7.8 The Hermit's Cell

Today all that remains of the Hermit’s Cell is a rough stone foundation of an oval hut which would have been made of timber or turf. An entrance faces southwest to capture the most daylight.

As he tells stories from Colmcille’s life, the saint’s biographer Adomnán describes the island of Iona and the life of the monks:

‘One day, when St Columba was living on Iona, he set off into the wilder parts of the island to find a place secluded from other people where he could pray alone.’

Monastic life has always focused on the need for deep reflection and contemplation, away from the distractions of everyday life. The monks and nuns of Iona would have had a number of smaller cells in the remote parts of the island which were used as retreats. Some monks sought retreat on other islands - Adomnán mentions the monk Cormac Ua Liatháin ‘a truly holy man who no fewer than three times laboured on the ocean in search of a place of retreat yet found none.’

This site is known as the Hermit’s Cell and is said by some to be the place where Colmcille prayed. For some pilgrims to Iona, the site represents the importance of solitary reflection and prayer, a tradition passed down by the saint to his followers.

As with many places which are linked to saints and holy figures, there is no historical evidence for this connection.

The Gaelic name for this small area is Cobhan Cùilteach, meaning ‘secluded hollow’, and the first English name attached to the stone circle itself was ‘Culdee’ cell - a corruption of the word ‘cùilteach’. The circle’s age and original purpose are uncertain, however, and it is rather large for a solitary monk’s prayer hut. Yet the hollow is undoubtedly a tranquil spot and it is easy to imagine Colmcille, or his successors, retreating here for a period of quiet contemplation.

Hermits cell © Pleuntje
 

Getting there

Retrace your steps to the Machair and head straight over, towards the highest hill visible, which is Dun-I. The Hermit’s Cell is stone circle lying in a hollow south- west of Dun-I and just north of Cnoc Fada. Use a map, and look for stiles or gates to cross fences; the grid reference is 276 249.

From the Hermit’s Cell, either go back to the Machair and rejoin the road, or walk east, again using a map, to reach the Macleod Centre, opposite the Abbey and the main road.


 
   
  • Dunadd Fort, Argyll.
     

    7.1 High Crosses and Abbey

    Colmcille arrived on Iona in 563 having left Derry in Ireland. According to tradition, Colmcille looked for a place to build his monastery where he would not be able to see his homeland - hence his choice of Iona.

  • Dunadd Fort, Argyll.
     

    7.2 Vallum, Abbey and Cloister

    The Vallum marked the boundary of the Colmcille’s monastery on Iona. It is formed by two embankments on either side of a deep ditch. This raised ground is 335 metres long by 152 metres wide.

  • Dunadd Fort, Argyll.
     

    7.3 St Oran’s Chapel and Graveyard

    A cobbled track runs between St Martin's Cross and the wall of the graveyard. This is the only visible portion of 'The Street of the Dead', a medieval pilgrim route used for funeral processions.

  • Dunadd Fort, Argyll.
     

    7.4 The Nunnery/An Eaglais Dhubh

    The Nunnery was built at about the same time as the Benedictine Abbey - in the 13th century - by Reginald, son of Somerled, Lord of the Isles. His sister Bethoc was the first prioress.

  • Dunadd Fort, Argyll.
     

    7.5 Martyr's Bay

    Martyrs Bay is just south of the village centre, beyond St Ronan’s Bay. It is named in commemoration of the 68 monks of Iona slaughtered by the VIking raiders who attacked the island in 806.

  • Dunadd Fort, Argyll.
     

    7.6 Hill of the Angels

    According to Colmcille’s biographer, Adomnán, Cnoc nan Aingeal is where the saint was seen meeting with the angels.

  • Dunadd Fort, Argyll.
     

    7.7 St Columba's Bay

    Colmcille arrived in Iona from Argyll in 563 where he had been seeking permission to build a monastery on land belonging to the ruling clan - the Dál Riata.

  • Dunadd Fort, Argyll.
     

    7.8 The Hermit's Cell

    Today all that remains of the Hermit’s Cell is a rough stone foundation of an oval hut which would have been made of timber or turf. An entrance faces southwest to capture the most daylight.