Gaelic: Innisnam Druidbneach
Island of the Druids
Isle of Iona was a pagan stronghold for centuries before the Christians arrived and claimed it as their own. The island’s Gaelic name is Innisnam Druidbneach, which translates as “Island of the Druids,” reflecting its long Celtic history.
Columba and Iona Abbey
Iona is often referred to as the “Cradle of Christianity” in Scotland. Saint Columba, an Irish missionary, arrived on Iona in May 563 AD, establishing a monastic community. Columba played a key role in spreading Christianity in the region.
The Iona Abbey, founded by Columba and his followers, became a center for learning and religious activity, and became one of the most important religious centers in early medieval Europe. The monastery played a pivotal role in spreading Christianity throughout Scotland and northern Britain. The famous Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels, is believed to have been produced on Iona during this period.
Viking Raids | 8th – 9th centuries
Iona faced several Viking raids during the eighth and ninth centuries, which led to the decline of the monastery and its eventual abandonment. The monks at Iona fled to other locations, taking with them precious religious artifacts, including the relics of Saint Columba.
Monastic Revival | 12th century onwards
In the twelfth century, a Benedictine Abbey was founded on Iona by King David I of Scotland. This marked a revival of monastic life on the island. The Benedictine Abbey continued to operate for several centuries, though it faced periods of decline and rebuilding.
The Scottish Reformation in the sixteenth century led to the decline of Catholic monastic institutions. The abbey on Iona fell into disuse and disrepair. In the nineteenth century, restoration efforts began, and the Iona Abbey was rebuilt as a center for the Church of Scotland. In the twentieth century, Iona regained its reputation as a place of spiritual significance, drawing visitors from various Christian denominations and other backgrounds.
Iona is known for its ancient burial grounds, including the Reilig Odhrain (St. Oran’s Cemetery), where numerous Scottish kings, chiefs, and other historical figures are buried. It became a traditional burial place for Scottish royalty.