Beacon of ChristianityIona is a holy isle, an enduring symbol of Christianity in Scotland. St Columba and his followers came here from Ireland in AD 563 and founded a monastery that became the heart of the early Scottish Church. St. Columba’s fame attracted pilgrims to Iona from the 7th century onwards. The island also served as a burial ground for important and holy people from near and far. These included kings of Scotland, among them Macbeth (died 1057).
Columba’s monasteryColumba chose an isolated, rugged site for his monastery, but one that enabled him to maintain close links with his fellow Scots of Dal Riata. All that remains of his monastery is the great vallum, or enclosure bank, that defined the holy site, and Tòrr an Aba, ‘hill of the abbot’, where Columba is believed to have died in 597. The little stone building called St Columba’s Shrine, beside the door leading into the later abbey church, may date from the 9th century.
A place of pilgrimageBy the mid-12th century Iona was under the patronage of Somerled, ‘King of the Isles’. He built St Oran’s Chapel as a family burial place. His son Reginald refounded the old monastery as a Benedictine abbey. The church was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and built on a cruciform plan. The cloister lay to the north of the church. The chapter house was centrally placed along the east range, with living and dining areas above it and in the north range.