Iona display

Celebrating Scotland's sacred isle

The first plans for religious community in Scotland that has gone on to attract people from all round the world are on display from today (May 3) at the National Library of Scotland. 

The original typewritten text outlining the basis for the Iona Community and written by its founder, the Rev George MacLeod, can be seen, along with other items celebrating the spiritual significance of this small Scottish isle.

It was 1,450 years ago, in AD 563, that St Columba and his followers established Iona as the cradle of Christianity in Scotland. This year is also the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Iona Community.

NLS is marking these anniversaries with a display of important items from its collections which have an association with Iona and its spiritual history. One of these is the Iona Psalter, a magnificent 12th-century devotional work believed to have been created for Beatrix, the first Prioress of the Augustinian nunnery of Iona.

The Iona Community was established in 1938 at a time when George MacLeod, later Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, considered the Church had lost the spirit of fellowship that was so prominent in St Columba and his followers.

He set out to change that and brought a group of young ministers and unemployed skilled workmen to Iona to rebuild the monastic quarters of the medieval abbey. It was the beginning of a spiritual community that remains strong today.

MacLeod had worked as a parish minister in Govan area of Glasgow in the 1930s where he had witnessed the effects of grinding poverty. He was also stung by criticism that a gulf existed between the Church and the needs of the poor.

He wanted to bridge that gap and bring a new type of ministry to serve people where they lived. His thoughts on this — entitled 'First plans for the community' — can be seen in the display.

He believed the Victorian model of an individual minister supporting a church based congregation was outdated. 'What is required is an experiment — however small — that might begin to serve the housing areas; learn the technique of fellowship; and investigate in its own life and worship how most richly to present to the modern day the active and latent vitality of presbyterianism.'

MacLeod was made a peer in 1967 — the only Church of Scotland minister to be so honoured — and when he died in 1991 he left behind a religious centre with thriving membership and strong worldwide connections.

The display also includes a number of early manuscripts highlighting the importance of St Columba in Gaelic literature. 

Ulrike Hogg, senior manuscripts curator at NLS who has put the display together, said: 'Iona has been an important centre of Christianity and a place of pilgrimage from St Columba’s time right through to the present day. We have chosen various items from our collections that record the spiritual history of this special part of Scotland.'

'Celebrating Iona' runs until July 7 at NLS on George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.


3 May 2013

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