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Publication Account

Date 1985

Event ID 1018838

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


St Clement's Church is the most impressive of the pre-Reformation churches remaining in the Western Isles. It has been restored on several occasions, the last being in 1873, but most of the walls and the greater part of the tower are medieval in date. Rodel is the burial place of many of the MacLeods of Dun vegan and Harris.

The church is built on uneven ground; the nave and choir are continuous, and there are two transepts not precisely opposite each other and roofed at a lower level than the main structure. The tower at the west end is built on rock at a higher level than the church and has a ground-floor entrance on the west side and an intramural stair leading up to this level from the church. Most of the windows are square-headed but the east window has a pointed arch with three trefoilheaded lights and above these there is a wheel window with six spokes.

The south wall of the church has two magnificent tombs built into it; one was built in 1528 for Alexander MacLeod (also known as Alasdair Crotach of Dunvegan), although he did not in fact die for about another twenty years. This outstanding monument has a figure of a man in plate armour lying in a recessed arch. The back of the arch is decorated with panels carved with a variety of scenes: at the top are angels on either side of a radiant sun; the middle of the next row is occupied by the Virgin and Child with a bishop on one side and St Clement on the other; at the ends of the row are a castle (see p. 72) and a galley under sail. The bottom row shows a hunting scene of men holding dogs and a knight with a sword. They are observing a group of deer which features in the next panel. Beyond are St Michael and Satan weighing souls, and the inscription explaining for whom the tomb was made 'This tomb was prepared by Lord Alexander, son of Willielmus MacLeod, Lord of Dunvegan, in the year of Our Lord 1528'. The front of the arch is decorated With further panels. At the top is a representation of God the Father holding a crucifIx between his knees, flanked by angels, and there are four panels on either side, three containing pairs of fIgures, representing the apostles, and one containing an angel holding a censer. The effigy of the knight is carved in dark hornblende schist, while the panels are of pale freestone, possibly from Mull; the panels on the front of the arch have plain pieces of schist between them and the whole group is edged with schist

The other tomb also has an armoured man lying under an arch; there is a partly illegible inscription at the back of the recess: 'This is the tomb prepared by Lord ... in the year of Our Lord 1539'. Above the rounded arch a pointed border encloses a crucifixion scene, with a figure on either side of the cross.

A third effigy is placed against the north wall, beside

the door; the hehnet plate annour with mail and

sword show that it is of 16th century date.

Several carved graveslabs are now set against one wall of the north transept There is also, on the sill of a south window, an unusual small disc-headed cross, bearing on one side Christ crucified and on the other an interlace pattern. The contrast between the dark schist and the pale freestone of the MacLeod tomb is reflected in the arches of the transepts, and light and dark stone is also used alternately in the quoins of the tower.

The tower has a cabled string-course of schist about half way up, broken at the corners and centre of each wall face. Below it are plain slit windows, and above small lancets. At the top of the tower is a crenellated parapet

Several carvings are set into the tower walls in spaces partially framed by the string course: on the west wall there is a figure that may be St Clement above two unidentified men; on the south wall there is a squatting female figure nursing a child; on the east wall a worn panel may represent a boat; and on the north wall there is a bull's head.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Argyll and the Western Isles’, (1985).

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