Saturday, April 25, 2009

St. Clements Church, Isle of Harris

St.Clement's Church, Rodel, Isle of Harris, Scotland

St Clement's is considered to be one of the most outstanding church buildings in the Hebrides, the earliest section dating from the 13th century. The church is remarkable for possessing one of the most ambitious and richly-carved tombs of the period in Scotland, that of Alexander Macleod (known in Gaelic as Alasdair Crotach) said to have been the church's founder.
(Photo below of carvings on Alasdair Crotach MacLeod's tomb)

By choosing to be buried in Harris, Alexander Macleod was breaking with tradition, as the previous chiefs of his clan had until then been buried in Iona. The tomb is dated 1528 and its high-quality carved mural panels depict biblical stories, a stylised castle, a hunting scene and a Highland galley.

St. Clement's, 1520s The finest pre-Reformation church in the Western Isles, best known for its astonishingly well preserved funerary monuments. This magnificent group of canopied wall tombs represents the flowering of late medieval carving in the Hebrides.

The church was built, probably in several phases, by Alasdair Crotach (humpbacked) Macleod, 8th Chief of the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan, who broke with tradition in choosing to spend his final years in Harris and to be buried here. Abandoned after the Reformation, it was ruinous by 1705, repaired twice (owing to an intervening fire) by Capt. Alexander Macleod in the 1780s - the enlarged, square-headed windows and crenellated tower parapet are of this period - but by 1841 was again dilapidated. Alexander Ross restored it for the Dowager Countess of Dunmore in 1873 (the timber arch-braced roof and oak door are his), and further repairs were made in 1913 by W. T. Oldrieve, who stripped off the harling. The church is cruciform in plan, with a continuous nave and aisle, unaligned transepts, and a four-storey tower rising from higher rocky ground at the west end. The pinned rubble is of local gneiss, combined with dressings of greenish Carsaig sandstone and ornamental details in black schist, for polychrome effect. The east end is lit by a traceried late gothic window with three cusped lights and a wheel window, above; other windows are trefoiled lancets. A cabled string course works its way round the tower¿s midrift and round a sculpted panel on each face: on the north, a black bull's head (the Macleod crest); above the door on the west a bishop, probably St. Clement, in a canopied niche supported by another bull's head; on the south wall a shiela na gig fertility symbol, and on the east a panel depicting fishermen in boat. Other carved panels inset in the Irish manner (and possibly earlier than the church) include a kilted figure, formerly mounted on the medieval parapet. Alasdair Crotach's magnificent table tomb, made in 1528, two decades before his death, lies in an arched recess in the south wall of the chancel. Its richly carved mural panels fuse gothic and celtic motifs. Nine voussoirs frame the tomb, with the Trinity at the centre, flanked by figures of the apostles and angels. Inside the recess, three rows of panels carved with religious and secular subjects surround the central figures of the Virgin and Child. The other notable tomb, with a triangular pediment in the nave's south wall, is probably that of Alasdair Crotach's son, William, 9th Chief, who died in 1551 (although the fire damaged inscription probably reads 1539). Other memorials include a cruder effigy at the nave's north end, probably commemorating John Macleod of Minginish (d. c.1557), a series of 15th and early 16th century carved slabs formerly over tombs in the sanctuary, and one dated 1725. Born at Rodel, the poetess Mary Macleod (Mairi Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh, c.1615-1707) is buried in the south transept. In the graveyard, burial place of several Macleod chiefs and poets, some 18th century Caibeals (small burial enclosures/chapels).

St. Clement's is considered to be the most outstanding church building in the Hebrides (A A MacGregor 1949). Muir tentatively suggests a 13th century date (T S Muir 1885) for the original, oblong, single apartment building, which was enlarged in the late 15th or early 16th century (A A MacGregor 1949) The dedication is possibly to Clement, Bishop of Dunblane (E. 13th century). Restorations apparently took place in the years 1784, 1787 and 1873 (A A MacGregor 1946). Easson sees no reason to regard this as other than a parish church, despite allegations that it was once a monastic foundation (D E Easson 1957). The interior of the church is remarkable for possessing one of the finest tombs in Scotland (16th century), in addition to carved slabs and a disc-headed cross (RCAHMS 1928). A brass chalice-shaped cup was found in the churchyard.

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