Isle Of May, St Adrian's Chapel

Priory (13th Century)

Site Name Isle Of May, St Adrian's Chapel

Classification Priory (13th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Isle Of May Monastery; St Adrian's Priory; May Island

Canmore ID 57873

Site Number NT69NE 1

NGR NT 6586 9902

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating

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

  • Council Fife
  • Parish Anstruther Wester
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District North East Fife
  • Former County Fife

Archaeology Notes

NT69NE 1 6586 9902

(NT 6585 9901) Chapel (NR)

OS 6" map (1958)

The ruinous structure indicated as a chapel on OS plans is the sole surviving portion of the priory on the Isle of May. The ruin is the shell of an oblong building, lying roughly N-S, in which the only features with an ecclesiastical appearance are two lancet windows towards the W and the remains of a third in the N gable, all dating from about the 13th C. The windows are in the N end of the building, which was originally separated from the S end by a partition wall, and may have been the Priory Church or chapel. The structure was put to domestic use in the 16th C. Against the N gable was a building of two storeys, both vaulted, the upper storey communicating with a storey inserted in the main building. There has been another building on the S, while a circular tower, loopholed to the N and E, has been added to the SW angle.

Traditionally, St Adrian and a number of followers settled on the island and were slain by the Danes in 875, this establishing the sanctity of the place (RCAHMS 1933).

Watson (1926), however, states that the saint associated with the Isle of May is St Itharnan (d.669).

There are many problems in the history of the Priory. It has generally been assumed, in accordance with statements in records of 1292-3, that the Priory was founded by David I, who is said to have granted it to Reading Abbey. This probably took place after 1135 when Henry I, King David's brother-in-law, was buried at Reading. It is described as Cluniac in 1219, Benedictine in January 1257-8 and Cluniac in February of the same year. This compares with Reading, which is occasionally mentioned as Cluniac after it became specifically Benedictine. From c. 1270, the priory's history presents a series of complications and discrepancies. It passed to St Andrews by 1318, and in 1549-50 the Prior of Pittenweem granted a lease of the Isle of May, said to be lying waste (see also NO50SW 5).

RCAHMS 1933, visited 1927; D E Easson 1957

The chapel measures 11.3m NNW-SSE by 6.3m and is as generally described. Within its walls and lying displaced on the ground is a roughly dressed font of which the hollow is well-formed.

Resurveyed at 1/10 000.

Visited by OS (JM), 1 October 1975.

Architecture Notes


Remains of Augustinian Priory of May and Pittenweem before transference to the mainland.



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