Oronsay Priory
Oronsay Priory

The remains of a 14th-century Augustinian priory is isolated splendour on the tidal island of Oronsay. The medieval priory may stand on the site of a 6th-century monastery established by St Oran. The beautifully preserved remains include the priory church, cloister, chapter house and refectory. The priory may have been founded by John I, Lord of the Isles.

Tradition says that the first priory on Oronsay was established by St Columba, but there is no archaeological evidence to support this. The current remains are of a priory founded between 1325 and 1353, with the monks probably coming from Ireland.

The remains of the monastic buildings are quite extensive. In addition, there are two carved crosses at Oronsay Priory. The largest is the so-called Oronsay Cross, or the Great Cross, a late 15th century cross of the type called 'disc-headed'. It was probably created for Malcolm MacDuffie, Lord of Colonsay and chief of clan Duffie, and was likely imported to Oronsay from outside.

The smaller carved cross may predate the Oronsay Cross by many centuries. It may also be recomposed from pieces of two crosses. This smaller cross stands atop a small mound inside the Priory gates.

The Oronsay Cross was probably crafted at Iona, but Oronsay itself evolved a school of carving in the late medieval period, producing a variety of carved crosses, effigies, and grave slabs which can be found throughout Argyll.

Many examples of locally produced late medieval grave slabs and other carvings are preserved in a restored monastic building immediately behind the ruins of the priory church. These include some quite remarkable tombs and effigies, most dating from 1500 to 1560.  The exhibit includes two superb effigies of MacDuffie chiefs.

The Oronsay school of carving can be recognized by the use of a motif of a sailing vessel with sails spread.

The priory can only be accessed on foot at low tide by crossing The Strand mudflats from Colonsay. There are superb views from the priory to Jura and Islay.