Island library ‘gem’ with Gaelic and Celtic art collection to open

The refurbished library at Iona Abbey will open this weekend. PIC: Church of Scotland.
The refurbished library at Iona Abbey will open this weekend. PIC: Church of Scotland.
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A little known library “gem” that lay hidden away above the cloisters of Iona Abbey is to open at the weekend after it was saved by a major renovation programme.

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

Dignitaries will travel to Iona for the official opening of the library this weekend. PIC: Gitta Zahn.

Dignitaries will travel to Iona for the official opening of the library this weekend. PIC: Gitta Zahn.

More than 300 books and manuscripts, including Gaelic items and examples of Celtic art, have been repaired by conservators on the mainland as part of the project, which received £100,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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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.”

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A digital catalogue of the collection will be hosted by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Iona has a long history of books and book binding.

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 Book of Kells, which dates from 800AD, may have been created on Iona and sent to its sister community at Kells in Ireland for safe-keeping during Viking invasions.

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

After falling into ruin, 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 in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Duke of Argyll will officially open the latest refurbishment of Iona Abbey Library on Saturday.

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