In 563 A.D., St. Columba (Columcille) and 12 companions founded the monastery of Iona. It became a renowned monastic school of learning and was mainly responsible for the spread of Christianity throughout much of Scotland and northern England. It was here, it is believed, that the Book of Kells, one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts and now residing at Trinity College in Dublin, was produced in whole or in part.
After a series of Viking raids, the monastery was eventually abandoned in the 9th Century. In the early 12th Century, the present abbey and a nunnery were erected to house Benedictine monks and Augustinian nuns. They continued to flourish until the Reformation and fell into ruin. The abbey and many of the other monastic buildings, which may be visited today, were laregly renovated in the 20th Century The nunnery has been left in its ruined stage.
In front of the abbey stands the original 8th Century St Martin's Cross and a replica of the 8th Century St John's Cross. Original fragments of the latter now reside in the Abbey museum, as do a number of other high crosses. Also noteworthy on Iona is an ancient burial ground, called the Reilig Odhrain, which contains the 12th Century chapel of St. Oran (said to be Columba's uncle), restored at the same time as the Abbey itself and containing a number of medieval grave monuments of many early kings of Scotland, as well as kings from Ireland, Norway, and France; Torr an Abb, where St. Columba was said to have his writing cell near the abbey; St. Columba's Bay on the south end of the island where, according to legend, the saint and his companions first landed; Carn cul ri Eirinn, the "hill with it's back to Ireland," which Columba climbed to make sure that Ireland was not visible; Martyr's Bay, where 68 monks were massacred by Vikings in 806 A.D.; and St. Ronan's Church, which had served as the island's parish church from the 1200s until the Reformation.
In recent years, researchers from various departments at the University of Glasgow have independently conducted work on various aspects of Iona’s history, producing important articles, monographs and edited volumes. In 2012, the group created the Iona Research Group to spark collaboration and generate new multidisciplinary projects. Since then, the project team has continued to work together to develop new research projects concerning the monastery of Iona as well as the history and archaeology of the rest of the island.
After viewing the Additional Photos of the Abbey on this page, return to the Saints - Scotland page to view other Iona pages.
Historic Scotland: Iona Abbey and Nunnery
Journey to Iona
Iona is a small island located one mile southwest of the larger Isle of Mull in Argyll and Bute off Scotland's West coast. Iona is accessible only by ferry from Mull, which is accessible by ferry from Oban on the Scottish mainland.
Undiscovered Scotland: Iona Abbey
Undiscovered Scotland: Iona Nunnery
Undiscovered Scotland: Relig Odhráin & St Oran's Chapel
Undiscovered Scotland: Infirmary Museum
Trinity College: The Book of Kells
Ordnance Survey Map (NM286245)
Information on Iona may be found at the Historic Scotland Iona Abbey and Nunnery and Iona Community Council websites. Additional information on Iona and information on Mull may be found on the Welcome to Mull and Iona website. Information on the Oban area may be found at the Visit Oban website. Ferry information may be found on the Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) Ferries website.
Additional Photos of Iona
Iona Abbey and Environs
Boarding the CalMac Ferry at Fionnphort for Iona
Descriptive Sign at Iona Abbey
Iona Abbey 2004
Iona Abbey 2007 from Torr an Abb
Sign for Torr an Abb, St. Columba's Writing Cell
Torr an Abb Overlooking the Abbey
Entrance to St. Columba's Shrine
Interior of St. Columba's Shrine
Ruins of Bishop's House Built in the 1630s
The Vallum, the Original Earthwork That Enclosed the Early Monastery and Abbey
Iona Abbey Interior and Cloisters
The Choir Viewed from the Nave
Oldest (12th Century) Wall of Abbey
Grave Slabs Inside Abbey
Effigy of an Abbot in the Choir
Carving on Capital of Arch
Cross Marking Where a Monk Was Buried
West Highland Graveslabs in the Cloisters
Iona High Crosses and Infirmary Museum
Sign for Original St. Martin's Cross Outside Abbey
St. Martin's Cross with Torr an Aba in Background
Close-Up of East Face of St. Martin's Cross
St. John's Cross Replica with Abbey and St. Columba's Shrine in Background
Original St. John's Cross Carved 750-850 A.D. in Abbey Museum
Earliest High Cross on Iona: Original St. Oran's Cross Carved 750-800 A.D. in Museum
Portion of Original St. Matthew's Cross Carved 800-950 A.D. in Museum
Maclean's Cross with Current Parish Church in the Background
West Face of Maclean's Cross Showing Crucifixion Scene
East Face of Maclean's Cross Showing Plaitwork and Foliage
The Abbey's Infirmary Museum
Graveslab of Monk in the Museum
Graveslabs in the Museum
St. Columba's Pillow in the Museum
The Abbey from Dun I, Iona's Highest Point