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" Friendship is a sheltering tree "

Coleridge

Scientists Uncover St Columba’s Cell on Iona

July 25th, 2017

Inside Iona Abbey

Many years ago OBOD held retreats on the beautiful Isle of Iona, Scotland. The island has a rich spiritual history and was once known as the Isle of Druids and it was to here that St Columba  (Colum Cille) was believed to have brought Christianity in the 6th Century. 

Archaeologists now believe they have found the site of Columba’s cell – Ken McDonald of BBC Scotland reports,

Archaeologists say they have identified the remains of the cell of St Columba on the Scottish island of Iona.

They have used radiocarbon dating to place samples of burned wood in the middle of Columba’s time there almost 1,500 years ago.

The charred remains of a hut were excavated in 1957, but it has taken until now for science to accurately date them.

The cell, or scriptorium, is where he worked, prayed and spent his last day.

The samples had been carefully stored at several universities – and latterly in a garage in Truro.

Centre of worship

St Columba arrived on Iona from Ireland in the year 563. His Gaelic name is Colum Cille – “the dove of the Church”.

He is widely credited as one of the key figures who brought Christianity to Scotland.

From his vision sprang Iona Abbey, which became a centre of literacy, learning and worship.

After his death Iona became a place of pilgrimage for kings and commoners. 60,000 of the latter still visit the rebuilt abbey every year.

But did Columba leave any physical trace?

His successor Adomnán, writing 100 years after the saint’s death, described him working in his cell on a rocky hillock.

That knoll is called Tòrr an Aba – “the mound of the abbot”.

Who was St Columba?

Sixty years ago the site was excavated by a team led by the Cornish historian and archaeologist Charles Thomas.

It was early in a career in which he became the leading archaeologist of early Christianity in Britain and Ireland, with posts at Edinburgh and Leicester universities.

He eventually became the first professor of Cornish studies at Exeter University and a Bard of the Cornish Gorseth.

His dig in 1957 made an intriguing discovery.

On Tòrr an Aba the diggers found hazel charcoal, apparently the remains of a wattle hut.

The site had been deliberately covered with beach pebbles and there was a hole where a post – possibly a cross – had been placed.

Were these the remains of Columba’s cell? Charles Thomas thought so… To read the entire article click here.

Iona Abbey Church, St. Columba’s Shrine (left), St John’s Cross (front)

5 Responses to “Scientists Uncover St Columba’s Cell on Iona”

  1. In 1977, late Summer with a group of friends I travelled to Iona. Stopping for a rest on Mull to watch a waterfall dropping from a mountain side and cooling our feet in a brook, I saw, for the first time, fairies, wee folk swimming and splashing in the water. I was feeling a bit grim from the after effects of a tummy bug, but when I stepped on Iona, I immediately felt stronger and cleansed. A memory, I think portrayed itself to me in the presence of monks, walking and pondering in silence. One, on his own, glanced my way and nodded his head in acceptance. Forty years on and the memory is as clear now as then. What a privilege! With love, Margaret.

  2. That’s a rather _mechanical_ looking astrolabe or whatever, there; Colum Cille.

    Impressive. As they say in the states, the key to real estate is: “location, location, location.”

    Extraordinary archaeological find, thanks for sharing this one, Sir.

    /|\

  3. We are deeply connected tot the island of Iona,
    we came there with several groups of interested people,
    and i take Iona in my heart for the rest of my life
    and long after that.

    Cis Peeters.

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