Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Papa Westray, St Tredwell's Chapel

Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Chapel (12th Century), Settlement (Prehistoric)(Possible)

Site Name Papa Westray, St Tredwell's Chapel

Classification Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Chapel (12th Century), Settlement (Prehistoric)(Possible)

Alternative Name(s) St Tredwell's Brough; St. Tredwall's Chapel

Canmore ID 2882

Site Number HY45SE 4

NGR HY 4964 5090

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2023.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Papa Westray
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY45SE 4 4964 5088.

(HY 4964 5088) Brough (NR)

St. Tredwell's Chapel (NR) (In Ruins)

Human Remains & Ancient Coins found AD 1879 (NAT)

OS 6"map, Orkney , 2nd ed., (1900).

This complex consists of the remains of the 12th century chapel of St. Tredwell and possibly the remains of an early Celtic christian establishment occupying a mound which could contain the remains of a broch, and a souterrain, possibly part of a post-broch settlement.

The chapel measures 29 ft 2 ins by 22ft 9 ins over walls (dry-built but harl-pointed) from 3 ft to 4ft 2ins thick standing, in 1930, to a maximum height of 6 ft. Sinclair (J Sinclair c1798) and Neale (J M Neale 1848) are the only authorities who support the spelling 'St. Tredwall' as opposed to 'St Tredwell'. The 'ancient coins' were thirty copper coins (Charles II, George II & III, two French and one Dutch) found at floor-level during Traill's excavation, and the 'human remains' were those of a woman discovered in a stone built grave about 7ft 6ins outside the east face of the chapel. There is a mound 6 to 8 ft in diameter to the SW of the chapel.

The evidence for the early christian establishment consists of the dedication to the Pictish St Tredwell (Triduana), and fragments of an enclosing wall which surrounds the base of the mound and of a small rectangular building which lies on the summit of the mound to the NW of the chapel, more ruined and apparently older.

Eighteen ft.N. of the chapel, but at a lower level, are the foundations of a circular building 9ft in diameter within walls of 2ft 6ins thick, standing 2 ft high in 1883, with an entrance 2 ft wide on the south.

The existence of a broch on the site is putative although the site is eminently suitable and a curved, battered wall with a maximum height of 6ft, exposed for a length of 38 ft on the SW of the mound at the lowest level may be associated.

Beneath the chapel Traill, in 1879, explored what Redford calls a souterrain, but which may be more comparable with the post-broch huts of Jarlshof (HU30NE1). He found passages and at least two subterranean corbelled buildings. (See W Traill 1883 for full description). Objects found included an iron spearhead 4 1/2 ins long, a ball of greenish serpentine 1 3/4 ins in diameter, a bone playing-disc and a bone ring (all in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland [NMAS] - HR 193, AS 40, HR 194 and 195 respectively) and fragments of red and brown pottery, some glazed and ornamented, (NMAS: HR 196), from a kitchen-midden composed mainly of pottery and shells on the SE side of the mound where signs of buildng showed.

Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1883 (Donations, W Traill); D MacGibbon and T Ross 1896; RCAHMS 1946; NMAS Catalogue 1892; C A Name Book 1879; H Marwick 1925; R Radford 1962; F T Wainwright Mss index (In possession of Ministry of Public Buildings and Works (HBM).

This complex now survives as an overgrown mound occupying the whole of a peninsula, surmounted by the ruins of St. Tredwell's Chapel, by the footings of the sub-rectangular building and the circular building to the NW & N respectively of the chapel, the 38ft of battered walling, and a modern enclosure to the SE of the chapel. The base of the mound is surrounded at the waters edge by the ruins of a modern wall and the earlier wall can not be traced.

The chapel is as described by RCAHMS, and is choked with tumble. Two rectangular heaps of excavated material lie against the outside of the S wall. Its SE corner overlies the N end of the battered walling which is as described by RCAHMS. Outside the W wall is the only visible trace of Traill's 'subterranean building', a short stretch of passage choked with rubble. There is no ground evidence of a pre-Norse Christian establishment. It is impossible to date the sub-rectangular and the circular buildings in their present state of preservation.

There are no positive traces of a broch, but as stated by RCAHMS, this is an ideal situation and the size of the mound and Traill's excavation report tends to suggest a broch overlaid by a later settlement.

Revised at 1/2500

Visited by OS (AA) 1 July 1970.

Bone dice found; RMS HR 194. Numbered 3, 6, 4, 5. Except for one dot on the '5' side and those on the '4' side all dots enclosed by a poorly executed circle 40 x 16mm. Find spot unknown.

D V Clarke 1970; E J MacKie 1971.

Local informants state that a farmer found a large stone cross in 4 ft of water just off the SW shore of this promontory. He tried to raise it with an oar, but failed and it is still in the water.

Visited by OS (AA) 8 June 1973.

As part of a MPhil thesis submitted to St Andrews University, an integrated survey of this site, both on land and underwater was carried out in 1991. A topographical survey of the site and its immediate environs showed the current extent of the site. Soil samples were taken from two transects across the site. Analysis of the samples by magnetic susceptibility, a technique which locates areas of human occupation where the iron content of the sediments has been enhanced by burning, showed that the site had indeed originally been insular. High scores were registered on the brough itself and low scores on the floodplain. The technique also picked up the location of buried midden deposits inside the low enclosure wall, and an eroding land surface on the floodplain terrace. A contour survey showed the location of a buried causeway, a probable landing area for boats and the original extent of the site which roughly followed the low enclosure wall.

Artefacts found on the site, along with the types of buildings which remain and their relationship to one another have shown that the site has been in use for at least 1500 years. The site occupies a commanding and easily visible position on the island, with good access to the surrounding land by water. This was probably permanently and intensively occupied and was not just a temporary refuge.

A Bowman 1992; 1992.


Orkney Smr Note (June 1982)

Tankerness House - pottery (131), bone objects, charred grain,

slate disc etc. (177-81)

RMS - stone ball (AS 40) , spearhead, dice, bone ring, pottery incl

some glazed (HR 193-208).

The chapel of St Tredwell stands on the SE upper slope of a

prominent conical mound, some 4.5m high, which forms a peninsula

at the margin of St Tredwell's Loch, separated from the land by a

patch of marshy ground. The steep stony slopes of the mound

continue down at the same angle below the loch surface into deep

water; it appears that the islet may be at least partly

artificial. The chapel was recorded in detail by Sir Henry Dryden

in 1870 and it and the adjacent prehistoric structures partly

cleared by Traill between that date and 1883.

The chapel on an island in a loch is briefly mentioned by the

C16th writer 'Jo Ben'. Brand treats in some detail the

pilgrimages which used to be made to the chapel and loch by people

seeking cures for eye afflictions. He mentions people making

money offerings; c.1880, Traill's excavation on the floor of the

chapel found 30 coins ranging from Charles II to George III. - The

persistence of the 'superstitious practices' is reiterated by

subsequent writers. [R1], [R2], [R7]

The chapel evidently was an unusually ornate building.

According to Neale it was one of very few churches in Orkney which

possessed tracery, and although not originally of Middle-Pointed

date, it had received additions in that style. This detail had

disappeared before Dryden made his drawings in 1870, nonetheless

enough architectural detail still survived to indicate a church of

some wealth. He recorded the internal measurements as 20ft 3in by

13ft 10in, within the walls that vary greatly in thickness, from

just over 3ft to a little under 5ft. In 1930 parts of the walls

still survived to a height of 6ft; dilapidation since that date

has been considerable, the floor is again choked with nettle-grown

rubble above which the walls stand up to 1.3m in the W and N, but

barely 0.3m high near the SE corner. The rubble from Traill's

excavations was built into two rectangular cairns against the

exterior S wall where they obscure it and the underlying

prehistoric structures.

[R3], [R4], [R5], RGL Jun 82, Sir Henry Dryden's drawings in

NMRS ORD/105/3-4

As well as the coins on the floor of the chapel, Traill found

a stone-laid grave outside the E wall which contained a female

burial. Outside the W gable-wall he entered a subterrenean

passage, varying from 2ft to 4ft in width and running N then NW

for some 33ft, entering a 'circular building'. On its way it

passed several doorchecks and a side-chamber. This passage most

likely was part of a complex of late Iron Age (post-broch)

buildings, on the wreckage of which the chapel is built. -

Although the opening into the passage can still be seen

immediately beside the NW corner of the chapel, it is choked with

rubble immediately inside. [R6], [R8].

Although none of the structures recorded or visible appears

itself to be a broch, the presence of a broch at the core of the

settlement-mound is very possible. On the lower SE slope of the

mound Dryden's plan showed a revetting wall; this is still

visible, up to 1.9m high, for a length of some 11m, its NE end

disappearing under Traill's spoil-cairns. It appears to be an

outer defensive wall or ring-work associated with the Iron Age


According to Irvine, at a time some years ago when the water

was clear, a beautiful cross-slab was glimpsed from a boat close

to the islet. It was successfully grappled, but fell back to the

loch-bed before it could be got aboard.

Information from Orkney SMR (RGL) Jun 82.

Field Visit (June 1982)

St Tredwell's Chapel HY 4964 5088 HY45SE 4

The chapel, which stands on the SE upper slope of a conical mound, some 4.5m high and 35m across at water level, forming a peninsula in St Tredwell's Loch, was one of the most renowned pilgrimage-centres of Orkney. Brand's statement that votive offerings of coins were still made was confirmed by Traill's excavation of c.1880, when thirty coins, ranging from Charles II to George III, were found on the chapel floor. According to Neale, the chapel was one of very few in Orkney which possessed tracery. This had disappeared by 1870 but Dryden's drawings show sufficient architectural detail to indicate a church of some wealth. At that time the walls stood up to 6 feet high - which was still true in 1930 - and the interior measured 20ft 3in by 13ft 10ins within walls of very variable thickness. Traill cleared out the rubble and piled it into two rectangular cairns which still obscure the S wall and the prehistoric structures beneath it. The walls now stand up to 1.3m high in the Wand N, less than 0.3m high at the SE corner. The chapel is probably of late medieval date.

Immediately outside the W wall Traill broke into a subterranean passage which he followed N then NW for some 1 Orn, passing several sets of door-checks and a side-chamber and entering a 'circular building\ Finds from this structure, including a stone ball, are in NMAS (AS 40, HR 193-208); others are in Tankerness House Museum (nos. 131, 177-81). The opening into the passage is now blocked by rubble; it is likely that this was part of a complex of late Iron Age buildings, on the wreckage of which the chapel was built. It is possible that a broch lies at the core of the mound, on the lower SE slope of which a revetment-wall, 1.9m high and traceable for 11 m, may be part of an outer wall or ringwork. A few metres to the N of the chapel are the footings of two small subrectangular buildings of indeterminate date.

A cross-slab is said to have been seen some years ago in the deep water beside the islet, but an attempted recovery was unsuccessful.

RCAHMS 1983, visited June 1982.

('Jo Ben' sixteenth century text in Barry 1805, 437; Brand 1701, 58-9; NSA, xv, Orkney, 117-18; Neale 1848, 113;Sir Henry Dryden, drawings 1870, in NMRS; PSAS, 17, 1882-3, 137-8; MacGibbon and Ross 1896-7, vol 1, 106-8; RCAHMS 1946, ii, p. 180, No. 521; pp. 181-2, No. 523; OR 850).

Publication Account (2002)



Possible broch on Papa Westray inside a mound on which stands the 12th century chapel of St Tredwell. It was dug into in 1883 by Traill [2] who found a curved underground passage which apparently was traced to the point where it entered a circular building. There was a door to a corbelled cell in the right wall of this passage just before that point and appeared a pair of door-checks immediately before this cell. A heap of charred grain was found in the passage, together with an iron spear-head and a ball of serpentine [4]. A bone die from the site is in the collections of the Museum of Scotland [5], as is a bone playing disc and a bone ring [1]. On the SW side of the mound a 11.6 m (38 ft.) length of curved and battered dry stone wall is exposed; it has a maximum height of 1.80 m (6 ft.) but its curvature is irregular and it could be part of the outer wall of a broch.

In 1992 further survey work was carried out and the remains of the broch were recorded again [7].

Sources: 1. OS card HY 45 SE 4: 2. W. Traill in Proc Soc Antiq Scot 17 (1882-83), 137-38: 3. Proc Orkney Antiq Soc 3, 34: 4. RCAHMS 1946, 2, no. 523, 181-82 and figs. 75 and 267: 5. Clarke 1970, 231: 6. Lamb 1983, 19, no. 30: 7. Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1992, 82.

E W MacKie 2002


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions