[From Manx Antiquities,1863]
TO visit the Church and Well of Saint Maughold, we must proceed in the direction of the bold headland which bears his name. Starting from Ramsay in an easterly direction, we pass along an undulating road of much picturesque beauty. Hills wooded to their very summits rise from our path, while far below the fishers' village and white beach lead the eye to the open waters of the ocean. The Bay of Ramsay on our left, in its present stillness, is an object of beauty as well as historical interest. Its white beach, its rocky knolls just protruding from the water, its promontories and bold headlands, its fleet of boats and ships reposing on its surface, exhibit to us a pleasing and a very different prospect to what history would suggest. Here the fleets of the daring Norseman often anchored, and invading ships from other countries encountered each other within fight of the shore. Here, too, stormy waves and billows have often driven the benighted mariner on the sunken rocks and wild headlands which encompass it. Yet now it is calm and serene, and as, ever and anon, a hillock, or thick clump of trees, (huts it out for a time from our fight, it soon opens up to us again, with some little variety, but as beautiful and peaceful as ever, reminding the beholder of a fair dissolving view or a pleasant dream.
In passing onwards we reach some rustic cottages with garden plots redolent of flowers, especially the fuschia, and soon reach the village called Port le Voillen, about halfway between Ramsay and the Church of St Maughold. At this village the inhabitants are principally fisher people, simple, kind, and obliging.
After we pass this village, a grassy knoll on the left hand side of the road speedily attracts the attention of the antiquary. On this hillock stands a weather-beaten stone on which can yet be saintly traced the sign of the Cross. On the rough outline, which is still discernible, five bosses are prominent. One is situated in the centre, one at each of the arms, one at the top, and one at the stem. Each of these bosses is encircled with a deeply cut line, and the stem of the cross reaches almost to the ground.1 The workmanship is of the rudest and most primitive description. The size of the stone is 5 feet high by 2 feet 8 inches broad, and it is nearly a foot in thickness. No inscription upon it is now visible, is any ever existed, nor is there anything to mark its history. It once occupied a different locality, having been removed within the memory of the present inhabitants from an adjoining field to the site it now occupies.
Runic Cross, Kirk Maughold
Antiquaries have hazarded various conjectures as to the original use of this Cross. By some it has been regarded as pointing out the extreme limits of the Sanctuary, by others as evincing that an oratory had existed in this locality. To me the stone gives the impression of its having been a wayside cross or "girthstane," as they have been called in Scotland. I only found one other like it on the island which will come to be mentioned in its proper place. We know that in the early ages of the Christian Church crosses were raised in the neighbourhood of the shrines of favourite saints, not only to guide pilgrims to the sacred edifice, but to remind them of the duties of,prayer and penance as they came in sight of the cross. Traces of the old girthgate or sacred cross to the ancient Abbey of Melrose are still in existence, and :it :is matter of history that to this sacred path the devout were directed by means of numerous crosses by the wayside, some of which are described as :having been highly ornamented. Unfortunately none have been preserved to our day; but we readily see the origin of the girthcross or stane. In Ireland we have many such memorials still existing, belonging to an early period of Christianity, and the devout Roman Catholics of the present day still pray and do penance at them. What then is more likely than that the rude. stone cross at present under :review was one of these ? St Maughold's shrine and well, at. the end of the fifth and beginning of the sixth centuries, were far famed, and attracted pilgrims from all directions not only to do homage at the shrine, but to drink the waters of that sacred well which he annually blessed.
A drive of about four miles from Ramsay brings us close to the promontory of St Maughold, in a sheltered nook of which lie the church and well of this renowned saint. A sudden turn of the road ushers the traveller at once into the village, the general appearance of which is that of desolation and neglect. The few village urchins who were at play on our arrival speedily disappeared, the cottars' huts seemed tenantless, the centre of the village was grass grown, and the walls covered with moss and native weeds. The old church with its bell seemed the only object endowed with life around us. In the centre of the village green stands a carved memorial pillar, a beautiful object for the archaeologist ; but the principal interest which it seems to have for the present inhabitants of the place is derived from the fact that :no Manx bill-sticker passes without leaving his tribute there.
The shrine and well of St Machutus, Machaldus, or Maughold, were held in great repute from very early times. The legend about him is " That originally having been captain of a band of Kerns or Irish freebooters, he was converted to the Christian faith by the :great apostle of Ireland, St Patrick. Desirous of withdrawing from the scenes of his former lawlessness, :he is said to have embarked in a frail boat made of wicker work, and covered with hides; and, committing :himself to the guidance of the Almighty, he was driven by the wind and tides, and at length cast ashore on the Isle of Man, at the headland which still bears his name. The severity of religious discipline to which he subsequently subjected himself, spread his fame for sanctity far and wide,. and Manx tradition alleges that St Bridget, the famous nun, came hither to receive the veil of perpetual virginity :from his hands ; and that upon the death of Romulus, he was by universal consent elected to the bishopric of the Isle."2
The present population of :Maughold is composed of the men who work in the neighbouring iron mines, and their families. At one time it equalled, is it did not exceed, the :Ramsay of the present day ; but an obvious reason for this is to be found in the historical fact of Ramsay being subject to such repeated invasions that there was no security for the inhabitants or their property. They therefore flocked to the sacred place and its immediate neighbourhood, not only for safety, but. to derive benefit from the numerous pilgrims who were attracted from all quarters to this shrine and well many of whom must doubtless have resided for considerable periods of time with the villagers.
But. we must now examine those objects of antiquity which surround us here. And, first, let us return to that cross in the middle of the village green which so often, publishes the bill-sticker's news. This is a monolith of silicious slate. Well, though rudely, carved, and much weathered, it seems to have stood the effects of time and exposure worse than many similar monuments composed of the softer schists of the island. I am not satisfied with the representations of this cross which have previously been published they do not exhibit the Runic work with sufficient definition or accuracy. I believe this to have been at one time one of the most beautifully carved crosses on the island. It stands about eight feet high, and is nearly two feet broad. The carved faces look east and west. . The sign of the cross sculptured upon it appears small when compared with the size of the stone itself, but this appearance arises from the mass of ornamentation which surrounds the cross and gives rise to this idea, for the absolute sign is much the same as that on other monuments of similar dimensions. Both faces abound with the ordinary Runic curb work, together with other patterns not common here a circumstance which leads to the impression that the sculptor had visited other countries before carving this example. The edges of it are decorated with scrolls of diversified patterns, some of which represent the meshes of a net and fishing hooks of different kinds and size.
The Scandinavian origin of this monument has been questioned. There are certainly no Runes upon it to mark it distinctively ; but the general character of the cross itself, of the curb work in the pannels of it, and especially the animals, and the manner in which they are depicted,3 are so similar to other monuments of undoubted Scandinavian type that little indeed, we think, can be urged in opposition to this view.
Not many yards distant from this monolith, opposite to the church gate, and raised on three rough steps of (tone, stands the ancient market cross of " St Maughold." It has a somewhat unique appearance, and is the only thing of the kind to be seen on the island. Projecting upwards from the rough platform we have mentioned, is a slender octangular grooved shaft, 4 feet 1o inches high ; this is surmounted by a carved entablature of 2 feet 6 inches. The carving on this has at one time been exceedingly rich and bold, as, in spite of the weathering of the soft atone, the outline and general character of all the principal parts are still distinct On each of the four fides of this entablature we have crocketted canopies, with scutcheons over two of them, and shields under all. Within three of the canopied niches figures are still to be seen ; but the fourth has been nearly effaced, and is so indistinct that it cannot be made out. On opposite fides we have the Crucifixion, and the Virgin and Child; and on a third the sainted Maughold kneeling at prayer. The other is defaced. The shields beneath these canopies are instructive, and fully bear out the legend of St Maughold. That under the Crucifixion bears the present arms of the island, reversed, and in a very primitive form. The arms of Man, which were originally a boat at sea, were changed at the Scottish conquest to the three legs now in use. We know therefore that the age of the present cross cannot be anterior to 1270, seeing that this shield presents the arms of the island as altered at that date ; but it is certain that it must have been erected soon after that time. Opposite to the one we have been describing, and under the image of the Virgin and Child, is a shield of trefoil, surmounted by a small cross. This is in all probability emblematical of the mission of St Maughold, who came from Ireland under the influence of the cross. On the shield under the canopy of the saint himself is a series of prison bars, and, underneath, a branch of the palm tree; which may be readily construed as descriptive of a life, liable to imprisonment and shame, terminating in peace and holy repose.
We cannot contemplate at the present day the history of this cross and surrounding objects without reviving the memory of past times. At this cross, centuries ago, the people congregated ; here bargains were made, and contracts entered into ; barter in all shapes went busily on. The pilgrims to the sacred well and shrine mixed freely with the villagers; the priests, too, were there, advising and comforting the people, occasionally rebuking them, from the steps of the cross. How true the well-worn line
" Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis !"
Now, no priestly garment meets the eye ; no crowd ; no pilgrim ; no trafficker or barterer; the day-dream of contemplation is alone broken by the scream of the sea-bird, the laugh of the village child, or the tinkle of the church-bell as it calls to the house of prayer.
The church itself and surrounding graveyard are objects which most attract attention. The church is a simple, unadorned building, of no great age, with its belfry over the porch. A highly ornamented cross has been chipped, and affixed, to suit the purposes of a lintel, to the doorway, on entering which a large and very primitive-looking circular baptismal font meets the eye. This font at one time stood outside the church door, and is of considerable antiquity. The graveyard is large, contrasted with the size of the village; but we must remember that it is the parish graveyard of a large district, and that it has been a sacred burying-place for ages. The peculiar sanctity of the church of St Maughold has given rise to a legend, which is detailed in the " Chronicon Manniae" with scrupulous exactness.
" Somerled, Jarl of Argyle, had taken up arms against Godrid Olaveson. In the year 1138, he approached the Isle of Man with hostile views. The Manx people, profiting by former experience, conveyed all their valuables to the sanctuary of St Maughold's church. Aster the battle with the Manxmen, in which Somerled was victorious, the fleet lay at Ramsay, and one of his captains, "Gil Colum," made a proposal to surprise the church of St Maughold, and at least drive off the cattle which were feeding around the churchyard.
" Let the affair rest between thee and St Machutus," said Somerled ; " Let me and my troops be innocent. We claim no share in thy sacrilegious booty." Gil Colum laid his plans accordingly, arranging with his sons to effect the sur prise at daybreak next morning. But as he lay asleep in his tent at dead of night, St Machutus appeared to him, arrayed in white linen, and holding a pastoral staff in his hand, with which he thrice struck him on the heart. Awaking in great terror of mind, he sent for the priests of the church to receive his confession, but they had no words of comfort for the dying wretch. One of them even prayed that St Maughold would never withdraw his hand till he had made an end of the impious man: Immediately he was attacked by obscene and monstrous flies, and in the morning expired in great misery and torture." In the place of sepulture are to be sound many monuments to which attention might be called ; our space, however, limits us to the consideration of two. On the right hand side of the entrance door to the church, is a cross of gray-coloured schist,. about five feet high, now propped up against the wall, and considerably weathered ; yet it exhibits the cross in prominent relies, and on each side of its stem are figures of men or women sitting in old-fashioned chairs. It naturally occurs that this may have been a representation of the aged individuals to whose memory the cross was raised, but I believe it to have been expressive of the position which they occupied in St Maughold's chair at the healing spring. We know that on the first Sunday of August annually (being the Saints' day), a chair was placed close by the sacred well, in which those who were to be benefitted by the healing virtues of the water were placed.
A circular monument at the west side of the church deserves attention. It has the cross deeply carved upon it, and has its pediment fixed into the niche of a large flat stone, which apparently covers the grave of the departed. We shall have more to say of such monuments afterwards.
Immediately behind the graveyard, a bridle road leads onward to the magnificent headland of St Maughold. Following this road we speedily arrive at a spot to the north-east of the headland, and not far distant from the church itself. To this spot we are attracted by the brilliancy of the grassy carpet which covers it., On approaching we find that this verdure arises from the presence of a spring, which wells from the rock, limpid and cold, under a natural canopy of rough blocks of stone. Some gorse bushes and stunted willows above, and bunches of rushes amongst the grass below, attest the presence of perennial moisture. The waters of this fountain are doubtless often partaken of by tourists who know not that it has a history. Yet this is the well, obscure in its simplicity, to which the sainted Maughold resorted 1400 years ago, and whither multitudes followed him to be cured of their maladies and to be baptized. Nor are the supposed healing virtues of this spring even yet forgotten in the island. On the Saint's Day, the first Sunday of every August, crowds from the neighbouring parts annually visit the holy well, and carry off with them quantities of the healing water, to be kept in the house for any family emergency.
Returning to the village we shall next pursue the road to Cornah, which speedily brings us to a beautiful little waterfall called Ballaglass. This cascade is romantically situated, and is formed by the Dhoon rivulet, which flows into the picturesque creek called Cornah. On the summit of a hill in this immediate locality is said to stand a large stone circle "composed of massive stones placed upright at various distances." " The natives call it Castle Chorry," obviously from Orry, who was King of Man in the tenth century.
I regret that I could not see this Scandinavian relic. Neither the villagers nor any body of whom we inquired knew anything of it. After much fruitless search, therefore, I had to return to Ramsay without having been able to visit what is averred to be one of the most distinct sepulchral mounds in the island.
(1) These bosses are similarly represented in the Meigle and Aberlemno crosses of Scotland, and are manifestly derived from the nail heads or ornamental. studs of the ancient British buckler. Wilson's Archaeology, V. 498.
(2) Cumming's Isle of Man, p. 230.
(3) The horse is represented as drinking at the fountain a man standing by its side-while sheep and goats follow for the same purpose.