Ancient Monuments

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Chapel Knowe, earthworks, church and graves 40m WNW of Lunna Church

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.403 / 60°24'10"N

Longitude: -1.1205 / 1°7'13"W

OS Eastings: 448560

OS Northings: 1169108

OS Grid: HU485691

Mapcode National: GBR R1L7.M6X

Mapcode Global: XHF8S.TSP9

Entry Name: Chapel Knowe, earthworks, church and graves 40m WNW of Lunna Church

Scheduled Date: 24 July 1968

Last Amended: 26 September 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2691

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: church; Prehistoric domestic and defensive: broch; Prehistoric ritual and funerary:

Location: Nesting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument consists of the remains of a rampart enclosing the summit of Chapel Knowe, the foundations of two rectangular buildings on the knowe, seven low oval mounds S of the knowe, and other remains lying close to these features. The rampart banks may be Iron Age in date (about 800 BC - AD 400), but at least one of the rectangular structures is probably a medieval church building, potentially sited on an earlier church built between AD 400-1200. Local tradition describes the site as a monastery. The grassy mounds are oval in shape and resemble pagan Norse graves from Scandinavia dating to around AD 800-1000. The monument lies on a long peninsula projecting from the NE coast of mainland and is sited on a low rise 10m above sea level, at a point where the peninsula narrows to only 200m in width. The rampart and buildings were first scheduled in 1968 and rescheduled in 2000, whereas the mounds to the S were first scheduled in 1995. The present rescheduling includes both groups of features and brings the documentation up to modern standards.

The enclosure banks are visible as an earth and stone rampart, spread to around 2m wide and standing up to 1m high, intermittently surrounding a sub-circular area around 36m in diameter. There is an apparent entrance about 6.5m wide on the ENE side. Within the enclosure banks on the NW side are the stone foundations of a rectangular building measuring 8.5m E-W by 3.9m transversely. An entrance 0.9m wide is centrally positioned in the W wall. The low, turf-covered foundations of a second rectangular structure are visible abutting the outside of the rampart 25m to the S. This structure is longer and narrower, measuring at least 16.5m ESE-WNW by 3.5m transversely. It appears to have a rounded E end located immediately beyond a cross wall. Other potential structures lie within and on the perimeter of the enclosure bank. The oval mounds lie between 15m and 60m from the enclosure, to the SE and S. One lies to the N of Lunna Church and measures 4.2m by 3.4m by 0.4m high; three lie on the lower S slope of Chapel Knowe and measure 7.1m by 4.7m by 1.5m high, 4.5m by 3.6m by 0.5m high, and 3.2m by 2.4m by 0.5m high; and three lie further SW, down a step on the sloping hillside, and measure 7.8m by 4.8m by 0.8m high, 4.8m by 4.4m by 0.2m high, and 6.5m by 5.8m by 0.7m high.

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 specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all modern walls to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The upstanding earthworks survive in excellent condition and suggest a long and complex development sequence. Several objects are reported to have been found around the structures on the knowe, including Iron Age pottery, a steatite spindle whorl and a broken font. These confirm the use of the site over an extended period and give a strong indication that very significant buried archaeological deposits exist below the ground surface. The monument may potentially preserve, at a single location, remains of a prehistoric settlement, early historic settlement and church, pagan Norse cemetery and medieval church.

The curved bank that bounds the N and W sides of the knowe has high potential to be part of an Iron Age broch some 20m in diameter. The bank has not been dated, but its form, dimensions and landscape position are indicative of a broch. Other banks to the E and S may be ramparts enclosing outer yards, or may derive from later use of the site. The rectangular stone structure within the bank resembles a medieval church. This may be the 'foundation of the old church of the parish' noted in 1863, a structure probably superseded by the present Lunna Church which stands 70m to the SE. Although Lunna Church dates from 1753, it may itself include earlier fabric, so it is unclear when 'the old church of the parish' would have passed out of use. Although the visible remains probably belong to a building constructed after about 1200, researchers suggest remains of an earlier church building may survive below ground. The second rectangular structure has a rounded east end but its proportions perhaps resemble a Norse longhouse rather than an ecclesiastical building. A circular hollow about 5.5m in diameter and 1.4m deep, possibly a kiln, lies at the W end of the structure and may be associated with it. The oval mounds to the SE and S have not been excavated; their identification as Norse burial mounds rests on their similarity to features known from Scandinavia.

There is potential to examine in detail the chronological relationship between prehistoric activity, the first ecclesiastical use of the site, probable use of the site by the Norse and construction of the medieval church, exploring issues such as the duration of occupation, the extent to which occupation of the site was continuous and the nature of abandonment processes. The buried remains have considerable potential to enhance understanding of the form, use and function of the upstanding rampart banks and of the daily lives of the people who lived within them. There is high potential for the recovery of artefacts and ecofacts that may illuminate the diet, economy and social status of the occupants and the extent to which this varied over time. It is probable that many burials remain in situ, with potential to reveal changes in burial practice and to enhance our knowledge of status, health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps the geographic origin of the buried people. There is also potential to examine the origin and development of an early church.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is rare because it preserves upstanding remains deriving from a long sequence of activity in one location, potentially including prehistoric settlement, pagan Norse graves and a medieval church. Groups of upstanding Norse burial mounds are very unusual outside Scandinavia. Researchers also suggest the site may contain buried remains of an early Christian church. Such structures are rare in Shetland as in other parts of Scotland, but this monument can be compared with the churches at St Ninian's Isle off the W coast of South Mainland and at Nesti Voe on Noss, lying off the E coast of Bressay. The monument can also be compared with a variety of archaeological sites in the vicinity, including burnt mounds sited 360m and 690m to the NNW, prehistoric settlements located 3.2km SE and 2.9 km WNW, and a possible broch that lies at the head of Vidlin Voe, 3.7km to the S. These sites enhance the importance of this monument by increasing our knowledge of the surrounding prehistoric landscape.

Associative characteristics

Chapel Knowe is known in local tradition as the site of a monastery. The site is marked 'Chapel Knowe' and 'Monastery (Site of)' on the Ordnance Survey first edition map. 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 late prehistoric settlement, and early historic and medieval ecclesiastical sites in the British Isles. It has well-preserved archaeology, giving excellent potential to provide information about the early historic and medieval church in Shetland and the relationship between Christian and Norse peoples. The monument potentially includes a rare surviving group of pagan Norse graves, which would give it international significance in enhancing understanding of the date and nature of Viking settlements in the North Atlantic area. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the continued use of high status sites over an extended time period.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Macdonald, A D S, and Laing, L R, 1969 'Early ecclesiastical sites in Scotland: a field survey, Part I', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 100, 127-8.

RCAHMS, 1946 Twelfth Report with an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v, 77-8.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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