Ancient Monuments

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Gungstie, chapel and burial ground 25m south of, Nestivoe, Isle of Noss

A Scheduled Monument in Lerwick North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.1496 / 60°8'58"N

Longitude: -1.0459 / 1°2'45"W

OS Eastings: 453074

OS Northings: 1140950

OS Grid: HU530409

Mapcode National: GBR R1RX.CCW

Mapcode Global: XHFB5.S4YZ

Entry Name: Gungstie, chapel and burial ground 25m S of, Nestivoe, Isle of Noss

Scheduled Date: 30 May 1968

Last Amended: 31 October 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2670

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard

Location: Bressay

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Lerwick North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a small stone-founded chapel and associated burial ground, dating probably to the early historic period (around AD 400-800). The foundations of the chapel are visible as low turf-covered banks. The nave measures 8.5m N-S by 7.6m transversely, and the chancel to the east 5.5m N-S by 5.2m transversely. The graveyard was still in use in 1820 and may have been used after that date. It extends eastwards to the eroding shoreline and includes two flat grave slabs of 17th-century date on the S side of the church. The site lies on the Isle of Noss, immediately south of the house and steading at Gungstie, just south of the crossing between the Isle of Noss and Bressay. It stands at around 5m above sea level, on a narrow spit of land that separates Nestivoe from Noss Sound . The monument was first scheduled in 1968, 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. The scheduled area extends up to but excludes a wall at the E end of its N boundary. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of post-and-wire fences, a flag pole and a derelict winch, 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

Archaeologists have excavated a relatively small proportion of the burial ground, but this demonstrates that the preservation and condition of buried archaeological remains is good, although the eastern part of the burial ground is subject to coastal erosion. Artefacts recovered from the site and limited excavations at its eastern edge have demonstrated the early date and importance of the monument. A small broken cross-slab, incised with an interlace cross of a very early type, was found on the edge of the graveyard in 1959. Its form and decoration demonstrate that this was an important ecclesiastical site in the early historic period. Small-scale excavation was conducted in 1993 following the insertion of a water pipe and three skeletons were partially excavated, demonstrating the continuation of the graveyard to the low cliff east of the chapel. A slotted stone, interpreted as a possible corner post for a corner-post shrine, was revealed at the north of the graveyard, on the edge of the cliff. Further excavation was conducted in 1994 as part of work to stabilise the eroding shore line. The corner post was found to be in a secondary location, but fragments of a broken rune stone were also found, suggesting that use of the site continued into the Viking period (around AD 800 ' 1100). Skeletons in imminent danger of eroding into the sea were excavated archaeologically. This excavation showed that the area had been intensively used and reused for burial, with some burials in coffins and others buried directly in simple pits. A circular stone structure was interpreted by the excavator as possibly forming part of a 12th-century round tower.

It is clear that the monument contains a wealth of information and probably preserves a complex sequence of development. There is potential to examine in detail the buried remains of the chapel and to assess its chronological relationship with use of the burial ground. It is probable that large numbers of burials remain in situ, 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 the types of activities people undertook during life. The presence of remains from different periods gives the possibility of exploring issues such as the duration of occupation, the extent to which occupation of the site was continuous and the nature of abandonment processes.

Contextual characteristics

Small chapels of proven early historic date are rare in Scotland and few examples have been excavated to modern standards. However, the chapel, graves, and artefactual evidence from this monument can be compared with the early historic chapel on St Ninian's Isle off the W coast of south Mainland, 25km southwest of Gungstie. St Ninian's Church is known for the hoard of 28 Pictish silver objects recovered in the late 1950s, but the excavations there also recovered corner posts from stone shrines and stones with carved crosses. The chapel and burial ground at Nestie Voe can also be compared with a variety of other remains nearby on Bressay. These include a broch 230m away on the opposite shore of the Noss Sound, which may have influenced the choice of this site for the chapel, and the Chapel of St Mary's, dating to the 10th century or earlier, which lies 1.7km to the northwest on the Voe of Cullingsburgh and is also sited very close to a broch. The Bressay Stone, a Pictish symbol stone dating probably from the 8th to 9th centuries, was found nearby. The remains of this chapel and burial ground add to our understanding of the infancy of Christianity in Scotland and offer potential to examine the connections between ecclesiastical and earlier sites and the ways that Christian culture was dispersed.

Associative characteristics

Early ecclesiastical sites such as this are vital to any understanding of how the Christian faith spread throughout Scotland. 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 Nesti Voe.

Historical accounts tell us that a chapel stood on the site in 1711. In 1774, the chapel was described as 'small, but of neat workmanship, and the yard is still used as a burying ground'. By 1852, when the ground plan was recorded, only the N wall of the chancel remained upstanding, to a height of around 1.5m. 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 historic ecclesiastical sites in the British Isles. It has well-preserved archaeology, giving potential to make a significant contribution to our knowledge of early church architecture and burial. Its significance is enhanced by the capacity to compare it with other early church sites in the vicinity. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand early historic chapels and the role they had in the dissemination of Christianity.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HU54SW 9. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN818 (PrefRef 758).


Turner, V, 1995 'Gungstie, Noss' in DES 1994, 93. The Papar Project

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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