[From Proc IoMNHAS vol 1]
By MR. P. M. C. KERMODE, F.S.A.,Scot., &c.
Though we do not yet know the precise date when Christianity was introduced into the Isle of Man, tradition, supported by several early dedications, affords ground for the belief that it was not later than the end of the fifth century, or the beginning of the sixth. This is in accordance with the material evidence in the remains of many small Keeills, or Chapels, though their ruinous condition, and the absolute simplicity of their structure, void of all architectural detail, make it impossible, in the present state of our knowledge, to give their age with certainty. It is, however, confirmed by the series of sepulchral monuments found in connection with the Keeills or their sites, which appear to date from the fifth on to the eleventh century, when they merged into the series of Scandinavian crosses belonging to a different church system. Before this Scandinavian period, Christianity here was undoubtedly represented by a branch of the early Celtic Church, and as in the case of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, we may be sure that in connection with the larger Churches or Monasteries, there must have been illuminated copies of the Gospels, the Psalter, and other MSS., as well as relics enshrined in cases of metal. Our staff-lands of Kirk Patrick and Kirk Maughold imply precious relics in the form of Staffs of early Saints, encased no doubt in ornamental metal work, and held by hereditary keepers, or Dewars, to whom grants of land were made in return for their custody; of Bell-shrines, Book-shrines or Cumdachs, and others, all trace has long since dis-appeared. Yet, three relics of some kind survived till the period of the earliest record of our Midsummer Tynwald (1417), and of whatever nature they were they must have been held in extra-ordinary respect and veneration to have come down through the many changes of dynasty, races, and religion ; and we know from our Chronicles that the Staff of St. Maughold was in existence at the time of Somerled's raid in 1138.
We have no local records of the period of our Celtic Church, and the absence of tradition, or of any indication other than those mentioned, may be accounted for by the disturbed and unsettled condition of the land and the many great changes which have since occurred. Occasionally, however, a brief reference to the Isle of Man is to be met with in the Annals of the surrounding lands, and from Ireland we learn that there was at one time a Shrine to St. Mochonna on Inis Patrick, which, in this connection, has, on the excellent authority of Dr. Todd, been identified with Peel.
In Petrie's " Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland," p. 203, we read that, to judge from the numerous references in the Annals, there were previously to the irruption of the Northmen, in the eighth and ninth centuries, few, if any, of the distinguished Churches in Ireland which had not costly Shrines, containing the relics of their founders and other celebrated saints ; and he quotes the Annals of Ulster, at the year 794, and of the Four Masters, at the year 790, for instances of burning and plundering, and of Shrines opened and stripped ; proceeding- again, at the year 793, that Inispatrick was burned by foreigners, who carried away the Shrine of St. Dachonna." In " Christian Inscriptions," edited by Miss Stokes (1872), we find this reference at p. 23 :-"A.D. 793 : The Shrine of Dochonna was borne away by foreigners from Inis Padraig, now Holm Peel, in the Isle of Man." Moore's " History of the Isle of Man," p. 75, contains the following references to this entry :-" One of his (Columba's) companions, St. Mochonna, or St. Dachonna, who was sent by him to the Picts, had a Shrine on Inis Patrick, probably Peel Island in Man, which in 798, according to the Annals of Ulster, was 'broken' by the 'Gentiles,' i.e., the Northmen." In a footnote, the author adds : " It is Dr. Todd's opinion that Peel Island was Inis Patrick. Introduction to the wars of the Gaedhill with the Gaill." Though we have no local tradition of a Shrine on Peel Island, or of a Saint Mochonna in any way connected with the Isle of Man, there is no other spot so likely to be intended, and Dr. Todd's opinion would seem to be supported by the appearance of what I submit is quite likely to be the Shrine itself.
For this Shrine, I suggest, is still in existence, its recent history known, and its character and appearance already described and depicted. Our Norse raiders of that early period were certainly Norwegians, and, if the Shrine were carried off by them, it is from Norway that we may expect to learn something of its subsequent history. The early Celtic Shrines known still to exist are very few in number and marked in character. Dr. Anderson, in an interesting and fully illustrated paper on "The Architecturally-shaped Shrines and other Reliquaries of the Early Celtic Church in Scotland and Ireland," Proceedings of the S.A., Scot., for 1909-10, pp. 259-281, describes five such " which are all that have come down to our time." Of these, two were found in Norway, and his description of one of these is of peculiar interest to us, as it seems to bear internal evidence of a fortner connection with the Isle of Man. This example has long been known, and was figured by Worsaae in 1859, in his illustrated catalogue of the Copenhagen Museum, where it now is. Prof. Stephens, who regarded it as from Northumbrian England, figured it also in his " Old Northern Runic Monuments," Vol I., p. 476A, in which he says : " The original is of bronze, silvered, and may be as old as the 10th or 11th century." It is, however, evident that he was mistaken as to the period, and Dr. Anderson shows that it must belong to the series of Shrines of our early Celtic Church. The latter thus describes it :-" It is 6½in. in length, and 4in. in height. The sides are slightly sloped inwards, and the gable curved inwards," in which particulars it differs from the other example. "The bar along the ridge of the roof has projections at either end and an ornamental panel in the centre. The sides and roof are engraved with interlaced knotwork of good design, and two medallions on the lower part and one on the upper are ornamented with triplets of spirals, terminating in dragonesque heads in the style of the older spiral ornament. On the ends there are the remains of a hinge for suspensory attachments like those of the Monynusk Shrine. Scratched on the bottom of the Shrine is a Runic inscription."
I here give a copy of Stephen's figure of the Shrine and of the Runes on the bottom plate of it.
Fig. 1.- Celtic Shrine in the National Museum, Copenhagen. [From Prof. Stephen's " Old Northern Runic Monuments."]
Since this was written, I have had a courteous reply from the Director of the National Museum, Copenhagen, to whom I wrote about the casket. He has not only favoured me with a full description, but has been good enough also to send me a photograph of the back, which has not hitherto been published. As will be seen from Fig. 3, the decorative design differs greatly from the face. I here quote the description :-" The casket is a square wooden box, with a roof-shaped lid, and covered all over with thin brass plates, silvered. The length is 0,135 centimetres [sic 135mm ?], the breadth 0,055 c., the height 0,055 c.[55mm] The sides are slightly inclined, the upper length of the casket being only 6,125 c.[61.25mm], and breadth only 0,049 c.[49mm] On one of the long sides are engraved intertwined Celtic ribbon ornaments ; on the other are brass bindings, riveted and placed vertically and horizontally at right angles to the border and across the smooth ground. In the middle of the former long side are two circular medallions, placed side by side, with chased brass borders, the middle of which has an animal figure, chased, and much intertwined. The framework riveted on the other long side has the shape of two crosses with straight arms ; at their points of intersection is a brass quadrangle ; to the quadrangle is soldered a quadrangular, thin, double brass frame, with narrow partitions, the deepenings of which have been filled with flux ; a few red brown fragments of the flux are still preserved. Within the flux frame is an empty square space.
On the short sides are laid thin brass plates engraved with Celtic ornaments, and silvered. To the plates are riveted brass bindings, consisting of a horizonal bar with three vertically placed eyes, and a bow turned downwards. On one of the sides this lock is broken, on the other it i, perfectly preserved and fastened with three rivets. By two hinges on the back the roof-shaped lid is fastened to the casket. The ridge protrudes on each side by 1 centimetre over the gables, and consists of thin brass walls, with traces of orna-ments on the outer sides ; the walls frame in quadrangular and circular spaces, with remains of red fluxes, and the ends have the shape of a trefoil, the cavities of which are now empty, but have been originally filled up with fluxes. The length of the lid is 0,12metres [120mm] at the bottom, and 0.098 m. [98mm] at the top. The sides slope much ; the height is 0,045 m [45mm] The two long sides correspond exactly to those of the casket; the back has an engraved plate, silvered, with a brass medallion in the middle ; on the front are riveted brass framework with a square frame, with remains of flux; the space within the square is empty. In the triangular gables is a smooth plate, silvered. The wood inside the casket is 0,01m.[10mm] in thickness.
Fig. 2.-Runic Inscription cut on bottom of the Shrine.
In the casket are some pieces of red and green silk, a bone wrapped up in a slip of vellum, and a splint. An inscription says that the former is from St Paul, and the latter from the Cross. The inscription on the slip of vellum is in Latin and in minuscules. Two folded pieces of paper have a German inscription in the hand-writing of the 17th century."
Fig. 3.-Back of Celtic Shrine in the National Museum. Copenhagen. [From Photograph sent by the Director.)
The inscription, lightly scratched, is perfectly clear, and reads- -Ranuaik a kistu thosa, i.e., Ranwaig owns this casket. Rand-weig, in the form Rannveig, occurs frequently as a female name in Landnáma-bóc ; and we may suppose that at a later period, some two centuries after this plundering raid, the Shrine had come as a precious possession into the hands of the lady Rand-weig, then living in Man, and, by her or at her command, was inscribed with her name as owner ; that at a still later date it had been carried to Norway, whence, as shown by the Museum records, it found its way eventually to its present resting place in Copenhagen. The fact that it bears this inscription (though not contemporary with its workmanship), and that Runes are unknown in Ireland, whereas in Man they are numerous, makes it rather more likely that the Inis-patrick from which a Shrine is recorded to have been carried, refers to Peel, and not to Inispatrick off the Skerries, county Dublin, or elsewhere in Ireland. The runic characters, too, resemble those met with on our Manx monumental crosses of the 11th century ; thus we have the runes for A, N, and T, with the character-stroke on one side only of the stem-line, and S represented by the half-stroke instead of the usual Scandinavian form of two half-strokes connected in the middle by a diagonal. Still more characteristic of our Manx inscriptions is the use of t for nasalized A in the last word--thosa, for thási, acc. fem. of thessi, '' this," a word which occurs in this form (allowing for the difference in gender) in several of our inscriptions. This use of F =nasalized A, is also to a certain extent an indication of date, for the same character came later to be used for O, in which sense, too, we find it on others of our Manx monuments, and this change came in gradually from about the middle of the 11th century. Again, the use of the dipthong AI for EI in the first. word word is a peculiarity frequently met with in the Isle of Man. It is clear, therefore, that the Runic inscription on this Shrine belongs to the group found on our Manx monuments, a group which is practically confined to the Isle of Man, with one or two examples in the Western Isles and a large assemblage in the great. mound known as the Maeshowe in Orkney ; its origin may be traced to the Jaederen inscriptions in Norway, which bear a close resemblance to the Rok group in Sweden. Runic inscriptions are infrequent in Britain, and unknown in Ireland ; those found in the North and on the East of England are of a totally different character and belong to a different period and a different people. Brief as this inscription is, it is difficult to account for so many peculiarities distinctly characteristic of those on our monuments of the 11th century except on the assumption that it was cut during that period, when the casket was in the Isle of Man ; and i£ it was in the Island in the 11th century, it is more likely to have been originally set up here than to have been brought from Ireland, and there is no place so likely to have had such a Shrine in the 8th century, as Peel, which in all probability saw the first Monastery established by the Mission of St. Patrick,; but Peel was formerly known as Inis Patrick, Insula Patricii.
Now, the Annals of Ulster, of Inisfallen, and of Tighernac, contain other undoubted references to the Isle of Man, as under the year 581 ; and it would be natural and likely that Ulster should have record of such an early raid of the heathen Norsemen on a place so venerated in an island so close to their own shores, and so connected with their history ; and it we have no other record and no local tradition of the event, neither has any other Inispatrick. Considering, ther fore, the character of the casket and of ins ornamentation, which proves it to be a Shrine belonging to our Celtic series, and is consistent with the early date assigned to that of Saint Mochonna ; considering, further, the marked peculiarities of the runic inscription subsequently carved on it, we may feel that if proof of identity is not absolute, as in the nature of the case it scarcely could be, yet the cumulative effect of the evidence is such as to justify us--till a better title can be shown-in claiming this to be the identical Shrine of 'Mochonna on Inispatrick, which is recorded in the Irish Annals as having been carried off by the Norsemen in 797.
Since the above was written, I have heard from Dr. Cochrane, President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, who very kindly looked up the reference for me in the Annals of Ulster. He finds the year ought to be 797-"there is nothing about it in 798"; and he agrees that it was St. Patrick's, Peel, that was raided, and not the Island off the Skerries, adding that " Hennessy, who edited and translated the Annals of Ulster just quoted, was also of that opinion, i.e., that it was Peel." The extract is as follows :-
Extract from the Annals of Ulster, Vol. 1., p. 279, published by he authority of the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury by the Royal Irish Academy
" Kalends, January, A. D. 797. Endus Ua Dicholla, Abbot of Cill-a-darn, died. Burning of Inis Patraice by Gentiles, and they carried off the preys of the district, and the Shrine of Dochonna was broken by them, and other great devastations (were committed) by them both in Ireland and Alba."
Note (by the Editor, H. M. Hennessy, Deputy Keeper of Public Records). "Iris Patraice-Patrick's Island. O'Donovan thought this was St. Patrick's Island near Skerries, Co. Dublin. " Four Masters," A.D. 793 NoteY. But Dr. Todd understood Peel in the Isle of Man (which was currently called Insula Patricii) to have been intended. "Coqudh Gaedhel re Galliabh," Introduction XXXV. Note."
[In the summer of 1912, 1 had an opportunity of visiting, with Mr. Orpen and Mr. Armstrong. the Inis Patrick of the Skerries, a chain of rocky islets half-way between Howth. Dublin, and Drog-heda. It is a low-lying isle, the third from the mainland, of a hard metamorphic clay-slate, about the area of that off Peel. The ruins of a small church which remain appear to be of about the twefth century, and if there were any building there so early as the eighth century, of which there is no trace, it could not have been more than a cell, certainly not a " distinguished church " in which a " costly shrine " such as this would be likely to have been found. Nor do I know of any connection of St Mochonna with this neighbourhood, whereas the tradition that he was labouring amongst the Picts would apply to St. Patrick's Isle off Peel. My friends agreed with me in thinking that the Skerries islet was not the site of the raid mentioned in the Annals.