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Iona (īōnˈə) [Irish Ioua=island] or Icolmkill [Irish,=island of Columba of the church], island (1985 est. pop. 267), 3.5 mi (5.6 km) long and 1.5 mi (2.4 km) wide, Argyll and Bute, NW Scotland, one of the Inner Hebrides. Separated from the island Mull by the Sound of Iona, it is hilly, with shell beaches. Farming, livestock grazing, and fishing are carried on, but tourism is the main industry. The island is famous as the early center of Celtic Christianity. St. Columba (see Columba, Saint.), with his companions, landed there from Ireland in 563. They founded a monastery, which was burned by the Danes in the 8th or 9th cent. Iona was a bishopric from 838 to 1098. In 1203 a Benedictine monastery, of which there are remains, was established. The cathedral, formerly the Church of St. Mary, dates from the early 13th cent. The cemetery of St. Oran's Church contains the graves of many monarchs of Scotland, Ireland, Norway, and France. A group called the Iona Community (est. 1938), dedicated to reviving the spirit of Celtic Christianity, has restored many ancient buildings.
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Iona (Scotland)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Iona emerged out of obscurity in 563 CE, when a prominent Irish church leader named Columba (c. 521–597) suddenly left his former career and began a new one on a small, isolated island off the western coast of Scotland. Columba was born in Donegal in northern Ireland and received the best education available at the time. Raised in the church, he was ordained to the priesthood at the age of twenty-four and became a monk. After an epidemic struck his monastery he returned to Donegal, but he spent most of his time wandering across Ireland, founding new churches and monasteries. His education, oratorical skills, and forceful personality had placed him on an upward trajectory, but suddenly in 563, for reasons not altogether understood, he dropped everything and moved into a self-selected exile.

Iona became the disseminating point for the evangelizing of Scotland. Columba gained the permission of King Brude, a Pagan, to preach to the Picts, the people who inhabited Scotland. Columba would establish more than a hundred churches through the rest of his life. In the years that followed, he established more than one hundred churches there in Alba, as Scotland was then called. Columba was most successful among the Western Isles, where today there exist the ruins of many churches dedicated to him. To the northeast, farther removed from Iona, it was more difficult to make inroads among the heathen. But in later years Columba’s followers reaped the fruit of the seeds he had sown with his preaching.

Iona continued to flourish as a missionary and monastic center through the seventh century. From its community, a group of monks led by Saint Aidan (d. 651) moved to establish the community on the island of Lindesfarne. It lost some of its leadership role through the eighth century as papal authority was asserted over the British Isles. In the ninth century, however, Vikings destroyed the community. It would never regain its ecclesiastical prominence. A monastery was again established on the island in the thirteenth century but was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s.

The monastic buildings on Iona fell into ruin over the centuries after the Reformation. Then in 1938, George MacLeod (1895–1991), a prominent Scottish Presbyterian minister from Glasgow, launched a new ecumenical Christian communitycommitted to seeking new ways of living the Gospel in the contemporary world. Moving with some colleagues to Iona, the community initiated its effort by rebuilding the abbey on the island as a base of operation. The community was to be radically ecumenical, multinational, and racially inclusive, and to work for the renewal of the church in every aspect of its life. Through the last half of the twentieth century, the community became an influential organization. Besides a residential community that maintains the rebuilt monastic complex, the Iona community has a number of nonresidential members throughout the British Isles and associate members around the world.

The existence of the Iona Community has brought the island back to life as a destination for Christian pilgrims. Adding to the community’s impact has been the more recent rise of Celtic Christianity. Modern devotees of the Celtic Christian movement see a unique form of Christianity as having developed in the British Isles, beginning in the second century and continuing through the early Middle Ages when Latin Christianity, as represented by the Roman Catholic Church, was imposed on the land. Modern Celtic Christians see the original Iona center established by Columba as an integral part of their historical foundation.


Clancy, T., and G. Markus. Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995.
Ferguson, Ronald. George MacLeod: Founder of the Iona Community. London: Harper Collins, 1990.
Herbert, Maire. Iona, Kells and Derry: The History and Hagiography of the Monastic Family of Columba. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
MacLeod, George F. Only One Way Left. Glasgow/ Edinburgh: Iona, 1964.
Ross, David. The Story of Saint Columba. Lanark, UK: Waverley Books, 1999.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


an island off the W coast of Scotland, in the Inner Hebrides: site of St Columba's monastery (founded in 563) and an important early centre of Christianity. Area: 854 ha (2112 acres)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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