Early Christian abbey on Iona restored

The refurbished library to be opened by the Duke of Argyll.

By Jane Bristow

A library whose origins lie at the heart of early Christian learning in Scotland has been sympathetically renovated after two years of work.

The Duke of Argyll, Torquil Campbell, pictured right,  will officially open the refurbished Iona Abbey Library on Saturday 20 October, which representatives from the Church of Scotland and invited guests will also attend.

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Work has been carried out on behalf of the Iona Cathedral Trust, which was established by the Duke of Argyll’s great, great grandfather in 1899.

The National Lottery granted £100,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the scheme.

The Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald, Chairman of the Iona Cathedral Trust, said: “The trustees gratefully acknowledge the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund which will help preserve the library for future generations.

“We are also grateful to all who have worked with the Cathedral Trust to restore this gem of a library.

“The restored volumes form part of a collection of national significance and the refurbished library space offers a most congenial environment for reflection and study.”

As part of the project three hundred historic volumes have been repaired by conservators on the mainland.

A digital catalogue is also being created and this will be hosted by the University of the Highlands and Islands. The collection includes Gaelic manuscripts and examples of Celtic Art.

Local communities on Iona and Mull have been able to learn about the library during its closure with tours for schools and opportunities for children to try their hand at book-binding and calligraphy.

At the heart of St Columba’s monastery in the sixth century was a scriptorium in which manuscript copies of the Bible and other texts were made by the monks.

The famous Book of Kells, now on display at Trinity College in Dublin,  may have been created on Iona and sent to its sister community at Kells in Ireland for safe-  keeping during Viking invasions.

The Columban monastery was replaced in the 13th century by a Benedictine Abbey, which included a library situated above the Chapter House.

Eventually the medieval abbey became a ruin until the Abbey Church was restored by the trustees in 1913 and the domestic buildings, including the Library, were restored by the newly formed Iona Community, under the leadership of George MacLeod, in the 1940s and 50s.

Iona Abbey is one of Scotland’s top heritage attractions and the island of Iona regularly attracts more than 130,000 visitors a year.

The whole initiative has been supported by a number of organisations, including Historic Environment Scotland, the University of the Highlands and Islands, the Iona Community and the island of Iona Community Council.

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