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Colonsay, Balnahard, Cill Chaitriona

Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Colonsay, Balnahard, Cill Chaitriona

Classification Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Cill Cairine, Cnoc Corr

Canmore ID 38168

Site Number NR49NW 1

NGR NR 4216 9989

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Colonsay And Oronsay
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR49NW 1 4216 9989 and 4214 9990.

(NR 4214 9990) Cill Cairine (NR) (In Ruins)

Burial Ground (NR)

(NR 4213 9990) Stone Cross (NR) (Remains of)

OS 6" map, Argyllshire, 1st ed., (1878)

Cill Chatriona (NR) (In Ruins)

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

The robbed remains of a chapel standing within its burial ground, at the NW corner of which is a free-standing cross.

The chapel, which is oriented, has measured c. 32' x 20' with 3'-4' thick walls of stone and earth rising to a maximum height of 3'-4'.

What was probably the altar is still visible at the E end. The entrance is said to have been in the W gable where there is a break in the wall. An alleged holy water basin cut in stone lies a few feet S of this gap, and was once associated with some of the various stones - including the "Priest's Feet" - from the site which were believed to have curative, divinative or spell-binding properties, and which are now preserved at Colonsay House. Loder (1935) notes remains of other buildings.

The enclosing bank of the burial ground, about 24 paces square, is still clearly visible, but there is no local knowledge of when the last burial took place.

The cross, 3'-4' high, is said to have had its arms removed, but it is possible that it represents the early (? 7th century) type where only the stumps of the arms are portrayed, especially as it appears to have 'arm-pits'. The illustrations suggest that it stands in a square slab base, but this is not necessarily original as the stone is used as a rubbing post by cattle.

Clach a' Pheanais, the Stone of Penance, (NR49NW 2) is said to be where the prescribed penance was performed after confession.

There is some doubt about the dedication of the chapel. All the local authorities in 1878 gave it as Cairine, a saint who probably lived in the 6th century , but Loder (1935) says this name was not known in Colonsay by 1935. Stevenson (1881) gives the name as Kilcatrine and OS (1900) as Cill Chatriona, which spelling as accepted by later authorities. Tradition says that the chapel was founded by monks from Iona.

Grieve (1923) quotes a tradition of a Benedictine nunnery, dedicated to the Trinity (Cille-a'-Trina), existing here but there seems to be no firm basis for this and it is not mentioned by Easson or Cowan.

S Grieve 1923; W Stevenson 1881; J de V Loder 1935; W J Watson 1926; Name Book 1878.


Field Visit (10 April 1974)

NR 4216 9990: The remains of the chapel are as described although the entrance is not apparent. The cross, of simple design, appears to be early. It is now built into the ruined burial ground wall but this is unlikely to be its original site. It no longer stands in a base.

The five-sided burial ground contains four featureless burial cairns up to 3.5m in diameter. No entrance is visible. On the NE side is a small sub-rectangular building, probably of later date.

The only other building located in the area lies 8.0m NW of the cross; it is also later. (See NR39NE 3.)

Surveyed at 1:10,000.

Visited by OS (DWR) 10 April 1974.

Field Visit (May 1977)

These remains occupy a remote site at the head of an unnamed glen about 0.8 km NE of Balnahard Farm and

1.25 km from the N point of Colonsay. They comprise the grass-grown ruins of a small oblong building which stands

near the centre of a trapezoidal enclosure. The ground slopes gently from N to S, and a standing stone, NR49NW 2 (RCAHMS 1984, No. 87) is situated 31m NE of the enclosure.

The building, which is identifiable as a chapel dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria (Gaelic, Caitriona), is a round-

angled oblong structure built ofdrystone rubble masonry. It measures about 7.1m from E to W by 3.5m transversely

within walls about 1.5m in thickness, which survive to a maximum height of 1m; the doorway may have been near the

w end of the s wall, but there are no clearly identifiable remains. There is a group of recumbent slabs at the E end of

the interior, and outside the SW angle of the building there is a hollowed field-boulder which may have served as a mortar or basin. (Loder 1935) There is a low stony mound opposite each end of the building, and at least two other similar mounds lie in the NE quarter of the enclosure.

The enclosure-dyke, which is constructed of turf and rubble, stands to an average height of about 0.5m and is 1m

in width. There are entrances in the S and E sides, and immediately N of the E entry there are the remains of an ovoid

structure which measures 5.5m in maximum internal diameter and is entered from the E.

Cruciform Stones:

One of these stones (number 1) was found lying in the enclosure shortly before 1881, when it was presented to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. The other stands at the NW angle of the enclosure.

(1) Cruciform slab, probably of epidiorite. The top and right arms are broken, and it measures 0.98m in incomplete

height by 0.27m across the arms, the original span being about 0.31m. The surviving side-arm has a projection of

50mm, and the armpits are square. On one face the margin of the upper part of the shaft and the cross-head has been cut back, leaving in low relief an irregular interlace of broad bands. These enclose in the cross-head four holes, 25mm in diameter, pierced through the slab and surrounded by raised margins. (Stevenson 1881; Allen and Anderson 1903; Loder 1935).

(2) Cruciform slab of local siliceous flagstone, probably /B ofTorridonian age. It measures 0.88m in visible height and

the shaft tapers in width from 0.23m at base to 0.16m below the cross-head, which has been defined simply by rounded

notches cut into the edges of the slab to form its armpits. The stone is much worn through use by cattle as a rubbing-post, and it is uncertain whether the side-arms ever projected beyond the width of the shaft. (Loder 1935).

Visited May 1977



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