Iona - the Christian story
Each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists and worshipers make the pilgrimage to Iona, a tiny island separated from the west coast of the Isle of Mull by a mile-wide channel. The island's religious timeline began in 563 AD, when Irish-born St Columba landed here to begin spreading Christianity across the islands and Highlands of Scotland. The saint founded a monastery on Iona before he died in the year 597, establishing the island as one of Europe's great pilgrimage destinations. The following 15 centuries have given rise to an extensive collection of chapels, carved crosses and archaeological remains, mostly close to the tourist route between the jetty and the abbey, which we've tried to make sense of below. On top of all the religious sites, Iona has a heritage centre and some beautiful natural features which we dip into on a separate walk page. Unsurprisingly then, you can't really do the island justice in a day, though most people try. At the very least, aim for a reasonably early ferry.
Name: Iona religious sites ★★★★☆
Location (abbey): 10-min walk north from the jetty at Baile Mòr, G.R.: NM 287245 ///rationed.lasted.sheep. The other sites are between the abbey and jetty.
Open (2017): Daily
Cost (2017): Abbey, museum and Michael Chapel: £7.50 (adults), £4.50 (children), free for Historic Environment Scotland members. Other sites including nunnery: Free
|[Inside the nave]|
List of religious sites
Sites are listed from south to north, i.e. in the order you'll come across them after stepping off the ferry.
1. Nunnery & St Ronan's Church
Ruined Augustinian nunnery built by Reginald MacDonald of Islay in the 1200's. An adjacent, simpler ruin is St Ronan's Church, Iona's parish church between 1200 and the Reformation of 1560.
|[St Ronan's Church]|
3. MacLean's Cross
Finely carved stone cross dating to the 1400's.
4. Iona Parish Church
The island's parish church from 1828 to the present day.
|[Iona Parish Church]|
|[Iona Parish Church]|
5. St Oran's Chapel & Reilig Odráin
Attractive chapel built around 1150 by Somerled, a powerful warlord of the Isles, standing in the middle of a much older graveyard where dozens of Scottish, Irish and Norwegian Kings are buried.
|[St Oran's Chapel & Reilig Odráin]|
|[Inside St Oran's Chapel]|
|[Grave slabs in the chapel]|
6. Iona Abbey
The focus for it all: a Benedictine monastery also built by Reginald MacDonald in the early 1200's. This replaced most of the original Columban monastery, which was in ruin following successive Viking raids. The present abbey is surrounded by a number of impressive carved crosses, tiny St Columba's shrine, and...
|[Stained glass window]|
|[Tomb of the 8th Duke of Argyll]|
|["Road of the Dead" between abbey and graveyard]|
|[St Columba's shrine]|
7. Abbey Museum & Michael Chapel
...a small, atmospheric museum behind the abbey housing several carved stones / crosses. Next door is the Michael Chapel, where worship took place while the new abbey was under construction.
Getting to Iona
Access to this small island is by 10-minute CalMac ferry (several times daily) from Fionnphort on the west coast of the Isle of Mull. Cars aren't normally allowed on Iona without a permit.
|[View across the Sound of Iona from the abbey]|