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Iona Abbey influential in the spread of Celtic Christianity throughout Europe

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 24th, 2011
Catholic Online (

St. Columba founded the Iona Abbey in 6th century Scotland. Located on a small island less than four square miles, the abbey was highly influential in the spread of Celtic Christianity from its inception. It remains a popular pilgrimage site among the faithful.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Iona has been occupied by humans since at least the Iron Age, as pottery has been found in a fort on Dun Cul Bhuirg. In 563 AD, the Irish missionary St. Columba was exiled from his home country due to his involvement in a civil war. The saint established a small monastic community on the island, but he died just four short years later. The Iona Abbey remains highly influential in the dissemination of Celtic Christianity throughout Scotland, and eventually on to Europe.

Viking raids drove away most of the monks at Iona at the beginning of the 9th Century. Around 1200, a Benedictine abbey and nunnery were established on the site. These heavily restored buildings are what visitors to the island see today.

Iona Abbey was dissolved at the Reformation and fell into ruin. Restoration only began at the beginning of the 20th century by a duke of Argyll. Inspired by the Celtic tradition of early Iona, Lord George MacLeod founded the ecumenical Iona Community in 1938.

The Community later restored the abbey buildings from 1938 to 1965, keeping alive the ancient spirituality of this beautiful Scottish isle.

Visitors to Iona should be aware that itis a small island of the Inner Hebrides with a population of only 125 inhabitants. Peaceful and beautiful, Iona features rock-strewn meadows leading into sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters. Only a few structures dot the landscape.

Only Iona residents can bring cars to the island, but the island is so small that they are rarely needed. Most visitors to Iona come for the day, but there are a few good hotels on the island for those who want to extend their stay.

The most impressive remains from the early Celtic period are the high crosses, all dating from the middle or late 8th century. The most impressive of these is the 14-foot-tall St. Martin's Cross, which still stands in its original position in front of the abbey. It is decorated with serpent and boss designs on one side and biblical scenes on the other.

St. John's Cross has been moved to the abbey museum, with a replica placed in front of the abbey. Ornamented with Celtic interlace and serpent and boss patterns. Several fragmentary crosses can also be seen in the museum, along with grave markers, some carved with Norse runes, dating from the 10th or 11th century.

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