[From Proc IoMNHAS vol 1]





[Read 14th December, 1907].

Though it is possible and not unlikely that Christianity was first introduced into the Isle of Man from Candida Casa, the monastic establishment of S. Ninian at Whithorn, there is nothing to indicate that it became established or spread through the Island at that time, and the earliest influence to be manifested is that of the Celtic Church of Ireland. It is to Ireland, therefore, we must look for the origin of the type and model of our oldest ecclesiastical structures, and, even if our local material for the study of these remains were as plentiful as it is in fact scanty, it would be profit-able by way of introduction to that study to consider the nature of the buildings, their forms, construction, and general character in the land whence they were derived, and it would be. well to regard their development in Scotland, where also they were introduced with the Christian religion from Ireland.

It is certain that we had nothing here in Pagan times at all resembling these Christian edifices. Our materials for the study of that period are derived from the small earthworks or forts, the foundations of a few early dwellings, and the burial mounds and cairns. Such dwellings as can still be traced appear to have been small and circular in plan, but as only their foundations remain we can but surmise that they may have been built in overlapping courses of dry stone, forming the conical roof or bee-hive shaped structure common to men of the same race in the surrounding lands Still, we have no evidence of this, and possibly the greater number were of mud or wattle, with perhaps in some cases large stones to mark their foundations. We have no stone forts, and, in our early earthworks find but very little trace of dry rubble walling used to support the earthen banks. Some of the burial places exhibit large stones set on edge, with heavy cap-stones resting on the top, a good example of which may be seen in the large cist exposed by the side of the road just north of Tynwald Hill very seldom do we meet with a low facing of stones laid in courses beneath the ground or against a bank.

The Christian Churches, therefore, appear to be our oldest buildings. Before considering them let us see what was the nature of the earliest ecclesiastical structures in Ireland and in Scotland.

We know from written record that the constitution of the early Scotic Church was monastic ; the abbot, clergy, and monks had each their separate cells, which served them as habitations. These, with the churches and other buildings, were constructed within the fortified enclosures of the chiefs who embraced the faith and took the founders under their protection, forming, as Petrie says, a kind of monastery or ecclesiastical town like those of the early Christians in the east, and known among the Egyptians by the name of Laura. Thus we read that Dun Lughaidh, Meath, was given by Prince Conall to Saint Patrick, who there built his church of Donaghpatrick ; Aodh Finn was given to Saint Caillen , and so on When land was granted with no fort already in existence, it was the first care of the missionary to erect a Caisel, wall or embankment of earth and stones surrounding the area on which he designed to set his church and other buildings. And, as stated by Dr. Anderson, ‘ . this association of the church with the fortified enclosure, at first dictated by necessity, became established by long custom as the normal form of the ecclesiastical structure, and the rath or cashel surrounding the monastic buildings remained to mark their separation from the outer world long after its primary purpose of a defensive structure had ceased to be recognised.*

Among the early irish examples which I have at different times been able to visit and inspect are those on Skellig Michael, Ardoilean, Inismurray, and Oilen-Tsenach These are described in Petrie’s " Round Towers and Ancient Architecture of Ireland (1820), Miss Stoke’s "Early Christian Architecture in ireland" (1878), and I)r. Anderson’s "Scotland in Early Christian Times ( 1881 ), from which chiefly I take the following notes

1.—Skellig Michael, about twelve miles off the coast of Kerr), of which S. Finian (d. at close of the sixth century) is said to have been the founder. Near the summit of this isolated rock is a ledge. about 180 feet by 80 to 100 feet, protected by a Cashel wall of dry stone, and containing several bee-hive shaped dwellings and two churches. The first—the interior and exterior plan of which is rectangular, measuring inside about 17 ft. 6in, by 12 ft—has an oval dome, finished by flags laid across. The door. at the west end, is 4 ft. 10 in. high, with inclining sides There is a single window, which is at the east end, the interior splayed, with a flat lintel, the light with a semicircular head, Below this is the altar. The second, about 9 ft. by 5 ft. 9 in., is rectangular on the exterior, but within the corners are rounded. The doorway at the west end is 3ft. 6 in. high, having inclining sides. There is one window, which is at the east end ; below it, the altar. A cross of white pebbles is inlaid above the door.

II.—Ardoilean, or High Island, six miles off the coast of Connemara, the foundation of which is attributed to S. Fechin, whose name we meet with in Forfarshire as S Vigean’s (d. 664). The cashel of dry stones encloses an area 108 feet in diameter, having an entrance on the south-east side. The church, built of small flattish stones in rough courses without cement, measures internally 12 feet by 9 feet 6 inches, and is 10 feet high. The door at the west end is 4 feet 6 inches high by 2 feet 6 inches, tapering to 2 feet 2 inches, the jambs built up. In Petrie’s time there was one window at the east end, 12 inches high by 6 inches wide, with semicircular head, below which was the altar. There are two circular cells on the east side, and on the other side a number of smaller ones.

* " Scotland in Early Christian Times, "‘ p. 78.


III.——-S. Molaise (d. about 500), on innismurray in the Bay of Sligo). The cashel encloses a space 200 feet in diameter, having an entrance on the north-east, quadrangular, with inclining instead of perpendicular jambs. Two other entrances afe now destroyed. Within the enclosure are three churches. The largest is 25 feet 6 inches by 12 feet, the walls being 2 feet 3 inches thick, with little cement of shell grouting and clay. The doorway, in the west end, is 4 feet 6 inches high, with inclined jambs The only window is at the east end---small, round-headed, and deeply splayed. The second church is 17 feet by 11 feet 3 inches. Door in the south wall, and an east window, narrow and flat.headed. The third is about io feet square. The door in the west end has vertical jambs; ill the east end is a small window with round head cut out of a single stone, and inclined jambs. Below this is a rude altar. ~1 here are remains of several cells.

IV.—Oilen Isenach, S. Senach’s Island, one of the Magherees, off the coast of Kerry. The cashel encloses an area of about 180 feet by 120 feet. There are two small churches, three bee-hive cells, and three leachtas or burial places. One of the churches, with walls 7 feet in thickness at the base, measures about 14 feet by 8 feet internally. The doorway in the west end is 4 feet 4 inches high, and 2 feet 6 inches, tapering to i foot io inches, wide. There is but one window, which is in the east end, small, fiat-headed, and having an inclination to the south. The -other church has walls 8 teet thick. 1’he doorway. 3 feet 6 inches high, is 2 feet wide, tapering to 1 foot 9 inches at the top. Over the doorway is a cross formed of white quartz boulders set in the wall.

From this, to quote the words of Dc. Anderson, " we gather that the characteristic features of the earliest type of Christian remains in Ireland are—(i) That they exist in composite groups comprising one or more churches placed in association with monastic dwellings, which consist of dry-built cells of bee-hive shape, the whole settlement being enclosed within a cashel or rampart of uncemented stones ; (2) that the churches found in this association are invariably of small size and rude construction (3) that whether they are lime-built with perpendicular walls, or dry-built and roofed like the dwellings by bringing the walls gradually together, they are always rectangular on the ground plan and single-chambered ; (4) they have usually a west doorway, and always an east window over the altar."

It appears, further, that these characteristics are in accordance with what we learn of these early settlements from incidental statements in the chronicles and annals which are the sources of our historical information regarding them ; and we cannot doubt that if such was the character of the structures in use in the parent church, the same style of building, the same forms of huts and churches, and the same assemblage of both within a fortified enclosure, must have prevailed in the planting of the Christian Church iii Scotland."

He then presents three Scottish groups as typical of these characters :— 1.—In Loch Columcille in Skye, which Petrie refers to as " the most undoubted remains of a monastic establishment of S. Columba’s time." The cashel, of uncemented stones, encloses an area about 60 feet by 42 feet. Within are remains of cells, which were probably bee-hive shaped. The church of Columcille measures 22 feet by 12 feet inside.

II.—On Eilean na Naoimh, one of the Garveloch islands, lying between Scarba and Mull. There was no Cashel, the island being very small and sufficiently protected by its own rocky coast. Traces remain of bee-hive cells. The church, 21 feet 7 inches long, is built without mortar. Door at west end, square-headed, with inclined jambs. The only window is at the east end.

Ill—On the Brough of Deerness, in Orkney. The Cashel wall is 3 feet wide, faced only with stone on the outside and banked up inside with earth. There are remains of iS cells, of uncemented stones, elongated and with rounded corners. Ihe church, in a small quadrangular enclosure, has lime-built walls, 3 feet thick, and measures internally 17 feet 4 inches by io feet 2 inches. The doorway, at west end, is 2 feet wide. The only window is in the centre of the east wall, its sill about 6 feet from the ground.

Both in Scotland and Ireland there are also many examples of early churches or chapels not associated with monastic buildings, some single-chambered, some with an added chancel, these forming the two distinct types of buildings, the more complex, consisting of nave and chancel, having originated out of the more simple. The first, as we have seen, had but one door and one window ; the extension eastwards necessitated further provision for light, and we accordingly find in the second type windows in the south.

Having thus prepared our minds for the consideration of the scanty remains in the Isle of Man, into which Christianity was introduced, or re-introduced, from Ireland, let us see whether we can trace here a similar style of building, forms of huts and churches, and assemblage of both within a fortified enclosure. Allowing for the decay and the renewals of buildings, and for the many and great changes which have occurred, we may, I think, recognise such traces. On Peel island, off the west coast, at Maughold on the east, and Balladoole at the south, we have evidence of early churches in association with other buildings enclosed within a surrounding earthwork which may represent the Cashel. These are possibly our oldest remains of ecclesiastical origin, and even now, renewed and altered as they have been, further careful research may afford evidence enabling us to form a more definite conclusion.

Apart from this peculiar association of buildings and surrounding fortifications, we have evidence in the ruins and foundations of the Keeills or early churches scattered throughout the Island, sufficient to show the character and construction of the edifices themselves. We find in the Isle of Man but one type, small in size and rude in construction, consisting of a single chamber and having but one door ; probably also, in the earliest form, but one window, and that iii the east end, but unfortunately the east gable is now in every instance destroyed. The altar, too, which we may expect to have been below the window, is now no longer to be traced in the remains of buildings older than the tenth or eleventh century.+

Of this type we have two varieties, the one constructed by laying stone upon stone without cementing material, the other built with lime mortar. The appearance of the door in the south wall instead of at the west end, and of western and side lights, is undoubtedly of later origin, derived possibly from the second group in Ireland, with nave and chancel, the addition of the latter being the primary cause there for such an arrangement. Curiously, this form never reached the Isle of Man, which is peculiar in respect of the single chamber ; this, with the rectangular ground plan, has survived in some instances even to the present day.

The examples quoted show that the dimensions of these buildings in Ireland and in Scotland are small. Dr. Petrie, speaking of the Irish " Oratories," makes clear that in the buildings of this class there is a great want of uniformity in size, but their average may be stated to be about i~ feet by 10 feet (interior). In the Isle of Man, correct measurements can only be taken by clearing the walls of growth and the accumulated rubbish of centuries.

The walls vary from 2 ft. 6 in. to about 5 ft. in thickness at the foundation. Ballayelse, in Arbory, is the only example remaining which shows their full height, and in that instance they stand 6 ft.

In twelve cases the doorway is in the west gable, and in four, in the south wall. In only one or two cases are there traces or records of the position of the windows, and these are in the south walls, except in the buildings at S. Michaels isle and at Peel, which cannot, I think, be earlier than the tenth or eleventh century.

The ground-plan is invariably rectangular, or roughly so, and there is in no instance any trace of a division, or indication of a separate chancel.

All of these little keeills appear to have had grave-yards surrounding them, and where it is still possible to trace the enclosure it is found to have been artificially raised, but this has apparently been for the purpose merely of making it level ; and, where the surrounding ground is lower all round, this has been caused by removal of the soil in order to make the earthern fence, and by. frequent ploughing of the land. In some places we find lintel graves of a Christian character where there is neither trace, record, nor tradition of a building, but there must at one time have been a keeill of some sort in connection with them.

I append a list of those which I have been able to identify and I think it possible that a few more sites may still be recovered. I reserve, therefore, the question of their distribution for another occasion, merely stating that so far I have a total of 151, exclusive of Parish Churches, of which three or four certainly, and six or seven probably, are on sites older than the eleventh century. In Conchan I have only heard of three ; in Maughold at least twenty can be identified. In my list I have given the names of the Treens so far as I am able to identify them, but I do not mean to imply that these were all what is known as Treen Churches, nor is it to be implied that they are all of equal date. All I say at present is that they are earlier than the eleventh century. I have prepared a list of dedications so far as they can be recovered, but as this deals with a different aspect of the question, the historical rather than the archæological, I reserve it for subsequent treatment.

By way of illustration I exhibit the map of the Island, which I had prepared for my work on Manx Crosses. This will give an idea of the distribution of these little keeills. I show plans of the monastic establishments at Skellig Michael, Innismurray, and Oilen Tsenach, in Ireland ; a general view of the buildings on Skellig Michael ; views of several doorways and windows in early Irish cells, and of the west gable of Sula Sgier in the Hebrides and ground-plans of Teanipull Gell in Ireland, and Inchcolm Cell on the east coast of Scotland, copied from the works referred to on page 422 ; and Sir Henry Dryden’s ground-plan of the keeill on Ballaquinney, Marown, which may be taken as a type of the earliest of these remains in the Isle of Man.

+ Since this was written the work of our Archæological Survey has already revealed the bases of altars in several of our ancient Keeills.  

NOTE-—Since the above was written, our Archæological Survey has commenced a careful exarnination of these remains, and a few additional sites have been heard of. As complete lists of each Parish, with the names of the Quarterlands and the treens in which they stood, appear in the Survey Reports, it is unnecessary to repeat them here.


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