Clach Brath, Baile Mor, Iona

Bullaun Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 286 244

Also known as:

  1. Clacha Brath
  2. Clachan-nan-Druidhean
  3. Day of Judgement Stone
  4. Druid’s Stone
  5. World’s End Stone

Folklore

On this curious, broken, basin-shaped rock — thought by some to have at one time played a part in an old cross whose remains are in the Abbey Museum — are two deep cup-shaped hollows, in which were once “three noble globes of white marble” that were used for oracular purposes and were said to have originated in druidical rites.  In Miss McNeill’s (1954) survey of the island, she tells that:

“near the edge of the path leading to St. Oran’s Chapel, there lies a broad, flat stone, with a slit and a cavity on its surface. Here there used to lie some small round stones which pilgrims were wont to turn sunwise within the cavity; for it was commonly believed that the ‘brath’, or end of the world, would not arrive until this stone should be worn through.”

The small stones that were once in the Brath were ordered by the Church to be thrown into the sea; but local folk replaced them with three other small stones, maintaining the traditional rites of this stone until they eventually stopped sometime in the 19th century.  But in Major-General James Forlong’s (1906) study, he tells of a somewhat earlier mythic origin to this old stone, saying:

“In Iona the Druids are said to have made the flat altar stone called Clachan-nan-Druidhean, or Druid’s Stone, the stone of fate or of the last day, with round stones fitted into cup hollows on the surface, which the pious pilgrim turns round.  The world will end when the stone is worn through.  The Culdee monks preserved this monument.”

And what little is left is still preserved to this day.  The curious “end of the world” motif was something that was grafted onto an earlier mythos: what Mircea Eliade called the “myth of the eternal return”, wherein Nature’s annual cycle —from birth, life to death and subsequent renewal, endlessly, through the seasons—was the original status, later transmuted by the incoming judaeo-christian cult of linear time and milleniumism relating to a literal “end of the world” when their profane myth of Jesus returning to Earth occurs.  We might also add that the stones which once rested into the hollows of the Clach Brath would likely have possessed divinatory and healing qualities, as comparatiove studies suggest.

References:

  1. Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return,
  2. Forlong, J.G.S., Faiths of Man – volume 1, Bernard Quarithc: London 1906.
  3. Holder, Geoff, The Guide to Mysterious Iona and Staffa, Tempus: Stroud 2001.
  4. McNeill, F. Marion, Iona: A History of the Island, Blackie & Son: Glasgow 1954 (4th edition).

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.334085, -6.393157 Clach Brath

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