We tend to think of Columba in terms of where he ended up – Iona – yet where he began was at the end of Europe, in the far west of Ireland, in the little church of St. Enda, in the Aran Islands. It stands today, open to the sky – and surrounded by graves three deep in the churchyard of the village of Killeany: a cloud of witnesses. There is no monastic community on Inishmor – these are the graves of the ordinary people of the island, interred in the sand built up over 15 centuries around the little oratory of the saints of Aran. These ordinary people are the ones here to carry on the faith, to learn, as would we, the traditions of the past and to pass them along to the people of the future.
1500 years ago a young man went to the end of the world to learn to be a leader of Christian communities. Known to us as Columba, “the dove of the church”, he went, as it is remembered on that island, to Inishmor, Aran of the Saints, the island farthest west in the bay of Galway, to enter St Enda’s “spiritual boot camp” (in Sarah’s phrase). In a monastery with room for a dozen monks and their abbot, Enda established a place to learn a model of Christian community that served to evangelize Ireland – and beyond. Like the monastic communities of Martin of Tours, provided a new vessel to convey the gospel to a new generation, a new situation and a new people.
After a spell, the young man, trained as deacon, priest, and poet, left Enda’s school for sanctity, traveling north to found communities in the north of Ireland and then crossed the sea to Iona, a small island in the Western Hebrides – indeed, an island about the size of Inishmor, three or four miles long and a mile wide – where he established the base for communicating the gospel to the Scots. It became the center of evangelism and witness to the people of Scotland, to whom it is a place of pilgrimage, and renewal in the faith, to this day. From there the good news spread to the north of England, where Aidan established his base at Lindisfarne…
June 13, 2007.