The Island

The island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland has an important place in the history of Christianity in Great Britain. The conversion of pagan England was brought about by two distinct missions; one from Rome that landed in Kent in 597 - St Augustine, and the other brought from Ireland to Iona and later to Northumbria by St Columba.

St Columba (Columcille) journeyed across the Irish sea to Iona in 563AD and established a monastery there. During the century following the establishment of the monastery of Iona, the Columban church played a leading role in the expansion of Christianity in northern Britain. Converting at least some of the picts and introducing the faith to Anglo-Saxon Northumbria by St Aidan.

This mission also had an important effect on the development of learning and art producing much literature, manuscript illumination and sculpture. Iona was an important part of this - in fact the Book of Kells may well have been written and illuminated on Iona during the middle or second half of the 8th century. This period was brought to an end by the onset of Viking raids shortly before 800AD, although religious life continued on the island, the influence of the monastery was much diminished.

In Northumbria, Aidan established a monastery on Holy Island or Lindisfarne as it is also known. This was to become the cradle of Christianity in north-east England through succeeding generations, a place where nature, work and prayer interwove. On hearing of Aidan's death, Cuthbert vowed to continue his work in spreading the gospel throughout Northumbria. Cuthbert led a life of solitude but was called to preach widely by his monasteries. In 661AD he became Prior of Holy Island.

The church at that time was united (no denominations) in a goal to see the light of the gospel shine brightly over the whole of these islands, with a zeal that has rarely been seen since. The importance of prayer and seeing God's involvement in every aspect of life was clearly understood. There was a love and thirst for scripture, for living a holy and simple lifestyle, a deep respect for nature and for people. Their way of evangelising was by getting alongside folk, understanding them and preaching by the example of their lives. This important time in our history is an inspiration to the members of Iona both in their music and in their own lives.

Our grateful thanks to Matthew Mumford for the kind permission to use the beautiful pictures of Iona. Check out Matthew's site for more great photos of Iona.

Recommended books related to Celtic Christianity:

There are numerous excellent books on this subject, available from Amazon:

DAVID ADAM has written several excellent and inspiring books including:

"The Eye of the Eagle" (which was used for many of the ideas behind Iona's album Journey into the Morn and Dave Bainbridge / David Fitzgerald's album of the same name)

"Fire of the North: The Life of St Cuthbert"

"Flame in My Heart: St.Aidan for Today"

"A Desert in the Ocean"

"The Edge of Glory"

"Aidan, Bede, Cuthbert: Three Inspirational Saints"

"Restoring the Woven Cord: Strands of Celtic Christianity for the Church Today" by MICHAEL MITTON

"Celtic Daily Light: A Spiritual Journey Through the Year" by RAY SIMPSON

"Exploring Celtic Spirituality" by RAY SIMPSON

The band are mentioned in a book by author and academic Ian Bradley, titled "Colonies of Heaven: Celtic Models for Today's Church". The mention (on page 144) comes in a very interesting section about the recent proliferation of 'Celtic Christian' music and it's relevance to contemporary society. The book is also published in the USA by Northstone Publishing, under the title "Colonies of Heaven - Celtic Christian Communities - Live the Tradition".


"Celtic Daily Prayer" (Northumbria Community)

"Celtic Night Prayer" (Northumbria Community)

Relevant Sites: - featuring wonderful artwork from our friend Mary Fleeson

Iona photos by Matthew Mumford. Used with permission.