The Hebridean island of Iona is gearing up for a major celebration in 2013 as it celebrates the 1450th anniversary of Columba’s arrival on Iona, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Iona Community and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the MacLeod Centre.
And to mark this triple-anniversary celebration a number of events are planned starting on May 19 with a Service of Thanksgiving in Iona Abbey - Scotland’s most sacred Christian site, founded by St Columba in 563 AD, whose shrine has drawn pilgrims and visitors for centuries.
The ecumenical service of thanksgiving will be led by the Revd Joanna Anderson, Centres Director, the Iona Community, and representatives from Iona Parish Church, the Roman Catholic House of Prayer and the Scottish Episcopal Bishop’s House. The preacher is the Very Revd Finlay Macdonald, chair of the Iona Cathedral Trustees.
The service will also feature contributions from Mull Gaelic Choir and the children of Iona Primary School.
It will be attended by senior church leaders from across Scotland and other VIPs including First Minister Alex Salmond and the family of Iona Community founder the late Rev George MacLeod.
Historic Scotland is creating new interpretation and improved visitor facilities to enhance the visitor experience at the abbey which will be formally opened by the First Minister.
Historic Scotland’s skills and expertise have been used extensively in this project, from the conservation of the carved stones and crosses, to intensive research into the island’s history and archaeology, newly presented to reveal Iona’s unique significance to Christianity in Britain and Ireland.
The project aims to help people fully appreciate Iona’s intriguing history along with the significance of the exceptional carved stone crosses and memorials, the finest collection in its care, including the world’s first Celtic High Cross, dating back to the 8th century, which has been reconstructed to mark the 1450th anniversary of St Columba’s arrival on the island. Work will continue beyond 2013 to improve visitor facilities at both the Abbey and the Nunnery.
Other events will take place between Pentecost on May 19 up to June 9, which is Columba’s Day and the day traditionally associated with Columba’s arrival in Iona from Ireland.
A play entitled “An Island between Heaven and Earth” written by Alistair Rutherford which dramatises the founding of the Iona Community in 1938 by Rev George MacLeod, will be performed by Cutting Edge Theatre Productions on the island on May 18 and 19, and a book commissioned specially for the 1450th anniversary by the Iona Cathedral Trustees, “Columba’s Iona: a new history” by Rosalind Marshall, will be launched on May 18.
The Iona Community will celebrate its 75th anniversary a few weeks later in Govan where
Rev George MacLeod, when minister there in the 1930s, was inspired to rebuild Iona Abbey, bringing together unemployed craftsmen and young ministers, as a symbol of the Church’s need to re-engage with the needs of the people who were faced with poverty and hardship.
Members and Associate members will gather on the weekend, 7-9 June, for the inaugural George MacLeod Memorial Lecture, a performance of the play, An Island between Heaven and Earth, and a service of thanksgiving in Govan Old on Sunday 9 June.
Funding support for the event has been provided by Event Scotland, The Iona Community, Argyll and Bute Council and Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac.)
Organisation of the Pentecost events have been carried out by a partnership between the Iona Community, the local community and Argyll & Bute Council, Historic Scotland, VisitScotland, CalMac and the National Trust for Scotland.
Rev. Peter Macdonald, Leader of the Iona Community, said: “In marking the anniversary of Columba's arrival we are giving thanks for the past but more importantly we are celebrating our shared heritage - the impact that event had on the cultural, political and religious history of Scotland. We hope this celebration will enable others to appreciate all that Argyll and Iona have to offer.”
John Maclean, Chairman of Iona Community Council, said: “The Pentecost celebrations have the full support of the community council which is delighted that the island is hosting this event. We look forward to welcoming everyone on May 19 and for the other activities planned in the coming weeks to mark these anniversaries.”
Stephen Duncan, Director of Commercial and Tourism at Historic Scotland said: “Iona is a very special, spiritual island which attracts visitors from all around the world. We believe that our investment to enhance the museum at Iona’s Abbey, including the restoration of the World’s Oldest Celtic Cross will help attract even more visitors to this beautiful location.”
Argyll & Bute Council Leader James Robb,said: “This major celebration is the perfect opportunity to showcase the beauty of Iona and its rich cultural heritage. Argyll and Bute Council is pleased to be able to support the events surrounding this significant anniversary.”
Sir Kenneth Calman, National Trust for Scotland Chairman said: “It is a great honour to be involved in marking an anniversary with such significance to Scotland. Iona is a magical place, rich in cultural and natural history. The National Trust for Scotland is fortunate to play its part in caring for this special heritage on behalf of the nation.”
Mike Cantlay, Chairman of VisitScotland, said: “For anyone who has visited Iona, they can’t help but be affected by the island’s spiritual and natural beauty. Pilgrims and visitors from all walks of life have long visited the destination to take this in, and I’m delighted that the visitor experience will be enhanced even further, especially in this the Year of Natural Scotland 2013.”
Martin Dorchester, Managing Director of CalMac Ferries Ltd, said: “CalMac has had the privilege of ferrying people to Mull for nearly 50 years and to Iona for more than 40, so we are delighted to have been included in the anniversary celebrations, and to continue to provide that role for such an auspicious occasion.”