Female Isle of Benbecula worship

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Archeological Sites Prehistoric Barra The name Barra belongs properly to a whole group of islands, of which Barra itself is the chief. These names are a reminder of the times when Barra was a haven for Viking pirates, who launched fierce plundering raids in all directions from these islands. But the Vikings were not the earliest inhabitants of these islands, nor is it their culture which has left the deepest impression. The oldest man-made habitable structures on the Barra islands are a group of iron-age hill forts, for which the Female Isle of Benbecula worship name is dun.

In addition, there are in the Barra group a. It is uncertain who the prehistoric inhabitants of Barra were. The northern Hebrides do not really emerge into the s of history until the coming of Christianity to the Hebrides in the sixth century AD. Saint Columba, who was active in Scotland from to. This man therefore must have been a non-Gaelic-speaking Celt, and was probably a Pict. Pictish carved stones bearing enigmatic symbols have been found on Skye and Raasay, seeming to confirm that the inner most of the northern Hebrides were once occupied by Pictish people.

It may have been common in all areas south of the Antonin Wall, at the Forth-Clyde isthmus, since the British kings of Strathclyde, ruling from their fortress at Dumbarton Rock on the Clyde, were nominally Christian in the fifth and sixth centuries.

It was from sub-Roman Britain that Christianity was carried to Ireland by the great British missionary. Saint Patrick in the second half of the fifth century. But even as Saint Patrick was carrying the gospel across the Irish Sea, his own people were facing an increasing threat from the pagan Angles and Saxons who were settling on the eastern coasts of England in increasing s. It was from Ireland that the Christian faith was Female Isle of Benbecula worship back into Scotland in the sixth century by Saint Columba.

On Skye, he baptised one of the native aristocrats, and on other islands, including Thee and possibly Jura, as well as on Iona, he built monasteries. It is more likely that these islands were evangelized by Columban monks during the half-century following the saint's death, as were the Pictish lands and the pagan Anglian kingdom of Northumbria?

Thus there are reasons to believe that Christianity first arrived in Barra in the first half of the seventh century.

Female Isle of Benbecula worship

It is in this context that we must consider Barra's mysterious patron saint, Saint Finnbarr. His feast day is celebrated on the same day, 27 September, in both places. Little is known of his life. The Scottish life of Saint Finnbarr describes how he was illegitimately conceived as the result of a romance between a young Sutherland nobleman and a young woman. The child who was born soon after, so obviously the recipient of God's favour, later became a monk and hermit, and may have visited Barra and founded Cille Bharra.

Not the least of the problems which surround Saint Finnbarr is that of his name; as well as Finnbarr, he is also known as Saint Barr or Barrfmn Connected with this, of course, is the problem of the name of Barra itself. Various suggestions have been put forward as to the origin and meaning of the name Barra. The earliest mention of the name Barrey for Barra comes in Norse sagas referring to ninth-century events, though written down much later; so that provides little information as to the origin of the name.

The site of Saint Finnbarr's church on Barra was probably at Cille Bharra, where the ruins of the medieval church still stand. As recently as the mid-nineteenth century, this site was the scene of horseracing, shinty and other festivities on Saint Barr's feast day. Female Isle of Benbecula worship mile to the south, on the hillside Female Isle of Benbecula worship north of Traigh Mhbr, where the modern airstrip is located, was tobar Bharra, Saint Barr's well. The most famous example is Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, who occasionally retreated to the tiny Farne Island in the Lindisfarne group to escape the importunities of the laity.

On Pabbay there are the fragmentary remains of a very ancient chapel at l3agh Ban. It is impossible to build up a more complete picture of early Celtic Christianity on Barra. Our conclusions, which must remain tentative, are that Saint Finnbarr was probably a Gaelic Scot who settled on Barra in the early seventh century and built his church at Cille Bharra.

Female Isle of Benbecula worship

He, or possibly his successors, may well have maintained a hermitage on Pabbay, and possibly other chapels on islands of the Barra group. Near Borve Point, on the west coast of Barra, stand the ruins of an ancient chapel dedicated to Saint Brendan, This may be another relic of Christianity on Barra before the Viking age, and is perhaps a reminder that Barra lay on the sea route taken by Irish mariners to the Faroes, Iceland and beyond.

As time went on, the Norsemen settled in areas which they had earlier plundered, and the North Hebrides became a Viking archipelago in the, ninth and tenth centuries. Once-peaceful Barra was involved in this process, and during the Viking age became a haven for the dark pirates of the North. The historian has three sources of evidence for Female Isle of Benbecula worship Vikings' activities on Barra: they are place-name evidence, the evidence of the Norse sagas; and archaeological finds.

Female Isle of Benbecula worship

Taken together, they help form a picture of Barra during the Viking period. The ancient place-names of Barra are almost entirely Norse in origin. Many of these names refer to natural features. Most of the islands of the Barra group have names ending in the Norse termination -ey, including Barra itself. Mingulay is Norse Mikel-ey, big island, and Pabbay, mentioned above, is Papa-ey, hermit's isle. Examples of other names of natural features in Barra place-names are: -nes, a headland, in Bruernish, Leenish, Ardveenish; -fjall, a hill cf.

Very few Norse place-names on Barra refer to types of human settlement; a rare example is a group of names ending in Norse -erg a word originally borrowed from Gaelic airighmeaning a pastoral settlement or shelling: Eoligarry, Skallary and Gunnery 15 From this we can deduce that the Norse settled all through the Barra group of islands; that, to begin with at least, their main activity in Barra was plundering rather than settlement, since they have left very few names indicative of settlement; and that such settlements as they made Female Isle of Benbecula worship predominantly pastoral.

The name Pabbay indicates that the Viking period overlapped with that of the Celtic hermits. Turning to the Norse sagas, they provide information which is Female Isle of Benbecula worship more vivid, but less trustworthy. After he had driven out Kiarval, Onund stayed in Barra for three years, plundering in Scotland and Ireland, before returning to Norway. In he fought against Harold Fairhair, king of Norway, at the great sea-battle of Hafrsfjordr, where he was defeated and lost one of his legs; he then returned to Barra and d his plundering career in about Later in his life Onund went to Iceland.

While he was there, perhaps around AD, he arranged a marriage between his young kinsman Olaf Feilan and a lady called Alfdis the Barra-woman, whose family seem to have been established in the Hebrides for two or three generations.

None of his poems have survived intact, but fragments of his work are believed to lie embedded in the great Icelandic saga-collections of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. All of the circumstantial details of Female Isle of Benbecula worship Norse sagas cannot be accepted as history. For example, the king Kiarval whom Onund is said to have driven out of Barra in is probably meant to represent Cerball king of Ossory in Ireland, who campaigned vigorously against the Norse of Dublin in the mid-ninth century; but he is unlikely to have had any factual connection with Barra.

But we may well credit the main thrust of the story, that mid-ninth-century Vikings drove out the local Celtic rulers and used Barra as a plundering base, while maintaining contact with their Norse relatives in Norway and Iceland. In the tenth century, Barra was part of the mainstream of Norse culture. There are both male and female graves, indicating that the Vikings brought their own women-folk with them when they settled in Barra. The most exciting piece of evidence for the acceptance of Christianity by the Norse settlers in Barra is in the form of a gravestone carved with a Celtic cross on one side, but with Norse runes forming an inscription on the other.

The runes can be transliterated as follows - [ The runic stone also proves, importantly, that Cille Bharra was in continuous use as a place of Christian worship and a burial ground all through the Viking period. Taken together with the evidence of place-names like Pabbay, and the name Cille Bharra itself, this stone shows that the Christian faith established by Saint Finnbarr survived on Barra through the darkest days of the Viking pirates.

This kingdom stretched from the Isle of Man in the south to the Butt of Lewis, and included the inner and outer Hebrides and the islands of the Firth of Clyde; nominally it was subject to the kings of Norway, but in fact most of its kings ruled from the Isle of Man as independent princes. In the southern Hebrides, and possibly in the southern parts of Skye, Gaelic was widely spoken; in northern Skye and the outer Isles Norse seems to have been the predominant, if not the only, language.

The decisive factor was the rise. In a series of campaigns in the Isles in the s Somerled expanded from his mainland territories of Morvern and Ardnamurchen in Argyll, and acquired Kintyre Female Isle of Benbecula worship the islands of the Firth of Clyde, Islay, Mull and the southern Hebrides, and Barra and the Uists in the north. The final severance of the Norse connection in the Western Isles came inwhen the king of Norway ceded Man and the Hebrides to Scotland.

In some parts of the Hebrides, dynasties arose in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries descended from Gaelic chiefs who had fought alongside Somerled against the Norsemen in the s. Setting aside this insult, it remains true that the origins of the Macneills of Barra are very obscure.

As for Cille Bharra, the church appears to have had a continuous existence as a typical medieval parish church throughout the middle ages. Barra was part of the diocese of the Isles, ruled over by bishops dwelling in the Isle of Man until aboutand thereafter by a line of Scottish bishops of the Isles living in Skye until the end of the Female Isle of Benbecula worship century; the Isle of Man, ceded to Scotland by the Norse in along with the Hebrides, was seized and occupied by English pirates in aboutand the cathedral on the Isle of Man has been occupied by a line of English bishops of Man ever since.

The history of the Scottish bishops of the Isles after is very obscure, but it seems that for part of the time at least they used the church of Snizort at Skeabost on Skye as a cathedral. The church as it stands today may have been built, or re-built, around the twelfth century, since the north door of Cille Bharra appears to date from that period.

Probably before the lay patron was the Lord of the Isles, and thereafter the patronage of Cille Bharra passed along with the island to Macneill of Barra. Because of its close relationship with the lay patron, Cille Bharra was not the subject of much litigation among clergymen; only one petition to the Pope has so far been discovered relating to Cille Bharra.

The grant was made by the Pope at Avignon on 17 November ? The most striking example of this in the outer Hebrides is the magnificent tomb of Alasdair Macleod of Dunvegan in the church of Saint Clement at Rodel, Harris, built in They originally lay in the churchyard at Cille Bharra, which suggests that they belong to a period before the building of the north chapel; this building is now thought to be a post-Reformation burial aisle, presumably built by the Macneill chiefs.

Female Isle of Benbecula worship

Although Barra itself belonged to Macneill of Barra, he did not exercise unlimited control through all the Barra Isles. In the mid-sixteenth century, the momentous religious revolution known as the Reformation shook Scotland. There is no hint of its impending arrival in the outer Hebrides, or evidence that the old religion had sunk into decay. One of the last visitors to Barra before the Reformation was the archdeacon of the diocese of the Isles, who in wrote an of his visitation of his diocese. On Barra he found nothing to cause him undue concern, and the church of Cille Bharra apparently functioning normally: 'Barray [is] ane fertile and frutfull Ile for corn, and abundance of fisching Reform Female Isle of Benbecula worship Counter-Reformation on Barra It has been suggested that the Protestant Reformation never made any impact on Barra at all, and that the islanders continued in their ancient Catholic faith oblivious to the momentous changes which were taking place all around them.

This traditional view may be in need of some modification. In the chief of Clan Macneill rejected Catholic missionaries, and remained obdurate until Among 'other things, they promised to repair ruined churches and respect the ministers planted in them.

June he came to the Yle of Barra and there most cruelly, etc. But although Barra appears to have had the vestiges of a Protes - tant establishment between the Reformation and the second quarter of the seventeenth century, this is not the whole picture.

The cult of Saint Finnbarr remained strong, in spite of reformed teaching about the cult of saints; the first Catholic missionaries on Barra found there that Cille Bharra was roofless, but contained a statue of the saint which was much venerated by the inhabitants. Although his murder seems to have had nothing to do with religious controversy, he may never have been replaced, and Cille Bharra may have been allowed Female Isle of Benbecula worship fall into ruin after his death.

Female Isle of Benbecula worship

At the end of the day, without a vigorous minister supported by an enthusiastic local nobleman, the conversion of Barra to the reformed faith may have been no more than skin-deep. This situation was ably exploited by Catholic missionaries who first arrived on Barra in In that year an Irish Franciscan landed on Barra to find the ruined church, apparently without any minister, and the cult of Saint Finnbarr flourishing.

He baptised many of the inhabitants and reconciled them to the Catholic faith; and among his converts were members of Macneill of Barra's household, though the chief himself Female Isle of Benbecula worship in his Protestantism. He was the first Catholic priest to set foot on Barra after the Reformation. He was the first of many; for, due largely to the success of the Irish missionaries, Barra has become and remained predominantly Roman Catholic ever since.

Female Isle of Benbecula worship

The conversion of the Macneills of Barra was clearly crucial in this, and that was achieved inwhen the chief with his wife, family and household embraced Catholicism at the urging of an Irish Franciscan. Thereafter the work of the missionaries was always going to be easier. In Father Dugan,an Irish Lazarist priest, visited Barra and commented that the people were very devout and very desirous of learning and Catholic instruction. A visitor to the island in about went to Cille Bharra to see Saint Finnbarr's statue, but was disappointed, because the islanders had carried it away and hidden it from view, lest he mock their piety as other Protestants had ly done.

Female Isle of Benbecula worship

He was also told about a foreign missionary priest who, arriving on the island on Saint Finnbarr's feast-day, offended the natives by refusing to preach to them about Saint Finnbarr, of whom he had never heard; they told him that he could not be a true priest, as even the Pope had heard of the great Saint Finnbarr. During this period, worship took place either in the open air among the ruins at Cille Bharra, or in private houses; the only building which remained roofed at Cille Bharra was the Macneill burial-aisle in the north chapel.

The eighteenth century saw the consolidation of Catholicism on Barra, and the missionaries replaced by a staff of native priests trained overseas. Bara belonging to Mcneil of Barra, a papist tho' an Episcopal minister has lived near 40 years in Southuist, yet he never had above 18 protestant hearers at once, these islands are served by old father Malcolm Mcphie, Mr.

Throughout the eighteenth century Barra was served by him and other Highland-born priests. The Macneills, and consequently the people of Barra, were fortunate not to get caught up in the Jacobite rebellion; Prince Charles Edward landed on Barra inbut the chief was not at home at Kisimul at the time, so the prince sailed away to the mainland.

Barra in Recent Times In contrast to the dark ages. In a work such as this, devoted to ancient Cille Bharra, there is no need to do more than summarise more recent developments. One of the most ificant developments of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries on all the islands was a steady increase in population; Barra was no exception. Female Isle of Benbecula worship population rose from into into inand to a pre-famine peak of in But the price of kelp declined steadily after the Napoleonic Wars, and Female Isle of Benbecula worship onwards there was a series of drastic failures of the potato crop.

Starvation, clearances, and voluntary emigration caused a dramatic decline in Barra's population. In Macneill of Barra was forced by poverty and debt to sell the island, and the way was left open for profiteering speculators; one of these, Colonel Gordon of Cluny, carried out savage evictions in the s, shamefully assisted in this by a local Protestant minister who found the natives to be incorrigible Catholic Barra's subsequent history has been happier.

Female Isle of Benbecula worship

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