Sunday, November 12, 2006
Cool 13th century nuns
The religious community on Iona has focused around the Celtic religious community founded by Columba in the late 500s. The Abbey (see Thursday's post for a picture) was built in the 13th century on the site of the original Columban community. As Roman Christianity was spreading to the further reaches of Western Europe (and continuing to usurp Celtic Christianity), the Columban community became a Benedictine monastery.
It was not uncommon for a women's religious community to exist near a monastery. In 1200, the Nunnery construction on Iona was begun. It is the most intact ruins of a nunnery in Scotland. Whereas the Abbey was repaired and reconstructed in the late 19th century, the Nunnery has been left in ruins (although quite beautiful ruins). Very little is known about the Nunnery, and very little was written in any of the Iona books I read. However, while perusing the wonderfully written guest book at the Argyll Hotel, it was mentioned that the Nunnery has a She-la-na-gig (a pagan fertility goddess, or vagina dentata/"vagina with teeth") on its prominent South wall.
A pagan fertility goddess on a prominent wall of a Nunnery built in 1200? We do know that a woman named Beathag was the first abbess. We'll never know why the She-la-na-gig is there, and practically no one who writes about Iona seems to care about this, but I can only imagine that Beathag and the nuns must have been women who honored other women and God's gift in Creation.