Ancient Monuments

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Middleton, chapel and burial ground 465m SSW of

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.719 / 60°43'8"N

Longitude: -0.8615 / 0°51'41"W

OS Eastings: 462217

OS Northings: 1204525

OS Grid: HP622045

Mapcode National: GBR S06D.ZRB

Mapcode Global: XHF7C.6VV0

Entry Name: Middleton, chapel and burial ground 465m SSW of

Scheduled Date: 17 March 1976

Last Amended: 26 September 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3843

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 medieval or Norse chapel, reputed to be dedicated to St John, within a polygonal enclosure. The remains are visible as low turf-covered stony banks. It stands at 10m above sea level, 100m from the E coast of Unst, and offers long views out to sea.

The enclosure is polygonal and measures 40m E-W by 32m transversely, with the banks 2m-3m wide. The banks have been overlaid by later enclosure walls and field clearance. The chapel is aligned roughly E-W and measures about 10m by 5m. The remains indicate an almost square nave with a small chancel at the E end. The outer face of the E wall is clearly visible at the lowest level and survives up to 1.2m high. To the N, outside the main enclosure is a cist-like structure that may represent a Viking grave.

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 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 Norse and medieval architecture and religious and funerary practices. The site's owner has found pottery eroding out of these banks. The enclosure may contain human skeletal remains and the cist-like structure to the north may be a rare example of a Norse burial. Future study of these features could provide valuable information on life in the Norse and medieval period, including diet, health, incidence of disease and life expectancy.

Contextual characteristics

Small chapels of Norse date are rare in Shetland, and indeed Scotland, and few examples have been excavated to modern standards. This example is likely to date to around the time that Christianity was adopted by the Norse settlers in Shetland or shortly thereafter. It is of a similar size and form to Cross Kirk (also in Unst) and the excavated example at Kebister (on the mainland of Shetland), the Brough of Deerness and Brims (both in Orkney), and Balnahow and Keeill Vael, Balladoole (in the Isle of Man). 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 Christianity was introduced and disseminated.

Associative characteristics

The chapel is identified as a 'Chapel & Burial Ground (Site of)' on the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map. It is reputedly dedicated to St John but a dedication stone has been lost.

The nearby place names of Sand Wick and Burga Wick indicate a Norse presence in the area, 'wick' meaning bay or inlet in Old Norse.

The beginning of Christianity in Scotland is an important subject, 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 surviving accounts are partial and problematic. The fragmentary nature of the historical record enhances the significance of the archaeological remains preserved at here.

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 religious practice. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand medieval Norse chapels and the role they had in the dissemination of Christianity in Shetland and across the British Isles.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




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.

MacGibbon, D and Ross, T 1897, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland from the Earliest Times to the Seventeenth Century, Vol 1, Edinburgh, 148.

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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