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Iona, Scotland: A Thin Place

Updated on April 3, 2011

What Is a "Thin Place"?

"There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. A contemporary poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description."

Sylvia Maddox

There are thin places throughout the world. One of them is in and near Asheville, North Carolina. I don't know if it is closer to Heaven, but there is something there that is closer to the Divine.

When one is in a 'Thin Place' one can feel the powerful energy and know that there is more than the world that our five senses knows.

Having experienced this in Asheville, I wanted to go to other 'Thin Places' and Iona, an island to the Northwest of Scotland, is certainly one of those places.

Beauty, Quiet and Spirit on Iona, Scotland

Iona is a small and beautiful island in the Hebridean chain off western Scotland. It is a 'thin place'.

It is the home of 125 people, many of whom are from families that have been there for centuries; some who came to experience the Iona religious community and never left.

Iona is the location of the Iona Community, a religious organization where thousands of people have made pilgrimage over the centuries. One can immerse oneself in spiritual practice while giving service to the Community.

Iona is an uniquely beautiful island 1 mile wide by 3 miles long that contains rolling hills, a sheep pasture that doubles as a golf course, and geological wonders with some of the oldest rocks in the world. It is the entry to Staffa, one of the most amazing geological formations we have.

It is the source of a vacation for people who want a very quiet place to be, who want peace, beauty a chance to meditate, whether religious or not. Many people go for a day trip, others stay at the lovely inns serving gourmet foods, still others emmerce themselves in the Abby Community.

It is a wonderful place to go.

Main Street on Iona, Scotland; Facing the Bay

Main Street on Iona, Scotland; Facing the Bay
Main Street on Iona, Scotland; Facing the Bay

Main Street on Iona and The People Who Live There

'Main Street' Iona is a row of old stores and houses that face the bay where the ferries pull in.

Most of the stores are craft shops that have been in the same family for generations. I bought some hand made silver jewelry from a young women whose family had been weavers operating out of the same store where they worked. As an omage to her family and with respect for their tradition, she made weavings out of metal strips in addition to her Celtic jewelry.

There is a convenience store that sells groceries and souvenirs. The Abby has another souvenir/book shop. There is the Abby itself, the ruins of the nunnery, and a lot of meadows grazing sheep that double as gold courses. There is a large inn and a couple of small ones, all serving gourmet food. I believe the small ones are open as bars and there may have been one for the locals.

That is it. If you want a restful vacation, this is the place.

St Columba Lands on Iona

St Columba was one of the men who entrenched Christianity in the British Isles. He was also vital in the monastic movement, and initially lived on barren Iona in a tent like shack to live what he preached.

He came to Iona, alone, and landed at what is now Columba Bay on the back side of the island.

Each year young people from the Iona Religious Community make a stone labyrinth on the Bay. Having been there for the summer solstice, I know that it is the sight of that ancient celebration.

The Walk to St Columba Bay

The Walk to St Columba Bay
The Walk to St Columba Bay

St Columba Bay on Iona, Scotland

I was told that you can hire a horse drawn carriage to go to St Columba Bay on the other side of the island. However, we walked. We walked past the houses of those who lived outside the town and through sheep pastures where people played golf.

I am sure that the carriage ride was wonderful, but I enjoyed the walk so much.

On the Bay, where St. Columba landed, are many green rocks. Visitors were encouraged to take some home. I am so glad I did. They are not only beautiful, but when I hold them I can still feel the powerful energy of that 'Thin Place'.

Beautiful Video With a Feel of The Thinness

This takes me back to the feel of the island, the thinness of it.

Walking the Labyrinth on St. Columba Bay, Iona

Walking the Labyrinth on St. Columba Bay, Iona
Walking the Labyrinth on St. Columba Bay, Iona

St Columba Bay on Iona, Scotland

St Columba Bay on Iona, Scotland
St Columba Bay on Iona, Scotland

The Myth About the Food:

I had heard about British food, it was supposed to be dull at best. Scottish food is supposed to be dull and odd.

Wrong! We stayed at the big inn and also ate at the couple of little hotels on the island, the Argyle Inn was one. Every meal, every place, totally delicious, healthy and gourmet.

I will say, however, that haggis was on the menu. It is a specialty that is oatmeal, which I love, cooked in an animal's stomach, which I don't love.

I am adventurous,but I didn't eat haggis

The Ruins of the Nunnery on Iona

The Iona Nunnery is now only a few walls that are taken over by native flowers and vines. Sitting in the middle of it, one can imagine the centuries of women who lived and worshiped there.

It was founded in the 12th century by Reginald of Somerled. His sister was the first prioress. It was occupied until the time of the Reformation.

One does not have to be Catholic or even religious to love this place. The ancient building is alive with history. It is a special prize for the sketch artist or the photographer.

The Nunnery: Iona, Scotland

The Nunnery: Iona, Scotland
The Nunnery: Iona, Scotland

Walking to Iona Abby, Another 'Main Street'

Walking to Iona Abby, Another 'Main Street'
Walking to Iona Abby, Another 'Main Street'

Iona Abby and Religious Community

Its amazing that so much can be happening on this little island.

The Iona Abbey is the home of one of the three Centers for the Iona community which was founded in 1938 by Reverend George McLeod. The Community has its own liturgies and programs which take place in the Iona Abby.

The Abby originated in the 8th century and is it is believed that the monks there were responsible for the Book of Kells.

In 806 everyone there was found dead; it is believed to be from an attack by the Vikings. While the Nunnery was Augustinian, the monks at the Abbey were Benedictine. The building was rebuilt around 1200 and still stands with additions and renovations.

History buffs will see the tombs of many lords and ladies of the day along the outer walls of the Abbey.

Iona Abby Iona, Scotland

Iona Abby Iona, Scotland
Iona Abby Iona, Scotland

The Weather in Scotland

I was there days before and after the summer solstice which is late June. There were days when we could wear shorts and be comfortable. However, there were days when we wore two shirts, hooded fleece jackets covered with slickers. To be safe, take both.

Don't Miss Staffa with Its Amzaing Geology, Sea Cave and in Late June, Puffins

Don't Miss Staffa with Its Amzaing Geology, Sea Cave and in Late June, Puffins
Don't Miss Staffa with Its Amzaing Geology, Sea Cave and in Late June, Puffins

Any Purchase Here Will Contribute to Heifer International: The Pay It Forward Entrepreneurial Charity

Books about Iona, Scotland

Flip Video Accessories

No, I Did Not Eat the Haggis; But People Did

The Dreaded Haggis (from Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course)

1 sheep's stomach

1 sheep heart

1 sheep liver

1/2 lb suet, fresh (kidney leaf fat is preferred)

3/4 c oatmeal

1 ts salt

1/2 ts pepper

1/4 ts cayenne

1/2 ts nutmeg

3/4 c stock

Wash stomach well, rub with salt and rinse. Remove membranes and excess fat. Soak in cold salted water for several hours. Turn stomach inside out for stuffing.

Cover heart and liver with cold water, Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Chop heart and coarsely grate liver. Toast oatmeal in a skillet on top of the stove, stirring frequently, until golden. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Loosely pack mixture into stomach, about two-thirds full. Remember, oatmeal expands in cooking.

Press any air out of stomach and truss securely. Put into boiling water to cover. Simmer for 3 hours, uncovered, adding more water as needed to maintain water level. Prick stomach several times with a sharp needle when it begins to swell; this keeps the bag from bursting. Place on a hot platter, removing trussing strings. Serve with a spoon.

This Small Island Has Every Kind of Terrain

This Small Island Has Every Kind of Terrain
This Small Island Has Every Kind of Terrain

Standing on Iona Looking to Mull

Standing on Iona Looking to Mull
Standing on Iona Looking to Mull

Did you enjoy your virtual trip to Iona?

Have You Experienced a 'Thin Place'?

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    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 5 years ago from Somewhere in England

      I've been to Iona. They say you can make cheap calls to heaven from there, because it's a local rate. I'm not sure about that but Iona is heavenly. Scottish food is great by the way. Never listen to the stories about deep fried Mars Bars, it's a myth. My Scottish mum and grannies never fed me on rubbish like that, nor haggis either, thankfully. I have a lens about Mull and I'm going to add a link to this page.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      Wonderful documentary on Iona, which means "eye's strong power', the eye being the sun and obviously to do with the solstice. Blessed and featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012. Hugs.

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 5 years ago

      Loved my tour on your lens.. angel blessed.. thank you!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh my, had to come back and comment again after reading the Haggis recipe. What a hoot! but imagine how important those nutrients would have been to a half starved people near the end of winter, when perhaps any produce was difficult to come by. Though I don't enjoy organ meats, typically, some ancient memory in me stirs, reading the recipe, and I almost know what it is to crave it!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 6 years ago from San Francisco

      The veil is light far more frequently than many realize. Beautiful journey. Thank you.

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 6 years ago from Western Mass

      i asked myself immediately, "what is a thin place?" when i saw this lens. very interesting. great lens.

    • lbos114 profile image

      lbos114 6 years ago

      Failed to mention beautiful lens :)

    • lbos114 profile image

      lbos114 6 years ago

      Would Definitely like to visit, this "thin" Place thank you for this beautiful idea :)

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Oops, forgot to mention that this is getting a special St Patrick's Day blessing.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      I loved visiting Iona through your experience. Twenty years or so ago, my sister and I went to the Isle of Skye. It was special and I treasure the sea glass we picked up on the rocky beach.

    • asiliveandbreathe profile image

      asiliveandbreathe 6 years ago

      I visited Iona many years ago, but couldn't explore far because of disability.

      I still have a little green stone from the shore.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      Loved this trip guided by you - it's on our list of places to visit soon so I can't wait.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I was fortunate enough to work as a volunteer with the Iona Community 5 years ago. You have captured the beauty and the spirit of Iona so well. It is a "thin place." You can walk across the island all by yourself and never feel alone. Thank you for taking me back to this place I hope to revisit one day!

    • papawu profile image

      papawu 8 years ago

      Och aye lass, I moost agrrree wit ya. lol. I have yet to visit Scotland, but it is one of my devout wishes to do so and is definitely on my bucket list. As far as thin places, I think I have experienced the feeling, more than anywhere else, deep in desert areas, especially at night when the stars are in full bloom and the creatures of nature are taliking to each other. It is a truly surreal experience to be in the middle of it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      What a great lens lovely Pictures , I haven't been to Iona but I have been to Mull and eat Haggis if you don't think about what your eating its quite nice.

    • dc64 lm profile image

      dc64 lm 8 years ago

      I love the pictures of the Iona Abbey, what a lovely place. The landscape of Iona looks like it comes straight out of medieval times. So peaceful it all looks to be.

    • profile image

      keithyoung 8 years ago

      Margo!! I'm stunned!! "Enjoy" is the wrong word!! I was absolutely absorbed by this lens! It is so well done that you almost feel as if you are there!! It brings a longing for the kind of peaceful, simple existence that we all crave deep down!

      Thankyou Margo!

    • ctavias0ffering1 profile image

      ctavias0ffering1 9 years ago

      Excellent lens Margo :-)

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image
      Author

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      [in reply to Cal] Wow, I am so honored to have remarks from a resident, even a part time one! Is there anything else I should include!

      Oh, and I would love to come back, and you don't even have to have specials at the book store!

      Margo

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Thanks for this! I'm lucky enough to be living on the island when I'm not at university... I can't imagine a better place to be.

      (P.S Come to the community bookshop! Special offers galore)

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image
      Author

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      [in reply to Tracey_M] If you get all the way to Iona, don't forget Staffa it is a must!

    • TraceyM2 profile image

      TraceyM2 9 years ago

      I enjoyed the journey this lens took me on. I don't know why I haven't visited Scotland before as it's only across the sea. Thank you 5*

    • Andy-Po profile image

      Andy 9 years ago from London, England

      Sounds wonderful. I usually go to Scotland about once a year, but I have never been to Iona.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 9 years ago

      Beautiful lens! Scotland is on my list of places to visit someday. Welcome to All Things Travel.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 9 years ago

      Ah, my oh my! This is such an inspirational lens -- I think I will be thinking 'thin place' today. Thank you!

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 9 years ago

      Beautiful lens, I really enjoyed this visit to Scotland island! Welcome to Wellbeing Network group

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 9 years ago

      Looks like a great place. Did you mean Obama there - or is the election too much on your mind?