Irish-Scotch Travel Journal Day – 13

Bamburgh Castle

It was time to get off the ship today, literally and figuratively. The servers have noticed I’m the only one who comes to breakfast with his laptop and almost always orders water, even for dinner.

I told one of the servers the first day that like a finely tuned Ferrari, you couldn’t put just anything in this gas tank. Then this morning at breakfast when I ordered water again, the server gave me a look that was something between sarcastic and dismissive. The honeymoon is apparently over.

I offered different itineraries to the team today, all of which was more ambitious than what we settled on, but in the end Bamburgh Castle was what they wanted to see. So, that is where we went.

In fairness to The Wife, we arrived here a little late in the day on our 2018 tour, and the castle had already closed. She had wanted to come back to see what she had missed.

So, we rented a car in Edinburgh. The Avis agent asked me if I could drive a stick shift. I thought, “Is the Pope Catholic? Can Lewis Hamilton drive an F1 car?” But then I thought he might not know if the Pope was Catholic or who Lewis Hamilton is, so I settled on “Yes.”

When we settled on Bramburg Castle, I did require a moment of group prayer where we asked the Lord to guide us if He wanted us to see any other sites on our drive today. I think the Lord likes such prayers, and the more we invite Him into our lives the more we will experience His presence.

A little more than halfway to our destination, I saw a sign pointing left for a golf course I had never heard of. We were near the coast of the North Sea and I thought it had to be a links course, so I suddenly turned left off the generous two lane road, down a little single lane road into the country side.

When the group asked where we were headed, I told them I was following the lead of the Holy Spirit. As it turned out, we got lost, never found the golf course, and had to retrace our steps back to the road we left. Ann insisted this was evidence I had not heard the Holy Spirit, but the Lord does not always lead us down paths with no challenges.

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Irish-Scotch Travel Journal Day – 12

Pictish stone carvings before and after conversion to Christianity

Sometimes one must take the bull by the horns, which I did today. With the cruise ship offering the obvious Loch Ness excursion where one is guaranteed not to see Nessie, or the trips to the nearby castles, which all start to look the same after a while, I had to craft our own bespoke excursion.

I did this with no little help from Chatgpt, which I have found incredibly useful on this trip. Granted, it sometimes makes mistakes and must be fact-checked, but on tasks like, “Prepare an itinerary for a 4-hour car tour leaving from and returning to Invergordon, Scotland that includes sites relevant to early Christian history,” it shines.

We thought we were just hiring a car and driver, and instead got a true Scotsman in a kilt and a large, black Mercedes. He was also an experienced and knowledgeable tour guide, who added some Scottish humor and local charm at the appropriate time.

He met us at the pier and drove us first to St. Duthus Church in Tain. Duthus (also Duthac) lived from 1000 A.D. to 1065 A.D., and was Bishop of Ross, the area of Scotland we were in today. He died in Tain, where the church we visited was raised in his honor.

A 13th century baptistry at St. Duthus Church, Tain.

The church is now only used as a meeting venue or concert hall. On the inside it looks more like a storage shed with stained glass. Oh, and there is a thirteenth century baptistry sitting in the corner, like a discarded wash bucket. In fact, it had a broom and dust pan sitting in it. In a country with so much history, such things can seem common place.

Also at a St. Duthus was a pre-Christian Celtic stone. We were told theories on its possible uses, given the numerous concave indentions ground into it. I thought mine the most credible: a board game.

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Irish-Scotch Travel Journal Day – 11

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands

I’ve long had trouble with the labels “saint” and “martyr,” the former because it’s been used historically by churches in an unbiblical manner and the latter because It’s been used so broadly as to lose all significance. This blog long ago abandoned those labels for the phrase “Kingdom hero.”

It was both these labels that caused me some consternation with Saint Magnuson. Why was he made a saint? Because he was martyred. How was he martyred? He was killed by his cousin and joint-ruler Hakon who wanted to be sole ruler of Orkney. Why does that make him a martyr? Because Magnus was a good man.

So, I decided to go to the source: Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney, written within approximately 100 years of Magnus’s death. I’ve come to the conclusion Magnus was indeed a Kingdom hero. Magnus was co-ruler of the Orkney Islands for seven years (1110 -1117 A.D.). He loved God, was pious, just, and treated the rich and poor alike. And then there is this:

He was gentle and agreeable when talking to men of wisdom and goodwill but severe and uncompromising towards thieves and vikings putting to death most of the men who plundered the farms and other parts of the earldom. He had murderers and robbers arrested, and punished the rich no less than the poor for their robberies, raids and other transgressions.

Orkneyinga Saga, 45.

At this point, the culture of Orkney was likely still dominated by the Norse, i.e. the Vikings. Olaf Tragvasson had sent missionaries to Orkney just the century before, so I’m guessing Viking culture still existed in Orkney. Perhaps they were seen like cowboys in America, idealized and romanticized notalgically. That Magnus was so harsh on the very lifestyle that had once been the dominate culture of the Vikings shows Magnus was a man intent on ruling according the law of God rather than man.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

Magnus lived his life in the fear of God rather than man, and that is what made him a great leader. He was not swayed by public opinion; he swayed it in accordance with the culture of the Kingdom. He called the people of Orkney to a higher standard and they and the Orkney Islands were better for it.

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Irish-Scotch Travel Journal Day – 10

The Isle of Skye

On our UK Kingdom Travel Journal in 2018, we had as our post-humous guide the Venerable Bede via his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

On this trip, our post-humous guide is Adomnan of Iona via his Life of St Columba. Adomnan was the ninth abbot of Iona Abbey, and he wrote his biography of Columba in the late seventh century, within 100 years of Columba’s death. The stories of Columba’s life had certainly been preserved in the oral tradition within the abbey and were probably written down as well, providing Columba with very good source material.

Our visit to the Isle of Skye today was made special by Adomnan’s account from one of Columba’s trips to Skye:

“Only an hour later – look! – a little boat came in to land on the shore, bringing in its prow a man worn out with age. He was the chief commander of the warband in the region of Ce. Two young men carried him from the boat and set him down in front of the blessed man. As soon as he received the word of God from St. Columba, through an interpreter, he believed and was baptized by him. When the rite of baptism was finished, as the saint had predicted, the old man died on the same spot and they buried him there and raised a mount of stones over the place. It is still visible there by the seashore. It is still visible there by the seashore. The stream in which he had received baptism is even today called by the local people ‘the water of Artbranan.'”

Adomnan, Life of St. Columba

This chief was almost certainly a Pict. The “region of Ce” was Pictish territory, and Adomnan mentioned earlier in the story that the man was a pagan. Also, Columba had to share the gospel with him through a translator.

Columba also knew the man was about to die. As a result, he didn’t waste any time. He didn’t try to build a relationship or engage in friendship evangelism. Even if the Lord had not shown Columba the man was going to die, the man had come from a long way and may never have met another Christian who would share the gospel with him. So, Columba made the most of the opportunity.

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Irish-Scotch Travel Journal Day – 9

Iona Abbey

Our day started with some trepidation as we were getting news from back in Houston that Hurricane Beryl was bearing down on the city.

We took comfort in knowing a friend was staying in our home, but by our Scotland afternoon friends back in Houston were waking to heavy rain and high winds as the hurricane unleashed its fury on the city.

As all this was happening back home, we were on the peaceful Isle of Iona. We anchored off the port at Tobermory, Isle of Mull, and took a scenic two-hour drive to the southern most tip of the island, where we caught a ferry for the 1 mile trip to Iona.

We were in Iona because of Columba. In 563 A.D., Columba left Ireland on his mission to take the gospel to Scotland. That plan included establishing a base of operations in Scotland where he could train up men of God and then lead and send them out with the gospel. Columba chose the Isle of Iona as his base. He established a monastery there that survived for the next thousand years.

Iona is only 4 miles long and 1 mile wide. It is far enough from Ireland that one cannot see Ireland on the clearest of days, one of the conditions Columba had for selecting his new base. Iona is also only 15 miles from the Scottish mainland, meaning Columba and his disciples could get there in a number of hours.

After establishing his posse on Iona, Columba and his disciples took missionary trips to the western and northern parts of Scotland where they brought the gospel to the Picts. The Picts were ferocious pagans, not unlike the Celts in Ireland. Some believe they were descendants of the same Celtic people group. The mighty Romans could never definitively defeat the picts in battle and so had built two walls across Britain’s northern frontier (Hadrian’s Wall in 122 A.D. and the Antonine Wall in 142 A.D.) to keep them out.

What the Romans, the greatest military empire in history to that time could not do, Columba and his disciples did with the gospel. There were others involved of course, St. Ninian, for example, but Columba gets the lion’s share of the credit.

Columba’s monastery on Iona produced a dream team of saints including Saint Aidan (a missionary to Northumbria who established the monastery at Lindisfarne), Saint Cuthbert (while not trained at Iona was heavily influenced by Columba), Adomnan (who wrote the Life of Columba in the 7th century and was the abbot at Iona), and Saint Machar (who established the church in Aberdeen, Scotland). The monastery also produced books, the most well known being the celebrated Book of Kells now on display at Trinity College in Dublin.

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