Some of the most famous illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages came from Scotland in the monistary on the island of Iona. But who financed and built the abbey?
With the expulsion of the King of Norway by Somerled in 1164, his son Ranald invited a group of Benedictine monks and Augustinian nuns to set up a monastery and abbey on Iona. Historic Scotland states that the Lord of the Isles is “likely to have had a strong impact on the island and its monuments.” However, this suggests only a minor role in the development of the community at Iona and that the Abbot there had a larger role to play. But it is those who have wealth that are able to built.
Ian Macdonnell, of the Finlaggen Council, states that a strong impact implies less involvement than Ranald actually had. Macdonnell posits that the Lords of the Isles had strategically planned a perpetual conditional endowment that allowed Ranald and his heirs to control how funds were used. This allowed them to support the abbey and monastery for 300 years. Their strategic plan, along with Macdonald bishops and abbots, was to raise the church at that location to cathedral status as the Cathedral of the Isles.
In December of 1421, when the abbey was in threat of total ruin, it was Lord Donald who had the power to make financial decisions regarding the abbey’s recovery as the monastery’s revenues were not sufficient to for its reparation. Like much of the medieval church, the resources of the church were funded by wealthy patrons, and at this point in time the Bishop was Angus MacDonald, the son of Donald.
Vatican records show that it was the Lords of the Isles that, time and time again built up the abbey when others tried to take from it. And it was Clan Donald’s church‑wright and masons that rebuilt three quarters of the the ruined structures.
Read more about the Clan Donald connection to Iona Abbey on Ian Macdonnell’s website