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Princess Anne opens refurbished Iona Abbey in ‘landmark’ moment after £3.75 million renovation

Princess Anne.
Princess Anne.

In a landmark moment for Iona Abbey, its refurbished living facilities have been reopened by Princess Anne.

The special visit put the finishing touches to the massive £3.75 million renovation scheme made possible by donors.

Princess Anne met with school pupils during her visit

The youngest was Joshua from Falkirk, 9, who sold his toy to raise funds.

HRH Princess Anne visited the tiny Hebridean island and spoke at a special service to celebrate the comprehensively refurbished community and living spaces.

The Princess Royal received a freshly baked loaf of bread from the new kitchen and was handed a special posy from a local schoolboy.

She was piped around the Abbey cloisters by three young bagpipers from the island.

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

Two pupils from Iona Primary School recounted the history of Iona, stretching back to 5000 BC, and welcomed Princess Anne and other guests to the celebration.

“Our ancestors lie with the ancient kings of Scotland,” they told the congregation. “We are proud members of the community of Iona. And you are most welcome to our home.”

Princess Anne at Iona Abbey

Princess Anne spoke to BBC Songs of Praise for a special episode due to air on BBC One on June 27, and visited the Iona Village Hall, which has also been rebuilt following a major fundraising effort.

“The Iona community is standing once again on its ancient foundations”

Speaking in Iona Abbey during the service of blessing, Princess Anne said she was pleased to be at the Abbey “to celebrate that the life of work and worship in this ancient place has been secured for many years to come.”

She 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.

“Fifteen-hundred 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.”

The Iona Abbey Capital Appeal raised £3.75 million from 2,500 donations coming from people in 22 different countries. Donations ranged from £2 to £900,000. Major building work on Iona is especially complex due to the Abbey’s remote location.

A highlight of the mammoth fundraising campaign was what organisers call their “miracle in May”. In May 2018, £312,000 was raised in a single month, allowing work to proceed to the crucial next phase and avoiding costly and time-consuming delays.

Donors names etched in special book

The new facilities in the 12th century living quarters include modernised and retrofitted bedroom and community areas, a completely renovated refectory, a new kitchen and scullery with dumb waiter, comprehensive rewiring, insulation, and a new plumbing system.

A lift has been fitted and stairs removed to ensure the new facility is fully accessible, including dedicated bedrooms for guests with special access requirements.

The Abbey will now also be able to tap into the Iona Ground Source Heat Project which is part of the island’s low carbon initiative which will deliver sustainable heating for the Abbey, hotels, Village Hall, school, businesses and homes.

Each donor has their name etched in a special book that has been designed in a similar way to the Book of Kells.

The Princess Royal signed the book in Iona Abbey, which will be digitised with stories included behind each name.

The exterior of the Abbey showing Princess Anne on tour

Iona community leader Ruth Harvey said: “This is a landmark moment in the history of Iona Abbey. Dedicated and visionary volunteers devoted so much time, effort and shared wisdom to make this happen.

“The mystery of faith is evident in the sheer hard work and determination of individuals. People who come to the Abbey can expect a warm welcome, beautiful space to live and to join with us in community.

“Our movement is now more sustainable, more open and more accessible than ever before, for all who seek a world of justice and peace through community.”

Christine Jones, who led the Iona Abbey Capital Appeal, said: “The reopening today is a sign of hope for the rebuilding of individual lives and of community in Scotland and beyond.

“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.”

Catriona Robertson, warden of Iona Abbey, 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.”

The youngest donor, Joshua, who sold his toys, said: “When I go back to Iona I am looking forward to the new bedrooms, to see if they are warmer,” he said.

“I want to see the new common room, to have biscuits and hot chocolate.”