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Bunessan Scotland

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Information on the village of Bunessan in Scotland.

The Walk up to the Abbey

The Nunnery, Iona

Upon coming off the ferry, there are public conveniences, a café/restaurant and a gift shop on your left, the main street and village community on your right and the road to the Abbey straight ahead, up the hill.
Going up the hill, you pass a grocer's shop, a gift shop and the Post office, before following the road to the right into or past The Nunnery.
The village school, which takes primary age pupils, is on your left at the top of the hill.

The Nunnery
This building has no connection with Columba, having been founded by Reginald, Lord of the Isles in the early thirteenth century. He set up a community of Black Nuns, perhaps Augustinians, his sister Beatrice being the first prioress.
What we see today are the ruins of the Cloister, Chapel, Lady Chapel, Chapter House, Kitchen and Refectory.

St Ronan's Chapel
This building stands to the north of the Nunnery Chapel, and may have been the Parish Church prior to the reformation.

On leaving the Nunnery grounds you are walking alongside the paved way, of which no evidence now remains, which led from Martyr's Bay to the "Reilig Orain", and along which the remains of kings and chiefs were brought for burial.
Beside the road is Maclean's Cross, a single slab of stone some eleven feet high. The cross faces away from the present road, and on the reverse, which is actually the front, there is a representation of the crucifixion. The date of this cross has been the subject of controversy, as it is probably later than originally suggested - perhaps even early 16th century, according to some.

Iona Parish Church

On our left, is the present Parish Church, dating from 1828, which was probably built on the site of an earlier building - "Kill Chainnich" - the Church of Kenneth. The former Parish Church Manse has been converted into the Heritage Centre.

Reilig Orain and the Ridges of the Kings and Chiefs
Reilig Orain means the grave of Oran. Oran was an earlier Irish missionary and it was in this place that Columba chose to be buried.
There, on your right, is the enclosure containing the mortal remains of Oran, Columba and of forty eight Scottish Kings, from about 960AD onwards for some 200 years, and also four Kings of Ireland, one of France, eight Kings or Princes Norway and one King of Northumbria, their last resting places marked by stone slabs.

Many Clan Chiefs have also been interred here, and today, in the more modern section of the graveyard, those of Iona are still laid to rest in this hallowed place.

John Smith, Leader of the Labour Party, was laid to rest here in 1994.

St Oran's Chapel, within the graveyard, is reputed to have been restored by Queen Margaret in the 11th century.

St Martin's Cross

St John's Cross

The Cross above St Columba's Shrine

Between the Historic Scotland gatehouse and the front door of the Abbey you will pass two crosses - St Martins and St John's. St Martin's and MacLean's Crosses are the only complete ones left on Iona, most of the rest having suffered during the many times of trouble which afflicted the island. St John's is a replica of the original which is in the Abbey Museum
St Martin's Cross like so many others crosses was erected to the honour of St Martin of Tours and not as a tombstone. St Martin was well known throughout the land because of his most famous disciple, St Ninian, the founder of the religious community at Whithorn c 397AD.

Close to the crosses and to the right of the entrance to the Abbey itself is St Columba's Shrine, a very small chapel to his memory. Above the small altar is a beautiful modern cross.

The Abbey Church or Cathedral
This cruciform building as it stands today consists of nave, transepts and choir with a sacristy and an aisle or side chapels to the south. Throughout the years many alterations and repairs have been carried out, but as they are all in the same style and have used the same stone, which parts date from which era are almost impossible to determine.

The Altar

The Abbey Church, Iona

North End, Iona

With the refurbishment of the cloisters, and the conversion of various areas for modern usage, parts of this area look as if they could have been built today.
Inside the main body of the church you will find a mediaeval building, high, airy and full of atmosphere. No website can do justice to the intricacies of the building, therefore to gain full benefit from the various carvings and artefacts within the building it makes sense to purchase a guide to the building to lead you through the various parts of the Abbey.

In addition, on a fine day, it is a pleasant walk out to the north end of the island to the quiet calm of the sandy beaches, before returning to the ferry and the short sail back to Fionnphort.

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