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9.7 St Clements, Rodel, Isle of Harris

This is the largest medieval church in the Outer Hebrides. Of all the churches in the islands, only Iona is larger. It was built in the 16th century but there is some suggestion that there may have been an older monastery on the site. The church was restored in 1873 by Catherine Herbert, Countess of Dunmore.

St Clement was the patron saint of sailors but there are only a few churches dedicated to him in this part of Scotland.

St Clement’s is well-known for the detailed stone carved tomb of Alexander MacLeod, 8th Chief of Harris and Dunvegan (in Skye), who built the church. The arched tomb was made in 1528 before his death some time between 1545 and 1547.

Until 1495, Lords of the Isles had been buried in Iona. Now each clan chief needed to build a tomb on his own land. The clergymen who lived here may have been employed to pray for MacLeod’s soul.

Alexander MacLeod’s tomb is carved with images from the Bible and from his lifetime – the apostles; angels; Christ on the cross; bishops; a hunting scene of a knight and two stags; a birlinn – sailing galley; and a castle (probably Dunvegan). A carved effigy of Alexander in armour lies below.

There are also a number of carved graveslabs, stone carvings and a late medieval cross which sits in the window opposite the entrance.

St Clements has a tower at the west end which can be climbed via a dark stone staircase. The upper levels are reached by ladder.

There are a number of stone carvings on the outside of the tower including this image of a man wearing an early kilt – fèileadh mòr – the big kilt. This was a bigger piece of cloth which covered the whole body rather today’s waist-down version.

© Alan Stroull

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