Canna, A' Chill, St Columba's Chapel

Burial Ground, Chapel

Site Name Canna, A' Chill, St Columba's Chapel

Classification Burial Ground, Chapel

Alternative Name(s) Keill, St. Columba's Chapel; Canna House; Canna 2

Canmore ID 10694

Site Number NG20NE 1

NGR NG 2692 0553

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Small Isles
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Lochaber
  • Former County Inverness-shire


Aerial Photography (2 September 1994)

Desk Based Assessment (1972)

NG20NE 1 2692 0553

(NG 2692 0553) St Columba's Chapel (NR)

(Site of) Burial Ground (NR)

OS 6" map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., (1903).

See also NG20NE 2, NG20NE 13 and NG20NE 45.

St Columba's Church, Canna, is mentioned by Archdeacon Monro in 1549, but was in ruins when noticed by Pennant in 1772 (OPS 1855). Within the churchyard close to the W boundary wall is a sculptured slab of micaceous schist covering a modern grave. It is 5'8 1/2" x 3 1/2 x 1' (RCAHMS 1928). A fragment of a cross-shaft was found c.1900 in a wall not far from the free-standing cross, (NG20NE 2) and presumably also in the churchyard. It is in two pieces (together 2' x 1' x 3") and features a design of human legs and entwined serpent (J R Allen and J Anderson 1903). It was preserved within the modern Memorial church (RCAHMS 1928) but appears to have been since removed by J L Campbell (the laird) to Canna House (NG20NE 24), where it was seen by Rivet in 1961

(OS 6"map annotated by A L F Rivet, 26 June 1961).

Lethbridge suggests that the cross may be of the 7th century.

(Private 6" map of T C Lethbridge, 1953)

T Pennant 1790; Orig Paroch Scot 1855; D Monro 1884; J R Allen and J Anderson 1903; RCAHMS 1928.

Information from OS.

Field Visit (30 May 1972)

St Columba's Chapel and burial ground were destroyed in the mid 19th century during land improvements, and the present burial ground at NG 2690 0544 was inaugurated about 90.0m to the S. The sculptured grave slab, probably from the old burial ground, is still within the W half of the modern burial ground, but lies loose. The fragments of the cross shaft are preserved at Canna House. A third piece has been found by Mr Campbell.

Visited by OS (A A), 30 May 1972.

Field Visit (20 August 1996)

(Location amended to NG 2695 0553). Nothing is now visible of the chapel and burial-ground which once stood at A'Chill. Dedicated to St Columba, the chapel was recorded in ruinous condition by Pennant in the early 1770's and likewise in a report by the British Fisheries Society (cited by Campbell) in 1788, where reference is made to the overgrown nature of the ruins in which 'the shape of a window' could be made out. This report also mentions a cross (NG20NE 2) and burial-ground, all of which lay at the heart of the township known as Keill (NG20NE 45). The buildings and enclosures of Keill are shown on an estate map of 1805, together with what may be a depiction of a cross; the area was cleared of tenants in 1851 and no trace of the township or chapel can now be seen.

In 1994, a geophysical survey of this area was carried out by a team led by John Hunter of Bradford University. This was followed up by selective trial trenching to confirm the identification of a rectangular structure located to the WNW of the free-standing cross NG20NE 2. On excavation, the mortared foundations of the N and W walls of the structure were seen to overlie a flagged stone surface, while the interior revealed a dark, compressed floor surface containing evidence of burials. Although by no means conclusive, the form of construction is suggestive of an important building such as a chapel. A further wall running parallel to the N wall of the structure was interpreted by Hunter and Roberts as the boundary wall of the churchyard.

The site of the chapel and burial-ground lie centrally within a natural amphitheatre, created by ridges of outcrop to the E and W, and steep sloping ground to the N. The fragments of the cross shaft and the sculptured grave slab are as described by the OS in 1972.

Visited by RCAHMS (ARG), 20 August 1996

T Pennant 1790; J L Campbell 1984; J Hunter and C Roberts 1994.

Reference (2001)

The medieval parish church occupied the centre of a natural amphitheatre some 350m NW of the harbour, bounded on the S by a rocky ridge and on the N by steep hill-slopes. Until about 1850 this was also the principal area of farming settlement on the island (i), and there are no visible early remains except for the free-standing cross (no.12), which may mark the position of an Early Christian monastery. The footings of the church were identified by excavation in 1994, about 10m W of the cross (ii). Some 100m to the SSW, on the W slope of the rocky ridge, there is a small rectangular burial-ground bounded by a stone wall of late 19th-century date (iii). A knoll situated 60m W of the cross is surmounted by a wedge-shaped standing stone of uncertain age.

The burial-ground contains five early stones (nos.1, 4, 6, 7, 10) and a crudely-carved graveslab of late 16th or early 17th-century type (iv). Other carved stones which were found in this burial-ground or in nearby field-walls have been removed for safe-keeping to Canna House (v).

(1) Burial-ground. NG20NE 1.01 Slab of Torridonian sandstone

(2) Canna House. NG20NE 1.02 Upper part of a small pillar of orange/buff silicious flagstonegrooves.

(3) Canna House, (NG20NE 1.03) found on the shore near Tarbert (NG c.240 053) (vi) Fragment of a small pillar of Torridonian sandstone.

(4) Burial-ground. (NG20NE 1.04) Upright gravemarker.

(5) Canna House. (NG20NE 1.05) Small pillar of buff Torridonian sandstone.

(6) Burial-ground. (NG20NE 1.06) Waterworn pillar of Torridonian sandstone.

(7) Burial-ground. (NG20NE 1.07) Pillar of Torridonian flagstone.

(8) Found during ploughing at A' Chill in 1947; now at Canna House. ( (NG20NE 1.08) Slab of buff Torridonian flagstone.

(9) Canna House. (NG20NE 1.09) Slab of grey Torridonian flagstone.

(10) Burial-ground. Slab of Torridonian sandstone (NG20NE 1.10).

(11) Canna House. Rough boulder of basalt (NG20NE 1.11).

(12) THE CANNA CROSS - see NG20NE 2.

(13) Two fragments of a cross-shaft were discovered in the wall of the burial-ground (NG20NE 1.12).

I Fisher 2001.


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