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A Place of Pilgrimage

The feast day of Saint Columba is on 9 June

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to spend time in pilgrimage.

Preparation and materials

  • Note: You may need to alter the ‘Assembly’, Step 1, depending on the lockdown travel restrictions in place at the time.


  1. Do you have a holiday planned? Perhaps you’ve already managed to get away. Can you tell us about it?

    Listen to a range of responses.

  2. The word ‘holiday’ comes from the words ‘holy day’ because, hundreds of years ago, that’s when holidays took place. People worked for most of the days of the week throughout the year, and the only days when they were allowed to relax were the feast days of the saints who were significant in their part of the country.

    Saint Columba’s feast day is on 9 June and is significant to those for whom the Celtic style of Christian faith is important. This is because St Columba was born in Ireland, taught the Welsh traditions of theology and spent most of his life in Scotland. All three of these countries are identified as Celtic countries.

  3. St Columba has a particular association with the island of Iona, which is situated off the west coast of Scotland. In the sixth century, he founded a monastic community there, and subsequently an abbey and several conference and study centres were built on the island.

    Every year, many Christians journey to Iona to make a pilgrimage, a meaningful journey to a place that is sacred. At Iona, they spend time praying, reading, thinking and relaxing. Most describe it as an extremely helpful time for them, enabling them to return to normal life with renewed energy and purpose.

Time for reflection

Ask the students, ‘Is there a place that is sacred to you?’

The immediate answer may be ‘no’, but let’s think a little more carefully.

Ask the students, ‘Are there places that relate to significant events in your life?’

Explain that an example might be the place where they were born. (You may wish to give more detail about your own place of birth and why it is important to you.)

Ask the following questions.

- Is there a special holiday that you remember?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- Have you ever visited a ruin, a church or a concert venue that holds vivid memories for you?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- Is there a view that you really enjoy?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- Do you remember meeting a person who is important to you? Where was that? Think for a moment.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Each of these could become a sacred place for us, a place to go on pilgrimage, even if only for an hour or so.

But why might we want to go on a pilgrimage? People go on pilgrimages for various reasons for an hour, a day, a week or even longer. Sometimes, they want to get out of a dull routine and go for a walk. Many of us did so during lockdown. Another reason may be to think through a problem that is bothering us. Walking sometimes seems to help settle things down. We might go on our own, to get away from others, or we might enjoy some company. If we’re feeling a bit down, we might go somewhere that holds happy memories for us.

Wherever we go, we make it a pilgrimage by going with the intention that something will have changed for us by the time we get back. Hopefully, we can return with renewed energy and purpose.

Let’s spend a bit of time planning a short pilgrimage for ourselves.

- Where shall we go?
- Why are we going there?
- When do we plan to go?

To get into the mood, you may wish to play a song about travelling home to the islands off the west coast of Scotland, where Iona is.


‘Flower of the west’ by Runrig, available at: (4.16 minutes long)

Publication date: June 2021   (Vol.23 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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