People

Celtic Thin Places

What makes a Thin Place?

P&P-THIN-COLUMBA

The Celtic people recognised the importance of certain places that they felt were ‘thin places.’ These were where they believed the spiritual world and our physical world met: where literally the veil between the two worlds was so thin that a person could sense the spiritual in a powerful way. The Island of Iona is considered to be a thin place.

Saint Columba was born in 521 in Donegal, Ireland, into the royal family. He was originally called named Crimthann, which means ‘fox’. Columba had a claim on the throne but this was not to be as he was sent into the Church instead. There he received a new name – Columba. It is Latin for ‘dove’. Later he became known as Colum-Chille ‘Dove of the Church’.

There are a number of stories that surround Columba’s early life. Tradition tells of Columba’s love for literature, but sometime around 560, he became involved in an argument with his teacher Abbot Finnian. Finnian had ordered Columba to copy out a manuscript (this was before the time of printing presses). Columba worked hard on the copy and intended to keep it for himself. Abbot Finnian heard of Columba’s plan and argued that he had no right to keep the copy. The dispute got out of control and eventually led to the Battle of Cul Dreimnhe in 561, during which many men were killed—perhaps 3000. As penance for these deaths, Columba offered to work as a missionary in Scotland to help convert as many people to Christianity as had been killed in the battle.

In 563, aged 42, Columba left Ireland for Argyll. He arrived on Iona with 12 companions and established a monastery there. The people of Argyll were already Christians and Columba acted as priest to them – baptising, marrying and teaching them. He also undertook missionary journeys into Pictland to the east of the island. Columba was known as friend to all – king or beggar alike.

One of the monks to be sent from the monastery on Iona was St. Aidan who himself set up a community on Lindisfarne.

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