In 1892 Bishop Chinnery-Haldane obtained from George, 8th Duke of Argyll, a feu of nearly ¾ acre of ground near the village, to give the Church a foothold on the island. In 1894 he had Bishop’s House built. In 1896 he made the property over to the Society of St John the Evangelist (the “Cowley Fathers”), hoping for both the revival of the religious life in the Diocese and the renewal of missionary zeal. The novitiate from Cowley occasionally migrated to Bishop’s House for a summer holiday, and from 1906 to 1908 one or two fathers maintained permenant residence. But practical difficulties prevented regular missioning on the mainland, and in 1909 the Society handed the property over to the Diocesan Trustees. Fr E C Trichome’s Story of Iona (1909) remains as a literary monument of the Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE) connection.
After SSJE gave up the House, it was used intermittently for organised and private retreats, and for holidays. Since about 1948 this use has been under the care of a succession of lay wardens, and visitors are welcome for retreats and quiet holidays.(For rates, please see below). The chapel is served by temporary chaplains.
Bishop’s House, as designed by Alexander Ross of Inverness, comprises a rectangular north- south block. At the centre is the Chapel of St Columba, with a life size statue of the Saint in a projecting bay on the east front. The Chapel is flanked with a common room, refectory, kitchen and offices on the ground floor. The House was extended to the north in 1977, when central heating was installed, and further extended to the south in 1987…. There were originally 12 bedrooms, but now there are 10 twin, 3 single rooms, giving accommodation for 23 guests.
St Columba’s chapel seats 30 and is open to all, resident and non-resident, for quiet prayer and meditation at any time. Two services are said daily. Those who are of other traditions and are used to receiving communion are welcome to the Sacrament of the Altar.