Posted by: christinelaennec | June 22, 2017

Singing in Iona Abbey (Celebrating St. Columba, part II)

So to continue my story of a wonderful trip to Iona with the Scottish Plainsong Choir, most of us were awakened on our first night by the wind and rain.  At breakfast, those who had walked down from the youth hostel were absolutely sodden.  I was very grateful that we didn’t have to wear concert dress that day, and I was so glad of my sturdy hiking boots and my serious raincoat.

Our first rehearsal was at Iona Abbey:

Iona Abbey in the rain. Isle of Iona, June 2017.

I had never been inside before, and was entranced by its beauty and by its acoustics.  At 11:00 we took part in an informal performance by the group Canty.  It was pretty amazing to hear professionals singing medieval chant in that space!  Our own contribution was “Aurora Rutilat,” a piece the Scottish Plainsong Choir has sung quite often, and so we didn’t disgrace ourselves.  Some members of the audience came all the way down to sit in the choir stalls next to us, and they were pretty enraptured by the experience.  There were many lit candles, above the choir stalls and by the Communion Table.  After the performance, a woman came and put them out by waving a piece of paper.  You can see her on the bottom right of the photo below:

Inside Iona Abbey.

While we had been singing, the sun had come out, and you would never have guessed at the soaking horizontal rain that had been battering the island since about 3 am:

Iona Abbey in the sun.

We could please ourselves for lunch, so my lovely roommate and I opted for fish at the St. Columba Hotel.  We loved sitting by the window and watching the weather change.  One minute you could see Fionnphort, across the Sound of Iona, clear as a bell.  A few moments later, all was obscured by mist and low rain.  That would pass, and Fionnphort reappeared.  That hide-and-seek weather pattern happened about three times in an hour and a half.

View from our table at the St. Columba Hotel, Isle of Iona.  Iona Abbey on the left of the photo.  The Isle of Mull across the Sound of Iona.

We spent the afternoon rehearsing in the Parish Church, with a generous tea break.  The windows of the church were pelted by rain at regular intervals.  Then it was back to the Abbey for another rehearsal, and the sun was obligingly out as we walked over.  We finished our rehearsal at 7:30 pm and had a chance to look around the Abbey briefly.  I was very interested in the ferns allowed to grow in the masonry:

Inside Iona Abbey: ferns in the walls near the Communion Table.

It may surprise you to know (as it did me) that there was a marble quarry on this tiny island!  The Communion Table at the Abbey is made from the greeny stone.  You can see how highly polished it is, from the reflection of the bronze plate and curious visitor:

Communion table made from Iona marble. Iona Abbey.

At twenty to eight in the evening, the sunlight was still strong:

Quiet side chapel, Iona Abbey.

And in minutes, the rain came again:

View from side chapel window, Iona Abbey: rain’s on again!

Beautiful verse and beautiful embroidery.  “Iona of my heart, Iona of my love / Instead of monks’ voices will be lowing of cattle. / But ‘ere the world ends / Iona shall be as it was.”

Needlepoint cushion, Iona Abbey.

And by ten to eight it had cleared again. I like the shadows made by the bright evening sun, shining from the West:

Cross in front of Iona Abbey: rain’s off again!

We all came together for another delicious meal, and a good laugh.  We’d really enjoyed our day.  After dinner I roped a couple of friends into going for a walk with me.  At 9:30 pm, the sky was graced with multiple rainbows:

Evening walk on Iona: looking across to Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull.

Rainbows on Iona.

Sheep parliament? Isle of Iona.

We were very amused by the sheep all sitting along the top of this rocky outcrop!  I had been able to get some intermittent texts and emails (phone signal and WiFi on Iona being quite patchy), so I knew that Michael and the Dafter were doing very well, and although it’s nice to get away from it all, it’s also very nice to know that the “all” you are away from is fine!  It was still very light when I got back to my room at nearly 10:30, but I slept very well indeed that night, having sung, eaten and explored to my heart’s delight.

The next day, Sunday, was the event we’d been preparing for – but I’ll tell you about that in my next (and final) post about my trip to Iona.



  1. Lovely post Christine. How beautiful it all is.

  2. What a wonderful view from the restaurant window, and incredible how quickly the weather changed. I’ve never seen ferns growing inside a church like that. I visited Iona many years ago but didn’t go inside the Abbey, so it was nice to get this insight. I like the sheep parliament. 🙂

  3. Just beautiful! I find the thickness of the walls amazing. The house we lived in in England had very thick walls. I can only imagine the beauty of the voices singing. Thanks for sharing. ♡

  4. It all sounds so wonderful, the weather patterns certainly change quickly as they do here on Lewis. Iona is on out list of places to visit.

  5. How positively Celtic the weather was and a day like that on Iona sounds like my cup of tea. Thanks for the lovely pictures. They brought back good memories. I’m glad you could connect, even if briefly, with home during your time and that all was well.

  6. Your account is fascinating. And the photos are simply amazing!

  7. Thank you for describing these experiences in such detail. Getting there sounds like a bit of a journey, but one I would happily have undertaken in years past. I’m imagining the sound of plainsong in such lofty spaces.

  8. What incredible settings – both the island and its buildings! – and such lovely photos of them all.

    Aware it’s been a long time since I popped by and I’m quite out of the loop so sending you my best wishes and hoping that you and the family are all keeping well!
    – Laura xo

  9. Thanks everyone for your comments. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the posts! One last one to come…

    Lorna – glad you liked the ‘sheep parliament’!

    Anne – I suppose it is rather amazing how thick the walls are. Although no doubt when you’re on an island in the Atlantic during a winter storm, you’d be extremely glad of that protection.

    Laura, it’s wonderful to hear from you. I haven’t been much in blogland, but I have been keeping you in my thoughts. We are all doing pretty well, thanks.

  10. Another glorious day!!!! And enough sunshine too!!! I would have loved to hear the medieval chant! Actually just about any singing inside that abbey would be wonderful.

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