[From Ecclesiological Notes, 1848]

July 2, Douglas.-Started at nine for Kirk Braddon1, across the fields. I had always heard that the island was destitute of wood; and was therefore agreeably surprised to find, after leaving the town and the river, my path plunge into a quiet avenue of ash trees, in which were the grounds of the nunnery. This was founded by S. Bridget, when she came to receive the veil from S. Maughold, of whom more hereafter; but the remains are so small, as to possess no interest for the ecclesiologist.

A beautiful thing is a Sunday morning in summer; most beautiful here. The intense stillness, broken only by the hum of the bee, or the scream of the blackbird as he flits from his hedge before the intruder: the broken knolls and tufts of ash or elm, for hardly any other tree seems to suit this island; the red foxglove on the puny hillock; the hedge graceful with dogrose or honeysuckle; the haycocks, now all but ready for carting; the little brawling streams that continually cross your path under their bridges of grey sand-stone; the breeze just whispering to the branches, and making them glance in the light. So I passed on, through many a little landscape of beauty perfect in its way: and presently, coming out on the hard road, found myself close to the church of Kirk Braddon.

This church is under the invocation of S. Brandon, who lived in the Isle of Arran about 1080, and was afterwards Bishop of Man. He is not utterly unknown as the patron of some English churches, and was greatly honoured in the Hebrides.

I have seen many a lovely churchyard, both in England and in other lands: Croxall in Derbyshire, so deeply enshrined in trees, that it is always twilight in the House of GOD,-Compton Bishop, in Somersetshire, embosomed in a circle of soft downs,-Dunkeld Cathedral, lying

"'Twixt those twin soft and gently swelling hills,
Like infant cradled on its mother's breast,"-

Wouldham, in Kent, hanging over the swift clear Medway;-but never yet one of such perfect loveliness as Kirk Braddon. It lies to the right of the road, in a little hollow: all round the holy ground tall ashes, limes, and elms shoot up towards the sky, and enshrine the building in a kind of mysterious evening.

" A tattle glooming light, much like a shade,"

so soft, so quiet, so not of this world, that of itself it seems to carry forward the mind to that place where " the sun shall be no more their light by day." In the centre rises a cross of hard black stone, worked in interchaining cable-work2, and with this inscription:-*1

" Durliff nsaci risti crus dono alfrai surfin frudur, sun Safrsag ;" which is said to mean,

"For Admiral Durliff, this cross was erected by the son of his brother, the son of Safrsag."

And truly any one can see what crus, sun, and frudur mean. Close to this monument is another, a piece of the island slaty stone stuck upright on a base of the same, and inscribed with some sculpture which is now perfectly unintelligible. Close to the south wall of the nave is another and a very fine cross, in a circle, in which the figures would almost seem to be the Evangelistic Symbols, with involuntary variations. There is yet a fourth, now turned into a stile at the west side of the churchyard, and thus terribly mutilated.

The font, to the disgrace of the parish and vicar, is in the churchyard,-a huge square hollowed block of granite, probably of Norman date.

The church itself strikes one, at first, as if possibly Saxon,-the herringbone masonry which arches the windows, and the long narrow doors look like it; but a little examination soon dismisses the delusion. It was rebuilt in 1773. The arrangement however of the tower seems earlier, though that has also been in some degree modernised. But the campanile springing out of its east side at the top, however inconvenient and unreal an arrangement, seems original. With the situation, however, of the churchyard, my commendation ends. Would that I need say nothing more ! but an ecclesiologist's business is clear:

" it is to have a deeper sense than most Of what should be,-and deeper pain than most To see what is."

In the middle of the churchyard is a tall obelisk to a brother of a Duke of Athol. Yet such a monument is perhaps in some degree excusable in favour of a member, so to speak, of the royal family of Man. But the condition of the churchyard itself is infamous. I saw a newly opened grave; the earth that had been thrown up from it thickly strewed with a woman's, or, I rather think, with a girl's bones; the skull lying at the bottom, and seeming to look up at me with its sightless eyes, as if pleading against such extremity of sacrilege. Before this, perhaps, it has been crushed to pieces by the descending coffin of the new tenant. I went into the church, and saw the registration of a marriage, exceeding in irreverence every thing I had previously witnessed. The school, too, was being taught in the church; the pues and all other arrangements are as bad as can be; and the lovely situation of the building is exceeded by its internal wretchedness.

Before leaving this church, I must observe that it is noted in the ecclesiastical history of the island for a synod, holden here March 10, 1291, by Mark, who filled the see of Sodor and Man, from 1275 to 1298, though not without being once expelled from his see. These canons2 were thirty five in number, and principally relate to ecclesiastical rites.*2

Deeper and deeper went the road among groves of ash, and sweet little summer valleys, gradually, however, running more definitely through the great southern glen of the island. On the right, Greaba raises himself up, abruptly and rockily from the south, but to the north sloping off more gently into the mountain chain, which cuts Man into two portions. Three miles further showed me Kirk Marowne, on a high hill to the left;-a church dedicated to S. Marowne, sixth Bishop of Man. Labouring up to it, I found it entirely new,-a mere room, with a campanile at one end 3.

Descending into the road, another mile brought me to the ruined church of S. Trinnion4. Such chapels may well occur in the Isle of Man. For S. Germanus, the first Bishop, built a chapel for every four quarter lands; there were seven hundred and seventy-one of these territorial divisions in the island. So a Manx ballad5 of 1520:

" For each four quarter lands a chapel he made,
Where the people might meet and pray:
He built German Kirk in the Castle of Peel,
Which remaineth to this day."

The island was not divided into parishes till the episcopate of S. Maughold, about A.D. 500.6

S. Trinnion 7 stands in a lonely field, skirted with ashes; Greaba towers behind. The building is roofless, and lime and ash shoot up luxuriously from it,-anchor their twining roots into the walls, and are gradually pulling them to pieces. The church itself is built on the type of all the Manx churches. It has chancel and nave only, without architectural distinction between them, and western campanile. Its material is the grey island sandstone, which splits like Horsham slate; the dressings of red sandstone, whether for the sake of colour, or because it is more easily worked, I know not. It is clearly of early Middle-Pointed date; and was therefore probably built during the Scotch domination. The east window of two lights, and very acutely pointed, must have been pretty; on each side of the chancel was a one-light window. The priest's door is on the north. The nave is more ruinous, but appears to have had two one-light windows on the north, and one, besides the door, on the south. The west window was an ogee-headed lances; and the whole west end, with its double campanile, would do very well for a small simple church. The mass of rubble that supported the mensa of the altar still remains. It is the island tradition that this church, built in consequence of a vow made in danger at sea, was never finished, through the malice of an evil spirit called a Buggane. But that it was completed, the sockets of the priest's door, made of slate, remain to show. It ought to be restored, for the hamlet of Crosby, hard at hand, has nothing but a meeting-house8.

Here the road passes over a spur of Greaba;- and presently Sliewhallen, " the mountain of the whelp," in shape like a couchant lion, shows himself on the left. Three miles further on, stands S. John's chapel. This at present is in process of rebuilding, so that service was performed in the adjacent schoolroom, to a crowded congregation.

S. John's9 is the first Manx attempt in the way of the Ecclesiological movement. It has most gross and glaring faults: but still, it is a prodigious advance on such things as Kirk Marowne, or the Douglas churches. It is cross, without aisles: with a semi-hexagonal apse projecting from the chancel, a western tower and (intended) stone spire, and south porch. The architect has got hold of some grand principles: his chancel is well developed; his style is early MiddlePointed; his roof is open; his sacristy in the right place. But both nave and transepts are preposterously broad; the latter, indeed, have two two-light windows at both north and south; there are no chancel, or nave, or transept, arches: the roof is braced together in the centre in a most uncomfortable way; the tower is a mass of littlenesses; all the windows are the same, two trefoiled lights, with a quatrefoil in the head. Of mouldings, the architect has not the most distant conception. This is the Tynwald church; and about a hundred yards to its west is the Tynwald mount, of which I may have occasion to speak at greater length hereafter. It is, so far as convenience is concerned, the centre of the island; for the great roads from Peel to Douglas, and from Ramsay to Castleton intersect here.

Walked up Sliewhallen; a provoking mountain, because (so to speak) it gets in its own way, cutting off all view to the south; South Barrule does the same to the south-west; Greaba to the northeast. From this height, nine hundred and seventyeight feet, S. John's already looks a very pretty object, and will of course be much more so, when the spire shall be finished. Down the steep descent, those who were found guilty of witchcraft were rolled in a spiked barrel, unless they preferred the alternative of being burnt alive.

Prayers in the majority of Manx churches being at six o'clock, walked out on the Peel road. It is a very fine winding pass; the mountains clothed with young plantations of fir, with elm, ash, and lime, grow higher and higher; the river Peel brawls along over its rocky bed below. I think I never saw wild flowers with brighter tints than in this island; wild roses of the most brilliant crimson; - foxgloves of deeper hue than our own; while the pretty little saxifrage runs over every old ruinous wall, and the heath makes every little knoll a blaze of purple. Two miles of deep solitude; then, leaving the road, I struck up a defile running up into the heart of the Manx mountains. This ravine is really so fine, that were it better known, it would become a favourite object for tourists. From the mountain side, sometimes almost on the same level with the water, sometimes far above it, you look down on the battles of the stream through its sandstone bed; sometimes pouring rapidly through a natural tunnel, sometimes spreading itself into a pool, dark from its very clearness; sometimes rushing furiously through the torture bed of a narrow channel; sometimes playing with the foxgloves or blue bells that hang over it as if to kiss it. Thus you pass on till the mountain gorge closes up abruptly, like the Olles of the Pyrenees, and the stream tumbling and roaring through an upper gorge, collects itself for its great leap, and precipitates itself in the cascade of Rhenass.

It is seldom that the proprietors of such glens, when they take in hand to improve them, do not spoil them; but I am bound to say that the owner of this has shown great good taste in cutting out a simple path along the mountain side, and in throwing one plank across the stream at the foot of the cascade.

Rain all the way back to Douglas: Sliewhallen and Greaba, like two valiant champions, 'doing battle with the squadrons of clouds that, one after the other, discharged their fury upon them. The Douglas bells welcomed me back to evensong.


*1 This cross is engraved in the " Archaeological Journal " II.75.
*2 Ward's " Ancient Records," pp. 130, seq.



Back index next

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001