Iona Abbey is one of the oldest and most important religious centres in Western Europe. The abbey was a focal point for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland and marks the foundation of a monastic community by St. Columba, when Iona was part of the Kingdom of Dál Riata.

In 563, Columba came to Iona from Ireland with twelve companions, and founded a monastery. It developed as an influential centre for the spread of Christianity among the Picts and Scots. The Book of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript, is believed to have been produced by the monks of Iona in the years leading up to 800. In 806, Vikings massacred 68 monks in Martyrs' Bay, and Columba's monks returned to Ireland, and a monastery at Kells. Other monks from Iona fled to the Continent, and established monasteries in Belgium, France, and Switzerland. In 825, St Blathmac and those monks who had returned with him to Iona, were martyred by a Viking raid, and the Abbey was burned. However, it was probably not deserted. Its continued importance is shown by the death there in 980 of Amlaíb Cuarán, a retired King of Dublin.

Iona had been seized by the King of Norway, who held it for fifty years before Somerled recaptured it, and invited renewed Irish involvement in 1164: this led to the construction of the central part of the Cathedral. Ranald, Somerled's son, in 1203 invited the Benedictine order to establish a new Monastery, and an Augustinian Nunnery, on the Columban Monastery's foundations. Building work began on the new Abbey church, on the site of Columba's original church. The following year, in 1204, the site was raided by a force led by two Irish bishops. This was a response by Ireland's Columban clergy to the loss of its connections and influence at this significant site founded by St Columba.

The Iona Nunnery, a foundation of the Augustinian Order (one of only two in Scotland), was established south of the Abbey buildings. Graves of some of the early nuns remain, including that of a remarkable Prioress, Anna Maclean, who died in 1543. Clearly visible under her outer robe is the rochet, a pleated surplice denoting the Augustinian Order. The Nunnery buildings were rebuilt in the fifteenth century and fell into disrepair after the Reformation.

The Abbey church was substantially expanded in the fifteenth century, but following the Scottish Reformation, Iona along with numerous other abbeys throughout the British Isles were dismantled, and abandoned, their monks and Libraries dispersed.

In 1899 the Duke of Argyll transferred ownership of the ruined remains of the Abbey and Nunnery sites to the Iona Cathedral Trust, which undertook extensive restoration of the Abbey church. In 1938, the inspiration of Reverend George MacLeod led a group which rebuilt the abbey, and founded the Iona Community. The surrounding buildings were also re-constructed during the 20th century by the Iona Community. This ecumenical Christian community continues to use the site to this day.

Many early Scottish kings (said to be 48 in total), as well as kings from Ireland, Norway and France, are said to be buried in the Abbey graveyard. However, modern scholars are sceptical of such claims, which were likely mythic associated with increasing the prestige of Iona. Numerous leading Hebrideans, such as various Lords of the Isles and other prominent members of West Highland clans, were buried on Iona, including several early MacLeod chiefs.

Several high crosses are found on the Isle of Iona. St Martin's Cross (dated to the 8th century) still stands by the roadside. A replica of St John's Cross is found by the doorway of the Abbey. The restored original is located in the Infirmary Museum at the rear of the abbey.

The contemporary Jedburgh-based sculptor Christopher Hall worked for many years on carvings on the cloisters of the abbey, which represent birds, flora and fauna native to the island. He also was commissioned to carve John Smith's gravestone.

References:

Comments

Your name



Details

Founded: 563 AD
Category: Religious sites in United Kingdom

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Peter Occardi (2 months ago)
What is there to say about this iconic Abbey? Clearly a working church - so needs to be treated with the reverence it's due. I particularly thought the small museum was extra special as I got it to myself for 5 mins and could feel myself being pulled back hundreds of years.
Agnes Peignen (3 months ago)
Beautifully restored Abbey, very interesting audio guide, I wish I could have had the guided tour. Do not forget to visit the museum. It’s almost too new for my taste but after visiting the nunnery you get a vision of how it must have been when the community started rebuilding it.
Teri Daulton (4 months ago)
Amazing! The entire island is an event, and the Abbey and nunnery are the pinnacle. Such an amazing history with much still to see and experience. If you're trying to decide if it's worth the ferries and buses to get here and back, the answer is yes!
Maddi Naish (13 months ago)
Fantastic place. Really lovely buildings and really well interpreted. Definitely worth a visit if you're on the island. Staff we are really friendly.
Delia McLaughlan (13 months ago)
Very beautiful and peaceful. Fascinating history . Architecture amazing. People and staff kind and helpful . Defiantly return here. Heaven on earth . Spiritual .
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château d'Olhain

The Château d'Olhain is probably the most famous castle of the Artois region. It is located in the middle of a lake which reflects its picturesque towers and curtain walls. It was also a major stronghold for the Artois in medieval times and testimony to the power of the Olhain family, first mentioned from the 12th century.

The existence of the castle was known early in the 13th century, but the present construction is largely the work of Jean de Nielles, who married Marie d’Olhain at the end of the 15th century.

The marriage of Alix Nielles to Jean de Berghes, Grand Veneur de France (master of hounds) to the King, meant the castle passed to this family, who kept it for more than 450 years. Once confiscated by Charles Quint, it suffered during the wars that ravaged the Artois. Besieged in 1641 by the French, it was partly demolished by the Spaniards in 1654, and finally blown-up and taken by the Dutch in 1710. Restored in 1830, it was abandoned after 1870, and sold by the last Prince of Berghes in 1900. There is also evidence that one of the castles occupants was related to Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan, the person Alexandre Dumas based his Three Musketeers charictor d'Artagnan on.

During the World War I and World War II, the castle was requisitioned first by French troops, then Canadian and British soldiers. The current owner has restored the castle to its former glory.