Iona is a small island off the coast of Mull in the inner Hebrides, only around 3.5 miles (5.6km) long, and 1 mile (1.6km) wide. This area has unique geological structures and rocks found nowhere else in the world. It's oldest rocks date back over 2000 million years, and are the oldest to be found in the British Isles. It is also known for its green marble, which can be seen in the present communion table in the Abbey. The first records of the marble quarry on Iona date back to 1693.

The name Iona relates to Saint Columba, an Irish monk who sailed to the island in 563. The Gaelic name of the island is 'I Chaluim Cille' - 'the isle of Colum cille', Columba's Latin name meaning 'dove of the church'. Columba's biographer Adomnán calls it the Ioua insula - the yewy island. 'Iona', which is the Hebrew word for 'dove', may be a medieval misreading of 'Ioua'.

A sense of the island's spiritual significance predates Columba. Before his time, the island was known as 'Innis nam Druidbneach' - 'the Isle of Druids'. The island may well have been a primary centre of Druidic learning, and was recorded as the chief seat of the Druids in Scotland.

Columba established a monastic community on the island, and became a significant centre of Celtic Christianity for Scotland and the north of England. It became the head of a confederacy of monastic houses, including the community at Lindisfarne established in 635.

The community on Iona came under attack from the Vikings several times in the late 8th century. In 804 some of the survivors sailed for Ireland and settled at Kells. The monastery there gives its name to the famous 'Book of Kells', long associated with Columba. Some believe that it was created on Iona and later taken to Kells, although it is not possible to determine its exact date.

Iona also became the burial place for Scottish Kings in the 9th - 11th centuries. According to legend, forty-eight Scottish kings, eight Norwegian kings, and four Irish kings were buried there, including Duncan and Macbeth of Scotland.

The Abbey on Iona was originally built as a Benedictine House in the 12th century. It was sacked during the invasion of the Danes, but the monastic community there was revived in 1200. At the same time, an Augustinian nunnery was established there. These communities came to an end with the Reformation, and the buildings gradually fell into ruin. Repair work on the Abbey began in the 19th century, and it was restored as a place of worship by 1910.

In 1938 George McLeod founded the Iona community, an ecumenical community dedicated to the pursuit of social justice, and to fostering dialogue between different Christian denominations and exploring more inclusive approaches to worship.

Iona: a Virtual Tour by Dr. Deborah Vess
Iona: Sacred Isle of the West by Barry Dunford
The Geology of Mull by Rosalind Jones
The Geology of Britain by Anna Grayson
The Book of Kells: An Illustrated Introduction to the Manuscript by Bernard Meehan