Past & Present

The Chapel

Looking out across the sea from the north end of Ceileagraigh, the large island in the distance is Pabbay –the monks or priests isle. There used to be two medieval chapels on the fertile south-east side of the island. At least one of their dedications, to St Moluag, is of early Christian date. Can it be just a coincidence that at the north ends of both Ceileagraigh and Easaigh, in sight of those on Pabbay, there are also places of Christian worship?

Small chapels like that on Ceileagraigh were not regularly visited by a priest. But they would have been used for mass on the dedicated saint’s day, and given the chance people would have crossed the sea to be involved. So the visual links between the islands may have been reinforced once a year by visiting worshippers.

In earlier times the links may have been a little different. Perhaps monks rowed or sailed down the Sound of Harris to a place apart for private, personal prayer and contemplation. Spending 40 days away from the monastic home would bring a faithful follower of Jesus closer to God. Looking back across the sea to the mother church would have given him confidence in his return to the community of his fellow colleagues.

Unfortunately the dedications of the chapels on Ceileagraigh and Easaigh are not recorded. There is no specific evidence that their origins are early Christian rather than medieval. Nevertheless it remains a tantalising possibility, for other islands off Harris, Like Taransay and Hiort, St Kilda, do indeed have early Christian links. Cross inscribed stones dating to the 7th or 8th centuries have been found on both islands.

By Jill Harden

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