9.5 Teampall Chaluim Chille, Eilean Chaluim Chille, Isle of Lewis
The small island of Eilean Chaluim Chille has probably been connected with Christianity since the 7th century. It sits on the eastern extremity of Loch Erisort as it leads out to the Minch.
The remains of the church on the island probably date from the 12th century. Any earlier church would have been made of turf, peat or wood so there would be no remains. Archaeologists have found pre-Christian, Christian and Norse remains here.
The church was dedicated to Colmcille – hence the name of the island. Local stories tell how the island was home to a monastery and a priest’s house. In 1549, Sir Donald Munro visited the island and described seeing an orchard there. When he visited the Hebrides in the late 17th century, Martin Martin mentions a church on the island of St Columkil.
The church was a rectangular shape but there may have been other buildings nearby. An area of the east of the island is called Crois Eilean and may mark the edge of the area under the church’s protection.
The graveyard was used until the 19th century for the whole Parish of Lochs. An account of the island was written by John Sands in 1876 in his book ‘Out of the World’ or ‘Life in St Kilda’,
‘Captain M’Donald took me in his gig to see a churchyard situated on an island called St Colm. It is quite close to the water, and is about sixty feet square…Although there seems to be plenty of suitable ground outside, the people persist in interring the dead within the ancient limits. Nay, not interring but piling the coffins one on top of the other, until they have risen to the height of ten feet above the surface. The coffins are not even covered with earth, but are only wrapped in turf.’
On the mainland at Cromor, one of the crofts was known locally as Lios an Teampull or Garden of the Chapel. And there are some local accounts that the priest of St Colm lived here on the mainland.
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