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Uyea Chapel, graveyard and enclosure, Uyea

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Coordinates

Latitude: 60.6655 / 60°39'55"N

Longitude: -0.8888 / 0°53'19"W

OS Eastings: 460830

OS Northings: 1198541

OS Grid: HU608985

Mapcode National: GBR S04K.5BV

Mapcode Global: XHF7Q.V6P0

Entry Name: Uyea Chapel, graveyard and enclosure, Uyea

Scheduled Date: 28 December 1953

Last Amended: 5 July 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2094

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel; Secular: Viking settlement, Norse settlement

Location: Unst

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland

Description

The monument comprises the remains of a small stone chapel within an oval graveyard, and an enclosure attached to the N side of the graveyard that contains the low foundations of at least three buildings. The chapel dates probably to the 12th century. The site stands about 15m above sea level, 100m inland from the E shore of Uyea Island, which lies just off the S coast of Unst. The monument was first scheduled in 1953, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The chapel's rectangular nave measures around 5m E-W by about 3.8m transversely with walls 0.7m-1m thick. It has been partly rebuilt and the walls now stand about 2m high. The chancel to the E has been demolished and is no longer visible above ground. West of the nave is a later sacristry or porch, measuring 5.2m N-S by 3.4m transversely, with narrower walls than those of the nave. It contains the remains of a 17th-century table tomb. The oval graveyard measures 48m WSW-ENE by 31m transversely and is bounded by a stone wall. In the graveyard SE of the chapel are two upright cross-shaped stones and two upright grave slabs. The sub-square enclosure lies immediately N of the graveyard. It measures about 60m SW-NE by 58m transversely and is defined by a low grass-covered bank which encloses a terrace above the chapel. The footings of a series of sub-rectangular structures are visible on this terrace, defined by low grass-covered banks. The buildings are all aligned NW-SE and the best preserved measures around 12m by 7m.

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. The scheduling excludes all burial lairs in use and all memorial stones erected after 1800.

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument survives in reasonably good condition. The nave is slightly irregular in plan, with the E end slightly wider than the W. The original doorway into the nave is visible in the W gable wall, but has been blocked up. Its head is a false arch formed by a lintel resting on rough corbelled springers. The chancel arch in the E gable is similar in construction and now provides access to the nave. The walls are of local schist bonded with lime mortar. The structure to the W has a blocked N door and one jamb of a window is visible on the W wall. The upstanding remains of the chapel preserve features that can inform our understanding of early church architecture. In addition, there is high potential for the survival of important buried archaeology. The chapel stands on a low mound which is likely to conceal earlier remains, including possibly an earlier chapel. It is probable that a number of burials remain in situ both in the chapel and graveyard, with the potential to enhance our knowledge of status and burial practice, and to reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps family relationships and the types of activities people undertook during life.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument survives in reasonably good condition. The nave is slightly irregular in plan, with the E end slightly wider than the W. The original doorway into the nave is visible in the W gable wall, but has been blocked up. Its head is a false arch formed by a lintel resting on rough corbelled springers. The chancel arch in the E gable is similar in construction and now provides access to the nave. The walls are of local schist bonded with lime mortar. The structure to the W has a blocked N door and one jamb of a window is visible on the W wall. The upstanding remains of the chapel preserve features that can inform our understanding of early church architecture. In addition, there is high potential for the survival of important buried archaeology. The chapel stands on a low mound which is likely to conceal earlier remains, including possibly an earlier chapel. It is probable that a number of burials remain in situ both in the chapel and graveyard, with the potential to enhance our knowledge of status and burial practice, and to reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps family relationships and the types of activities people undertook during life.

The sub-square enclosure containing the footings of several sub-rectangular buildings is of unknown date, but is likely to represent a Norse period or later monastic or secular settlement. The best preserved structure is represented by stony grass-covered banks 0.3m-0.5m high, surrounding a level interior with a depression in the centre. The walls are spread to 3m in width, suggesting that they were once substantial, and an entrance 2m wide is visible on the SW long wall. The other structures are similar in size, but their form is less clear. Future investigation of these buildings offers high potential to clarify the details of their construction and function. There is also high potential for the survival of significant assemblages of artefacts and ecofacts, including pottery, charcoal and carbonised plant remains such as cereal grains. These can allow us to build up a picture of the activities that took place on the site, the physical conditions, and the environment and land cover at the time.

The visible remains are likely to date to the Norse period, from at least the 12th century and possibly earlier. The chapel, graves, buildings and related archaeological deposits offer high potential to study the changes in belief and culture at this time, as the Norse abandoned their pagan religion and adopted Christianity. The relationship between the probable enclosed settlement and the chapel and burial ground is particularly interesting, as the structures may represent a monastic or secular settlement associated with the chapel.

Contextual characteristics

Some small chapels in Shetland date back to the early historic period, as is possible in this case, and there is potential to compare the buried remains here with known early historic chapels at St Ninian's Isle and at Nesti Voe, Noss. The upstanding Uyea chapel may be compared with a number of other early medieval chapel sites in Yell and Unst, and indeed, elsewhere in Shetland and Orkney. Early ecclesiastical sites such as this are important to our understanding of how Christianity was adopted by the Norse in Shetland, and add to our understanding of its organisation and spread. There is high potential to examine the burials and house foundations and to study the findings in the context of the settlement pattern in the vicinity, which includes a well-preserved Norse longhouse at Tur Ness 760m to the NE. Overall, the site recalls other early medieval sites in the Northern Isles which have both ecclesiastical and secular or monastic elements, such as the Brough of Deerness in Orkney.

Associative characteristics

The site is marked on the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map and is labelled 'Chapel (In Ruins)' and 'Burial Ground'. The rectilinear enclosure to the N is not depicted, but was noted by the Ordnance Survey in 1969 as containing 'unintelligible signs of buildings'.

Researchers have suggested that the table tomb memorial is probably to John Ross, a merchant of Uyeasound in the 17th century.

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 of early ecclesiastical and Norse period sites in Shetland and further afield. There is high potential for well-preserved archaeology that can make a significant contribution to our knowledge of early medieval church architecture and burial. Its significance is enhanced by the presence of the adjacent enclosure containing the buildings of a secular or monastic community. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand early chapels, the role they played in the adoption and spread of Christianity in the Norse period, and their relationship to the contemporary settlement pattern.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the site as HU69NW 5. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN316 (PrefRef 316).

References

RCAHMS 1946 Twelfth Report with an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v, Edinburgh, 143-4

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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