Ancient Monuments

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Cross Kirk

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.7866 / 60°47'11"N

Longitude: -0.8074 / 0°48'26"W

OS Eastings: 465035

OS Northings: 1212100

OS Grid: HP650121

Mapcode National: GBR S0C7.6M3

Mapcode Global: XHF75.X4PP

Entry Name: Cross Kirk

Scheduled Date: 30 March 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13045

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel

Location: Unst

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a small Norse or medieval chapel set within a rectangular enclosure. The remains are visible as low drystone walls. The site lies about 450m SE of Clibberswick, close to the sea. It stands at 10m above sea level and offers views out to sea along the voe of Harold's Wick.

The enclosure is sub-rectangular and measures 24.6m by 15.8-18.9m over rubble walls up to 2m thick. There is a putative entrance in the W of the enclosure wall, measuring 2.5m wide. The chapel, which is aligned W-E, measures 7.1m-7.3m by about 8m. Up to six courses of the internal wall are visible in places, although the interior is filled with rubble. The outline of the chancel can be seen at its E end.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is a well-preserved example of a small Norse or medieval chapel and enclosure. It appears to be relatively undisturbed, and so is likely to preserve archaeological evidence relating to its function, the people who built and used it, and the date of its construction, use and abandonment. Although the walls of the chapel and enclosure are denuded, they retain sufficient structural integrity to add to our knowledge and understanding of early medieval architecture and religious practices when Christianity was being introduced into this part of Scotland. The enclosure may contain graves with human skeletal remains and we know from geophysical survey that there are other features surviving outwith the enclosure. Future study of graves could provide valuable information on life in the Norse and medieval period, including diet, health, incidence of disease and life expectancy.

Contextual characteristics

The chapel appears to have been deliberately situated to enhance its visibility from the sea and to provide a view out to sea.

Small chapels of Norse date are rare in Shetland, and indeed Scotland, and few examples have been excavated to modern standards. Cross Kirk is of a similar size and form to the excavated examples at Kebister (Shetland), the Brough of Deerness and Brims (Orkney) and Balnahow and Keeill Vael, Balladoole (Isle of Man). As at Kebister, a stone enclosure is centred on the chapel, but has been constructed on a slightly different alignment. This might represent a developmental sequence in which a small Norse chapel was replaced by a medieval chapel. Together these sites add to our understanding of the infancy of Christian communities in Scotland, revealing national similarities and regional diversification. They offer the potential to examine the connections between ecclesiastical sites and the ways that Christian culture was dispersed.

Associative characteristics

The nearby place names of Harold's Wick/Haroldswick and Clibberswick indicate a Norse presence in the area, 'wick' being Norse for bay or inlet and Clibber being derived from the Norse 'kleber', meaning steatite (soap stone). A Norse steatite quarry is visible just N of Cross Kirk, at Cross Geos.

The beginning of Christianity in Scotland is an important area of study, particularly to the present Christian community, and the early ecclesiastical settlements are vital to any understanding of how the faith spread throughout the country. Documentary sources refer to the coming of Christianity, but the accounts we have are partial and problematic. The fragmentary nature of the historical record enhances the significance of the archaeological remains preserved at Cross Kirk.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular the Norse and medieval church in the British Isles. This site has the potential to make a significant contribution to our knowledge of early ecclesiastical architecture and economy. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand Norse and medieval chapels and the role they had in the dissemination of Christianity in Shetland and across the British Isles.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as Cross Kirk, church, HP61SE5 (CANMORE ID 154). The Shetland Amenity Trust records the site as Cross Kirk, MSN2685 (PrefRef 2596).


Brady, K, Johnson, P G (Ed. Morris, C D) 1999, Unst Chapel Survey 1998, GUARD 515.3

Brady, K J & Johnson, P G 2000, Unst Chapel-Sites Survey 1999, Phase 1: Report 2, Volume 1: Analysis, GUARD 515.4.

Morris, C & Brady, K 1998, Unst Chapel Survey 1997, GUARD 515.

Morris, C D & Brady, K J 1999, 'The Shetland Chapel-Sites Project 1997-98', Church Archaeology 3, 25 & 28-31.

Owen, O and Lowe, C 1999, Kebister: the four-thousand-year-old story of one Shetland township, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph Series Number 14.

RCAHMS 1946, Twelfth Report with an inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland 'Volume III, Inventory of Shetland, Edinburgh: RCAHMS.

Turner, V 1998, Ancient Shetland, London: B T Batsford Ltd.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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