I Wonder Why | Cathy Ross [ANVIL vol 36 issue 1]

By Cathy Ross

I discovered a world of women
On Iona. Known for its restored Abbey and iconic saint
Columba. Arrived in 563 with his twelve men.
Six hundred years later a nunnery was founded,
Dissolved in 1560. Now in ruins.
I wonder why.

Nuns working and worshipping
Their strict round of service and prayer
Gathering daily in the chapter house
To listen to the rule of St Augustine.
Their nunnery now in disrepair.
I wonder why.

Nuns living off income from their nunnery lands
On Iona and beyond.
Offering refuge to unmarried daughters, illegitimate girls, estranged wives,
Hospitality to female pilgrims
None of them remembered.
I wonder why.

The Abbey is flourishing. Visitors, tourists, audio-guides.
The nave has stone effigies of two abbots,
Dominic and John; in their vestments.
Grave slabs of churchmen and warriors are legion,
No nuns are honoured there.
I wonder why.

Last stop is the museum.
Wait! Prioress Anna MacLean is there!
The last Prioress of the nunnery,
The upper portion of her grave slab remains.
Plans to restore the nunnery came to nothing.
I wonder why.

I discovered a world of women on Iona.
Women serving, praying, worshipping,
Women working, studying, hosting,
Women, managing their own affairs,
Anonymous, unknown, forgotten,
I wonder why.

Mull, 5 April 2018

Dr Cathy Ross is head of Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Oxford and lecturer in mission at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University. Until 2016 she was the general secretary of the International Association for Mission Studies. She has previously worked in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda with NZCMS. Her publications include Women with a Mission: Rediscovering Missionary Wives in Early New Zealand, (Auckland: Penguin, 2006), Mission in the 21st Century: Exploring the Five Marks of Global Mission (ed with Andrew Walls, London: DLT, 2008), Life-Widening Mission: Global Anglican Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum, 2012), Mission in Context (with John Corrie, Ashgate, 2012), The Pioneer Gift (with Jonny Baker, London: SCM, 2014), Mission on the Road to Emmaus, (with Steve Bevans, London: SCM, 2015), Pioneering Spirituality (with Jonny Baker, London: SCM, 2015) and Missional Conversations (with Colin Smith, London: SCM, 2018). Her research interests are in the areas of contextual theologies, world Christianity, feminist theologies and hospitality.

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