9.1 St Columba’s Church, Isle of Lewis
This late 14th century church – named after St Columba – was later extended in the 15th and 16th century.
St Columba’s was the principal church on Lewis in medieval times. It was built by the MacLeods and dedicated to Colmcille. Its importance may have been connected to its position at the end of a narrow isthmus where important settlements were often sited. The name of this peninsular – ‘Eye’ – comes from the Old Norse word Eið meaning a narrow neck of land – or isthmus.
The church was rectangular in shape and would have had a burial ground on both north and south sides. Erosion of the coastline means that only the south burial ground remains.
Eaglais Chaluim Chille was used as the burial ground of the MacLeods of Lewis. There are two graveslabs in the church ruins – one of Roderick MacLeod 7th Chief of Lewis who died in 1498, and the other of his daughter Margaret Mackinnon who died in 1503. Roderick is shown as an armour-wearing warrior holding a sword and spear.
The church has a number of names – ‘Chapel of Ui’ or ‘Eye’; ‘St Columba’s Church, Aignish’; ‘Old Kirk of Eye’; ‘Aignish Church’ and in Gaelic ‘Eaglais na h-Aoidhe’ meaning Church of the Eye or Isthmus.
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