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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History


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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

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Iona, Fay Sampson's "Most Inspirational" Place

By Fay Sampson ~ September 2, 2014

 This summer we have been to one of my most inspirational places – Iona. This is a small off the west coast of Scotland


Saint Columba came here in 563, in penance for causing a war. He founded a Celtic abbey, a church and a cluster of huts for sleeping and other activities. The monks went out across the North of Britain to evangelise the native Picts. After Columba’s death, others came down into England and lit the fire of Christianity in the great Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria.

Vikings raided, and massacred the monks on the beach. The monks sailed back to Ireland, taking the glorious illuminated Book of Kells.

In the Middle Ages, Benedictines built a grander abbey. This too fell into disrepair at the Reformation.

In the 1930s a Church of Scotland minister, George McLeod, brought unemployed craftsmen from Glasgow and young ministers and put them to work rebuilding the abbey. This gave rise to the Iona Community, which combines spiritual retreats on the island with practical social work based in Glasgow. It has members all over the world.

It was here we came with a small group from our church. And what a lovely journey it was. We took the West Highland Railway from Glasgow, past mountains and lochs, then the ferry from Oban to the larger island of Mull, an hour’s bus ride across Mull and the final ferry across the narrow strait to Iona.

The abbey stands welcoming you on the meadows by the shore. It’s not a castle-like fortress, like many continental abbeys, but open to all who come, in the Celtic style. The community certainly welcomed us.

My abiding memory of our week is of the candlelight on the children’s faces as they gathered around the communion table laid the length of the choir in the abbey church. The rest of us joined them at the table, or sat in the carved choir stalls, or at the front of the nave.







There was a special quality to the worship. The services were a blend of liturgy that had an age-old feel with a very modern concern for peace and justice in today’s world. At the end of morning prayers, we did not sit down to reflect on the service, but walked straight out to begin work for the day, though in our case it was only light household tasks.

This was followed by discussions based on David Osborne’s beautiful book, Love for the Future. This tells of his pilgrimage to Iona and his thoughts about the state of creation and the spiritual resources we need to address it. He led our morning discussions, challenging us to look more deeply at the world around us and our part in it.

Afternoons were free to enjoy this beautiful island, with its rich spiritual heritage, and we were blessed by glorious weather. One afternoon, we joined a boat trip to Staffa to enjoy the fantastic geological pillars of Fingal’s Cave and the puffins nesting on the cliffs.

A highlight of the week, and of every week in this community, was the pilgrimage around the island. This year, recognizing our age, we took the shorter route. This took us to Martyrs’ Bay, where the monks were slaughtered by Vikings, and across the island to the sandy meadow known as the Machair, where the monks grazed their cattle. It is a tradition of the pilgrimage that at the furthest beach you take a stone and invest it with something in your life you want to get rid of. Then you cast it out to sea and walk away.

People come to Iona from all over the world, to work for a few months at the abbey, or to join one of the week-long courses, as we did. It is one of those “thin places” where the physical and the spiritual come very close. The beauty of its white beaches, with its turquoise and purple water, its evident feel of sanctity and the quality of the community life draw people back again and again.

 Fay Sampson's novel Island Pilgrimage was published in 2004 by Robert Hale. 

Fay Sampson (UK) is a writer of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction, including A MALIGNANT HOUSE, #2 in the Susie Fewings series, a British Crime Club Pick.

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Reader Comments:

Oh, yes, Fay, I completely agree. Iona is definitely one of the "most inspiring" places in the world. I've been privileged to visit there twice and I second everything you say. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.
-Donna, September 2, 2014

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