The Beauty of a Nunnery, Iona, Scotland

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The other substantial buildings on Iona are the ruins of a nunnery, you past these on the way to the abbey.  Built in 1203 by Reginald MacDonald of Islay.  Although Iona had been a focal point for Christianity in Scotland since St Columba’s arrival in AD563, the Viking’s raids of 795 through to 849 had a devastating impact on the island.  They burnt down one monastery and badly damaged the replacement building.  The surviving relics where taken to Dunkeld Cathedral in Perthshire for safe keeping.  A survey in 1549 listed that there were 48 Scottish Kings buried in the graveyard of the abbey and because of the this, it seems likely that Queen Margaret attempted to restore the abbey to full use in 1074, but only with a small amount of success.  So in 1200 Reginald thought he would like to turn Iona into an important centre of Christianity, to rival anything on the Continent.  What was left of the old earlier Columbian monastery was replaced with a very much grander Benedictine monastery built on the same site.


Reginald also built the Augustinian Nunnery, the one we are visiting, he installed his sister Bethoc or Beatrice as the first prioress.  Although the nunnery is a ruin, they are the best preserved mediaeval ruins of a nunnery in Britain, there were only two in Scotland.  The nuns followed a strict life of prayer and contemplation within the walls of pink granite, which in a way was like a miniature abbey.  The nunnery was known as the ‘black church’ due to the black robes the nuns wore.



The remains were never restored after the Reformation like the other abbey buildings, so now you can wander through the 700 year old ruins and try to image the workings of the building.  The nunnery was built as four ranges surrounding a cloister and seeing the abbey cloister, it must have been a wonderful place of calm and peacefulness.  The nunnery church would have been the tallest building, there was a refectory and chapter house, which on  an upper floor, would have contained a dormitory.  There are now lovely laid out gardens where the cloister once stood, but it still has that calming influence when you sit and survey the beautiful remains, before you make your way to the abbey.

From our visit 2013



10 Replies to “The Beauty of a Nunnery, Iona, Scotland”

    1. It really was amazing because the day before the weather was so bad they stopped the ferries sailing from Oban, so we had to wait until the next day and go on the ferry further up and then another ferry to Mull and then across to Iona. But it was worth it because the weather was glorious 🙂

    1. Yes it is a lovely ruin, it was just nice to sit and enjoy the gardens on the way back from the abbey. The next time we go, we will go further on to the beautiful beaches and have a look at the other side of the island, but that will not be for a couple of years, but looking forward to it already 🙂

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