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.
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