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Iona, St Oran's Chapel And Reilig Odhrain Burial Ground

Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel (Period Unassigned), Cross Slab (Early Medieval), Well (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Iona, St Oran's Chapel And Reilig Odhrain Burial Ground

Classification Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel (Period Unassigned), Cross Slab (Early Medieval), Well (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Releig Odhrain

Canmore ID 21617

Site Number NM22SE 10

NGR NM 28589 24451

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilfinichen And Kilvickeon
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NM22SE 10 28589 24451.

(NM 2857 2443) Reilig Orain (NR) St Oran's Chapel (NR) (In Ruins) Tombs of the Kings (NR)

OS 25" map, (1900)

NM22SE 10.01 2857 2443 Crosses; Cross-Slabs

St Oran's Chapel standing in its burial ground, Reilig Orain - "Oran's Burial Ground", Oran having been a relative and follower of Columba.

The chapel is a plain oblong building measuring 30' by 16' internally. The body of the chapel may belong to the 9th or 10th century's but the west doorway is an insertion which dates from not earlier than the mid-12th century. None of these dates supports the tradition the 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 were succeeding Scottish kings until Macbeth (d 1057) and traditionally kings of Ireland, Norway and France. None of the monuments of the kings remains but many of medieval clan chiefs survive.

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 is that which 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.

"Tobar Odhrain" - Oran's Well - now only a site, lay in the area NM 286 243 (Ritchie and Ritchie 1934) (But see also NM22SE 37)

A C Thomas 1957; 1959; W Reeves 1857; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1896-7;

A Ritchie and E Ritchie 1934; R Reece nd.

The chapel and burial ground are as described. The incised Celtic cross lies at NM 2856 2441. No trace of the well could be found. The well at NM 2839 2369 is stone-lined, but no name for it is known.

Visited by OS (R D) 9 June 1972.

NM 2856 2446 A short period of archaeological monitoring was undertaken at Iona Abbey in February 2006 during the excavation of foundation trenches and postholes as part of works on the vehicular and pedestrian entrances into the Abbey grounds. In addition, the pedestrian entrance was to be widened to allow wheelchair access. The areas of work had clearly been subject to modern disturbance, such as the installation of services and the hard standing for the ticket office. Little of the work carried out encroached on undisturbed ground, therefore minimising the potential impact on any underlying archaeology. No features or finds of archaeological significance were found during these works.

Archive to be deposited in NMRS.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

Claire Shaw, 2006.

Architecture Notes

Iona, St Oran's Chapel.

IG Lindsay Coll, W/298.


Aerial Photography (April 1969)

Oblique aerial photographs of sites and monuments on Iona, Argyll, photographed by John Dewar in 1969.

Field Visit (April 1996 - May 1996)

St Oran's chapel standing in its burial ground Reilig Odhrain - Oran's burial ground - Oran having been a follower of St Columba.

Excavations by Barber in 1979 revealed both prehistoric, early medieval and later features.

(ION96 085)

Information from NTS (SCS) January 2016

Aerial Photography (2 June 1997)

Watching Brief (1997)

NM 286 244 A watching brief and minor excavation were undertaken at Reilig Odhrain and the abbey gardens in advance of environmental improvements. Excavation within a gap at the N side of the existing boundary wall to the cemetery revealed remains of an earlier rubble wall on a slightly different alignment.

Sponsor: Iona Abbey Ltd.

J O'Sullivan 1997

External Reference (28 October 2011)

Scheduled as element within 'The monument known as St Mary's Abbey, Iona, monastic settlement [comprising] the remains of the large early historic monastic settlement founded by St Columba in AD 563, St Martin's Cross, and parts of medieval buildings associated with the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary founded around AD 1200.'

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 28 October 2011.


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