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Then in the 1950s, a British archaeologist called Charles Thomas excavated the outcrop and found the burned remains of a wattle and daub hut under a layer of earth and pebbles.
He was convinced that it was Iona’s great founding abbot, Columba’s writing cell. It was felt that the evidence was not strong enough and that the hut probably dated from many centuries after St Columba’s time.
It was probably at Iona that the world’s most famous early illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells, was produced – and it was from here that the epicentre of early northern English Christianity, the monastery of Lindisfarne was founded.
The remains on top of Tòrr an Aba had been dismissed as from a much later date.Located on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, the unprepossessing hut was probably the first administrative hub of the monastic community he founded – and whose monks, over succeeding centuries, went on to establish similar monasteries in mainland Scotland, in north-east England, in Belgium, in France and in Switzerland.During much of the Dark Ages, Iona was of critical importance in spreading knowledge, literacy, philosophical ideas and artistic skills throughout large areas of western Europe.The archaeologists are currently investigating the possibility that Iona’s pilgrimage route (known for centuries as the Street of the Dead) may have been loosely based on Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa (the Street of Pain) along which Jesus is said to have walked to his crucifixion.Significantly, around a century after Columba’s death, his biographer (a monk at Iona called Adomnan) also wrote an account and description of the Christian holy places and pilgrimage destinations of Jerusalem – so we know that Iona’s monks would have been well aware of the concept of pilgrimage.
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Additional new evidence shows that, at some stage after his death, a monument (a large cross) was erected on the site of the hut, presumably to commemorate the life and work of the monastery’s famous first abbot.