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Cill Sleabhan, chapel and enclosure, Islay

A Scheduled Monument in Kintyre and the Islands, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 55.8302 / 55°49'48"N

Longitude: -6.1184 / 6°7'6"W

OS Eastings: 142192

OS Northings: 667340

OS Grid: NR421673

Mapcode National: GBR CF89.J9L

Mapcode Global: WGZHT.ZQNB

Entry Name: Cill Sleabhan, chapel and enclosure, Islay

Scheduled Date: 4 December 1963

Last Amended: 19 March 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2371

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel

Location: Killarow and Kilmeny

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of a small medieval chapel and surrounding enclosure in Islay, likely to date from the 7th to 12th centuries. The chapel and enclosure are visible as low turf-covered earth and stone banks. The chapel measures 6.3m NE-SW by 3.7m transversely within walls approximately 1m thick and standing about 0.5m high. A gap in the SW wall probably indicates the position of the entrance. The surrounding enclosure is approximately circular in shape, measuring around 12.5m in diameter. Its stony bank now stands up to 0.8m high and is spread to a width of 2.5m, but was probably a drystone wall originally. A gap in the SE indicates the probable entrance to the enclosure. A larger gap to the E has been formed by the insertion of a later sub-rectangular building, measuring 5m NW-SE by 3m transversely. The monument lies at 60m above sea level on a gentle N facing slope that offers long views N across the Sound of Islay to Jura. The monument was first scheduled in 1963, 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. To the NW, the scheduled area extends up to, but excludes, a stone field dyke.

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The stony banks representing the remains of the chapel and enclosure survive in good and stable condition. There is no visible evidence for the dating of the chapel, which was almost certainly of drystone construction. Researchers have suggested that the Gaelic name 'Cill Sleibheainn' commemorates Slebhine, an Irish monk who was abbot of Iona from AD 752 to 767, and the visible remains could be consistent with a foundation about or soon after this date. Excavations at similar sites elsewhere in Scotland and Ireland have revealed varied and often rich archaeological remains and it is highly likely that this site preserves evidence for its origins and development sequence. It is likely that buried archaeological remains here could contribute towards our understanding of early church construction, as well as the nature and duration of use of the site. The surrounding enclosure may represent a burial ground, although it is very small and closely surrounds the chapel. There is high potential for the survival of graves, either within the footprint of the chapel or immediately beyond. Any skeletal remains could reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death and possibly occupational activities. There is also potential for the survival of carved stones, which could help to refine the dating sequence for the site, as well as contribute towards our understanding of early Christian art and sculpture.

Contextual characteristics

This is a fine example of a small early Christian chapel and probable burial ground. It has particular value as one of a group of similar small rural chapels in Islay. At least 15 examples are known, the nearest being the medieval chapel of Cill Challium Chille, located at Kiells 1.5 km to the NNW. The early ecclesiastical sites in Islay may provide evidence for a distinctive Irish influence in Scotland during a crucial period in Scottish history and can help us to understand early politics as well as the origins and spread of Christianity in Scotland. Little is known at present of the distribution of early medieval settlement in the immediate vicinity of this chapel. However, the site includes a secondary rectangular structure and field banks that extend away from the scheduled area, giving potential to study the use and evolution of the site within the wider landscape.

Associative characteristics

The site is depicted on the first edition Ordnance Survey map and labelled 'Cill Sleabhan, Chapel (In Ruins)'. The place-name 'Cill' is Gaelic, meaning 'church' or 'burial ground', which supports its identification as an early place of worship. Watson states that the chapel's name commemorates Slebhine, abbot of Iona, who died in 767. This association suggests a possible early foundation here, associated with the spread of Christianity from Iona.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance as an early Christian chapel site that can enhance our understanding of the architecture and use of early ecclesiastical buildings in Argyll. Important archaeological remains relating to the origins, use and development of the site before AD 1200 are expected to survive, including burials and possibly carved stones. Its significance is enhanced by the opportunities for comparison with similar sites in Islay. Its potentially early date is particularly important and the monument may also provide rare evidence for the pre-Norse and Norse periods in Islay. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our ability to understand and appreciate the origins, nature and spread of early Christianity in Islay and more widely across the west of Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

On 23 March 2012 Andrew Fulton wrote to Smiths Gore and to Dunlossit Estate Office to inform them of the scheduling assessment. Richard Heawood and Rachel Pickering visited the site on 14 May and met Mr Islay Heads, Assistant Estate Manager. Richard Heawood wrote to David Gillies, Estate Manager on 27 June confirming our intention to proceed with this rescheduling. No issues have been raised. Smiths Gore no longer has a connection with the monument.

RCAHMS record the site as NR46NW 3. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR reference is WOSASPIN 2715.

References:

RCAHMS 1984a, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 5: Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay, p 223, no 375. Edinburgh.

Watson, W J 1926 The History of Celtic Placenames in Scotland: being the Rhind Lectures in Archaeology delivered in 1916.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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