It is described as cradle of Christianity in Scotland.

In 563 AD the Irish monk, St Columba set up a monastic community on the tiny isle of Iona.

Since then it has become a haven for pilgrims, welcoming some 1,500 guests to its Hebridean shores every year.

However recently the fate of the historical abbey precinct has been plunged into doubt after the Christian group based on the island said it has veered dangerously into disrepair.

The Iona Community has said that years of heavy use have taken their toll on the residential facilities at the island's abbey, with a recent survey revealing that "without some urgent repairs and long-term major investment, they would be unfit for purpose within seven years".


It is now launching a final push of its Iona Abbey Capital project to help raise the last £500,000 by the end of this year.

On its completion, the project will deliver improved access, new bedrooms and fully accessible shower rooms and toilets, as well as improved insulation and washing facilities at the centrer.

Current ‘private’ spaces in Iona Abbey will also become accessible to the public as part of the project.

Reverend Kathy Galloway, the joint leader of the Iona Community, said the group had now completed phase one of the works, and now needed more help to fully fund phase two.

She said: "We want to adapt the living areas to be accessible for wheelchair users and people with mobility issues.

"We also want to install a renewable energy heating system and winter proof the building so that we can extend our season to welcome more visitors and volunteers each year. At the moment, many rooms are too cold to use past October."


Iona Abbey in 1953

Already, £3 million has been raised for the project, including £300,000 in the month of May alone.

Working in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland and Iona Renewables, it also aims to provide a renewable energy heating system, through a progressive, community-led energy project.

The group said they are now in the position to begin phase two earlier than expected, which will lead to substantial savings, meaning the refurbished project will be ready to open a year early in 2020.

Reverend Galloway said: "The Iona Community wants to continue to welcome people to share life in community for generations to come, and to make sure we are accessible for all.

"This complex, exciting project will ensure people from around the world can continue to share in the community’s life within the historic setting and beauty of Iona," she said.

In 1938, the Reverend George MacLeod established the Iona Community in the docklands of Govan and on Iona in order to rebuild the monastic quarters of the medieval abbey.

Set in the context of the poverty of the Depression, he brought together unemployed skilled craftsmen and young trainee clergy to serve as a sign of hopeful rebuilding of community in urban Scotland, aiming to rebuild "the common life by working and living together, sharing skills and effort as well as joys and achievement".

This has shaped the practice and principles of the group, which acts as an ecumenical Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Church engaged together.


Outside Iona Abbey in 1953

Since its completion in 1965, the monastery remains a centre for pilgrimage and tourism, with the community now running three residential centres on Iona and the nearby island of Mull.

Now, there is a year-round population of more than 100, including long-established island families as well as more recent arrivals, including those who work for the Iona Community in its centres as staff or volunteers.

Guests come to stay on the island to contemplate and pray, and play a significant role in the island’s economy.

Daily services of the Iona Community are undertaken in the Abbey church, with abbey itself managed by Historic Environment Scotland

Built of stone and slate, the buildings of the Iona Abbey Centre were originally the living quarters of the monks and have retained a distinctly monastic feel.

However, in a report sent to the Church of Scotland’s general assembly two years ago, the Iona Community said that "piecemeal maintenance and sporadic upgrading of internal services, electrical, water, sewerage and heating have led to constant and uneconomic patchwork repairs."

As of this year, both the Abbey Centre and the MacLeod centre -- a newer building on the island, have been closed to residential guests.

Reverend Galloway said the group was hopeful that "people in Scotland and beyond will recognise the great need to safeguard Iona Abbey as a living place of hospitality, and ensure that thousands more people can visit this special place seeking sanctuary and inspiration".


The Refectory

In 563AD, the Irish monk Columba (Columkille) established a monastic settlement on the island of Iona, leading to large parts of Scotland and the north of England to become evangelised.

As an important centre of European Christianity, it became the site of a Benedictine abbey in the Middle Ages and for centuries it has attracted thousands of people on their own pilgrim journeys.

The Abbey also has a substantial collection of stone crosses which date back to within 200 years of its founding, some of which show Celtic influences thought to come from Ireland.

The carved stones include St John's Cross and St Oran's Cross, and a cross slab created 100 years later.

The crosses are thought to be among the finest examples of such sculpture to survive.

Others bear the stamp of the Vikings who first raided Iona in 794 AD.