Thursday, October 15, 2009

To See The Past

The Isle of Iona in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland is a place where the past and present are not so separate as they seem in other places. The site of a sixth century monastery that was founded here by Saint Columbus, who arrived on the Isle in 563 AD, it seems to be the focus for glimpses of the past.

One incident from the 1960s relates that the artist, John MacMillan saw Vikings attack the ancient abbey as if in the present. He describes that he was walking downhill toward the sea and thought of calling on friends whose cottage was on his way, but looking ahead along the hill, he realized the land was empty. Neither his friends' nor their neighbor's cottage was where they should be.

Disoriented he thought to look out to sea for his bearings. There he saw Viking long ships setting anchor in the bay. He watched as they came ashore, attacked the abbey, set it on fire, plundered the cattle, loading them on board, up-anchored and sailed away. This historical incident is recorded as having taken place in the tenth century, but John MacMillan had seen it in the twentieth as though it were happening in the present.

Apparently, the abbey has a strong presence of the past about it, for a decade later, Tommy Frankland reported another incident. A group of scholars, young and old, were meeting in the library of the Bishop's House. Tommy Frankland and some of the others noticed an elderly clergyman standing by an open window that looks out towards the Sound of Iona. The gentleman stood absolutely still, his whole being focused on the quiet bay.

A little later, Tommy saw the same gentleman outside, walking purposefully toward the ebbing sea. Then without hesitation, he walked straight into the water.

He was waist deep before Tommy reached the shore. "Come back, Reverend! Come back. It's dangerous!"

Finally, the gentleman turned. He seemed only then to realize that he was in the water. Slowly and with some difficulty, he made his way back to shore.

The Reverend told them that he had seen the Columba Abbey from the library window as it must have looked a thousand years ago. He came down to the shore to get a better look and seeing a causeway that led to it he decided to walk out on it.

Though the abbey finished it's restoration in 1967 the causeway is no longer there, so when he heard Tommy calling as if from a distance, the vision left him and he found himself wading in the sea.

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