[From Ecclesiological Notes, 1848]

July 5, Douglas.-Yesterday the evening gathered in so quickly round me, that I had to leave the south-west of the island unexplored.

The road to the west runs close to the remarkable promontory called the Stacks of Scarlet: Castle Town Bay to your left, as you stand on the edge, Poolwash to your right. The view, at four o'clock on a summer morning, is grand: Longness Point in shade-the Bay purple and quiet- Castle Town lighting up into brightness-the sublime promontory of Spanish Head a blaze of light;-the air bringing the sweet scent of the furze from the " Hill of the Rising Day,"-now most fitly so named: everything dewy and fresh; -sea gulls wheeling and screaming beneath you; and the Calf closing in the scene with its gigantic precipices.

Hence to Port Le Mary, a fishing village with nothing of interest; and then along the beach to the awful precipices of Spanish Head. This cape, which is said to be so named from the loss of some vessels of the Armada, is a conglomeration of columns, heaped together in the wildest and most chaotic manner, with a fearful chasm rifting the precipice from top to bottom. With a good head you may clamber down one step after another of the graduated edge, and hear the clang of innumerable sea-fowl around you, the howling of the wind above you, and the booming of the sea in the rock-groined caverns below you. It is the grandest scene in the Isle of Man.

Still going west, the Calf of Man comes out most strikingly, with the remarkable pierced rock called the Eye to the left, and Kitterland Isle to the right. I longed for time to cross; but there are no ecclesiological remains in it, and eleven o'clock must see me at the Tynwald Mount.

Turning northward, a mile and a half to Port Erin, a most picturesque fishing village, at this early hour awaking into life. Then to Kirk Christ Rushin, a new church; and, keeping east, came out by Balladoole. Between this place and the sea are the remains of a ruinous chapel, Kiel Vael, evidently on the usual Manx plan, but so completely dilapidated that it is difficult to make out anything further than its First-Pointed date.

Reaching Castle Town, and breakfasting there, started eastward in the yet early morning. King William's College is probably, ecclesiologically speaking, the most absurd building ever erected. It is, to quote the description of one of its officers, " of mixed Early English and Elizabethan character;" and, instead of being quadrangular, is, of all imaginable shapes, cross, with a central tower! The scheme, however, is noble; and the manner in which it has been kept in view from the time of Bishop Barrow, 1663, till finally carried into effect is most praiseworthy. With this, however, we are scarcely concerned now. One thing I cannot help mentioning; that an estate of £130 a year lately bequeathed to the college, was contested by the avaricious heirs-at-law, on the strength of the statute of mortmain, but was confirmed by law, that statute not extending to this island.

Still keeping east, to the remarkable peninsula of Longness, at the northern part of which, accessible at low water, is S. Michael's Island.

The ruined church of S. Michael, which the pardonable zeal of some Manx writers carries back to the fifth century, is very early First Pointed. It is excessively small, about thirty feet by fifteen; and consists of chancel and nave without architectural division. The east window is a lances, with semicircular head very deeply splayed. There is a square-headed window north and south of the chancel, as also at the west end; in the nave there are no windows. There is a south door, with a semicircular rubble head; and a plain bell-turret. The foundations of the altar are still to be traced; and there is a kind of odd looking bench or step which may have been a sedile,-or more likely a credence,-at the northeast angle. S. Michael's Isle is said by Camden to be Sodor.

Here there is a fort of the seventeenth century, which I did not visit.

The road becomes flat and dull: Kirk Santon church is modern:-then, by a cross way, to Rushin Abbey.

The ruins of the Abbey of S. Mary, Rushin, the last dissolved in England, lie on the side of the pretty little Silverburn, not three miles from Castle Town. The Abbey Bridge, commonly called the Crossag, would appear to be FirstPointed. It is impassable for anything beyond a beast of burden.

Of the ground-plan of the abbey, or the church, nothing can now be discovered. The very few windows that remain are excessively rude' but would appear to be Third-Pointed.

The abbey was founded in 1134, by the good King Olave, surnamed the Dwarf, who had been brought up at the court of Henry I., and had married his daughter. It was a cell to the Cistercian Abbey of Furness; and in its turn planted a cell in Arbory. It appears that the Bishop resided here frequently, and the monks either elected him, or had a voice in his election. The church was not consecrated till 1257, by Richard, Bishop of Sodor and Man, in the reign of Magnus III., the last king of the Norwegian line.*
* The infamous manner in which the third part of the revenue of Olave's gift, intended for the education of the young and relief of the poor, was embezzled, is ably exposed by Mr. Cumming, pp. 49, 50.

In the abbey garden is a tombstone, which has given rise to the most absurd conjectures on the part of Manx antiquaries. It is a Dosd'ane, carved with a cross, and a sword by its side, evidently a knight's tomb.

Hence to S. Mark's Chapel, a mere modern building; and then, skirting South Barrule, to S. John's, in order to be present at the meeting of the Manx Tynwald,-a mediaeval scene which, once beheld, can never be forgotten.

The Tynwald, or Parliament, consists of the Lieutenant Governor, as head; the Council, containing the Bishop, the Archdeacon, the VicarGeneral, the two Deemsters, the Attorney-General, the Receiver-General, the Clerk of the Rolls, and the Water-Bailiff;-these answer to the House of Lords;-and the House of Keys, or Taxiaxi, corresponding with the House of Commons, and containing twenty-four members, only self-elected.

Tynwald Mount is a small conical hill about one hundred and twenty yards to the west of S. John's Chapel. It is divided into three stages; the east side having a flight of steps up to it. A long narrow plat of grass bounded by a mound of turf, leads to the west door of the church. The laws are promulgated in Manx and English, in the open air, and till so promulgated, are not valid. The whole scene, the crowd of persons of all ranks, stations, and business,-the booths, the flags, the bagpipes,-the troops drawn up in double line to the school which, on this occasion, did duty as the church,-the attendance at prayers by the governor and two houses,-the Clergy in their gowns,-the transaction of business in the open air:-all this gives a perfectly indescribable effect.

Two things, connected with the influence the Church ought to exercise in such meetings, I was sorry to see;- first, that the Bishop, who is expected back tomorrow, did not think it worth his while to anticipate his return by one day, in order to take his proper place as Premier Baron of the island; secondly, that the Clergy threw off their vestments the moment the meeting was over, as if glad to get rid of them the very moment they were not absolutely needed.

Back to Douglas by S. Trinnion and Kirk Marowne.

With respect to the efficiency of the Church in this island, it is of course impossible for a stranger to speak. One thing only it is most painful to see,-that whereas, in Bishop Wilson's time, there was only one family of dissenters, now the Wesleyans alone have forty meeting-houses. This may be attributed in part to three causes:-1. The ultra-conservative policy which the House of Keys has taken up, and, self-elected as it is, is able to maintain, and which, on the principle of the connection of Church and State, is identified with the Church. 2. To the odium incurred by Dr. Murray in endeavouring to collect the tithe of green crop, and to commute the revenues of the see for £6,000, which obliged the military to be called out, and led to the removal of the Bishop from the scene of his unpopularity. 3. To the frequency of translations since the island was ecclesiastically annexed to the British government. Since that time, (1838) namely ten years, there have been five Bishops; the preceding seven had sat for one hundred and forty.

The gradual diminution of the external power of the Church, it is sad to witness. Before the Reformation the members of the Council were twelve. Of these, six were ecclesiastics,-the Bishop, and the Lord Abbat of Rushin, Barons; the two Vicars-General, the Archdeacon, and his official.

The Abbat of Rushin, of course, lost his seat at the Reformation; when the Archdeacon's official ceased to sit, I know not; in 1846 the Bishop's two Vicars were reduced to one, who is also a layman.

Again, before 1845, the Bishop and one Priest were members of the Court of Gaol Delivery, and sat in cases of life and death. When the jury returned, the Clerk, instead of inquiring Guilty or Not Guilty ? asked, '` May the man of the Altar continue to sit ? " If the answer was in the negative, the ecclesiastics withdrew, and sentence of death was given.

In all the churches the prayer for the Church Militant is retained, as is the Offertory, there being no poor-law.

The Manx Convocation meets on the Thursday in Easter Week, and their Canons, being consented to by Tynwald, become law. The Act of Uniformity never having been accepted by the island legislature, the Bishop has the power of appointing any occasional prayers he may think proper; and Bishop Wilson frequently did so. And to this day, in every Manx church, the last suffrage but one of the Litany runs thus:-

" That it may please Thee to bless and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth, and to restore and continue to us the blessings of the sea, so as in due time we may enjoy them;

" We beseech Thee to hear US, Good LORD."

The devotional spirit of the people is very remarkable. The beautiful practice, by which, before the herring-boats sailed, the Priest went down in his surplice to bless them, is now obsolete; but even still, the men themselves, after embarkation, uncover and pray for a good draught. Of the August pilgrimage to S. Maughold, I have already spoken. The Night of Mary (Christmas Eve) is observed with great pomp, the peasants vieing with each other in bringing large tapers to church. After prayers and a sermon, they begin to sing carols, and keep up the music very late.

The fear of sacrilege evinced by the Manx peasants is very great. The ruined chapels are still venerated, and a Manx formula of cursing is, " May a stone of the church be found in the corner of your house!"

A beautiful proverb is given in all the guidebooks, but will bear repetition: " When one poor man gives alms to another, GOD Himself laughs out loud for joy."

I will conclude with one remark. While these pages are passing through the press, a self-called reformer has presented a petition from Peel, praying for abolition of grievances, and a representative, and has pledged himself to bring forward the subject next session.

To say nothing of the absurdity of talking of the "grievances" of the happiest island under British Government, and the folly of an advocate for liberty wishing to change self-legislation for one member in the House of Commons, what follows should be taken into consideration.

England, of course, may " annex" Man,- as America did Texas; but she cannot do so with justice except Tynwald agrees to the proposition, any more than Scotland or Ireland were united to her without the consent of their own Parliaments. Might may easily overcome right; but, if the act takes place without agreement on both sides, it will be a gross violation of the law of nations. The Council might, perhaps, consent to the change; but the House of Keys, like sturdy yeomanry as they are, never would.

And the Churchman should ask himself one question. If the independence of Man is attacked, ought not an effort to be made to preserve the canonical liberty of its clergy, which must fall with its own freedom ? At present they can meet in convocation; they can pass canons; they can meet emergencies; they have the liberty, in short, which the English Church would purchase at any price. Is it not worth while to strive earnestly for a form of Church govermnent among us, so theoretically, and in Bishop Wilson's time so really, perfect ? May his saintly memory preserve the spiritual independence of his island, as assuredly it preserved the separate existence of his episcopate!


Back index next

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