Submitted by Owen McCafferty on Wed, 2010-01-13
Iona is thought to be the first Christian site in Scotland. As such, this tiny island (1 mile wide, 3.5 miles long), now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, is very popular with pilgrims and the thousands of tourists who come to visit the Abbey in the summer months.
If you want to feel its magic, the best time to be on Iona is either early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the hundreds of day-trippers who pour off the ferry every day. If the area around the Abbey gets too busy for you, then find one of Iona’s sandy beaches and relax. The south and western parts of the island are not so well visited, but well worth seeing.
Iona, off the coast of Mull, is a top Christian pilgrimage destination, thanks to the patronage of St. Columba, who here founded a monastery and ‘Celtic Christianity’. A number of additions were added until the mid-16th century. However, in 1560 the abbey was left derelict due to the reformation in Scotland and would remain so until in 1899, ownership was handed over to the Iona Cathedral Trust. Restoration was started in 1902. The Iona Community established in 1937 continued the restoration, which was completed in 1965.
Surrounding the chapel is the Reilig Odhrain, the sacred burial ground, which is said to contain the graves of 48 Scottish kings, including Macbeth’s victim, Duncan, as well as four Irish and eight Norwegian kings. The stones you see today are not the graves of kings but of various important people from around the West Highlands and Islands. The most recent is that of John Smith, leader of the British Labour Party from 1992 until his untimely death in 1994.
For many centuries it has been an island of special significance for all Christians. In AD 563, Columba and his followers arrived here from Ireland to spread the gospel in Scotland and the north of England. Religious buildings are in the care of Historic Scotland. St Columba landed here in the year AD 563, turning Iona into the place of pilgrimage and Christian learning that it remains today. The island is rich in flora and fauna: the meadows are filled with orchids and yellow flag irises and there is a variety of birdlife, including fulmar, kittiwake, rock dove, yellowhammer and the elusive corncrake. We will also offer a tour by local boat over to the Trust-owned island of Staffa to visit the famous Fingal’s Cave, with its entrance of basalt ‘organ pipes’ stretching 69 metres (227 ft) into the core of the island.
An ancient rubbish tip on Iona has provided the first confirmed trace of Bronze Age activity on the island. Discovered by National Trust for Scotland archaeologists last September, the prehistoric midden pit was eroding out of a sandy bank of a burn on the west side of Iona. Within the dark soil were lots of limpet and whelk shells, burnt and unburnt animal bones, shards of pottery, flint and a large cobble stone tool. This is a very significant find for Iona. It is well known for its early Christian history, however, we now have the first evidence which shows that there was settlement even earlier.
With its stunning landscape of white sandy beaches and dramatic changing light, Iona is one of the most sacred sites in Britain. It was here in AD 563 that St Columba and his followers arrived from Ireland to spread the gospel throughout Scotland and northern England. Iona is still a centre for Christian pilgrimage, and its atmosphere of spirituality and the sense of serenity continue to inspire visitors and those who still live and work on the island.
A silent lonely island of high peaks, waterfalls, sandy beaches and dramatic views, Iona is one of the the most beautiful of the Hebridean islands. Located off the south-western tip of Mull in north-west Scotland, the island has a tradition of pilgrimage and mission dating back to St Columbia who landed here in 563 before setting out to convert Scotland to Christianity. Monks later established a monastery and it was here that the Book of Kells is believed to have been transcribed. However, when the Vikings raided the islands, the monks fled to Ireland with the book which can now be seen in Dublin’s Trinity College. Following the monks’ return, the monastery prospered until its destruction in the Reformation.
In 1910 a group of enthusiasts called the Iona Community built a Benedictine Abbey on the original Celtic monastery’s site and it is still a flourishing spiritual community today, holding regular courses and retreats.
Iona Abbey and Nunnery is a restored abbey and monastic buildings retain their spiritual atmosphere, and house a superb collection of over 180 medieval and religious carved stones. The nearby remains of the 13th century nunnery are the idyllic location to experience the tranquillity of this sacred isle. Iona Abbey – Admission: adults £2.80; child (under 16) £1.20; reduced £2.00. Open seven days a week. Closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day. The Abbey is a 15 minute walk from the ferry. Iona Abbey and Nunnery Isle of Iona, Argyll PA76 6SQ Scotland
Tel: +44 (131) 6688800
Saint Columba Welcome and Exhibition Centre – run by Historic Scotland
Fionnphort, Isle of Mull – Tel: 01681 706400. Email hs.i…@scotland.gov.uk.
Don’t miss going to Staffa Trips on M.B. Iolaire of Iona with Davie Kirkpatrick. He sails twice daily. The trip takes 3 hours including at least one hour ashore on Staffa, weather permitting. Staffa Trips Tigh-Na-Traigh Isle of Iona Argyll PA76 6SJ Scotland Tel: +44 (1681) 700358
Fax: +44 (1681) 700358
Iona is small enough to get around easily on foot, or you can hire mountain bikes at Finlay Ross (Iona) Ltd, in Baile Mór village, Tel. 700357, Fax. 700562, for around £10 per day.
How to get here:
Passenger ferry form Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull. Ferries to the Isle of Mull from Oban, Lochaline and Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsular. Five-minute ferry ride from Mull, £3
Iona Heritage Centre and Tourist Information Centre displays on crofting, fishing and Islanders’ life over the past 200 years. Crofting, fishing, historical events, famous visitors and an outstanding section on the geology of the area are well described and displayed. Iona Heritage Centre and Tourist Information Centre Isle of Iona Argyll PA76 6SJ Scotland Tel: +44 (1681) 700576
Fax: +44 (1681) 700328
The National Trust for Scotland Iona Sw Of Mull Argyll, Bute & Loch Lomond Telephone : 0844 4932212
Isle of Iona Community: http://www.isle-of-iona.com/
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