“Iona of St. Columba” is a small island in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It was a center of Irish monasticism for four centuries.
In its early history Iona lay within the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata. The island was the site of a highly important monastery founded by Columba in 563. The monastery played a crucial role in the conversion to Christianity of the Picts and the Anglo-Saxon in the 7th century. Iona became a renowned centre of learning and the center of Celtic Christianity.
Iona’s prominence was diminished over the 8th and 9th centuries as a result of Viking raids and the rise of other powerful monasteries, such as the Abbey of Kells. The series of Viking raids on Iona began in 794 and, after its treasures had been plundered many times, Columba’s relics were removed and divided two ways between Scotland and Ireland in 849 as the monastery was abandoned.
Although Iona was never again important to Ireland, it rose to prominence once more in Scotland following the establishment of the Kingdom of Alba in the later 9th century. The ruling dynasty of Alba traced its origin to Iona, and the island thus became an important spiritual center of the new kingdom, with many of its early kings buried there. Nonetheless the island was still a target for raiders, and was sacked twice by Kings of the Isles, in 986 and again in 987.
A convent for Benedictine nuns was established in about 1208, with Bethóc, daughter of Somerled, as first prioress. The present Benedictine abbey, Iona Abbey, was built in about 1203.