Ewan Mathers’ beautiful photographs depict in detail the carvings of the restored cloisters of Iona Abbey, with text reflecting on the meaning of each design and information about the flora and fauna of the Isle of Iona and beyond, which most of the carvings represent. This use of symbols from the natural world reflects the close links of the early Celtic Christians with the land around them.
As a frequent visitor to Iona since childhood, Ewan Mathers observed the newly rebuilt cloisters being transformed over thirty years from rough pillars of fragile sandstone into a complete, cyclical, unified work of art. As an adult he began to look more closely at the carvings and from conversations with Chris Hall, the principal carver, to learn something of what they represent.
From these reflections emerges the concept of cloisters as a labyrinth. In ancient mythology these winding circular pathways were used as celebrations of life and death as well as places of meditation. The purpose was not to reach any physical point but rather to effect a change in the walker’s awareness. Cloisters too can bring about changes in consciousness if we allow them the time and are aware of the possibilities. They provide a safe environment in which to explore the deeper aspects of our existence.
Ewan Mathers spent many holidays on the Isle of Iona as a child, and later lived and worked on the island over a fifteen-year period. Several of his photographs have been published as cards and postcards, and some have appeared in other publications. The Cloisters of Iona Abbey, based on his personal obsession with these unique carvings, is his first book.