Ancient Monuments

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Cill Chiarain, chapel 300m south west of Kilchiaran, Islay

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

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Latitude: 55.7534 / 55°45'12"N

Longitude: -6.4571 / 6°27'25"W

OS Eastings: 120447

OS Northings: 660109

OS Grid: NR204601

Mapcode National: GBR BFFH.Z07

Mapcode Global: WGYGX.SND8

Entry Name: Cill Chiarain, chapel 300m SW of Kilchiaran, Islay

Scheduled Date: 2 December 1963

Last Amended: 19 March 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2367

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel; Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cupmarks or cup-and-ring marks and similar

Location: Kilchoman

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire


Later 19th century. Square pony pund (enclosure); harl pointed rubble walls with stugged sandstone dressings, wallhead raised at corners.

NW (ENTRANCE) ELEVATION: symmetrical, entrance gate at centre.

SW ELEVATION: single doorway to outer right.

INTERIOR: main enclosure bisected by rubble wall running from centre of NW to SE elevations and bounding NE side of passage through 4 chamber square inner enclosure of battered rubble walls with gates grouped at centre. Inner wallhead and cross walls marking near-continuous mono pitch roof (now gone, 1996); modern flat roofed shed built in W corner.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The chapel was restored and partially reconstructed in 1972-3. Before these works took place, it was recorded that the E gable stood to its full height and most other walls stood less than 1m high. Some original features also survive internally, such as the chancel, nave and font; the altar was constructed in 1972 on earlier footings revealed by excavation. The monument is now in good condition, with its overall form intact.

The chapel, burial ground, carved stones and the remains of the post-medieval settlement all have high research potential. The chapel was built probably around the 13th century and documentary evidence suggests it remained in use into the 18th century. As such, Cill Chiarain chapel has the potential to inform our understanding of medieval ecclesiastical architecture and the development of places of worship over time.

The presence of a cup-marked stone schist slab, lying flush with the ground, and a possible standing stone to the ENE, extends the time-depth of the site into prehistory. The medieval carved stones range in date and quality; they display a number of different motifs typical of West Highland sculpture, such as swords, mythical creatures, animals and decorative plant-scrolls. They consist largely of recumbent tapered slabs of local stone. The collection includes one slab incorporating the effigy of a tonsured priest in Eucharistic vestments with a chalice below the hands, which are joined in prayer, and a second tapered slab with Lombardic inscriptions. These carved stones have the potential to contribute towards our understanding of West Highland sculpture and religious art, and funerary monuments in general. They also enhance our understanding and appreciation of medieval society and regional identity in the west of Scotland, and Islay's political history and its importance during the medieval period.

It is possible that erosion of the NW edge of the escarpment is impacting on the burial ground. However, substantial sections of the burial ground survive, within which there is further potential for the presence of important buried archaeological remains, spanning from the earliest use of the chapel through to the post-Reformation period. The burials have the potential to inform our understanding of burial practices over an extended period of time and, together with other features such as the remains of the post-medieval township, they can add to our understanding of the use, development and abandonment of places of worship and burial. Any skeletal remains can tell us about the population of Islay and the lay society that used Cill Chiarain. They can also reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps the types of activities people undertook during life.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is situated on the S bank of the valley overlooking the Abhainn na Braid, and has views of Kilchiaran Bay, one of the only harbours on the exposed W coast of the Rinns of Islay.

This is a good example of a small medieval chapel and burial ground. It has particular value as part of a group of similar small rural chapels in Islay, with at least 15 examples known. These sites may provide distinctive evidence for 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. Although larger than most parochial chapels in the area, Cill Chiarain was evidently a dependency of the medieval parish church of Kilchoman, together with those at Nereabolls and Kilnave. After the Reformation it was occasionally described, with Kilchoman, as one of two parish churches in the Rinns.

Comparative studies could enhance our understanding of the organisation of Christianity in the medieval period, and the origins, nature and development of places of worship from the early Christian to the post-Reformation period. The collection of carved stones can be compared with others across the west of Scotland, particularly the collection at Iona, to enhance our understanding and appreciation of West Highland sculpture and religious art, as well as medieval society and politics in this region.

Associative characteristics

The chapel is thought to have been dedicated to St Ciaran or Queranus, who is recorded as being the well-known Ciaran Macantsaor, or son of the carpenter, abbot of Clonmacnois, who died in AD 548 at the age of 33 years. Local tradition records that chapel-goers turned a pestle in the cup-marked stone and made a wish. Some of the cup-marks display wear that is consistent with secondary use.

Both the chapel and burial ground are depicted on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map as 'Cill Chiarain Chapel in ruins'. The place-name 'Cill' is Gaelic, meaning 'chapel' or 'burial ground' and supports its early origins as a place of worship for the lay population.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance as a well-preserved ecclesiastical site, in use from the medieval through to the post-Reformation period, and containing a fine collection of medieval carved stones. The presence of prehistoric features and a post-medieval settlement adds considerably to the time-depth of this monument, enhancing its significance. Cill Chiarain has the potential to increase our knowledge of medieval stone carving and our understanding of social, political and ecclesiastical life in Argyll from the medieval period through to the 18th century.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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