Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Tobermory’s Link to St. Columba Unearthed

We always knew that our wonderful Isle of Mull was just that wee bit special. An island enveloped by the most breathtakingly stunning scenery to be found anywhere in the British Isles, we’ve always believed Mull to possess remarkable restorative powers that help heal the stresses of everyday life. Now, thanks to a remarkable archaeological discovery, highlighted during last weekend’s ‘Time Team’ programme on Channel Four, it appears that the whole world has awakened to the importance of the island as being part of a medieval template of Christianity in Scotland.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make their way to the Holy Isle of Iona each year to absorb the island’s unique cultural and spiritual ambience. The monastery at Iona was founded in the late 6th century by Irish missionary monks, whose leader, Saint Columba, is hailed as the founding father of Christianity in Scotland. With the discovery of an early monastic cell, what was previously a pile of grass and moss covered boulders, hidden away in a spruce plantation on the outskirts of Tobermory, has suddenly assumed huge significance.

Dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries, the stone chapel and piece of carved Celtic altar cross that were unearthed, suggest that the land which now houses the island’s ‘capital’ would have previously been occupied by an early Christian community. In pursuit of their faith, these hermits would have lived an ascetic existence in often harsh conditions. Closely allied to Iona and the teaching bequeathed by Saint Columba, this settlement would have had its own leading monk, the fragmented skull bones of whom were uncovered during the archaeological dig. These bones have survived the ravages of 1300 years of acid erosion in Mull’s waterlogged soil.

Present day Tobermory is barely 200 years old, but the surrounding area bears testimony to a Neolithic past. In a field, adjacent to where the monastery was discovered, rise the Baliscate Standing Stones, erected by early Muileachs during the Bronze Age. The Isle of Mull is alive with myth and magic, where legend, at times, blends seamlessly with reality. Sometimes, that reality can appear even stranger than fiction! Today, in 2010, Tobermory is celebrating the news that the town has its very own Saint, a character mentored in the fashion of the Irish monk who brought Christianity to this previously pagan island.

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