Iona (from Icolmkill: the island of St Columba). Iona is 3.5 miles long by about 1.5 miles wide, and is a green and pleasant place, with a third of the island being good land while the rest is rough pasture. There are several fine sandy beaches on both sides of the island, and the views from Iona are spectacular. The only settlement is Baile Mor. There are few prehistoric sites on the island, but the scant remains of an Iron Age fort survive [NM 265245]. The island was visited by St Columba in 563, and he founded a Christian monastery here, on the site of which is Iona Abbey.
Iona was a property of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, but passed to the MacLeans at the end of the 15th century then to the Campbell Earls of Argyll, along with much of Mull. Most of the island was gifted to The National Trust for Scotland in 1979, although the Abbey and other historic sites are owned by the Iona Cathedral Trustees. The island is very fertile, and at one time supported a population of over 500, but nowadays it has dropped to about 90.
Iona Abbey: Situated on the beautiful and peaceful island of Iona, this is where St Columba came to form a monastic community, and converted the Picts of mainland Scotland to Christianity. He died in 597, and Columba's shrine, within the Abbey buildings, dates from the 9th century.
The abbey was abandoned after raids by the Vikings, but reestablished by Queen Margaret, in the 11th century. Some of the surviving abbey buildings date from the early 13th century after it had been refounded as a Benedictine establishment in 1203 by Reginald, son of Somerled, Lord of the Isles, and it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The buildings fell into disrepair after the Reformation. The abbey church and cloister were rebuilt from 1910 for the long Community, and it is possible to stay at the Abbey.
The magnificent St Martin's Cross and St John's Cross-the latter a replica-stand just outside the church, and the museum houses a splendid collection of sculptured stones and crosses, one of the largest collections of early Christian carved stones in Europe. Between the abbey and the nunnery is MacLean's Cross, a fine 15th-century carved stone cross.
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