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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Early Christian, Medieval Travel Journal-Day 8

The Duomo-Is the inside worth the price of admission?

So, I had a very funny blog post about ready to go, but the GSB editorial division reviewed it and would not let me post it. I don’t remember the specifics of their objections, but words like “insulting,” and “stereotyping” were used; I called it painting with a broad brush and insisted any kind of painting in Florence was encouraged, even the stereotyping kind. The editors were not convinced. So, I went back to the drawing board.

Because this is, after all, a travel blog, I think it appropriate from time-to-time, to offer advice to first-time travelers, such as this gem: If you don’t speak Italian, speaking English with an Italian accent will not help the locals unversed in the Queen’s English understand you. I mention this because I noticed a member of the GSB team trying this this morning. I thought if an experienced GSB traveler made this mistake, you might be tempted to the same error.

Today, the rest of the GSB team went on a wine tasting tour in the Tuscan countryside. Whatever. All I can tell you is they left, and they came back and said they had a good time. I, on the other hand, mined this town’s history for any nuggets of Kingdom history it would yield, and I did find some treasure.

First, I visited the Baptistry of St. John, an iconic landmark just a five minute walk from our hotel. Dante was baptized here, as were members of the Medici family. After that, I got in line to enter the Duomo a/k/a Florence Cathedral, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (in English, “Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower”).

Forty-five minutes ahead of opening, the line was already 100 yards long and wrapped around the side of the church. An hour later, as I was finally nearing the entry, a tour guide directly behind me began singing Ave Maria. I think 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall would have gone over better with her group.

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Early Christian, Medieval Travel Journal-Day 7

The spot where Savonarola was martyred for speaking Truth

Today was our Savonarola day. Girolamo Savonarola (1452 – 1498 A.D.) was a Dominican monk who preached Truth in Florence in the 2nd half of the 15th century. Savonarola did so in the face of opposition from the most powerful man in Florence, Lorenzo de Medici, who had coopted Florence’s freedom, murdered political opponents, and bribed the Catholic church. Moderns practically worship Lorenzo de Medici because he promoted and financed the arts during the Italian Renaissance, but his rightful place in history is more dubious.

When de Medici sent his friends to persuade Savonarola to stop preaching against his corrupt practices, they became Savonarola disciples. De Medici then tried to bribe Savonarola, which also failed. But when de Medici was on his death bed and needed the last rites, instead of calling any number of priests loyal to him, he called on the one man he knew would speak Truth: Savonarola. At de Medici’s bedside, Savonarola asked de Medici if he placed his faith in God for his salvation, and if he would return all the money he had obtained unlawfully from others. His answer to both questions was “Yes.”

Unlike other preachers at the time, Savonarola preached directly from the Bible, and the Word changed peoples’ hearts, drawing them to repentance. Luther and other Reformers considered Savonarola a proto Protestant because of his doctrine on salvation by grace through faith. Florence, for a time, was a changed city, culminating in the so-called Bonfire of the Vanities, when people voluntarily set out their pornography and the clothes and masks they used for the Florentine version of Mardi Gras, into a bonfire in the Piazza della Signoria.

Unfortunately, the change was short-lived, and after preaching against corruption in the Catholic church, being excommunicated, and Florence being threatened with interdiction by the Pope, a rival group incited a mob to descend on the San Marco Convent and take Savonarola and two other monks away to the Piazza della Signoria, where they were hung and burned. But while the change in Florence didn’t last, Savonarola’s influence on individuals did. For example, Michelangelo, who had heard Savonarola preach, is said to have carried a book of Savonarola’s sermons with him for the rest of his life.

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Is Jesus Coming or Going in Matthew 24?


In reading the Book of Daniel, I was reminded of a misconception I used to have about something Jesus told His disciples in the last days of His earthly ministry.

In Matthew 24 Jesus is warning His disciples about the catastrophic events that will happen in Israel within a generation (Matthew 24:34), which by Jewish reckoning was 40 years.

Jesus said that after the tribulation of those days the sign of the Son of Man will appear and “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). Jesus is talking about His coming to earth right? Actually, no.

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How the Church Prevailed Against the Gates Of Hades

The Gates of Hades, Caesarea Philippi, Israel

Jesus, Peter and the crew were in Caesarea Philippi, a city in the northern part of Israel, and Jesus decides to give the boys a pop quiz. Jesus asks them who they think He is. Peter answers correctly. Then Jesus says,“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18.

Now we can leave for another day the 500 year old controversy about whether the rock on which Jesus says He will build His church is Peter or the revelation of who Jesus is; instead I want to focus on the second part of what Jesus said.

In February 2010, I was in Israel and visited Caesarea Philippi , where I was surprised to learn that there, in the first century at the opening of a cave was a pagan temple. The opening of the cave was referred to as “The Gates of Hades.”

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