There is an archetypal story of the flower or plant that is very rare but exceedingly beautiful, or has mystical healing powers. In order to pluck this treasure you have travel to a remote spot, a high mountain perhaps or a lost island to locate it. The Church of St Donan on the Isle of Eigg feels like the ecclesial equivalent of that magical flower or plant. The Isle of Eigg has a population of 88, mostly nominal Catholics and the parish is served here from Arisaig, which means weather permitting (it’s a one hour boat ride) the get mass once a month. So two of us set out yesterday not knowing what to expect. What we found was truly a rare flower, overlooking the stunning Bay of Laig. There has been no resident priest on Eigg since the fifties, so a sporadic service from nearby mainland parishes probably accounts for the small active congregation – but as is often the case it is quality not quantity. I was very inspired by their commitment and their plans.
When you walk into the church you are hit by the delightful smell of the pine floor. The Church clean and recently renovated is beautiful. Such work is not cheap however, on enquiry theirs was a fascinating story about how the church renovation was paid for. The former priest had left a beautiful painting in the adjoining presbytery (recently demolished as it had fallen into disrepair). In his will he had stipulated that it only be sold to pay for renovation of the church. Removed to Oban and hung in the bishops house – the painting went into a bit of limbo.
Meanwhile the small and tenacious group of parishioners were fretting about the state of the historic church, exposed to the raw Atlantic winds and harsh winter storms. Recently they heard about the renovation and rededication of the Catholic Church on the neighbouring Isle of Skye. They went to visit to get tips for fund-raising and they were told the best thing to do was to pray to their patronal saint. This they duly did, and the forgotten about painting came back onto the agenda – with one of the final acts of the retiring bishop to get it valued. With the value coming back at between 15,000 – 20,0000 it seemed that they would still fall short by a long way. They kept praying and the painting went up for auction at Sotheby’s two days after the feast of their parish saint. It was sold for nearly £250,000! Mairi, one of the parishioners told me with a beaming smile they are convinced it was due to the intercession of St Donan.
Now their plans are to get more priests visiting the islands to say masses on a more regular basis. They are even considering raising money to build a small chalet next to the church for the visiting priests. Meanwhile however they will be treated to island hospitality! So if you know any priests looking for a week away – in a beautiful spot – with wonderful walking, fishing, sea kayaking opportunities please tell them to contact Mairi at the following address.
Mairi Mackinnon , Maranatha
7 Cleadale , Isle of Eigg, PH42 4RL
Of course all arrangements should also be made through the Parish priest, Fr Andrew Barrett, the Parish Priest at Arisaig whose takes responsibility for the parish on Eigg. I left Eigg inspired by their story and keen to help them. A small but incredibly committed group of faithful. They are not asking for money but simply for priests so they can practise their faith… let’s try and help them!