MHG8942 - Lemlair parish church - Cille Bhrea


No summary available.

Type and Period (3)

  • CHAPEL (Early Medieval to 19th Century - 561 AD to 1900 AD)
  • CEMETERY (Early Bronze Age to 19th Century - 2400 BC to 1900 AD)
  • FINDSPOT (Early Medieval to Medieval - 561 AD to 1559 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

Cille Bhrea {NR} Chapel {NR} (Ruin) OS 6"map, (1938)

This was parish church of Lemlair until that parish was united with Kiltearn after Reformation. Its original dedication was to Brig., one of holy maidens of Brigit who died 525. It was latterly known as St. Mary's Chapel, probably a mis-translation of original name.
The foundations are still visible in churchyard, which is known as 'Cladh Mo-Bhrigh'
W J Watson 1904; N Macrae 1923; W J Watson 1926. <1>-<3>

The remains of Chapel measure 10.8 m EW by 4.4 m transversely with grass-covered walls 0.6 high and 0.7 m thick. SE corner has been destroyed by erosion. A few grave-slabs can be seen within chapel and immediately to N of it, but graveyard is unenclosed and derelict. Name St. Brig's Chapel is still known locally.
Re-surveyed at 1/2500. Visited by OS (N K B) 30 June 1965

The site was Scheduled in 1970.

Chapel (NR) (remains of) OS 1:10,000, (1971)

This chapel was partially excavated by Dr Woodham (Clava, Cunninghill Rd., Invervrie) 1966. Finds include a stone font and part of communion table, which are still in chapel, and several skeletons. According to Woodham dedication is to St Brigh, and present remains date from c1198 when chapel was consecrated. There is no trace of graves in unenclosed graveyard around chapel, though human bones protrude from eroding cliff face near chapel. Woodham states that last burial was about "100 years ago"
Visited by (NKB) 20 December 1976

Coastal erosion is resulting in the erosion of part of the medieval churchyard at Cille Bhrea. The arm of a decorated, possibly free-standing cross was found amongst the eroded material at the foot of the cliff. Human bones and iron coffin nails were also recovered from the eroding cliff face. The material has been deposited at Inverness Museum, INVMG 1983.147-9. <4> Human remains are listed under Acc. No. 1983.149. <19>

Coastal processes are resulting in erosion of churchyard. The arm of a decorated, possibly a free standing, cross was found amongst eroded material at foot of cliff. Human bones and iron coffin nails were also recovered from eroding cliff face.
J Wordsworth, SSSIs, Scottish Natural Heritage, 1993

An archaeological assessment was carried out to measure extent of continued coastal erosion of both chapel and graveyard. Skeletal remains, including one with associated coffin nails, were deposited with Historic Scotland.
<5> <6>

In 1998 AOC Archaeology Group were commissioned by Historic Scotland to carry out an excavation on the elements of the church and graveyard at risk from erosion over the next couple of decades. This recovered information on a sequence of 50 graves along the eroding edge of the Cromarty Firth. The fabric of the chapel was also exposed, recorded and the very eastern limit of the chapel excavated. Pottery recovered from the site indicated activity during the 12th to 15th centuries, while metalwork from the graves demonstrated activity from the C16 to the C18. Seven radiometric dates from skeletal material support C17 to C19 dates for burials. The surviving chapel fabric relates principally to the renewal of the structure in the 17th century as a mausoleum for the Munros of Foulis. <7>

The site was visited by CFA during the MORA Coastal Assessment Project in 1998. North wall and West wall remains of chapel upstanding 0.5-1.2m, remainder gone. Very serious erosion on frontage 4m cliff face. Burials eroding out. Whole set within enclosure boundary bank. Visible to East. Site subject to present day stabilisation work and clearance of scrub. 3 burial slabs visible within chapel walls and 2 outwith to North of structual remains. <8>

Photographs were submitted by a participant in a Community Timeline course, run by ARCH. <9>

Visited during the Highland Kirkyards project, run by Highland Buildings Preservation Trust. Described as extremely overgrown remains of chapel are situated on a difficult to reach cliff edge on the north shore of the Cromarty Firth. Erosion of the site means that dressed stone and human bones have been found on the shore below. This site was visited in the summer when the vegetation made it difficult to view what was there. Another visit in the winter months may shed more light on the extent of the remains. <10> <11>

Visited by Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk (SCHARP) in 2013. Remains of N and W wall are upstanding to 0.5-1.2m. Enclosure boundary bank is visible to E along with 3 burial slabs within chapel walls and 2 out with chapel. Site is subject to present day stabilisation but there is very serious erosion on frontage at cliff face and burials are erosion out. Under threat from further cliff erosion. Ad hoc coastal defence failing. Boundary band not visible. SE corner of chapel probably eroded. Only 2 grave slabs visible inside the chapel. None visible outside due to vegetation cover. A single piece of human bone visible at the base of the coastal section, but otherwise the section is vegetated and appears stable. <12> See link below for on-line record.

Human bones which had been removed from Cille Bhrea chapel and graveyard were reburied in June 2013, 15 years after they were excavated in 1998 as part of an excavation comissioned by Historic Scotland in response to the coastal erosion of the eastern end of the chapel. For further information see the web link to the Evanton Oral History Project.

The Scheduling was amended by Historic Environment Scotland in 2017. <13>

The seven radiocarbon dates from human skeletal samples obtained in the 1998 excavations and published in 2004 were withdrawn with resampling of the original material required. This is due to the dates dertermined by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit on Scottish material between 2000-2002 being unreliable due to a problem in the ultrafiltration system used to pretreat the bone during this time. <14>

See link below to Scottish Radiocarbon Database for radiocarbon dates.

Among the documentation for this site in Inverness Museum's archive files, there is correspondance regarding the donation of finds from the base of the cliff, an extract from a report regarding the site from 1993 and a picture of the stone fragment from the free-standing stone cross (1983.147). There are also conservation reports regarding the finds from the 1998 excavations by AOC. <15>

The excavation assemblage from the 1998 excavations at the site were submitted to Treasure Trove (TT 96/06) and allocation to Inverness Museum. It comprised medieval pottery, late medieval and post medieval copper and iron metalwork and human remains (see <7> for detailed lists). The human remains were later reburied in 2013. <16> <17>

Dingwall Museum has within its collection a stone font from Lemlair. It is assumed to be the same font excavated by Dr Woodham, which at some point afterwards was removed from the chapel. <18>

Sources/Archives (22)



Grid reference Centred NH 5764 6148 (40m by 40m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH56SE
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish KILTEARN

Finds (7)

  • FONT (Undated)
  • CROSS (Early Medieval - 561 AD to 1057 AD)
  • NAIL (Undated)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Post Medieval - 1560 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SHERD (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Post Medieval - 1560 AD to 1900 AD)
  • PIN (Undated)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (2)

External Links (5)

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