Half Life of Stone

Guest Writer:  Elizabeth Cone     Essayist, SUNY Colleague, Photographer

(for more essays by Elizabeth see http://chateaucone.blogspot.com)

On a tourist ferry boat on the way to a 12th century abbey on a tiny island in the Firth of Forth, all green hills and grey water and silvery mist around us, a man with white hair and a friendly wide open face with bright blue eyes sits next to me, on the edge of the seat, as though he’s about to get up again, and he tells me this: “I want you to know you dinna have to worry. Whatever is troubling you will be settled and over by month’s end, all your troubles, darlin’, you’ll have no worries at all.” And there is that Scottish song in his voice, and something Celtic in the air around him–something old and pagan and knowing–so I try to smile and almost believe him.

My guidebook tells me that Inchcolm Abbey was founded by Augustinian priors in 1123, but it is one of those places that I think must have been sacred even before the abbey was built on it. Walking through the ruins I can smell burnt palm, like church on Ash Wednesday, and I think it’s somehow more than hundreds of years of ashes on foreheads and “Meménto, homo, quia pulvis es, et in púlverem revertéris.”  I feel something else here. It stirs my blood and all my senses. My fingertips tingle and my hair wants to stand on end, and there are all these spots of darkness with unexpected shafts of light from bared windows in thick stone walls, as if to remind the men who lived and worked and studied and prayed here of the existence of good and evil. Continue reading