The wooden door to the chapel slams shut behind me: A silent dimness opens up as the tempest battering Iona is closed off. Hard, simple chairs march toward a divine arched window all aglow, worn hymnals resting in the seat backs. Great pavers, damp from the Scottish autumn, jigsaw together on the floor. A cash register dings and chimes in a gift shop somewhere. Fifteen centuries ago, a building stood here that was Columba’s golem of faith. He launched sortie after sortie upon the native Picts and Scots from this scrap of land, determined to pave over their beliefs with his own: Christianity.
Into ruin and rebuilt, again and again, Iona Abbey was reborn and resurrected over the centuries. Each time an element of the original structure was ignored or forgotten until now, when what we’re left with is little more than 80 years old. Would Columba recognize today’s abbey? So I wonder about many things of antiquity that have lasted into our modern times. It seems our millennia-long games of telephone must send us in unforeseen, perhaps opposite, directions. My footsteps scrape along the stone as I make my way to the prayer corner. I strike a match and put a flame on a tealight, look out the barred window into the rain, and whisper a few words.