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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 08:22 GMT 09:22 UK

UK: Scotland

New dawn for 'home' of Christianity

Iona Abbey is a popular tourist attraction

The world-famous Iona Abbey is to be safeguarded for the future with a programme of repairs and improved visitor facilties.

Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar is visiting Iona to announce that the running of the abbey is being taken over by the government agency Historic Scotland.

Iona is credited with being the launch point of Christianity into Scotland.

St Columba exiled

In 563AD, after being exiled from Ireland, St Columba and his followers arrived on the 1800-acre island to extend their religion into Scotland and the north of England.

[ image: The trust can no longer afford the upkeep]
The trust can no longer afford the upkeep
They founded his church and created a centre of learning which became known throughout Europe.

About 100,000 people now visit the abbey every year and the monument is currently run by the Iona Cathedral Trust.

But the trust can no longer afford its upkeep.

Work to preserve the abbey can now proceed under the auspices of Historic Scotland, which runs more than 300 other properties of national importance.

Mr Dewar says the new arrangement will safeguard the burial site of Scots kings for future generations through a conservation programme.

Free access

Iona is also the final resting place of John Smith who died of a heart attack in 1994 while he was leader of the Labour Party.

Islanders, the Iona Community and pilgrims will have free access to the Abbey, though tourists will be charged to visit the attraction when services are not in progress.

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