December 2012 News and Events

Consolidation Work


Consolidation work is almost complete, most of the snagging has been done and the Urras is waiting for the project manager to decide how best to complete the work which is included in the £324k project. It is clear from the reports by Peter Burman (Consultant on Heritage) and Nic Boyes (Stone Conservationist) that further work will be required to protect the graveslabs, but this will require further fund raising and is therefore a separate project, albeit that it will follow on as quickly as possible.

UI CHURCH - VERY EARLY HISTORY
There is archaeological evidence of occupation in this area since the Bronze Age and tradition tells us that an early Christian called Catan arrived on Lewis in the late 6th century. He came from Ireland and was an associate of St Columba. It is known that he travelled around Scotland and it is thought that he built a cell or anchorage on the site where Ui Church now stands. Catan was the uncle of St Blane of Dunblane and Strathblane; he also has a shrine at Mealista in Uig, Isle of Lewis. There is a strong Lewis tradition that he was buried at Ui and that his relics are preserved here. However there is a similar tradition in the Isle of Bute!

It is not known exactly when the Ui Church was dedicated to St Columba, but a reference to the Ui Church as St Columba's is recorded in a Papal letter of 1433. There are many churches dedicated to St Columba on the Outer Hebrides and on the western seaboard of Scotland.

THE CURRENT BUILDING
The ancient church consists of a rectangular building (the eastern chapel) with intact walls and gables, 20.75m long and 7.0m wide with an attached western chapel 8.25m long by 6.4m wide within a graveyard.
The eastern chapel, comprising a nave and chancel, was built before the Reformation. It is thought the western chapel may have been built after the Reformation. An Archaeological Survey (Knott and Thacker, 2011) suggests that the eastern chapel was deliberately de-roofed, possibly so that it could be used as a place of burial. The wallheads and gables were carefully capped with turf, thus preserving them to the present day.

THE 14TH – 15TH CENTURIES
Before the 14th Century, Lewis had been held by the Nicolsons, who possibly had strongholds at Fleiserin and Stornoway. Archaeological evidence identifies that part of the north wall of the eastern chapel dates back to before the 14th Century suggesting that the Nicolsons may have been responsible for building an earlier church on the site.

The Macleod dynasty, reputedly descended from Leod, a Norseman, obtained possession of the whole of Lewis through marriage to a daughter of Torquil Nicolson. Torquil Macleod, the son from this marriage, probably died around 1380 and his descendants retained control of Lewis until 1610. The eastern chapel was probably built at the start of this period. WC Mackenzie, quoted in Mackenzie (2012), states that Ui Church "is said to have been founded by one of the Macleods in honour of St Catan". It is thought, Macdonald (1967), to be the burial place of nineteen Macleod Clan Chiefs.

Roderick Macleod, 7th Chief of Macleod and a great-grandson of Torquil IV, held Lewis during the latter part of the 15th Century. He died in 1498 and it is believed that the effigy on a carved graveslab commemorates him. In 1610 the Macleods lost Lewis to the Mackenzies.

References:
Knott, CM and Thacker, M (2011) Eaglais na h-Aoidhe, Isle of Lewis Archaeological Survey, accessed via www.uichurch.co.uk.
Macdonald, D (1967) Tales and Traditions of the Lews; Stornoway
Mackenzie, CS (2012) St Columba's Ui Church otherwise Eaglais na h-Aoidhe: an Historical Perspective; Isle of Lewis

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