Princess Royal visits Iona Abbey

HRH Princess Anne met island schoolchildren during her visit to Iona Abbey. Photo: Chris Watt Photography

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HRH Princess Anne joined celebrations at Iona Abbey this week marking the ancient site’s multi-million pound modern-day makeover funded by thousands of donations from well-wishers worldwide.

The Princess Royal visited the tiny Hebridean island on Monday for an official opening of the abbey’s new refurbished community and living spaces.

The £3.75 million renovation is one of the most significant in the abbey’s modern history making it more accessible than ever before.

The money was raised from 2,500 donations coming from people in 22 different countries. Donations ranged from £2 to £900,000, a nine-year-old from Falkirk who sold his toys was the youngest to donate to the appeal.

Princess Anne joined in celebrations marking the completion of mammoth renovation work at Iona Abbey. Pictured with The Princess Royal is the Reverend Catriona Robertson who is Warden of Iona Abbey. Photograph: Chris Watt Photography
HRH Princess Anne at Iona Abbey for a blessing of the renovation works
Photograph: Chris Watt Photography
Sun shining on Iona Abbey when its patron Princess Anne visited on Monday
Photograph: Chris Watt Photography

Abbey patron Princess Anne spoke at the special service celebrating the new facilities in the 12th century living quarters that include bedroom and community areas, a completely renovated refectory, a new kitchen and scullery with dumb waiter, rewiring, insulation, and a new plumbing system.

A lift has also been fitted and stairs removed giving full access, and there are dedicated bedrooms for guests with special access needs.

The work also means the abbey can now tap into the Iona Ground Source Heat Project which is part of the island’s low carbon initiative already serving hotels, the village hall, school, businesses and homes.

The Princess Royal added her name to a special illuminated manuscript style book that has the etched names of each donor – the book will eventually be digitised with stories included behind each name.

A freshly baked loaf of bread from the new kitchen and a special posy from schoolchildren was presented to the royal visitor who was piped around the abbey cloisters by three of the island’s young bagpipers.

HRH also joined the reading of five separate blessings across the new facilities, and met with the architects who had worked on the project.

And there was  filming for a special episode of BBC Songs of Praise to be aired on June 27.

The Princess Royal’s schedule also made time to visit Iona Village Hall, which has also been rebuilt following a major fundraising effort.

Speaking during the blessing, Princess Anne said: ‘Access is vital because the people who come to stay at the Abbey are the life of the building, forming a community committed to justice and peace. 1,500 years since St Columba’s birth, and almost a century since Iona Abbey was rebuilt in the shadow of the Great Depression, now, in the shadow of a world pandemic, the Iona Community is standing once again on its ancient foundations to meet another moment of historic crisis and deep need.’

Iona Community leader Ruth Harvey said it was a landmark moment in the history of Iona Abbey, and Christine Jones, who led the Iona Abbey Capital Appeal, said the reopening was a sign of hope. She said: ‘The stories behind each donation are of great generosity and how people’s lives have been touched by living in community. I think after this pandemic that is going to be a really important message.’

Warden of Iona Abbey Catriona Robertson, said: ‘The generosity of our supporters around the world means the residential area of the Abbey is now fit for purpose as an accessible, flexible and sustainable place of worship, warmth, community and comfort. Not only that, the abbey has gone green, setting us on a strong and sustainable footing for generations to come.’