Iona Abbey – Contributing to the Spread of Christianity

The small island of Iona, situated in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, is well known for its natural beauty and tranquility. The island is regarded as having a significant place in the history of Christianity in Scotland and the fascinating buildings of Iona Abbey stand as testimony to a less than peaceful past.

The history of Iona Abbey is long and varied, starting off with the time that St. Columba from Ireland landed on Iona in 563 AD and founded the monastery which would later become Iona Abbey. Viking raiders attacked the monastery repeatedly between 795 and 825. During a raid that took place in 806 the monastery was burnt down and most of the resident monks were killed. In 818 a stone monastery was built to replace the destroyed one, but this new building also became a target of Viking attacks and eventually a decision was taken to move the surviving relics and valuables to Dunkeld Cathedral in Perthshire and Kells in Ireland for safekeeping. This was done and the monastery was abandoned.

During the 12th century the isle of Iona started gaining a reputation as a place of learning and as a base for spreading Christian teachings throughout Europe, which resulted in the island becoming a prime Christian pilgrimage site. The monastery was converted into a Benedictine Abbey and in 1203 the Iona Nunnery was established nearby. The island came to be considered as holy, and as a result more than forty kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway were laid to rest in the ancient burial ground of the 12h century St. Oran chapel situated near the Iona Abbey.

In the 19th century, Iona was ceded to the Church of Scotland and after extensive restoration of the abbey buildings in 1938 the Iona Community was founded to continue the tradition of worship at Iona Abbey. The present day Iona Community are scattered throughout Scotland, England, Wales, Australia, Germany, Malaysia and the United States. Nevertheless, the Iona Community considers Iona Abbey to be their base and pilgrimages are often held there, to which all are invited.

Iona Abbey is open all year round and is run by Historic Scotland. Visitors to the Isle of Iona can tour Iona Abbey, St. Columba’s Shrine, the Abbey church and nunnery cloisters, as well as Torr an Aba – the site where St. Columba did much of his writing, which offers a lovely view over Iona Abbey. The Michael Chapel and the Infirmary Museum are situated to the north-east of Iona Abbey. The museum houses a superb collection of ancient carved stones. Visitors can also visit the ancient royal burial ground. Certainly, visitors to Iona Abbey and the Isle of Iona will gain insight into an interesting aspect of the history of Scotland.