We had spotted the ruined church as we drove down through Kilmuir and into Dunvegan, earmarking the place for a visit on the way back. Not only was there a church, but a standing stone behind it too… and a pair of very big birds of prey circling the hill.
Granted, these, at least, could have been buzzards… but the information board at the foot of the hill had pictures and descriptions of the local wildlife and included both sea eagles and their golden cousins. We had already seen eagles on the journey and these, if eagles they were, would not be the last… but each time was a thrill, especially now that England has no golden eagles of her own. And anyway, we know from experience that where the great birds of prey lead us, we will always find something extraordinary.
The church of St Mary, in spite of its appearance, is not all that old, being built only in 1694, according to the date over the north door. Like most Scottish cemeteries, it is situated on the edge of the village, away from the lands of the living, echoing what we believe to be an ancient tradition.
Christianity came to the islands in the sixth century, when St Columba left Ireland to found a monastery on Iona. The faith spread from there and monks serving the local community built round huts here to serve as their cells. The name of the village below the church, Kilmuir, or in Scottish Gaelic, Cille Mhoire, means the ‘cell’ or church of Mary.
The present building, now in ruins, would once have been thatched with heather. It was erected at the end of the seventeenth century and fell into disuse after a new church was built to replace it at Diurnish, in 1832, by the twenty-fourth Chieftain of the MacCleods.
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