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St Oran’s Chapel – Iona

This chapel stands in its own burial ground, Reilig Orain, just south west if Iona Abbey.  It derives its name from Oran, a relative and follower of St Columba. 

The chapel is a plain, oblong building measuring 9.14 m by 4.88 m internally.  The body of the chapel may belong to the 9th or 10th centuries, but the west doorway is an insertion dating from no earlier than the mid-12th century.  None of these dates supports the tradition that Queen Margaret (d. 1093) built the chapel.  An elaborate monument, probably of late date, has been inserted in the south wall of the interior, and a number of monumental slabs are preserved in the chapel, the roof of which has been restored. 

Kenneth MacAlpin was buried in the Reilig Orain in the mid-9th century, as, it is said, were succeeding Scottish kings until Macbeth (d. 1057) and, traditionally, kings of Ireland, Norway and France.  None of the monuments of the kings remain and modern scholars are sceptical of such claims, suspecting that they might have been invented to enhance Iona’s image.  The island is the resting place of numerous leading Hebrideans, such as various Lords of the Isles and other prominent members of West Highland clans, including several early MacLeod chiefs.  Many of the monuments of medieval clan chiefs survive.  The politician John Smith, Leader of the Labour Party. who greatly loved Iona, was buried here after his sudden death in 1994.

The probable original wall of the graveyard is now below ground level, but has been found by excavation.  Two railed enclosures – ‘The Ridge or Tombs of the Kings’ and, to the east of it, that of the Chiefs – have existed only since 1868 when the Iona Club collected the monuments and enclosed them for protection. 

The oldest stone now surviving in the graveyard protrudes eastward from the row of slabs in the Ridge of the Kings.  It is a pink granite slab bearing a simple, incised, Celtic cross of the 8th or 9th centuries.  Two posts of a corner-post shrine were found in 1957.

                         Grid Reference NM 286 245