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The Isle of Iona: Cradle of Scottish Christianity

Iona, Scotland

The tiny isle of Iona, of the west coast of Scotland, has a big history. In AD 563, Irish monks arrived, bringing Christianity to Scotland. They worked on the illustrated gospels in the Book of Kells and fled after a Viking massacre in 806. Today visitors enjoy its peaceful abbey and evocative views.

Complete Video Script

On the far west of Mull, another ferry makes the short crossing to the isle of Iona.

Iona is tiny, but with a big history. Just one village, three miles long, 150 people, almost no cars. It's famous as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland.

The year was 563. A nobleman, who became St. Columba, fought a battle over in Ireland. He won, but was so sickened by the bloodshed that he left his homeland, vowing never to return. According to legend, this was the first piece of land he came to out of sight from Ireland. He stopped here and built a church, which eventually became this abbey.

Iona became a center of Celtic Christianity. From here, St. Columba's monks spread the gospel throughout Scotland. This remote little island was a center of art and learning back when most of Europe was almost illiterate — mired in relative darkness.

The exquisitely illustrated Book of Kells — this is a copy on display in Dublin — is perhaps the finest piece of art from Europe's early middle ages. Monks wrote it here, on Iona, in the eighth century.

Over the next centuries, Columba's monastic community grew in religious importance. The abbey became the burial place for chiefs and kings. According to legend, dozens of ancient kings — Scottish, Irish, and even Scandinavian — rest here.

After many generations, in about the year 800, Viking raiders were terrorizing coastal communities all across western Europe, including Iona. After one terrible massacre — 68 monks were killed right here on this beach — the survivors packed up their treasures, including the precious Book of Kells, and returned to Ireland.

Today, a thoughtful calm pervades Scotland's holiest of islands. After centuries of pillaging, little remains of the original abbey. But if you're interested in tranquility and a bit of meditative peace, Iona is a fine place for a break from your busy itinerary.