Posted by: vikingsinspace | April 30, 2012

I.4.01.3.05. Visit the Isle of Iona

Date Accomplished: 28 June 2011

The Medieval Road leading to Iona Abbey

I don’t believe Iona is a place that many American tourists visit.  My interest in the isle comes from the fact that this was essentially where Christianity began in Scotland, and it was through here that it spread into the North of England in the early Middle Ages.  St. Columba brought Christianity over from Ireland in 563 and established a monastery on the Isle.

Nothing remains of the Columban monastery.  What is still there today is primarily a thirteenth century building.  The monks of Iona were attacked by vikings in the ninth century, and the island had remained relatively vacant until the abbey was refounded in the thirteenth century.  Even still, there are many wonderful stone crosses and coffin lids from this time period that are still in Iona.  A few stand outside in the churchyard, but the vast majority of the medieval stone works are inside the abbey museum and the cloisters.

Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa

Our day on Iona actually began with a visit to Staffa to try some bird watching (my sister wanted to see puffins) and to have a look at the basalt formations of Fingal’s Cave.  We actually had gorgeous weather heading out to Staffa and a fantastic boat ride from Fionnphort (pronounced ‘Fin-a-fert’) on the Isle of Mull.  We weren’t able to find any puffins on the island, but on our way out, the boat took us by where some had been searching for food in the water.

Medieval Iona Gravestones

Staffa was a little rushed because we had to catch the boat back to Iona, but once on Iona we were able to take our time touring.  While I knew the abbey that was still there was not the early medieval one of Columba, I was still amazed at how many medieval stone carvings were still there – particularly the crosses.  While the remnants of two crossed had been brought into the abbey museum for protection, one still remained in the churchyard, and another, the McLean Cross, along the road to the abbey.

The McLean Cross

We were a bit surprised by the presence of the McLean cross and of other McLeans on the isle.  My brother-in-law is a McLean (although that is not how he spells his surname), so part of the reason we had visited the Isle of Mull and were even here was to discover some of his family history.  Aside from the cross, the notable finds on Iona were the gravestones of Anna McLean, Prioress of the Iona nunnery in the 16th Century, and another McLean gravestone in the museum that we didn’t even realize was a McLean until we had visited Duart Castle on Mull (the seat of the McLean clan).  The McLean history was a pleasant surprise to what was already a beautiful place to visit, and was of historical importance to me.

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