MHG7938 - Chapel & Graveyard, Isle Maree


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Type and Period (1)

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

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Full Description

Chapel (NR) (Site of) Burial Ground (Dis) (NAT)
(Name NG 930 723) Well (NR) (site of)
OS 6"map, (1968)

Well (NR) OS 6"map, Ross-shire, 1st ed., (1875)

The site of a chapel founded by St Maelrubha, as an oratory, between 671 and 722 (W Reeves 1862). There were some remains on spot in 1861 which were too fragmentary to determine a date of construction, but no surveyable traces now remain.
The ancient burial ground surrounding chapel site measures 90' by 120' and is enclosed by a rubble wall now only 2' high and covered with earth and moss but described by Pennant in 1774 (T Pennant 1774) as being 'a circular dike of stones with a regular narrow entrance'. In 1861 it contained 50 or 60 graves most of them covered by undressed, uninscribed slabs with blocks of stone at head and foot. McRae mentions a 'number of tombstones with inscriptions and hieroglyphical figures (NSA {Rev D Macrae 1836} 1845) but Mitchell (1863) could find only two incised slabs. Each bore a distinct and well-formed cross, one apparently with 'arm-pits'. These slabs lay almost end to end and were said to cover the graves of a Norwegian princess and her lover. Cameron (OS field surveyor {EGC} 2 October 1964) however, thought they were of no great age. Workmen from the 17th c. iron-furnaces at Poolewe are said to have been buried here. The last burial took place in 1925.
A small, built well with a cover slab, consecrated by St Maelrubha, was celebrated for curing lunacy and was still resorted to in the 19th c. but was dry in 1861. Beside the well stood an oak tree into whose trunk had been driven both coins and hundreds of nails which had attached rag etc votive offerings. Many of these were partially or wholly over-grown by the bark.
Seventeenth century church records refer to bull-sacrifice on island and this, together with fact that local people refer to St Maelrubha as "the God Maurie" leads Mitchell (A Mitchell 1863) and others to suggest that this was a place of pre-Christian pagan worship which was usurped by St Maelrubha.
The island name is given variously as Inch Maree, Innis Maree, Eilean Maree (A Mitchell 1863) or Eilean Ma-Ruibha (W J Watson 1926)
T Pennant 1774; W Reeves 1862; A Mitchell 1863; W J Watson 1926; NSA (Rev D Macrae 1836) 1845
Visited by OS (E G C) 2 October 1964.
This is one of the smallest of the group of wooded islands midway along the 20km length of Loch Maree, and lies 250m from the N shore. It is almost triangular, measuring about 200m by 170m, and rises to a central summit of about 30m which is crowned by a burial-ground. The island and loch take their names from St Maelrubha, and the island was resorted to until the 19th century for the cure of insanity, effected by immersion in the loch and visiting the holy well, now dried up, at the S shore (a). An oak tree beside the well, now dead, continues to have coins and metal objects driven into it (b). The burial-ground is oval, measuring about 36m by 27m within a low turf-covered stone wall. It contains a number of simple gravemarkers and recumbent slabs. Two of these are cross-marked and are identified in local tradition as the graves of a Norwegian prince and princess (c).
(1) Rectangular slab of Torridonian sandstone, lacking the lower left corner and measuring 1.44m by 0.59m. It bears an outline Latin cross with semicircular armpits, 0.88m high and 0.46m in span. A second transom, 0.17m above the foot of the shaft, has a span of 0.26m and arms 55mm high. This is an unusual feature, and the outline may have been altered by recutting, but the upper part of the cross is of early character. (A Mitchell 1863, 252-3; J H Dixon 1886, 10; J R Baldwin 1994, 124).
(2) Roughly tapered slab of Torridonian sandstone with pointed head, broken across and irregularly broken at the foot. It measures 1.26m by 0.57m in maximum width. It bears an outline cross-of-arcs, 0.28m in diameter and with open interspaces between the arms, which rises from a straight shaft. This is supported on a T-shaped pedestal which resembles the lower transom on stone (1) but is clearly divided from the shaft. The edges of the shaft and base show large pock-marks, but the V-section grooves have been finished with a sharp blade.
(a) T Pennant 1774, 1, 330; NSA, 14 (Ross and Cromarty), 91; W Reeves 1862, 286-9; A Mitchell 1863, 251-63; J H Dixon 1886, 150-6, 397, 410-11. The loch appears in early sources as 'Loch Ewe' (Blaeu's Atlas (Hebrides); W J Watson 1904, 239).
(b) J R Baldwin 1994, fig. on p.126.
© A Mitchell 1863, 253; J H Dixon 1886, 7-10.
A Mitchell 1863, 252-3; J H Dixon 1886, 10; J R Baldwin 1994, 124; I Fisher 2001, 90.

This island was photographed from the air by Jim Bone in 2008. <1>

Sources/Archives (9)



Grid reference Centred NG 9310 7236 (40m by 40m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NG97SW
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish GAIRLOCH

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