St Ninian’s Isle – 16 September 2019

Here is St Ninian’s Isle, connected to the Shetland mainland by a tombolo, a large sand bar. The wind is whipping up the sea, and birds circle over the island. This picture encourages the viewer to taste the salt in the air, and feel the sharp wind on the face. Here is a far away place that is sacred, holy land. The invitation is to cross over, to remain and pray, as others have done in the past.

The first Christian presence in Shetland was most likely connected to the ‘papar’, Irish monks who lived in small communities across Shetland and Orkney. However St Ninian, whose day it is today (16 September), has long been venerated here. There are a number of places in Shetland dedicated to him. Not much is known about Ninian, the apostle to the southern Picts of Galloway, whose life and missionary activity were celebrated across central and eastern Scotland where many churches carry his name.

This week I will be on retreat in Shetland with those to be ordained deacons at Michaelmas. Our prayer will be that on these beautiful islands, we too will meet with God and in some small way be changed.

The picture is by Judith Yarrow.


Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
you islands, and all who live in them.

Isaiah 42:10

But Ninian selected for himself a site in the place which is now termed Witerna, which, situated on the shore of the ocean, and extending far into the sea on the east, west, and south sides, is closed in by the sea itself, while only on the north is a way open to those who would enter.

Therefore this light set upon a candlestick began to those who were in the house of the Lord to shine forth in heavenly signs and radiant flames of virtue, and to enlighten darkened minds with the clear and burning word of the Lord, and to warm the cold.

Ailred, Abbot of Rievaux, Life of St Ninian

Almighty God, through the preaching of your servant Ninian you made the light of the gospel to shine in our land. May we prove to you our thankfulness for his life and labours by following the example of his zeal and patience; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Scottish Episcopal Church, Collect of St Ninian