Iona Abbey Pilgrimage

Iona Abbey was the home of St. Columba, whose missionary work in the 6th century brought Celtic Christianity to Scotland. Now home to the ecumenical Iona Community, it remains a place of Christian pilgrimage, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.


The 3.4 square mile island of Iona, in the Inner Hebrides, with a population of 125, has been occupied since the first centuries AD.  In 563 AD, the exiled Irish missionary St. Columba established a small monastic community on Iona. Through the work he did here Celtic Christianity spread throughout Scotland and eventually on to Europe.

Although little of Columba's monastery remains, we know that its basic layout consisted of a small church, individual monastic cells (which may have been made of stone in a beehive shape or constructed of wood) and communal buildings.

Viking raids in the early ninth century AD caused most of the monastic community to move to Kells in Ireland. Later, in around 1200, a Benedictine abbey and nunnery were established here and  it is these restored buildings that survive, notwithstanding its dissolution and ruination at the Reformation. In the 1938 Lord George MacLeod, inspired by the founding traditions of Iona, founded the ecumenical Iona Community in 1938. The Community restored the abbey buildings from 1938 to 1965.

The Site

West of the abbey, there is a rocky area on which the foundations of a small building have been excavated - this could be St. Columba's cell, which was "built in a higher place".

The 14-foot-tall St. Martin's Cross, dating from the early centuries AD, still stands in its original position in front of the abbey. The sculptures are badly weathered, but the figurative scenes can be identified as (from top to bottom): the Virgin and Child, Daniel in the lions' den, Abraham and Isaac, David with musicians, and a scene that may be Samuel about to anoint David.

The abbey museum exhibits the original St. John's Cross, and grave markers, some carved with Norse runes, dating from the 10th or 11th century.

The site of Columba's monastery is now occupied by the Benedictine abbey church, known as St. Mary's Cathedral, built around 1200 in Norman style. The oldest part is the north transept. The adjoining reconstructed Romanesque cloister is decorated with modern reliefs on the capitals and a modern bronze sculpture in the central garden.

From Iona Abbey, the "Street of the Dead" runs westward to St Oran's Cemetery (Celtic: Reilig Odhrain), Scotland's oldest Christian graveyard. Many sixty Scottish kings were buried here,   including Kenneth MacAlpin, who unified Scotland, and Macbeth. All the tombstones were thrown into the sea at the Reformation.

The Iona Community

The Iona Community is a monastic-inspired organization from different  denominations with three centres in the Western Isles - two on Iona and one on Mull - and a mainland headquarters in Glasgow.

For daily visitors, it conducts daily services in the abbey church, provides guided tours of the abbey and operates the Iona Heritage Centre and a coffee shop (open daily 10am-4:30pm).
Every Wednesday, members of the Community lead a 7-mile hike to the island's holy and historic spots. There are also regular workshops on Christianity. Modest room and board is available for those who participate in worship, common meals, education, social activities and chores.

Getting There

Regular ferry services operate from Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull (10 minutejourney). To get to Mull, take a ferry from Oban on the mainland to Craignure (45 minutes), followed by a 1 hour bus ride to Fionnphort. Cars are not permitted for visitors. There are a few hotels on the island
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Glasgow is the nearest large airport to Oban and is approximately 90 miles away. There are good links from the airport to the train and bus terminals in the city.

By Train

By rail, the journey takes you along the world-famous West Highland Line. First ScotRail runs trains three times a day from Glasgow Queen Street Station to Oban (two on Sunday). For times and prices visit the Trainline site or First Scotrail. To plan your timetable go to Timetables Online.

You can also phone National Rail enquiries on 08457 484950 

Hours / Fees

Daily 9:30am-5:30pm (closes 4:30pm Oct-Mar)
Adult £4.70, Child £2.35, Concession £3.70


ADDRESS - Iona, Scotland PA76 6SQ
TEL - 01681 700 512

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