The chapel of St Mary at Kilmory Knap is on the east side of Loch Sween. Kilmory means ‘the Church of (St) Mary’. From here there are clear views across to the island of Islay and Jura.
It was built in the first half of the 13th century and now houses a collection of early and late medieval gravestones and cross-slabs which used to be in the church and graveyard.
This site doesn’t have a particular link with the story of Colmcille. But it does reflect the very long Christian heritage of this area. The stonemasons who carved these stones had travelled from Ireland to work in Iona.
For centuries, people lived on and by the sea – and ideas, stories and reputations spread easily. The sea lochs and waters of the western isles were the highways travelled by Colmcille, his followers and successors as they did their missionary work.
The chapel was never a parish church. It was part of the parish of Knapdale with the main church at Keills across the water of Loch Sween.
By road, it is nearly 24 miles between the two places of worship. By sea, it is more like 3 miles. This is a landscape where sea travel has always been much easier and quicker than travel over land.
Inside the church there is a collection of early Christian cross slabs and late medieval graveslabs and standing crosses from the 14th to 16th centuries.
Apart from the east gable, the chapel walls have survived. Inside, a single recess in the east wall is the only remaining part of the original interior.
The chapel houses crosses and graveslabs, many of which were found in the graveyard here at Kilmory Knap.
Stones like these are found in sites all across the western Highlands and Argyll. The oldest ones were carved by stonemasons who travelled from Ireland to Iona in the 14th century to work on the Abbey buildings.
Crosses were put up as a sign of devotion rather than as markers for graves.
The graveslabs would have been laid flat on top of the grave. Each grave would have been used for several generations of the same family.
The stone was quarried locally – up the road between Kilmory Knap and Castle Sween.
Many of the stones are carved with Christian symbols, abstract patterns or images of contemporary life.
The MacMillan cross is inscribed with the Latin ‘+hec est crux Alexandri Macmulen’ which translates as ‘This is the cross of Alexander MacMillan’.
On one side there is a crucifixion scene and on the other, a hunting scene showing a warrior and his dogs hunting a deer.
The cross was made in the 15th century for Alexander MacMillan, the local chief who lived in Castle Sween.
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