[From Manx Antiquities,1863]
CALF ISLAND; commonly known as the Calf of Man is no great distance from Castletown, and is well worthy of a visit from an archæological tourist. To reach it, the best plan is to proceed by boat from Port St Mary, and even this short voyage to the Calf Island is often a boisterous one. The island itself is but a barren plain, swarming with rabbits, and from which the farmer who has it principally pays his rent. Red deer are said to have existed at one time on this island; and, in Cambden's time, such quantities of birds, that it became an object to kill them. "There is a small island called the Calf," says he, "about three miles in circumference, and separated from the south end of Man by a channel of about two furlongs. It is well stored with rabbits and the shearwater, a species of puffin, which breeds in the rabbit-holes. About the middle of August the young puffins are ready to fly, and are taken in vast numbers few years less than four to five thousand. The old ones leave them all day in quest: of food at sea, which they disgorge into the mouths of their young, in whose stomachs is found only a digested oil and sorrel leaves. This makes them almost a lump of fat, and when salted and pickled with wine and spices, they are esteemed a dainty. But they arc chiefly consumed at home in harvest-time."1 So changed is this island since the seventeenth century, that not a puffin is now to be seen near it. An old chapel once existed, but has now disappeared. From it was taken a most interesting relic, now in the possession of the Clerk of the Rolls. " At the residence of this gentleman is an antique slab preserved in a glafss case, which was found in the Calf Island Chapel. Some parts of it are broken and defaced ; the right side of it is entirely gone. The central figure is a rude representation of the Saviour on the Cross ; the body is covered with an oriental garment, and even the face is partially marked. The garment is covered with scroll-work. The figure on the left hand is that of the Roman soldier about to pierce the side of the Saviour. This figure, in costume and delineation, greatly resembles those disclosed by recent researches at Nineveh."2
To those who have no head for stormy waves, a visit to St Michael's Isle is probably the more satisfactory. From Derby Haven the island is readily reached on foot. A strong circular embattled fort first attracts attention, with a light-house at, its eastern extremity. The fort was raised, it appears, by James, seventh Earl of Derby, to protest the harbour of Ronaldshay ; and the light-house more recently, for the benefit of those engaged in the herring fishing. But at the west end of this little island stands an ecclesiastical relic of somewhat early times a chapel or oratory dedicated to St Michael, the reputed guardian of the Roman Catholic Church. It is now grown over with moss and ferns, which corresponds with what Chaloner says of it that it was a ruin two centuries ago.
" The west, north, and south windows" (we quote from Dr Cumming's description, which is exceedingly accurate) " are square-headed, the two latter being only 12 inches wide outside, but with a wide splay to 2 feet 10 inches inside. The east window is one single light, with a semicircular head, and only 10 inches in breadth outside, but largely splayed.
" This little chapel is of but one compartment, whose length is 31 feet, and breadth 14. The thickness of the walls is 3 feet. At the west end is a simple bell-turret. The chapel was entered by one door on the south side, 9 feet from the west end, the height of which is 6 feet, and the width 2 feet 4 inches. This door, like the east window, has a semicircular heading, formed of small pieces of the schist of this neighbourhood, set edgeways in the arch, whilst the door jambs are of rough blocks of limestone. There is no appearance of a tool in any part of it, if we except the coping-stones in the left gable.
" We may mark the foundation of a stone altar under the east window, and at the same end, in the north corner, three stone steps, which may have served as a sort of pulpit. The height of the side walls is only 10 feet. The length of its grave-yard is 192 feet, and the breadth 98 feet, and as yet it is untouched by the plough."
The semicircular heading of the door and east window point to the Norman style after which this ancient church had been built, and thus refers it to the twelfth century, and probably to the latter part of it.
It may be asked What could have been the object of the early Christian Fathers in placing a church at the extreme end of a small and lonely island, not easily accessible, and with few or no inhabitants? Some have supposed that it was an offshoot from the Cistertian order at Russin Abbey, and that the patron saint of this little chapel, like that of Russin, was the Virgin Mary. But it is much more probable that the site was an early Christian landing after shipwreck or disaster at sea, and that the dedication was to St Michael, the patron saint of the Romish Church. Chapels erected on or near the spot where such landings have taken place are frequent over this island, as at St Patrick's Chapel on Holme Island, and St Maughold's at the headland of that name.
However problematical the causes may be which led to the erection of an oratory on this sequestered spot, there can be no question of the blessings which flowed from it spiritual blessings to the early Christians who worshipped the true God in this place, and blessings to the benighted mariner who, amidst stormy billows, was warned from this iron-bound coast by the lights which constantly burned at the sacred altar.
" How many a mariner" (says Dr Cumming), "owing his safety to the light streaming from yonder eastern window at the hour of evening prayer, or to the sound of the vesper bell swinging in that humble turret on a dark and stormy night, may have come to offer up his thanksgivings within the lowly roof, with a fervour no lets, but with a faith more pure, than those whose dripping garments and votive offerings were wont, in still more ancient days, to be suspended in the splendid marble temples of the pagan sea-god ! "
Runic Monuments, Kirk Braddan
We must now, as speedily as possible rejoin the high-road from Castletown to Douglas, for the purpose of visiting the remains of the Nunnery and the Parish Church of the district, Kirk Braddon. The Nunnery is a favourite resort of the inhabitants of Douglas, being romantically situated, and at a convenient distance for a summer-day walk. There is but little of the original building standing, and that is a part of the chapel, with its Gothic windows and arched gateway, over which still hangs the convent bell. In Waldron's time it was more perfect, but still in sad decay. He says that " there are many curious sepulchral monuments in the chapel," some of which, although almost worn out, yet still retain enough to make the reader know that the bodies of very great persons have been deposited there. There is plainly to be read on one of them :
" Illustrissima Matilda Filia Regis Merciæ."
I think there is great probability that this was Matilda, the daughter of Ethelbert, one of the Saxon Kings of England, since both Stowe and Hollenshead agree that the Princess died a recluse. I am also of opinion that Cartesmunda, the fair Nun of Winchester, who fled from the violence threatened by King John, took refuge in this monastery, and was there buried ; because there is upon a monument :
" Cartesmunda Virgo ImmacuIata, A. D. 1230."
This Nunnery, according to tradition, was founded by St Bridget, who came over from Scotland to take the veil from the hands of St Maughold. In the " Chronicon Manniæ" we read that in 1313 " Robert, King of Scotland, anchored at Ramso, with a numerous fleet, on the 18th day of May, and on the Sunday following went to the Monastery of Dubh-glass, where he spent the night."
How lightly do the mass of daily visitors contemplate this time-honoured site ! How often does the sound of empty mirth and laughter echo amidst walls long honoured with silence, where the orisons of devout men and women were wont to ascend in constant memorial, and where the occasional tolling of that convent bell bespoke a prayer for some spirit passing to its last account!
Close by is Kirk Braddon, a church of the early part of the last century, dedicated to St Brandon. In all probability the present edifice, like others on the island, was erected on the site of a former building; for we find it recorded that, in 1291, Bishop Marcus held a Synod at Kirk Braddon, when thirty-nine canons were made. There is nothing worthy of notice about the church itself; but it is surrounded with an extensive grave-yard, which has been in use for ages. Three very beautiful Runic crosses are to be seen placed on an elevated mound in the centre of it, and another lies at the side of the square tower. Two of these crosses were taken, within the last few years, out of the present church. They acted as a lintel and step to a door in it. They are undoubtedly the most beautiful specimens of Runic carving on the island, and those interested in such enquiries would do well to study the designs, the workmanship, and the perfect lettering of these early works of art.
The town of Douglas is well worthy of a visit, being situated at the entrance of a lovely bay. It is a large thriving place, inundated with visitors from all quarters during the summer season. The road by the sea-shore, in the direction of Ramsay, skirts the Bay of Douglas, one of the finest on the island, and much used by bathers. The houses and villas, with the finely-castellated Castle Mona Hotel in the midst, form an amphitheatre, which looks out on the bay.
Pursuing the road, we soon reach Kirk Conchan, where some Runic monuments exist, and are worthy of a visit ; and a few miles further on the Cloven Stones, situated at the right side of the road, arrest the attention of the antiquary. These consist now of two stones, about 6 feet high, which stand erect in the side of a field, one of which is cloven from top to bottom. There is some doubt whether or not this circumstance is the origin of the name, for the word Clovan and again Kirk Lovan or Lonan is the name of the parish in which they occur.
These stones are doubtless the remains of a circle of similar size, which once existed round this barrow. " Towards the close of the last century" (says one author), " it was in a more perfect condition, and the locality was marked by a small circle of stones." Some years ago, in consequence of the interest excited by this relic, and the frequent visits of the curious to it, the Laxey miners many of whom reside in the neighbourhood determined to ascertain whether or not the mound contained hidden treasure ; but their digging revealed to them a single stone cist, which, on being opened, contained, not the coveted golden ingots, but the remains of decayed mortality. One skeleton, in pretty perfect preservation, alone occupied the sepulchral cist. Mr Oswald is anxious to make out that this was not a Scandinavian barrow, but the burial-place of the district " the sepulchre," says he, "of the inhabitants of the Broogh up the gill, named Gloin Gawne :" but had this been the case, we should have had more than one cist and more than one skeleton.
But King Orry's Grave, as it has been called, at Laxey, is soon reached a place in every way of similar origin to the Cloven Stones. This relic at present consists of one prominent standing-stone, while many others of lesser dimensions lie around. Much that is theoretical has been written regarding this ancient sepulchre ; but the proprietor of the ground some years ago had it opened. A vault of 15 feet square was first arrived at, lying on the bottom of which was a kist-vaen of singular construction. On opening this, nothing recognisable was found but the bones and teeth of a horse ; but it is impossible to suppose that this was the only original tenant of this cist. Outside, like the Cloven Stones, it has all the characteristics of a Scandinavian barrow, and it is only another proof in this direction that the bones of the horse were found ; for we know that the warrior's favourite horse was often interred with his master's remains a circumstance which throws additional value on this discovery, and, further, shows the need of further explorations to work it out. Curious it would be, and not at all unlikely, if some Runic fragment were found to denote who this warrior was, who probably fell fighting bravely at the head of his daring Norse invaders.
In drawing these remarks to a conclusion, I am sensible that much of interest has been passed over, especially in the interior of the island. The fortified hills, especially, I should have wished to have described ; but as my visit was principally along the coast line, I think it better not to add what I did not see and examine. I am sensible, also, of many deficiencies in the matter of description, for all which I must beg the favourable consideration of the reader.
1 Cambden, p. 703.
2 Kerruish's Guide, p. 177.