[From Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 3 pp331/5]



I. As I have already explained elsewhere, I may here assume that the parochial system in the Island—the constitution of parishes and the establishment of parish churches—dates at the earliest from the middle of the 13th century (Bishop Richard, the Englishman, first Baron Bishop of the Island) ; but more probably from the last quarter of that century (Bishop Mark, first Scotch Bishop, A.D. 1275-1300). Bishop Simon died in 1247 ; and in 1266, Magnus, last King of Man. They were the last of the old Manx-Norse kings and bishops ; henceforth there was Scotch and English rule, and in the church an English bishop, then a succession of seven Scottish bishops. The parochial system was exotic and alien ; but as it had been introduced from England into Scotland, so from Scotland most probably it was introduced here.

2. Observe now the map of the Island ; and remembering that the churches of Patrick, Ballaugh, Lonan, and Marown have modern sites—substitute for them the older sites, viz. , St. Patrick’s, on Peel Islet, Old Ballaugh, Old Lonan, and Old Marowri. It appears at a glance that, saving Marown, the sites are emphatically round the coast. But here there will be an obvious answer, which, if it went into the matter at all, would with one stroke of generalisation sum up the whole subject. This obvious answer is that, (1) remembering the mountain backbone of the Island, and that (2) the heights and uplands above 700 feet or thereabouts of altitude are a waste and uninhabited from the earliest times —it is only on the lowland seaskirts of the Island that one ought to expect the sites of ancient parish churches ? If all the sites were adjusted to this one circumstance, as, for example, Rushen, Arbory, Malew, and Kirk Michael seem to be, this obvious answer would go far to be a complete generalisation.

But nine out of the sixteen coast churches are within a measured half-mile of the sea shore, viz., St. Patrick’s, St. German’s, Michael, Ballaugh, Jurby, Maughold, Lonan, Onchan, and Santon; nay, St. Patrick’s and St. German’s are on one and the same rocky islet, and Maughold is also on the edge of the crags of a promontory that juts out into the sea. The obvious answer will not fit into quite a number of the sites. Cation Savage found a man who easily accepted his statement that there had been a glacial age. " ‘Deed maybe there wass," said the man. " I know myself that when I was a bhoie, there was far. coulder w’ather and far more fros’ and snow tel’ what there is now.' "

3. How the parish churches became to be situated so near the sea shore was attempted to be explained to myself by a much more thoughtful man than the man Canon Savage met :—" In ould times, it’s like there wouldn’t be very much of the land cultivated ; only little bits near the shore. The upside of the parish would be all ‘mountain ‘ when the churches was built. And anyway there wouldn’t be that many people in, in them days ; not in the Isle of Man anyway." Evidently he had no idea that an organised social system, and rights of property, existed in those days, " when the churches was built."

Yet in his explanation there is a flavour and salt as of truth.

Where it really fails is in running into one several into one several distinct epochs in the distant past of the Church, epochs that were remote from each other by intervals of several centuries Thus, if one looks at his explanation twice, the question is provoked, "What was the condition of things, in the matter of population and the distribution of the population, when the churches were built? " if by this latter expression we agree to understand the epoch when the parochial system was introduced into the Island, when the parishes were marked out, and the parish churches, as such, were appointed and provided.

Now, this epoch was ñot that of St. Ninian or St. Patrick, or St. Colomba ; nor was it the period of the Godred or Orry family, when a diocesan bishop was appointed, 1134 ; but it was, as has been mentioned above (most probably) the period of Bishop Mark— that is, after " King Orry’s days," and, in round figures, six centuries ago.

It is just six centuries, then, since our parish churches were founded. But for other six centuries before that epoch, the Christian religion had been in the Island ; and for a century and a half the Island had been a diocese ruled by diocesan bishops.

It is only when we see the Christian past of our Island lying before us like a landscape - where on the farthest horizon we see dimly Ninian, Patrick, and the like ; and, in the middle distance of the view, less than half-way to its outer limits, we see the figure of Bishop Mark — it is only then that we can rightly discuss the question at all.

The parochial system and parish churches were together a natural development and growth ofearly mediæval life in England. The system was already in existence before it could be deßned and described. But, in the Isle of Man, the system was defined and described first, and brought into existence artificially thereafter. Where only sheadings had been, they were sub~divided into parishes, whose limits were marked out ; and where no parish churches had been (but churches of other kind in multitude of number and variety of kind), parish churches, as such, and ministers with parochial charge were ordered to be, and were actually provided according to the ability of the times.

The question then arises, " What and what kind of churches existed before that epoch, viz. , for example, in the 12th century and the early part of the 13th century?


(a) The diocese of Sodor and Man was founded in 1134 ; and we have some knowledge of the bishops. At that period the bishop had one-third of the tithe of the Island ; and the whole of the Island was in fact one large parish, of which the Bishop was Rector. So late as the 19th century, Bishop Powys took this view of his position as Bishop There being no parishes clergy probably worked from one or from several centres. The cathedral was founded about a century before parishes were Constituted. There is something more than a hint of a chapter of Clergy at St. German’s about 1245. These were not necessarily all resident; but a resident body is implied. But also there is evidence of a body of clergy at Maughold in 1160. And no doubt there were other centres There was no parochial distribution and isolation of the Clergy — as afterwards came to pass in the parochial system As to the existence of Maughold more than a century before it became a parish church, something will be said later on.


( b) (i) Rushen Abbey came into existence in 1134, Contemporaneously with the diocese itself. Few records remain of its early growth It had a branch in Lezayre, and had a temporary local habitation in Douglas It acquired lands in five parishes. Several Bishops of the Dioc6se were buried in the Abbey ; also King Olaf the Black. In 1260, Bishop Richard dedicated or consecrated a new church either at the Abbey or at Castletown ; and King Magnus the last Orry, was buried in the Abbey, in 1266.

(2) The Nunnery at Douglas had lands and a chapel.

(3) The Priory of Whithorn had a barony of land under Greeba mountain, and built St. Trinian’s (or Ninian’s) Church. The date or period of this land being granted to Whithorn is a matter of conjecture but it was probably in very early times. The present ruinated church is probably rather older than the Constitution of Our parishes

(4) Similarly, the Irish Abbeys of Bangor and Sabal had, from very early times, the land between Glen Meay and Dalby, with a chapel, the traditional site of which is in the chapel field at Ballelby.

(5) The Priory of St. Bees’ had lands in Maughold and at Groudle The ruins of the Barony Chapel still remain.

In every case these " religious houses " provided a chapel and the offices of religion for the Occupiers of their lands in every case, these lands were independent estates, and quoad sacra autonomous, constituting an imperium in imperio, in things ecclesiastical


( c) Finally as explained in my paper on Treens, read before this Society at Ramsey, in 1896, the great bulk of the lands in the six sheadings, viz., all the lands exclusive of these ecclesiastical baronies, and the lands of the Bishop, were held from the King by hereditary freeholders in estates whose extent and limits remain known to us in the Treens ; and on every Treen there was a small church provided by the proprietor or freeholder of the Treen. The size of the Treen was not much smaller than many small . ancient parishes in the South of England. The Treen was, in fact, a tiny parish of the very simplest nature.

For example, the Sheading of Ayre, from the Lhen round the Point of Ayre to Ramsey, and inland to the central ridge of the Island, containing 35 treens of land, exclusive of Abbey lands round Sulby, was sub-divided into three parishes ~ There had been normally three dozen small churches in the Sheading. There were now to be three principal and parish churches ; for each 12 little chapels, one new central church ; and the little chapels were to fall into desuetude. It was a new system, to supplant an older. It was a new ecclesiastical organization.

We have now to answer, if possible, the question, " What was done in providing a parish church ? Was a site chosen central to the parish, and a new church built / or in what way was the site settled ?"

We must first settle if my country friend was right when he said " there would’nt be much land cultivated, only little bits near the shore, and the upside of the parish, all ‘ mountain,’ when the churches was built." My country friend was under an entire mis-apprehension as to the state of society " when the churches was built." The Rent Roll (1510) shows that the country population of the Island was distributed then precisely as it is now. That is going back four centuries. But on the internal evidence of the Rent Roll, on the evidence of Place-Names, and on the evidence of some certain things we know about the tenure of land, from the " Rushen Chronicle," and the earliest documents in our Statute Book, this distribution of population four centuries ago was much the same as it had been for probably four other centuries in the earlier past—was, in fact, the distribution of population in Norse times. There is hardly a doubt that 90 per cent. of the farmsteads in the Island to-day stand on sites that were occupied six centuries ago by the garths and steads of Norse-Manx yeomen.

It is clear that in providing parish churches no attempt was made to select a central situation in the cases of Maughold, Lonan, German, Patrick, Jurby, Ballaugh, or Santon.

Maughold Church is at the extreme N.E. corner of the parish, on an almost insulated promontory ; Lonan is at the extreme S.E. Corner of the parish, on a narrow projection of the parish between Onchan and the sea. German parish church was at first on the Islet of Peel Castle, off the coast ; but, subsequently, on the main-land in Peel town, at the S.W. corner of the parish ; and Patrick Church, for more than four centuries (till Bishop Wilson’s time) was also on Peel Islet, the extreme N.W. corner.

These four cases are significant ; but when we consider these churches, we find that in all four of them the existing walls are of considerably older date than the time when they became parish churches.

Not to labour the matter overmuch, it may be stated in one word that, in the case of these four parishes, churches already existing were selected to be, and received the status of, the parish church in spite of the fact that their sites were not central or convenient but because, in other respects, the churches were suitable, viz., had antiquity and sanctity ; were of reasonable size ; or, Possibly, someone may say that it was also for considerations of economy. If so, the Manx people have been conservative in their Worst qualities. Nothing can be imagined more inconvenient to their respective parishes than the churches of Maughold and Lonan; but German and Patrick together on Peel Islet match them.

These four examples by themselves hardly establish for the rest the general proposition above stated ; but they do not stand alone. We, therefore, take seriatim a number of the others :-

(1) It was at Braddan, in a church existing at the time, but long ago taken down (probably in 1773), Bishop Mark's Synod adopted his parish regulations ; so that Braddan was an existing church when parishes were being constituted. But, apart from that, the crosses and runic inscriptions at Braddan are of much older date. It was made the parish church. It had been a Norse church. Nay, its dedication to Braddan is a note of far greater antiquity. The prehistoric remains around Braddan, and other considerations in connection with the history of the Celtic Church and Celtic missions, point to Braddan as having been an ecclesiastical site of an antiquity of 12 centuries rather than of six.

(2) Malew is another church of very ancient dedication ; and the existing nave of Malew is probably 1,000 years old. Malew church was an ancient building when Malew became a parish, and this church was made the parish church.

(3) Arbory, dedicated to Columba, points also to the pre-Norse period.

(4) So does Santon, dedicated to St. Sanctain.

( 5) Michael Church was in existence half a century at least before it became the parish church, being mentioned as the place where Bishop Symon died.

(6) The runic remains at Old Ballaugh are pre-parochial, being of the 11th or 12th centuries,

(7) Kirk Bride Church is on the site of a church of great antiquity, inasmuch as the treen of land on which it stands took its name from the church ; and the treen name is of pre-parochial date. But the runic remains, of course, establish it further. This is probably an example of a treen church, having been selected to become the parish church.

(8) Similarly, in Andreas, the runic remains point to a church, if only a small church, as standing there in pre-parochial times. In short, there is probably not one of the seventeen parish church sites that is not of older date than the formation of parishes.

To say, then, in every case, what these churches were is impossible. They were, in some cases perhaps, treen churches of the Norse period ; but they were mainly of older date, viz. , were of the old Celtic period. To them the Norse or Manx-Norse race came. In them the Manx-Norse saw the Christian worship, and learnt the Christian faith.

We are now free to say a word about the churches being so very near the coast, nine of them within a-measured half-mile of the sea shore.

They are usually near some small port or landing place. There was a time, but not, indeed, " when the churches were built," a time long before that, centuries before that, perhaps eight centuries before that, when the "upper parts of the parish were ' mountain," when the population was thin on the coast-that early time when Celtic or British missionaries, whether followers of Ninian or of Patrick, or of Columba, or of Kentigern, landed on the Island in such landing places as Peel, Ramsey, or Port Mooar in Maughold, at Groudle, Santon Burn, and Derbyhaven

Very curious, indeed, it is when visiting other countries first converted by Celtic missionaries to find churches now in ruins, with thernost ancient dedications and other evidence of being the first Christian churches there planted, and to find the sites of these on the coast, and invariably near some little port, harbour, or creek, the landing place of those who founded the church ; and then to return to the Isle of Man, and to see our ancient parish churches occupying sites characteristically the same. So that the drift of my observations is to suggest that our Manx parish churches occupy the most ancient sites, and are on the very ground pressed by the feet of those that first brought us the Christian faith.



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