One of the most enigmatic paintings to hang in the national gallery is Man of Sorrows by the eminent Scottish pre-Raphaelite painter William Dyce. What makes this 19th century painting so striking is that it depicts Jesus in the highlands of Scotland, yet nobody seems to be able to explain why. For hundreds of years spiritual seekers from a variety of faiths have been drawn to this country. It is hard to pinpoint an exact reason so rather than try and explain the phenomena then here are a few spiritual highlights that you could investigate further if intrigued.
Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin is home to a community of Catholic Benedictine monks in the only medieval British monastery still being used for its original purpose. The atmosphere of quiet reflection and of work dedicated to the glory of God is the same now as it was in the thirteenth century, when a community of monks first came to this part of Moray. The Abbey welcomes day visitors of all faiths to enjoy the beauty of its architecture and its setting but also organises longer retreats where guests can experience the true monastic life. This is an easy visit from Willowvale which is located just down the coast.
Samye Ling is a monastery and international centre of Buddhist training, known for the authenticity of its teachings and tradition. It was founded in 1967 and was the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre to be established in the West. The centre is primarily residential, offering instruction in Buddhist philosophy and meditation within the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also a centre for the preservation of Tibetan religion, culture, medicine, art, architecture and handicrafts. There is a shop, Tibetan Tea room and day visitors are welcome to listen to prayers and stroll the gardens as long as they are respectful of meditation times. Unfortunately pets and children are not welcome at the temple so you could ensconce them all at Branxholm Park House just a few miles away where they can enjoy a games room, cinema and a hot tub while you meditate in peace!
The island of Erraid is a stunning retreat that has been owned by the internationally renowned Findhorn foundation for over 30 years. Its location, just off the Isle of Mull, is a spectacular and peaceful escape from the pressures of daily life. The focus here is on community living and a simple lifestyle of work, play, celebration and meditation, undertaken with an open heart and a willingness to listen to spirit. You can visit the island by walking along the sandy beach that connects it to Mull at low tide. To decide how much to pay for a longer stay you perform a short meditation during which you tune in to the amount of money you would like to give to the community in exchange for your time on the island. For more conventional pricing then how about Kellan Mill on the main island of Mull, close enough for you to still do a day trip.
One of the most impressive spiritual sights in the whole country are the Callanish Standing Stones. This majestic structure has puzzled academics for years, its exact purpose still a mystery. Walking through the awe inspiring site believed by some to be some form of celestial observatory is enough to inspire a sense of devotion in even the hardest atheist. Druids and moon worshippers tend to congregate here as an alternative to much more controlled sites like Stonehenge on dates such as the equinox or solstice. You don’t have to be a pagan to appreciate the power of watching the sunrise over the stones and they are but a short drive from Tigh Bhisa Blackhouse. Alternatively, if staying at Taigh nan Eilean you can take a sail from Miavaig Harbour with SeaTrek and approach Callanish from the sea – the route which the original builders of this moment would have had to do.
For those wishing to attend mass on holiday, the Catholic Church, especially in South Uist and Barra welcome visitors and the Presbyterian Church and Free Church of Scotland offer the opportunity to experience the traditional psalm singing known as Gaelic precenting. This is an extremely powerful and emotional experience where the congregation is led by a lone singer in a call and response style, unaccompanied by any musical instruments. After all that worthiness why not head for the bright lights of Stornoway and Peninsula Cottage. The hot tub is conveniently out of sight so you can kick back with a beer after your religious endeavours!
Photo Credit: Man of Sorrows by William Dyce