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9.2 St Moluag’s Chapel, Eoropie, Isle of Lewis

Eoropie township is on the northwest tip of the Isle of Lewis. It is the most northerly township in the Outer Hebrides.

This restored chapel is dedicated to St Moluag or Moluoc. The building is flanked by two small side chapels to the north and south, creating a T-shaped outline.

The date of the chapel is unknown. The plan is similar to a ruined church at Gardar in Greenland built in the 12th century and extended in the 13th century. There are a number of churches dedicated to St Moluag in Ireland and the west of Scotland also dating from this period. There are stories that St Moluag visited this site in the 6th century but there is no documentary evidence for this. Another story tells that the first chapel here was built by a son of the king of Scandinavia.

Pilgrims used to visit the chapel in search of cures for insanity and sores. People suffering from insanity were given water from a nearby well dedicated to St Ronan and tied to the altar for the night in the hope that they would be sane in the morning. In 1630 it was recorded that people looking for a cure for sores and who could not visit the chapel in person would send a wooden version of their limb to be placed on the altar.

Martin Martin writing his ‘Description of the Western Isles’ in the late 17th century records another former local tradition:-

They were in greater veneration in those days than now: it was the constant practice of the natives to kneel at first sight of the Church, though at a great distance from them, and then they said their Paternoster. John Morison of Bragir told me that when he was a boy, and going to the Church of St. Malvay, he observed the natives to kneel and repeat the Paternoster at four miles distance from the church.

The inhabitants of this island had an ancient custom to sacrifice to a sea-god called Shony, at Hallow-tide, in the manner following: The inhabitants round the island came to the Church of St. Malvay, having each man his provision along with him; every family furnished a peck of malt, and this was brewed into ale; one of their number was picked out to wade into the sea up to the middle, and carrying a cup of ale in his hand, standing still in that posture, cried out with a loud voice saying, “Shony, I give you this cup of ale, hoping that you’ll be so kind as to send us plenty of sea-ware for enriching our ground for the ensuing year”; and so threw the cup of ale into the sea. This was performed in the night time. At his return to land they all went to church, where there was a candle burning upon the altar; and then standing silent for a little time, one of them gave a signal, at which the candle was put out, and immediately all of them went to the fields, where they fell a-drinking their ale, and spent the remainder of the night in dancing and singing, &c.

The next morning they all returned home, being well satisfied that they had punctually observed this solemn anniversary, which they believed to be a powerful means to procure a plentiful crop. Mr. Daniel and Mr. Kenneth Morison, ministers in Lewis, told me they spent several years before they could persuade the vulgar natives to abandon this ridiculous piece of superstition; which is quite abolished for these 32 years past.

The museum at the Comunn Eachdraidh in Ness has a stone cross connected with St Ronan and a stone reputed to have come from Iona.

What else?

After seeing the chapel, head one mile further north to the Butt of Lewis lighthouse. It was built by the Stevenson family who were responsible for building lighthouses in some of the most treacherous seas in the British Isles.

Find out more about the history of Ness at the Comunn Eachdraidh Nis website.

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Nhún na nGall
Derry City
Oideas Gael
Museum Nan Eilean
Comunn Eachdraidh Nis
Argyll Bute
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