Ancient Monuments

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Reafirth Chapel, chapel and burial ground 90m north west of Cara Centre

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.5986 / 60°35'55"N

Longitude: -1.0623 / 1°3'44"W

OS Eastings: 451455

OS Northings: 1190945

OS Grid: HU514909

Mapcode National: GBR R0QQ.PVN

Mapcode Global: XHF7V.LVBT

Entry Name: Reafirth Chapel, chapel and burial ground 90m NW of Cara Centre

Scheduled Date: 19 February 1954

Last Amended: 17 August 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2095

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel

Location: Yell

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a small chapel and burial ground, together with two burial aisles that lie immediately north of the chapel. Two tombstones in the burial aisles suggest that the aisles were built during the 1690s and that the chapel was an earlier structure. The visible remains of the chapel comprise parts of the rubble-built north and west walls. The north wall was extensively repaired when the burial aisles were built to the north, but the west wall preserves the semi-circular arch of the west doorway. The lower part of the doorway is buried below ground level and it is probable that other remains of the chapel also survive as buried archaeological features. Overall, the building probably measures about 15m E-W by 7m transversely. Low banks suggest the original boundaries of the burial ground, indicating that it covered an area measuring 28m N-S by 26m transversely, with the chapel standing just north of the centre. The site lies immediately above the beach on the southwest shore of Mid Yell Voe, less than 10m above sea level. The monument was first scheduled in 1954, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

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. On the south and east sides, the scheduled area extends up to but excludes the modern boundary wall of the cemetery. The scheduling specifically excludes all active burial lairs and the above-ground elements of all burial monuments of 19th-century or later date.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

As well as the surviving upstanding portions of the north and west walls, further archaeological remains of the chapel and possible earlier structures are likely to survive below ground, possibly in good condition. There is potential to examine in detail the construction and form of the chapel, its development sequence and dating and its chronological relationship with use of the burial ground. Antiquarian records suggest that the chapel was built over an older burial ground. It is probable that large numbers of early burials remain in situ in and around the chapel footprint, with potential to enhance future knowledge of status and burial practice, and to reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps the types of activities people undertook during life. The likely presence of remains from different periods could illuminate issues such as the duration of occupation, the extent to which occupation of the site was continuous or intermittent, and the nature of abandonment processes. The western burial aisle contains two interesting memorial stones dating from the 1690s. Another interesting memorial stone is built into a freestanding masonry wall 10m northwest of the chapel. Researchers working in the 1930s also noted several short-armed crosses of micaceous sandstone and these may still be present though obscured by vegetation.

Contextual characteristics

Researchers have suggested that this is one of 31 potential chapel sites on the island of Yell. Of those, 22 sites, including this monument, are associated with a tradition of a medieval chapel. However, this monument is one of only four known chapel sites on Yell that can be associated with visible structural remains of a chapel. We can compare this monument with the other sites with potential medieval remains, located at St Olaf's Church on the north tip of Yell, at Vollister on the west coast and at Bakka Skeo, set on a small island 3km east of Mid Yell. The remains of this chapel and burial ground can add to our understanding of the organisation of Christianity in Shetland and elsewhere. There is also potential to examine the burials and to study the findings in the context of the medieval settlement pattern in the vicinity.

Associative characteristics

Potentially early ecclesiastical sites such as this are vital to any understanding of how the Christian faith developed and was organised in Shetland and elsewhere. The site is marked on the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map and is labelled 'Chapel (Site of)' and 'Burial Ground'.

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 church sites in the British Isles. There is potential for well-preserved archaeology that can make a significant contribution to our knowledge of medieval church architecture and burial. Its significance is enhanced by the capacity to compare it with other early church sites in Yell and Shetland. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand early chapels and the role they played in the development and organisation of Christianity.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




GUARD 'Yell chapel sites survey 1999-2000', unpubl rep held by RCAHMS

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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