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RCAHMS Inventory; Argyll Volume 4 - Iona

Date 1973 - 1982

Event ID 1121873

Category Project

Type Project


'This volume, the fourth of a series covering the former County of Argyll, is devoted to the island of Iona. It contains well over 500 drawings and photographs, which are integrated with the text and accompanied by two coloured plans and five detailed elevations and sections of Iona Abbey.

The Early Christian monastery founded by St Columba was one of the most famous in the British Isles and the volume summarises a decade of survey and excavation of its buildings and enclosing earthworks. The collection of over one hundred early carved stones, the largest in Scotland, is recorded by a complete series of scale drawings; more than half of the stones are illustrated for the first time, and important new evidence is presented about the structure and ornament of the celebrated High Crosses. The artistic relationships of the sculpture are discussed in an introduction to the volume and the history of the monastery is fully described.

Iona Abbey was the most important and elaborate ecclesiastical building in the West Highlands, while the ruins of the nearby Nunnery are among the most complete of their type in Britain. Both buildings are analysed in detail, with particular emphasis on their varied sculptural ornament, and a feature of the volume is the use of early drawings and photographs to record their appearance before modern restoration. Many of the fine late-medieval graveslabs, effigies and crosses are shown in specially taken photographs. Also recorded are the Romanesque chapel of St Oran, with its famous burial-ground, and a number of other small chapels and burial-grounds.

Secular monuments of the island include a Bronze Age burial-cairn, an Iron Age hill-fort, deserted townships and shielings, the village and croft-houses of the improvement era, and the marble-quarry with its machinery, all of which are recorded and placed in their historical setting.'

'We, Your Majesty's Commissioners, appointed to make an Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions connected with or illustrative of the contemporary culture, civilisation and conditions of life of the people in Scotland from the earliest times to the year 1707, and such further Monuments and Constructions subsequent to that year as may seem in our discretion worthy of mention therein, and to specify those which seem most worthy of preservation, humbly present to Your Majesty the following Report, being the Twenty-second Report on the work of the Commission since its first appointment.

We record with grateful respect the receipt of the gracious message that accompanied Your Majesty's acceptance of the volume embodying our Twentieth Report with Inventory of the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments of Lanarkshire.

We record with great regret the death , on 25th November 1979, of Mr Angus Graham, MA, FSA Mr Graham served the Commission with distinction for nearly forty years, at first as Secretary (1935-57) and latterly as a Commissioner (1960-74), and continued to give us valuable assistance in our work until the time of his death.

Following our usual practice we have prepared a detailed, illustrated Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of the island of Iona, being the fourth volume of the Inventory of the former County of Argyll, which will be issued as a non-Parliamentary publication.

Iona has a unique significance for the history of the Christian Church and of Scotland, and many of its monuments are substantial and well preserved. The Inventory presents for the first time a comprehensive record and analysis of the island's antiquities, including the Columban monastery, the High Crosses and other carved stones of the Early Christian period, the 13th-century Augustinian nunnery and the medieval Benedictine abbey, as well as such diverse structures as the prehistoric fort of Dun Cui Bhuirg and the marble quarry. The detailed investigation of these monuments has brought a considerable amount of new information to light, and some of the conclusions now put forward differ materially from those of earlier writers.

As required, we append to this Report a list of monuments which we consider most worthy of preservation. In view, however, of the outstanding historical importance and archaeological potential of Iona, we also recommend that the entire island be given statutory recognition as an area of archaeological importance.

We wish to acknowledge the assistance afforded to us, during the preparation of this Inventory, by the Trustees of the 10th Duke of Argyll, owners until 1979 of the greater part of Iona, and by their tenants, especially Mr K C Tindall and Mr W S Tindall; and also by the Iona Cathedral Trust, owners of the principal ancient sites on the island. The protracted fieldwork required has placed unusual demands on the occupiers of Iona Abbey, the Iona Community, and we are grateful to its founder, the Very Rev. the Lord MacLeod of Fuinary; to its successive leaders, the Rev I J Reid and the Rev G Brown ; to successive wardens of the Abbey, the Rev K Edwards, the Rev J Harvey, the Rev B Crosby and the Rev D Graham; and to individual members, including Mr D Donnelly, the late Mr M Forsyth, Mr A MacKechnie and Mr G Muckart Our thanks are due also to other residents of Iona who have furnished information, including Mr A Johnston, the late Mr D MacCormick, Mr D MacFadyen, Miss M MacPhail and the Rev H G Millar; to the Duke of Argyll for access to records at Inverary Castle before the fire of 1975; to Messrs lan G Lindsay and Partners for depositing architectural plans in the National Monuments Record of Scotland; to Mr J W M Bannerman, MA, PhD, Mr I B Cowan, MA, PhD, Mr E Cregeen, MA, Mr D MacArthur, BSc , Miss M Mackay, MA, PhD, and Mr R B K Stevenson, CBE, MA, FSA, for placing unpublished material at our disposal and for valued discussion; to the directors of excavations on Iona, including Professor A C Thomas, MA, MRIA, FSA, and Mr P Fowler, MA, PhD, FSA, who have placed certain material at our disposal, and Mr R Reece, BSc, PhD, FSA, Mr M Redknap , BA, and Mr J Barber, MA, who have co-operated closely with our staff, and to the Russell Trust and Mr D F O Russell, CBE, MC, DSc, DL, for their continued support of archaeological research on Iona ; to the Institute of Geological Sciences and particularly to Mr G H Collins, BSc, FGS, one of its officers, for advice on geological questions; to the Ancient Monuments Laboratory of the Department of the Environment for undertaking geophysical survey on Iona; and to the staffs of the National Library of Scotland, the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, Edinburgh University Library, the Ordnance Survey, the Scottish Development Department (Ancient Monuments Branch), the Scottish Record Office and Your Majesty's Stationery Office for continual and valued co-operation.

We wish to record our appreciation of the high standard of work maintained by past and present members of our executive staff, including those engaged not in the preparation of regional Inventories, but in ground and aerial survey of field monuments and historic buildings in other parts of Scotland or in archival duties for the National Monuments Record of Scotland. In the present volume much the greater part of the text has been written by Mr lan Fisher, MA. The articles and sections of the Introduction dealing with prehistoric monuments have been written by Messrs J N Graham Ritchie, MA, PhD, FSA, and Jack B Stevenson, BA, FSA; the descriptions of the Early Christian and late medieval carved stones have been contributed partly by our former Secretary, Dr Kenneth Steer, CBE; and some articles dealing with medieval and later monuments have been written by our present Secretary The drawings and other illustrative work have been undertaken by Messrs Douglas R Boyd, Gordon J Fraser, Geoffrey D Hay, FSA, Alan J Leith, Ian G Parker, Duncan A Peet, Ian G Scott, DA, Sam Scott and John N Stevenson, NDD The photographs have been taken by Mr Geoffrey B Quick , AIIP, ARPS, and general assistance has been given by Mrs F Chalmers, Miss M Isbister and Miss A I Thomson The volume has been edited by Mr Fisher and Mr Alastair MacLaren, MA, FSA, and the layout has been designed by Mr I G Scott.

We have to report that in July 1979 an Ordnance Survey Review Committee recommended, and in July 1981 the Secretary of State for the Environment accepted in principle, that the responsibility of the Ordnance Survey for the surveying and recording of archaeological sites in Great Britain should be transferred to the Royal Commissions on Ancient and Historical Monuments. We welcome this decision, subject to adequate resources being made available to us to carry out the functions prescribed, and look forward to discussing arrangements for achieving a satisfactory transfer.


Edinburgh, 18 November 1981'

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