This morning I said the Mass of St Columba, which in my native Scotland is a Red Letter Feast, and since the Mass, Columba has been much on my mind in a scatterbrained kind of way.
First, I thought of the church of St Columba-by-the-Castle in Edinburgh where Dean Martineau used to be Rector. He was a lovely man, if slightly unworldly. If the door of the church opened while he and the curate were saying Evensong during the week, he would turn round and wave at an astonished beggar, shouting “Come right in; we’ve just got to the Magnificat”!
This led me to think of daily Evensong in Inverness Cathedral where I was Provost. The Cathedral of St Andrew stands right on the banks of the River Ness (which sometimes even floods the grounds). and it was in the River Ness that St Columba is supposed to have seen the famous Monster and caused it to flee by making the Sign of the Cross. Presumably it fled up-river to Loch Ness, where it (or its descendants) has had a happy career ever since, appearing to both locals and tourists (often after they have had a good night in the pub!)
Then, inevitably, my thoughts went back to the Island of Iona where Columba and his companions built their monastery. They left Ireland in some disgrace, since Columba had been involved in causing a minor war in which several people had been killed. In penitence he went into exile in Scotland, and determined to build his monastery in the first place in Scotland from which Ireland was invisible. And that was Iona. From there, his monks went out all over Scotland and then the north of England and christianized the land. Anyone who has been to Iona knows the very special atmosphere the island has, and it has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries.
My first Curacy was at St Salvador’s, Edinburgh, where the altar was faced with the green marble which is found only in Iona. In one of the bays of the island, the shore is covered with rounded pebbles of this marble, and many of them have found their way into altars in churches all over the world. St Salvador’s was an English Missal/Benediction church, so the altar was in daily use. It was a great parish for a first curacy: as well as a busy community life, the parish contained the biggest prison in the East of Scotland. I was chaplain to the Anglican prisoners. This experience has rendered me unshockable in the confessional for the rest of my priestly life!
All this from St Columba’s Mass!