Iona Things to Do

  • The abbey
    The abbey
    by Drever
  • carvings on the capitals
    carvings on the capitals
    by Drever
  • Benedictine abbey cloisters
    Benedictine abbey cloisters
    by Drever

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    Iona made famous by St Columba

    by Drever Written May 3, 2014
    The abbey
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    Leaving Staffa our boat headed for the enchanting isle of Iona one mile off the coast of Mull. It has welcomed pilgrims since St Columba's arrival in 563AD. Small and windswept it contracts sharply with its neighbours in being low-lying and fertile. Its highest point, which has an Iron Age hill fort dating from 100BC, is only 331ft above sea level.

    Nearing the isle the abbey stands out as the most significant feature. Looming large in history its physical size is smaller. On going ashore we headed straight for a restaurant, as we were late for lunch. The isle’s 125 residents rely on the many visitors for income and run various establishments to cater for them. Afterwards we headed for the abbey – a short walk away.

    In 563 Saint Columba exiled with 12 companions from his native Ireland, because of an involvement in a copyright dispute, which led to a battle and many deaths, founded a Celtic monastery here. Its Church lived closely with the Jewish Law. Both men and women held authority in its monasteries.

    St Columba and his companions travelled widely and converted pagan Scotland and much of northern England to Christianity. Iona's fame as a place of learning and Christian mission spread through Europe and pilgrimages flocked to it.

    A series of Viking raids on the monastery began in 794. For safety in 849 Scotland and Ireland divided Columba’s relics between them and the abandoned monastery fell into ruin. During the 9th-11th centuries the cemetery became a royal burial ground. In 1549 an inventory recorded 48 Scottish, eight Norwegian and four Irish kings. None of these graves are now identifiable.

    The present Benedictine abbey dates from 1203 and a convent for the Order of Benedictine Nuns five years later with Beathag daughter of Somerled, Lord of the Isles, as first prioress. The monastery and nunnery flourished until the Reformation saw the buildings demolished and all but three of the 360 carved crosses destroyed. The nuns fled to a cave on the coast at Carsaig on Mull. The 'Nun's Cave' has crosses carved into its inner walls.

    Over the centuries the Abbey buildings have altered according to the demands of its monastic community. St Columba and his followers built a small monastery from wood, wattle and daub. Durable stone replaced the timber around 1200 with its transformation into a Benedictine Abbey. Many additions extended the building until the mid 16th Century.

    It is the sense of history here extending all the way back to St Columba that causes such a sense of wonderment. This led to the start of restoration of the Abbey buildings by the Iona Community in 1938. This Community united craftspeople and trainee ministers to renovate the site.

    Experiencing the physical renewal of the Abbey helped prepare the young ministers to achieve spiritual renewal when they returned to their inner-city parishes. The Abbey’s restoration completed in 1965 has since run as a residential centre with continued daily worship in its church.

    Unlike the rest of the Abbey buildings, the nunnery remains derelict. The pink granite walls that remain, despite being ruinous, are among the best examples of a medieval nunnery left in Britain.

    Today lona Abbey is a celebrated Christian centre. The Abbey and Nunnery grounds house one of the most comprehensive collections of Christian carved stones in Scotland. These range in age from 600AD to the 1600s. When St Columba died, the stone on which he rested his head as he slept formed his tombstone. A stone called 'St Columba's Pillow' thought to be this stone is in the Abbey museum.

    In recent years, the Iona Cathedral Trust found the financial load of maintenance of the Abbey increasingly difficult and passed this responsibility to Historic Scotland who now manage the Abbey and preserve its fabric.

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    IONA

    by amsor Updated Aug 5, 2010

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    IONA is more than 800 years old now, a interesting church and also a highcross and great museum, I liked it very much there.
    Go to Iona early in morning or late in afternoon,before the buses are coming with hundred tourists and there was lot of rush there.

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    ABBEY MUSEUM

    by mtncorg Written Sep 29, 2007

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    Original St John's Cross
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    Housed in the old Abbey Infirmary is a magnificent collection of early Christian carved stonework. Here you will find the original St John's Cross which was removed to here after a couple of windfalls. St Oran's Cross takes up much of the back area while many of the carved grave slabs from the Reilig Odhrain are displayed along the walls. The exquisite nature of the work may have you here for awhile. You also find the rock pillow that St Columba is supposed to have laid his head on every evening.

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    CELTIC HIGH CROSSES

    by mtncorg Written Sep 29, 2007

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    The original St Martin's Cross
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    Some of the most magnificent Celtic Christian sculpture can be found here on Iona. Originally there were over 360 crosses on the island but time has taken its toll on most. You will find three - well, one original, one replica and one stump - standing in front of the main entrance to the chapel: St Martin's Cross, St John's Cross (a replica) and the stump of St Matthew's, all dating back to the 8th to 10th centuries. Pilgrims would offer up a prayer at the crosses before proceeding to the St Columba's Shrine and the main chapel beyond. The original St John's Cross - and others - can be found in the Abbey Museum behind the Cloisters.

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    ABBEY

    by mtncorg Written Sep 29, 2007

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    The Abbey of Iona
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    Beautifully restored and excellently presented, the Iona Abbey dates to 1203, though it was enlarged and renovated over the next 300 years until the Reformation ended the days of Iona as a destination for pilgrims. The pilgrims brought wealth to the island, a wealth that disappeared over the next four hundred years. You'll find effigies of the 8th Duke of Argyll - responsible for the beginning of the restoration of the Abbey - and his wife in the south nave. She is buried there, though he is buried on the mainland. Crosses on the floor indicate graves of monks whom were uncovered in the restoration process, some buried with a dish of stones. Services are help in the chapel three times a day by the Iona Community. St Columba's Shrine is just to the left of the entrance to the chapel and he is believed to be buried either here or in the little rocky mound just to the west of the Abbey - Torr am Alba. The Abbey cloisters are on the north side of the chapel - normal tradition is for them to be on the south - because that was the side there was running water on. Entrance cost is 4 pounds. The Abbey is administered today by Historic Scotland.

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    SRAID NAM MARBH

    by mtncorg Written Sep 29, 2007

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    Street of the Dead
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    This is the Street of the Dead. It is a cobble stoned medieval lane that leads from the Abbey to Reilig Odhrain - the cemetery. The original street went beyond to near where the present ferry terminal is at a place called teh Port nam Mairtear (Port of the Dead). The old kings and chieftains in their coffins were carried over these stones on their final journeys.

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    ST ORAN'S CHAPEL

    by mtncorg Written Sep 29, 2007

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    Entrance to St Oran's Chapel
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    Lying in the middle of the Reilig Odhrain, St Oran's Chapel was built as a family burial chapel for Somerled or his son Reginald - both Lords of the Isles - back in the mid 12th century. Somerled developed a generous sized kingdom reaching from Skye to the Isle of Man. He died just as he was assembling an army to do war with Renfrew, the King of Scots, in the Clyde estuary.

    Many of the grave slabs have been moved inside the chapel to protect them from further weathering. The large recess on the south wall is thought to be the tomb recess for John, the last Lord of the Isles - 1503.

    St Oran was a cousin of St Columba and was, by tradition, buried alive in the grounds of the cemetery to consecrate it. They pulled him out after a few days and he was raving mad by one account. In another account, he told his rescuers that he had just seen Hell and it wasn't a bad place after all. In both accounts, poor Oran was sealed back up again.

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    REILIG ODHRAIN

    by mtncorg Written Sep 29, 2007

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    St Oran's chapel sitting in the Reilig Odhrain
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    This main cemetery on Iona is the final resting spot for the Lords of the Isles. There are some 60 kings buried here from Norway, Ireland, France and Scotland, as well. Most of the early Christian grave slabs have been removed to protect them, but as a result, the names of the individual graves has been lost. The cemetery remains active and you will find the former British Labor leader John Smith - the leader who preceded Tony Blair - buried here.

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    MACLEAN CROSS

    by mtncorg Written Sep 29, 2007

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    Maclean Cross
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    Commissioned by the clan chief of the Macleans and erected about 1500, this elegant cross stands some three meters high. The cross was carved from one stone and stood at the intersection of the Sraid nam Marbh (Street of the Dead) and a road coming from the port. Pilgrims on their way to the Shrine of St Columba at the Abbey would stop here to offer up a prayer before moving along. There were supposedly over 360 Celtic crosses that had been erected here on Iona, but most were destroyed by time and Protestant ire.

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    AUGUSTINIAN NUNNERY

    by mtncorg Written Sep 29, 2007

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    Visitors to the Nunnery ruins
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    The Nunnery has been in ruins since the Reformation, but you can get an idea of the scale of earlier operations. There is a nicely maintained garden flowering in the middle of it all. You will also find the ruin of the old parish church on the north side of the nunnery - a bit small, perhaps, but the locals might have been able to sneak into the other churches if they had to. The present parish church is located by the next tip.

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    the arcardes of the cloister

    by globetrott Written Sep 26, 2006

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    the arcardes of the cloister in Iona

    A large part of the old monastery was rebuilt and restored again recently and it is really interesting to walk around the cloisters and imagine what the life was there plenty of centuries ago in the high time of this christian out-post.
    You may walk around Iona and the old monastery free of charge and without restrictions during the day. You simply take the ferry and walk through all those places you are interested in !

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    remains of a glorious past in Iona

    by globetrott Written Sep 26, 2006

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    Iona - ruins of a glorious past

    St. Columba came from Ireland in the year 563 and founded his mostery at the small island of Iona, just about 100 meters off the coast of the island of Mull.
    The Danes burned down the monastery in the 9th century, but it was rebuilt and became episcopat between 838 and 1098.
    In 1203 Iona became a monastery of the Benedictinians. Various scottish, irish and even norwegian and french monarchs were buried in Iona, that used to be one of the centres of christianity of that time.
    Lateron it was destroyed several times and rebuilt again.

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    Iona - the old monastery

    by globetrott Written Sep 26, 2006

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    Iona and its old monastery was once upon a time one of the most important centres of christianity in Scotland. Many scottish kings had been buried there next to the tomb of St. Columba in the middle-ages.
    Nowadays Iona is mainly a museum and a major tourist-attraction, showing some remains of St.Oran's Chapel, a few celtic high crosses and remains of the monastery of Iona, where you may walk around freely and without restrictions during the day.
    Iona is an island, just about 100 meters from the island of Mull, a passenger-ferry is going to and fro all day long during daylight.

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    The Abbey

    by tvor Written May 12, 2003

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    The Abbey Cloisters, Iona

    The main reason to be on Iona is to see the restored ancient Abbey, founded by St. Columba. It became the center of Christianity for Europe for centuries and many ancient Kings of Scotland are supposed to be buried here. The restoration of the Abbey has been ongoing since about 1960. There are several very old outbuildings on the grounds including a shrine to St. Columba and St. Oran's Chapel. There are several old Celtic crosses in front of the building as well. The Abbey is used for services and the wooden benches and chairs inside seem at odds with the old stone. there is an old crypt in the Abbey for an early Duke of Argyle. The cloisters are sunny and peaceful and the little abbey gift shop has very helpful staff.

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    The Abbey

    by LHOON Written May 18, 2003

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    Iona Abbey

    Iona Abbey was a cradle of Christianity in the days of St Columba.
    Now splendidly restored, it is still a centre of spiritual life.

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