Eilean Chaluim Cille – Old Centre Of The Island Bishops

The Eilean Chaluim Cille is a Medieval Ages religious center hidden and overgrown on the Island of Skye.

Eilean Chaluim Cille

For over 500 years, this seemingly godforsaken spot near Skeabost on Skye was the center of Christianity in the Hebrides. Nowadays, it’s difficult to believe. Eilean Chaluim Cille is Gaelic meaning “Saint Columba’s Island.” Saint Columba, Scotland’s renowned missionary, is claimed to have preached from a stone at this location. It’s no surprise that a house of worship sprung up nearby.

This was formerly the cathedral church of the Bishops of the Islands, now abandoned, decaying, and overgrown in front of us. Between 1079 and 1498, the Hebrides and the Island of Man were a distinct bishopric, which was first subordinate to the Archbishopric of Trondheim in Norway as “Sodor,” but eventually became a part of the Kingdom of Scotland.

The brilliant Wimund was bishop of the “sancta ecclesia de Schith” – the “holy church of Skye” in around 1134. Wimund appears to have used force against the Bishop of Whithorn, to whom more and more sections of the islands’ bishopric were ceded. Moreover, he is supposed to have gone up arms against Scotland’s King David I. Wimund’s behavior was not very Christian, and he was swiftly punished: he was blinded, castrated, and imprisoned in a monastery near York.

Under the rule of the Lords of the Isles and until the 16th century, St Columba’s Island kept its prominence. Subsequently, the church functioned as Skeabost’s parish church. In addition, the churchyard is very important to the Clan MacNeacail of Scorrybreac. According to tradition, 28 chiefs are buried here, and the present clan chieftain sprinkled his father’s ashes here as recently as 2003.

Gravestones on the Eilean Chaluim Cille

The Eilean Chaluim Cille is rich in history, yet it is poorly recognized and frequented. The setting, however, is intriguing in and of itself: the island is created by two arms of the River Snizort and is covered with trees overgrown with lichen. The path there includes bridges and boardwalks. And you may usually find some peace and quiet here.

On the boardwalk

There is a reason Saint Columba picked this island to preach on. Columba enjoyed “disenchanting” Pictish sacred places. Even before Christianity, the island in the river was like this. The stone at the village of Tote, a little farther north, proves that there were Picts here. It is worthwhile to pay a visit to the ornately adorned stone. It is housed in a wooden fence close off the main road. Clach Ard and Eilean Chaluim Cille may be explored in a short 2.5-kilometer trek that takes around an hour if you take your time. Because the approach to the stone is uphill, it is clear that the Eilean Chaluim Cille genuinely constitutes an island.

View of the Island

KNOWLEDGE: Eilean Chaluim Cille and the Diocese of the Isles

During the 11th century, the Archdiocese of Nidaros included the Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland, and the Island of Man. Nidaros is today known as Trondheim and is located in Norway. From there, the archbishop had not only Norway and the Scottish islands under his spiritual care, but also Iceland and Greenland.

The Hebrides therefore became the diocese or bishopric of Sodor or “Suðreyar”. This signifies Southlands (from whence “Sutherland” also derives). Originally, the diocese’s seat was on St Patrick’s Island, near the Isle of Man. After the English took over the Isle of Man, the see was moved to Snizort on Eilean Chaluim Cille on the Island of Skye. With a few exceptions, the diocese was known as the Diocese of the Islands and included the Outer and Inner Hebrides.

Image of a medieval warrior on the island

After the Norwegians lost the Hebrides, then Orkney and Shetland, the diocese was transferred to Scotland and St Andrews. The see was also relocated to Iona.

The diocese’s coat of arms depicts St. Columba in a rowboat, holding a dove in one hand and gazing up at a burning star.

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