Iona: The Celtic music band talk about the inspiration of an 8th century illuminated Bible

Sunday 1st December 1991

Kerry Cole spoke to the co-founder of IONA, David Fitzgerald, about the group's 'Book Of Kells' album.


Few bands have made such a stunning recording debut as lona. Their haunting musical evocation of the cradle of this nation's Christianity 'lona' has won all kinds of plaudits here and in America. Their unique synthesis of Celtic roots music, rock and jazz has no near rival. lona, a three piece band at the time of the album's recording, has now expanded to five - Joanne Hogg (vocals, guitar), Dave Bainbridge (keyboards, guitar), David Fitzgerald (saxophone, flute), Nick Beggs (bass) and Teri Bryant (drums). But how does a band follow up a classic debut?

For their second album 'The Book Of Kells' the band have been inspired by a priceless 8th Century manuscript, a richly detailed script interwoven with spirals, interlacings, geometries and even a few whimsical absurdities. The Celtic style of the Irish monks who created this extraordinary work now lies open for lona's skilled musicianship to lift these exquisite pictures into another medium.

I asked David Fitzgerald, who took time out from his tour with Don Francisco to drop by the Cornerstone House office, to share something of the vision of 'The Book Of Kells'.

"I am greatly inspired by the art of that time," David explained. "It is interesting to note that today our culture is alive with Celtic art especially in jewellery. I was intrigued to come across a book with illustrations and analysis of The Book Of Kells in a shop alongside books on astrology, witchcraft and satanic activity. The thing that really grabbed me were the images inside, in particular the four images of the throne of God."

The Book Of Kells contains the four Gospels written in Latin. Its 340 leaves are made of thick-glazed parchment. Some of the ornate illustrations portray the Man, the Lion, the Calf and the Eagle. They represent the four creatures as described in Revelation and Ezekiel. The interpretation is that they are the Spirits behind the Gospels. There is also an unusual picture off the virgin and child. Christ is portrayed as being mature and full of wisdom as opposed to being a helpless babe seated on the lap of a wise all powerful woman. With excitement Dave reached into a large canvas bag and drew out an expensive copy of The Book Of Kells. He laid it out on the living room carpet. His enthusiasm was evident as he started to show me what he has discovered in this treasure.

Dave reflected on the book: "Kells is a journey for us, we are beginning to record the pieces. We have been working on music that illuminates this book. We are carefully considering the images set before us and transporting the ideas into music - it is almost an impossible task. I think of John on the Isle of Patmos. He created pictures with words in the book of Revelation. You are suddenly transported into the heavenly realm. If the power of words creates images and images take you even further then it's not too hard to say 'well, Lord, can we take this one stage on into a picture form of audible sound?'"

When I heard lona live in concert in the West Country recently I felt passionately that here was a band who could be the forerunners in a new move of prophetic Christian music calling the church back to a simple pure faith.

I asked Dave. What was being appropriated to the lives of the band members on this pilgrimage?

"In terms of our personal lives we have been greatly challenged. We feel we are touching and treading on holy ground. When we worship God in the true Spirit of God as Christians we begin to be elevated into trying to be channels of God through our music. We want to transmit visions of heaven. In the next project we are seeking to be a power force of creativity reflecting God's majesty. I pray so. I say that almost fearfully".

I was sure of the sincerity of this deep thinking man who is all too aware of the way spirituality can be locked into when carried in the form of music and art. Dave exposed the forces that are being transported in many current groups.

"There is one man in Talking Heads who openly confesses the spirit of voodoo in his music. He even has a percussionist who is a practising voodoo worshipper and it is their ultimate aim to transmit spirits into their audience whilst performing.

"With the growth of New Age I sense God telling me to be very careful what you absorb. I want people, when they hear lona, to be able to receive the truth of Christ unpolluted through our music."

With such a high vision I had to ask the inevitable 'what have you come up against in terms of opposition and misunderstanding?

With a mature gentle attitude Dave embraced the question.

"Unfortunately one or two people in the modern community of lona have misunderstood and have actively opposed us in word and deed. Some other Christian people have called us New Age", Dave laughed.

"We are anything but New Age. Indeed, I have had letters from people opposing my very strong stand for my fundamental belief that Jesus is the only way to God."

The occultic activity so rife in our nation today, its symbolism, devotion to crystal power, the green god, worship of tree spirits and nature spirits, sounds all too familiar to life in our land of-yester year. However, I am encouraged by a quotation 'that whilst all lands fell under the sword God lit a little light in an Island off the Hebrides and preserved His truth and from this Island the power of God was set aflame across Europe.' lona are desirous of taking their music and the truth of what they stand for into as wide an arena as possible. May God fan it into flame. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Kerry Cole
Kerry ColeKerry is the co-founder of Cross Rhythms with her husband Chris. They also planted a church called Cornerstone in Plymouth. As regular contributors to God TV, Chris and Kerry speak at a number of national conferences on Christian lifestyle, marriage and culture.


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