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Iona Abbey
The cloisters of Iona Abbey.
One of the oldest and most important religious centres in Western Europe, Iona Abbey was a focal point for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotlandmarker.


Iona, showing the location of the Abbey.
Enlargement, showing the location of the abbey and monasteries.
Iona Abbey is located on the Isle of Ionamarker, just off the Isle of Mullmarker on the West Coast of Scotlandmarker and marks the foundation there, by St. Columba, of a monastic community.


Early history

In 563, Columba came to Ionamarker from Irelandmarker and founded a monastery which grew quickly and soon became one of the largest religious centres in western Europe. Monks from Iona set up other religious centres as far away as Switzerlandmarker.

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. The Chronicle of Ireland was also produced at Iona until about 740.

In 806, everyone at the abbey was found dead. This has been attributed to a Viking massacre. Three other Viking attacks are recorded within eleven years of this date.

Medieval abbey

The majority of the existing Benedictine abbey dates from the medieval period. Building work began on the Abbey church in around 1200, almost certainly on or near the site of the original Columban church. Another Benedictine foundation, the Iona Nunnery, was established nearby in 1203.

The cloisters were added soon after in the early thirteenth century, and the refectory was built in the late thirteenth century. The Abbey church was substantially expanded in the fifteenth century.

With the advent of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, Iona along with numerous other abbeys throughout Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland were closed or destroyed. Many of Iona's buildings were demolished.

Modern abbey

St John's Cross in the Abbey museum.
In the 19th Century, Iona was granted to the Church of Scotlandmarker, which undertook extensive restoration of the site. In 1938, the Reverend George MacLeod led a group which rebuilt the abbey, and founded the Iona Community. This ecumenical Christian community continues to use the site to this day.

The site was much loved by John Smith, Leader of the Labour Party. After his sudden death in 1994, he was buried on Iona.

Items of Interest

Many early Scottish kings and chiefs, as well as kings from Irelandmarker, Norwaymarker and Francemarker are buried in the Abbey graveyard. (There are thought to be 48 kings there.) These include Duncan - the victim of Macbeth. The more recent grave of John Smith can also be seen.

Several high crosses are to be found on the Isle of Iona. St Martin's Cross (dated to the 8th Century) still stands by the road side. 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 Jedburghmarker-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. More recently Hall was responsible for carving John Smith's gravestone.

See also


  1. Information boards at Iona Abbey. Historic Scotland

External links

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