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.

 

Getting there

Continue back south along the road, past the St Columba Hotel and the late 15th century Maclean's Cross. The Nunnery gate is directly in front of you, just before the road turns sharp right towards the school.


 
   
  • 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.