Monday, 17 December 2012


St Columba's name has cropped up several times already in this blog, but nowhere is the saint's legacy more enduring than on the tiny island of Iona, just off the tip of the Ross Of Mull. St Columba crossed to Iona from Ireland in 563 with twelve companions and founded a monastery there, from whence missionaries went forth to the mainland to spread Christianity. Columba's monastery had a turbulent past, destroyed on several occasions by Norse invaders, then around 1200 Reginald MacDonald of Islay stepped in to turn Iona into a major centre of Christianity, replacing the Columban monastery with a swanky new Benedictine one. He also built an Augustinian Nunnery on the island, which retains its chancel, nave and parts of the Chapel roof. There are also nuns' graves still on view, including that of the last prioress, Anna, who died in 1543. To the west of the Nunnery is the Street Of The Dead, which leads from the Martyrs' Bay to the cemetery known as Reilig Oran, referred to as the "Westminster of Scotland" for the numer of kings buried there. The former Labour Party leader John Smith, who loved Iona, is also buried here. The cemetery adjoins St Oran's Chapel, which has a simple but beautiful Norman doorway. The Abbey Church on Iona became a cathedral in 1506, when Iona became the chief seat of the Bishop of the Isles. The Church of Scotland partly restored the church in the early 1900s. Behind the Cathedral is Dun-I, the highest point on the island, from which the view takes in more than thirty islands.

Faced with all this ecclesiastical grandeur, one should not forget the natural beauties of the island. These include the intriguingly named The Bay at ahe Back of the Ocean, from where there are views to the Spouting Cave, which as its name suggests produces a substantial fountain of sea spray when the conditions are right. Other beauty spots include Port Ban with its lovely white sands, Port na Curaich, or Harbour Of The Coracle, the landing-place of St Columba, and the remains of the Iona Marble Quarry, which ended production at the end of World War I. Iona is reached from Mull by a short ferry crossing from Fionnphort.

Map of the area.

© 2008 RichTea, via Wikimedia Commons

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