November 2012 News and Events

Consolidation Work
The restoration work on the eight main graveslabs is complete, but final decisions have still to be made as to how best to preserve and display them. The main project did not include funding for moving the graveslabs, but it is clear to Urras members that protection from further weathering is essential. The Urras is working with the project management team and funders to resolve this issue; in the meantime some snagging work has been done to the masonry.

Connections with Norway
The history of Eaglais na h-Aoidhe has strong links with Norway. For about three centuries, beginning shortly before 800 AD, most of north western Europe was subjected to attacks by raiders from Scandinavia. When the Kingdom of the Isles came into being in the late 10th century the Norwegians referred to it as the Sudreys (Southern Isles), which included the Isle of Man. Interestingly in later years this was misunderstood and the diocese which included the Isle of Man was called 'Sodor and Man' - something of a duplication! To this day the name is preserved in the Anglican Diocese of the area.

The Vikings are often portrayed as raiders and plunderers, but there is evidence to suggest that they were also settlers, farmers and fishermen. It is interesting to note that from the 9th century the Western Isles were known as Innse Gall or the "Islands of Foreigners" - the foreigners being the Scandinavians, which suggests the foreigners were settled here. According to R Andrew McDonald in 'The Kingdom of the Isles' (1998), there is archaeological and historical evidence to suggest that the Norse and Gaelic cultures integrated and blended - the native population was neither enslaved nor wiped out. In 1919 Dr Coinneach Bard Macleod found part of a brass or bronze penannular brooch in a kitchen-midden on the beach near Ui Church which suggests that the Vikings had settled there (Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, May 14, 1934).

It can be inferred that Hebrideans were Christians before the Viking era from the fact that by far the most famous Norse woman of the age, Aud the Deep-Minded, who was born in 834 AD, was a Hebridean and a Christian. She was the daughter of Ketil Flatneb and she became the Queen of King Olav the White. She ultimately emigrated to Iceland where she is still honoured.

In 'St Columba's Ui Church otherwise Eaglais na h-Aoidhe: An Historical Perspective' (2012) Colin Scott Mackenzie notes that in the later years of Norse dominion, after 1153, the Isle of Lewis, as well as much of the western seaboard of Scotland, was part of the Archdiocese of Nidaros (Trondheim) in Norway. Although the Western Isles were transferred to Scotland in 1266 as part of the Treaty of Perth, ecclesiastically they remained part of the Archdiocese of Nidaros until 1537 - well after the Northern Isles had also become part of Scotland. It is reasonable to assume that Norway continued to have a lot of influence on what was now the Lordship of the Isles. Changes in the way of life of the local people would have come slowly; apparently many of the community leaders in Lewis were not happy with the political changes after 1266 and they emigrated to Iceland; however for ordinary people it is likely that the influence of the Church was more significant than that of the Crown.

In terms of hierarchy, the Bishops of Sodor were below the Archbishops of Nidaros. There was a lot of church building from the 11th century onwards in the Archdiocese of Nidaros; one of the most important examples of this being St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. St Columba's Ui is not as grand as St Magnus Cathedral, but in its day it was a wealthy and important foundation. It would be interesting to find out if there are any early records of Eaglais na h-Aoidhe in Trondheim, although as this church had a major fire in 1531 and remained roofless for several centuries, it is probable that any early records have been lost.

The Urras is planning an opening and re-dedication ceremony when the consolidation work is complete.