Iona Pilgrimage Facts: Why Is It Important For Christians?

Joan Agie
Aug 23, 2023 By Joan Agie
Originally Published on Aug 23, 2023
Edited by Archita Chaplot
Fact-checked by Sonali Rawat
Here are some Iona pilgrimage facts about an ancient monastery founded by Saint Columba.

Ever stumbled upon the enchanting tales of the Western Isle of Iona? Tucked away in the vibrant heart of Scotland, Iona sparkles as a gem in the crown of Scottish Christianity. Every year, the island witnesses a lively parade of pilgrims, all drawn by its rich history and spiritual magnetism.

Way back, as Vikings began to stretch their rule over the west coast of Scotland, Iona established its presence in the grand empire of the British Isles. Its legend revolves around the enigmatic St. Columba, the island's monastic hero. Thanks to his tales, key aspects of Iona have been lovingly polished and preserved as a pilgrimage hotspot for centuries.

Get set to embark on an adventure to uncover the highs, the lows, and all the magical stories surrounding the Iona Isle. From its golden days as a beacon of knowledge in medieval Europe to its challenging times, Iona promises a roller coaster of tales that'll keep you on the edge of your seat.

Facts About The Iona Isle

Ever feel the itch to explore a place bursting with tales and traditions? Well, buckle up because Iona Isle isn't just any island; it's a treasure trove of stories and an abode for pilgrims. Dive into these snappy yet intriguing facts about Iona Isle. You might just find yourself packing your bags for an adventure!

  • Iona is a small isle, measuring just 3 mi (4.8 km) in length by 1.5 mi (2.4 km) in width.
  • Baile Mòr is the main settlement on Iona Isle, located on its eastern side in St. Ronan's Bay.
  • Iona Abbey on Iona Isle is historically important as the burial site for 48 early Scottish kings, including Kenneth MacAlpin and MacBeth.
  • In March 1980, the Hugh Fraser Foundation gave most of Iona and its surrounding islands to the National Trust for Scotland. The Iona Cathedral Trust owns the abbey and some church buildings.
  • About 170 people live on the island, with farming being the traditional occupation. Others craft items like pottery and jewelry or work in tourism.
  • Iona Isle often called Scotland's 'cradle of Christianity', attracts about 130,000 visitors annually.
  • Iona Isle has a school, post office, two hotels, a place called the Bishop's House, and the remnants of the Iona Monastery.
  • Founded by Saint Columba, Iona Abbey is a notable landmark on the island. While it may be a smaller medieval abbey than some others in Western Europe, it boasts rich architectural details and historic monuments.

The History Of Iona

Gear up for a quick jaunt to Scotland's very own Iona Isle, a place brimming with incredible tales from yesteryears! Known as the 'cradle of Christianity', this gem of a spot has whispers of history that are just too intriguing to miss.

Explore the fascinating history of this island, from the early days when Saint Columba reached its shores and how his efforts lead to the creation of a pilgrimage spot.

  • In 563 AD, Saint Columba and his 12 companions came from Ireland and founded a monastery in the southern part of Iona, now called St. Columba's Bay.
  • Saint Columba's community on Iona practiced Columban monasticism. His efforts led to the spread of Celtic Christianity across Scotland and Europe.
  • In the eighth century, Iona was a top artistic hub where sculptors, metalworkers, and artists creating manuscripts, thrived.
  • St. Columba died on June 9, 597 AD, on the island of Iona.
  • In 795 AD, Vikings began raiding Iona, taking many valuable relics from the abbey during their first attack.
  • After attacks in 802, 806, and 825 AD, the old wooden monastery in Iona was destroyed. It was replaced with a stone abbey for better protection. Important relics from Iona Abbey were first moved to Denkeld Cathedral in Perthshire, then to Kells in Ireland for safety.
  • In the mid-12th century, Somerled, the forefather of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, took over Iona's patronage. As the King of the Isles, he constructed St. Oran’s Chapel for family burials. Around that period, an Augustinian nunnery was also established close by.
  • As Norse control spread over Scotland's west coast, Iona joined the Kingdom of the Isles and the Kingdom of Alba in the late ninth century.
  • Around 1200 AD, Raghnall, Somerled's son, built the Benedictine abbey we see now. At the same time, he founded a nunnery, one of Britain's best-preserved from the medieval era.
  • The abbey was a major worship site until 1560. After that, it was neglected until 1938 when the Iona Community began restoring its tradition of work and worship.

Facts About The Iona Community

There's more to Iona than just its sparkling shores. Within its historical cloak lies a vibrant community with tales as colorful as a Scottish sunset.

Check out these facts to know more about Iona's community quirks and charms. This tight-knit spiritual community has contributed much to Iona's status, and these facts offer a glimpse into its impact on Christians around the world.

  • The Iona Community is a diverse monastery group with centers in Glasgow and the Western Isles, including two on Iona and one on Mull.
  • This community was founded to foster peace, justice, and fresh worship practices. It aimed to unite Christians from different backgrounds for cooperative living and work.
  • The community has 280 members and about 2,000 associate members globally. It also includes young adults, and members from various faiths like Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Quakers, and Roman Catholics, as well as those with no specific religious affiliation.
  • The Iona Community notably restored the Iona Abbey, which is now a prime spot for worship, retreats, and learning.
  • Every Wednesday, Iona Community members hike seven miles to the island's historic sites.
  • The Iona Community runs Wild Goose Publications, which offers books, music, and more that embody their spirit and values. Many individuals and churches use these materials to connect with the community's ideals.

The Significance Of Iona To Pilgrims And Christianity

Beyond its scenic beauty, there's a deeper pull that beckons souls from around the globe to Iona's sacred isle. Iona holds importance to different people for different reasons. Get set to explore the heart of Iona's pilgrimage through our final list of facts. Let's unearth the factors that make Iona so irresistibly enchanting and significant.

  • The Iona Abbey, originally from medieval times and rebuilt in the 20th century, is a significant place for religious activities and reflection.
  • Iona is called Scotland's 'cradle of Christianity', mostly because the abbey there was pivotal in spreading Christianity across Scotland and further.
  • People visit Iona for its spiritual heritage and inspiration, and to learn about Scotland's early Christian history.
  • Scottish kings were buried on the island, and its old crosses and artifacts highlight its deep cultural history.
  • The island's calm setting and natural beauty make it perfect for those seeking peace and a break from daily modern life.
  • Iona is a symbol of interfaith dialogue and understanding, drawing people from diverse religions to share and connect in its welcoming environment.

Did You Know...

St. Columba left Ireland after his involvement in the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne, not because he was banished, but as self-imposed penance. He then went to Scotland with his companions to establish the Iona Abbey.

  • Iona is thought to be the birthplace of the renowned Christian manuscript, 'The Book Of Kells', and the site where four Celtic high crosses, St. Matthew’s, St. Martin’s, St. John’s, and St. Oran’s, were made.
  • St. Columba's Shrine is a stone chapel shrine next to the abbey church door, possibly from the ninth or 10th century. It's believed that St. Columba was buried there in 597 AD.
  • Medieval monasteries, like Iona Abbey, had lots of wealth and gold. Vikings often raided them for their riches, food, and valuable texts.
  • Visitors have no permission to bring personal vehicles onto the island except for blue badge holders with issues that restrict their mobility. They can apply for a permit under certain exemptions.
  • The Iona Abbey Museum displays the ancient St. John's Cross and Norse-engraved burial markings from the 10th and 11th centuries. It's a special place to explore.

From the echoing footprints of St. Columba to the serene shores that have witnessed countless pilgrims, Iona's significance in Christian history is undeniable. But like every tale, there are both awe-inspiring moments and somber tales to reflect upon.

While the beauty and rich heritage of Iona draw many, it's essential to approach such a pilgrimage with understanding and respect. As you consider your next adventure, maybe it's time to let Iona's stories beckon you. Who knows, your tale might just become woven into its timeless tapestry.

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Written by Joan Agie

Bachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

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Joan AgieBachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.

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Fact-checked by Sonali Rawat

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature, Masters of Art specializing in English and Communication Skills

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Sonali RawatBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature, Masters of Art specializing in English and Communication Skills

Sonali has a Bachelor's degree in English literature from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University and is currently pursuing a Master's in English and Communication from Christ University. With considerable experience in writing about lifestyle topics, including travel and health, she has a passion for Japanese culture, especially fashion, and anime, and has written on the subject before. Sonali has event managed a creative-writing festival and coordinated a student magazine at her university. Her favorite authors are Toni Morrison and Anita Desai.

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