell-puill, this layes at ane toune callit Lanlay Vanych, ane uther raid layes within Ellan Grynard, callit in English the isle at the poynt of the nesse, the raid is callit Leodannis. Within this iyle ther is sundrie-freshe water Lochis, sic as Lochmoyburge wherin ther layes ane iyle perteining to the Bishopes of the Isles. The loch of Ellan Charrin, quherin ther is ane iyle pertyning to M’Gillane of Doward. Loch Cherossa with ane iyle perteining to the Abbot of Colmkill. In this iyle there is strenths castells, the first is callit Dunowaik the biggest on ane Craig at the sea side, on the southeist pairt of the countery pertaining to the Clandonald of Kintyre; second is callit the castle of Lochgurne, quhilk is biggit in ane iyle within the said fresche water Loche far fra land, pertaining of auld to the Clandonald of Kintyre, now usurped be M’Gillayne of Doward. Ellan Forlagan in the midle of Ila, ane faire iyle in fresche water.
— Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, called Hybrides; by Mr Donald Monro High Dean of the Isles who travelled through the most of them in the year 1549.