MHG5687 - Church - St. Donan's Chapel and Burial Ground, Kildonnan, Eigg


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Type and Period (1)

  • CHURCH (Medieval to 19th Century - 1058 AD to 1900 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

See also:
NM48NE0075 Graveyard (MHG31370)
NM48NE0036 Cross/Cross, slabs/Cross, shaft (MHG25041, MHG44972)
J Aitken : 11/12/02

(NM 4884 8538) Ruins of Chapel (NR) (Burial Ground)
OS 6" map (1903)

St Donan's Church (Kildonnan) is said to have been erected by John Moydartach, Captain of Clanranald in the 16th c., and is certainly mentioned by Monro in 1549. Now in ruins, the church is utilised as a burial ground, and some of the modern graves are provided with cover slabs and headstones removed from earlier interments. The building was 51' E-W by 18' within walls over 3' thick.
Casts of 4 cross-slabs (MHG44972 )and a late 14th century cross shaft (MHG25041) at St Donan's are in the NMAS together with that of parts of a head and shaft of another cross featuring a hunting scene.
RCAHMS 1928, visited 1925; OPS 1854; D Monro 1549; M Martin 1934; Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1933; 1934

St Donnan's Church is roofless, and the E gable has fallen to below the wall head. The church measures 15.4m E-W by 5.4m within a wall 0.9m thick. Almost centrally placed inside, is a horizontal grave slab 2.0m E-W by 0.5m N-S, bearing traces of an incised pattern, which is probably a cross slab. The stone has been broken, and is repaired with recent mortar. At its W end stands an upright slab 0.9m high by 0.4m broad bearing an incised cross set saltire-wise within an incised circle on its E face.
The 14th century cross-shaft (MHG25041) is mounted on a modern base on a rise to the S of the church, and the head and part of the shaft of another with similar decoration lies against it.
The four cross slabs are preserved in the porch of Galmisdale House (MHG42120). The burial ground is extended and still in use.
Visited by OS (AA) 8 May 1972

Church and burial ground at NM 4885 8536. Casts of cross and cross-slabs in RMS. Cross-shaft at NM 4887 8533 (MHG25041).

The area south, east and west of the chapel ruin was subject to geophysical and topographic surveys by the University of Birmingham in 2008 as part of a project aimed at locating the possible site of the monastery founded by St Donan. Although several resistance anomalies were detected the results were not conclusive and it was considered that only excavation would reveal their true nature. <1>

Excavations in three areas (Sites A, B and C) were carried out in 2012 under the direction of J Hunter and undertaken by students from the University of Glasgow and Cranfield University, accompanied by additional resistivity survey in the area of the oval graveyard to the south (Area C). One of the two main purposes of the excavations was to locate evidence for the monastic community associated with St Donnan (died c. 617) and although this could not be said to have been fully achieved, there was ample evidence to demonstrate the presence of later Iron Age activity on the site, arguably contemporary with Donnan. This was partly on the basis of working cobbled surfaces, burnt daub and sets of post-holes associated with coarse post-broch pottery (notably Site B, Trenches 7 and 8), and partly on the discovery of a ditch and timber enclosure. The ditched enclosure was elliptical in shape and lay directly below the same oval outline of a C19 burial ground at the south of the site which clearly respected it (Site C). The ditch had silted and had been recut. The ditch phase is undated at present and would usefully benefit from future excavation focused towards this end. Nevertheless, there is a strong argument, based on the spatial correlation between the two enclosures, to suggest continuity of place and religious association. Moreover, the shape of the early ditch broadly conforms to the vallum or cashel system of delineation characteristic of Celtic monasticism and likely to have been followed by Donnan. The second aim of the work was to assess the continuity of worship and to test the richness of the archaeology. Here the results were more tangible. The remains of a Neolithic cairn were found located between the oval burial ground and the standing chapel (Trench 8). This was located on the highest ground; it probably represented original activity on the site and is testimony to the subsequent importance of place. The cairn was both robbed and disturbed, although there was some evidence for secondary activity; it may also have exhibited kerb stones, although there was no evidence for overall shape or for a chamber. Pottery found within its construction is of
the Beacharra type, characteristic of cairns of the Clyde group (although somewhat of an outlier), dated according to current views around the middle of the 4th millennium BC. The excavations around the chapel (Site A) identified earlier stone-built structural remains lying below, and projecting from under the chapel itself. The remains of a substantial building of unknown
size, constructed of mortared foundations was exposed lying within the oval burial ground to the south (Site C Trench 5). Foundations of this magnitude represent a structure of significance, and arguably in this location, a chapel or other ecclesiastical building. The fact that this should lie within the confines of the burial ground (i.e. pre-19th century) and within the area of the earlier ditched enclosure speaks volumes for both continuity of place and the building’s importance. It had been drastically damaged by later burials and its nature and function remain open to interpretation. That said, it lay at right angles to, and may have joined, a substantial linear feature lying to the south beyond the burial ground identified on the geophysical survey. <2>

GIS data created 2019 based on OS Master Map. <3>

Sources/Archives (14)



Grid reference Centred NM 4885 8536 (17m by 11m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NM48NE
Civil Parish SMALL ISLES
Geographical Area LOCHABER

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