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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.

Bethoc followed the Rule of St Augustine. Iona had one of only two Augustinian nunneries in Scotland (the other was in Perth) but there were many more in Ireland. It is likely that many of the first nuns were Irish. In Gaelic the nunnery was known as An Eaglais Dhubh (The Black Church), perhaps called this because of the nuns’ black clothing.

The Nunnery, with its cloister and church. is like a smaller version of Iona’s Abbey. The remains show what the Nunnery church – and Abbey – looked like in the 13th century. The best-preserved parts of the church are on the north and west side

The site would have originally included guest accommodation, a dormitory, a refectory and a meeting space – the Chapter House. The nuns also had land to the south of Loch Staonaig in the centre of the island and on other islands nearby which would have brought them some income.

A fine graveslab commemorating Prioress Anna Maclean who died in 1543 is on display at the Abbey Museum.

  • 7.1 The High Crosses and the 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. He also needed to find a place where he could live and work...

  • 7.2 Abbey, Cloister and Vallum

    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. ‘Vallum’ comes from the Latin word for the fortifications of a camp but this was...

  • 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 pilgrimage route used for funeral processions. St Oran’s Chapel is the oldest ecclesiastical building on Iona, and dates from the 12th century....

  • 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. Bethoc followed the Rule of St Augustine. Iona had one of only two Augustinian nunneries...

  • 7.5 Martyr’s Bay

    Martyrs Bay is just south of the village and pier. The derivation of its name is not certain. If the original name was Port nam Mairtear, it may allude to the slaughter of monks in one of the Norse raids of the 9th century. Or the word ‘mairtear’ may be...

  • 7.6 Hill of the Angels

    The centre of the island is fertile grazing ground called The Machair - machair meaning a plain or level field. Continue walking south, with the Sound of Iona on your left. The road turns right to lead west across the island. On the left, just before the gate onto the...

  • 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. From the Argyll coast, he would have presumably sailed along the south coast of Mull and landed on the south of Iona at...

  • 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...


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Bòrd na Gàidhlig

Great Glen House
Leachkin Road
Inverness
Scotland, IV3 8NW

(+44) 01463 225454
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Colmcille

Foras na Gaeilge, 2-6 Queen Street
Belfast
Northern Ireland
BT1 6ED

(+44) 028 9089 0970
colmcille@forasnagaeilge.ie

Colmcille

Foras na Gaeilge, An Chrannóg
Na Doirí Beaga
Gaoth Dobhair
Donegal, Ireland. F92 EYT3

(+353) 074 9560113
colmcille@forasnagaeilge.ie