The ‘end’ of the road we were travelling through Harris took us to Rodel. It is not exactly the end as the road carries on, circling the island, through the hills and back along the eastern seaboard towards Tarbert… but it narrows to little more than a single car width and, with a ferry to catch, driving it would have to wait for our next visit. We already knew there would be one, some day. But, for now, we had a church to visit… and the road seemed to follow a spiral path up the mound on which it was built.
The church of St Clement is, according to everything you read, considered to be the finest medieval building in the Western Isles. And, although there are doubtless many other places of worship scattered through the villages, it was the first church we had seen since our arrival that resembled the ones with which we are most familiar.
St Clements is built upon a rocky mound, probably on the site of a much older church…and possibly on an even older sacred site. While we saw no direct evidence for that here, it was a common practice in the early days of Christianity to adopt the ancient places of reverence… indeed, it was encouraged by Rome. There are, however, prehistoric rock carvings close by, a standing stone not far away, as well as a possible submerged stone circle a few yards out to sea.
The first thing that strikes you about St Clements is its position, high on the rocky mound, with graves cut into its slopes and the now-familiar burial enclosures. The next thing is that the rocks themselves form part of the fabric of the church, with the tower being built over and around a large outcrop.
The church is built in the shape of the Cross, using local Lewissian gneiss. Some details, like the wheel-headed window above the altar and, as we would see, the arches within the church, are of a darker stone, flecked with minerals that catch the light and sparkle like diamonds in the sunlight. The whole building seems ‘right’ within the landscape, with the stones themselves telling the story of humankind’s earthy life with its hints of something ‘beyond’ in the glimpses of illumination.
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