Reginald, son of Somerled (Lord of the Isles), founded the nunnery in 1200 and installed his sister, Beatrice, as its first prioress. One of only two Augustinian Orders in Scotland, the nunnery earned itself the name ‘An Eaglais Dhubh’ – the black church – after the colour of nuns’ robes.
Unlike the rest of the Abbey buildings, the nunnery has not been restored since being made derelict during the Reformation. The pink granite walls that remain, despite being ruinous, are amongst the best examples of a medieval nunnery left in Britain.
Little is known of the nuns who lived here, like the Benedictine monks, they followed a strict life of prayer and contemplation. A few clues have been left which shed light on aspects of the nuns’ lives. For instance, the tomb of Prioress Anna Maclean is so detailed in its carving as to give a clear depiction of her dress.
Some of the nuns were thought to have fled to a cave during the Reformation. Situated on the coast at Carsaig on Mull, the ‘Nun’s Cave’ has crosses carved into its inner walls.