Isle of Iona

Iona Benedictine Abbey




Iona Benedictine Abbey, Isle of Iona, Scotland  2014

This year’s Christmas cards from us was once again created by my love of Scotland.  Iona Benedictine Abbey is the cradle of Christianity into the British Isles.  My Twinnie just shared with me this article from Historic Scotland:

“On 7 December 521AD Saint Columba, founder of the monastery of Iona, was born in Donegal, Ireland. Columba was banished from Ireland in 563AD following a disagreement about the ownership of a religious manuscript, and left Ireland, landing at the Kintyre peninsula with twelve companions. He moved further north and reached the island of Iona, where he established a monastery.

According to tradition, Iona was the first place in Scotland from which Columba was unable to see his homeland, and so he choose this as the site for Iona Monastery. From here, Columba worked both as a politician and a missionary, visiting King Bridei in Inverness and writing hymns and books for the monastery.

The life of St Colomba is told by Adomnan, the ninth abbot of Iona, who wrote Vita Columbae, the main source of information for the saint’s life.”


Benches in the Rain, Iona Benedictine Abbey, Isle of Iona, Scotland

St. Columba followed us throughout the Highlands, showing up in many references from Urquhart Castle and beyond.  The peace of this place is palpable.  People stay here for weeks upon weeks on retreats.  That’s something I’d like to do.


It was here, above, where St. Columba prayed each evening.


One of four major Celtic crosses at the Iona Benedictine Abbey.


A peek inside the Abbey.  I was surprised and impressed to see bookshelves to the right upon entering that shelve Bibles in every language.  Borrow one, return it.  Iona Benedictine Abbey is inclusive and welcoming.


A House of Prayer for all Nations.  As we approach this Christmas season my personal prayer is to be more inclusive, more welcoming and impart a kinder, gentler self out onto the world stage.  Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas, ya’ll.


Yuletide Customs of Old Scotland


Three Chairs (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

We leave soon, traveling to spend the holidays with family elsewhere.  I won’t be blogging while gone, of course, but want to leave with a Scotland holiday theme.  The above photo was used on my Christmas cards and I thought it perfect to begin this post.  Seeking Christmas customs in Scotland I found a website called “The Christmas Archives” by countess Maria Hubert von Staufer.  Here, I found a delightful page titled Yuletide Customs of Old Scotland.  I’ll share some of the passages with photos from some Scotland abbeys and cathedrals as my Christmas gift to you.


Iona Abbey Window (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

“The name “Yuletide” comes from the Scandinavians, for whom ‘Yultid’ was the festival celebrated at the twelfth month, being the twelfth name of Odin, who was supposed to come to earth in December, disguised in a hooded cloak. He would sit awhile at the firesides listening to the people, and where there was want he left a gift of bread or coins. (Strains of Father Christmas here!)

Christmas was often known as Nollaig Beag , Little Christmas. The custom was to celebrate the Birth of Christ with all solemnity, the festivities began a few days later, and spilled into New Year and Twelfth Night, which was known as ‘Little Christmas’. However, the French often called Christmas colloquially, ‘Homme est né’ (Man is Born) which is thought by some scholars to be the origin of the word, ‘Hogmanay’, steaming from the time of the ‘Auld Alliance’.”  (The Christmas Archives)


Stained Glass (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

“All of the Celtic countries have a similar custom of lighting a candle at Christmastime to light the way of a stranger.

In Scotland was the Oidche Choinnle, or Night of Candles. Candles were placed in every window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve and First Footers on New Years Eve. Shopkeepers gave their customers Yule Candles as a symbol of goodwill wishing them a ‘Fire to warm you by, and a light to guide you’.”  (The Christmas Archives)


Door of St. Magnus (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

“It was and still is the custom for a stranger to enter the house after midnight on New Years Eve/Day. There were taboos about the luck such a stranger would bring, especially in the days of hospitality to travelling strangers. A fair haired visitor was considered bad luck in most areas, partly due to the in-fighting between the dark scots and the fair Norse invaders. However, in Christian times, a fair haired man was considered very lucky providing his name was Andrew! Because St Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland. A woman is considered taboo still in many areas!

The Firstfooter must make an offering, a HANDSEL. This can be food, drink or fuel for the fire. The ritual which have grown up around this custom are many. An offering of food or drink must be accepted by sharing it with everyone present, including the visitor. Fuel, must be placed onto the fire by the visitor with the words ‘A Good New Year to one and all and many may you see’. In todays often fireless society the fuel is usually presented as a polished piece of coal, or wood which can be preserved for the year as an ornament.”  (The Christmas Archives)


Italian Chapel (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Black Bun. Originally Twelfth Night Cake. It is a very rich fruit cake, almost solid with fruit, almonds, spices and the ingredients are bound together with plenty of Whiskey. The stiff mixture is put into a cake tin lined with a rich short pastry and baked.

This takes the place of the even more ancient Sun Cakes. A legacy from Scotland’s close associations with Scandinavia. Sun cakes were baked with a hole in the center and symmetrical lines around, representing the rays of the Sun. This pattern is now found on the modern Scottish Shortbread, and has been misidentified as convenient slices marked onto the shortbread!”  (The Christmas Archives)


Celtic Cross at Iona (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

I wish each and every one of you a blessed and peaceful Christmas and send hope for the New Year.  As they say in Scottish Gaelic, Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)

Isle of Mull


Low Tide (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


We took a ferry from Oban to Craignure, Isle of Mull.

It was another dreich day, meaning grey and rainy.

Dreich is pronounced “dreek.”

One of the first words we learned there and one we used often.

For often it was dreich.

Gloriously dreich!


Moss and Seaweed (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

We loaded onto the coach, which drove us all the way across the Isle of Mull to Fionnphort.

There we caught another ferry to the Isle of Iona.


Rainy Day in Mull (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


Our coach driver was on a tight timetable.  Ferry to ferry transfers – four in one day.

Additionally, portage of 26 souls through a very long route on Mull that is mostly one lane with pass-bys for oncoming traffic.

If I saw a coach coming off in the distance I would let it pass by, too.


Farming Scotland Style (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

We passed mountains and glens, lochs with lobster/fish/oyster farming.

I was glad my skills had been honed in Death Valley doing through-the-window shots.

I did this a lot in Scotland.

If I may be frank, they’re my favorite images because they remind me of the beautiful countryside.

I can FEEL Scotland with each viewing.

Remember the feeling, the happiness, the warmth despite the dreich.

Or maybe because of it.


Impressions of Scotland


Fionnphort (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull.  We crossed the Sound of Iona by ferry, leaving here for the Isle of Iona.


Hill of the Angels (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Isle of Iona, Scotland.  St. Columba liked to pray on this hill while the sun set into the sea.  The story goes that a young monk followed St. Columba one evening, curious as to what he was doing on said hill.  The young monk watched “angels of light” ascending and descending upon St. Columba so the hill became known as the Hill of the Angels.  Lots of supernatural activity has been attributed to this site, accounting for a lot of both Christian and Pagan celebrations according to the Iona website.


Window and rock (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Walking around inside the Iona Abbey, ferns growing wild upon its inner walls, breathing Celtic air, enjoying the scent of ancient stones there was this window and rock.  This abbey was founded by St. Columba in 563AD.


Let that sink in.  I’ll wait.



Black face sheep (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

There are several kinds of sheep that wander freely (or not) around Scotland and its islands.  The black face sheep is the most resilient and hardy, so we were informed.


Baile Mor (C) by Debi Bradford

Of course, I had to take some photos of the beach.  Here we found nice sea glass and some pottery.  Rocks may or may not have been brought home.


Somewhere in Mull (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

No idea where but I do know we were somewhere on the Isle of Mull racing back to catch another ferry to the mainland.  I got quite good at taking photographs from a moving vehicle.

I’ve lots to share so hold on tight.

I’ll be back.