The Morvern Cross and Slabs

Ordnance Survey Map Reference NM671451

The cross looking towards the Sound of Mull and Isle of Lismore

The cross looking north towards Kiel Church

The upper part of the cross, north face

Kiel church is situated just outside the small town of Lochaline, on the Arnamurchan Peninsula. Kiel takes its name from "Cille Choluimchille" - 'The cell of St Columba of the church'. Local tradition says that Collum Cille crossed Loch Linnhe with St Moluoc from Lismore, and that they climbed Glas Bheinn. At the summit, Collum Cille planted his foot on a flat rock and pointed to a green knoll just above Loch Aline, and announced that this was where his next church would be built. It is said the footprint may still be seen on the hill top.

This was an important religious site in the middle ages, and traces of the medieval church may be seen in the graveyard. The Morvern Cross dates from the early 14th century, and is probably a product of the famous Iona School - a revival of high Celtic art forms throughout the western Highlands and Islands, based on Iona, Oronsay and other areas of Argyll. Many of the grave slabs on display in the Session House come from this school. Interestingly, they are not of local stone, many are calc-chlorite-albite-schist and slate, probably imported from Easdale and the Loch Sween area of Mid Argyll.

The magnificent free-standing disc-headed cross is carved from a single piece of blue-green chlorite schist, and overlooks the Sound of Mull. On the (now) south face (it would originally have been orientated east-west) a central boss is surrounded by plait work, and the shaft decorated with intertwined plant scrolls terminating at the bottom in opposed dragon's heads. The north face is similar, with different plant scroll and only one dragon's head. The square socket-stone is original, though the shaft was re-cemented in it sometime after 1895. This is a powerful reminder of the great medieval flowering of Gaelic culture, and one of the most outstanding commemorative objects in Argyll. Not to be missed if you're in this area!

Part of an ornately carved grave slab

Two figures on one of the grave slabs

Lower part of a shattered cross, showing bishop figure

3 of the slabs in the Session House

An intricate galley on one of the slabs

The old Session House was once a school room and where the business of the kirk was discussed. It was refurbished in 1994-5 to house the collection of medieval carved gravestones from the kirkyard, collected in 1914 and placed initially inside the kirk. Most of these date from the 14th-15th century, and originally marked the burial places of chiefs and church dignitaries. Designs include swords, ships and hunting scenes, with elaborate decoration.

With grateful thanks to Iain Thornber's very useful booklet 'The Carved Stones of Kiel, Morvern, Argyll', from whose work I have borrowed some of the descriptions above.

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