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St Ronan’s Chapel – Iona

A little to the north of the nunnery on Iona, but today sharing the same grounds, is an oblong, rubble-masonry building constructed of the same mix of red and grey stone as that used in the nunnery itself.  This is St Ronan’s Church.  It is believed to have served as the parish church of Iona from around 1200 until the Reformation in 1560.  Thereafter, islanders had no formal place of worship until a new parish church was built in 1828.  St Ronan’s was restored in 1923 and again in 1993, and is now home to the Nunnery Museum.  The Chapel has been re-roofed to house many of the interesting carved stones that were formerly found in the grounds of the Abbey.

Ronan, to whom the church is dedicated, died in 737.

The church is 11.3 m long and 4.9 m wide internally.  The doorway was in the west end of the north wall, but the north-west angle was destroyed by 1896.

A hoard of gold objects, consisting of a finger-ring, parts of a fillet and a small fragment of wire, were found at the south-east corner of the church on 29th September 1923, during earth removal.  The circumstances of the find suggested that it had been a temporary deposit, possibly made in the 13th century

In 1992 excavations took place inside the church with the aim of gaining an understanding of any floor deposits before the church was refurbished as a museum.  Several distinct stratigraphic phases were identified dating from the early Christian period to the present day:

  • earliest phase – a cemetery of east-west extended inhumations
  • succeeded by a small rectangular building with clay-bonded walls and lime-mortar wall-rendering
  • this building then replaced by St Ronan’s church itself.

When St Ronan’s was built, the walls of the early clay-bonded building were levelled to low butts and used as foundations for its east and south walls.

In post-reformation years, once the church was no longer used for worship and was in ruins, it became the site of a large number of post-medieval burials.

                         Grid Reference NM 285 241