Scheduled Monument

St Columba's Church, Aiginis, UidhSM1684

Status: Designated


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Date Added
Last Date Amended
Crosses and carved stones: tombstone, Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard; church
Local Authority
Na h-Eileanan Siar
NB 48468 32261
148468, 932261


The monument comprises the remains of St Columba's church. According to local tradition, the church of St Columba occupies the site of a cell of St Catan, who lived in the sixth to seventh century. On architectural grounds, however, the present church appears to be no earlier than fourteenth century. Margaret, daughter of Ruairi, chief of the Macleods of Lewis, was buried in the chancel in 1503. In 1506, the rector was John Macleod and in 1534 and 1536 Sir Magnus Vaus. Martin Martin, in 1695, records the church's dedication as being to St Collum (or Columba); as one of the two parishes of Lewis, Uidh had a minister, though by this time the principal church would probably have been in Stornoway.

St Columba's church is an elongated rectangle in plan, measuring some 20.5 by 7m overall and with its chancel facing north-east. It is built in rubble masonry, utilising the local gneiss, to which a red sandstone is added in later additions. A slight discernible difference in the construction of the eastern third, corresponding to the chancel area, probably represents different campaigns of work, rather than different periods; it may in any case be more apparent than real, being emphasised by the plaster which still adheres to much of the chancel walls. More certain is the evidence for the heightening or rebuilding of the upper part of the north wall, probably as part of a re-roofing operation. This may have occurred in the sixteenth century, and have been contemporary with the addition of a burial mausoleum to the west end of the church. The present door into the church is near the west end of the south wall. The original one may possibly have been in the west gable. The point of division between the nave and the chancel, still clearly visible, was evidently originally marked by a timber screen, with a loft above it, of which three supporting pockets for joists may be seen in the north and south walls respectively. There is also a small window for lighting the loft on the south, and what appears to have been a larger window (now blocked) below it, possibly for lighting an altar. Just inside the chancel, a narrow pointed-arched door in the south wall, opening outwards, probably led to a sacristy (now demolished). The altar, placed against the east wall, would have been lit by lancet windows in the south and east walls, though the pointed head of the latter was replaced by a lintel when the upper part of the east gable was rebuilt. The chancel was used in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries as a burial place for the Macleods of Lewis and their families.

Two grave-slabs which once lay here have now been set up against the walls. On the south is a slab showing a male figure wearing a long quilted coat, a camail of mail around his neck and shoulders, and a pointed helm. His left hand holds a sword. The man's identity is unknown, though it is possible that he was Roderick (Ruairi) Macleod of Lewis, who died around 1498. The second slab is fixed to the north wall, and shows an interlaced cross, with various animals in the foliage. An inscription around the margin (now barely legible) could at one time be read as follows: + HIC . IACET /. MARGARETA . FILIA . RODERICI . MEIC . LEOYD ./ [DE . LEODHUIS . VIDUA . LACHLA]NNI . MEIC . FINGEO[NE . OBIIT .] M V III.

The burial aisle added to the west end of the church has a low arch in its west wall, evidently intended to contain a principal tomb, and was lit by broad rounded-arched windows on three sides; access to it was by a rounded-arched door in the south wall, or by another slapped through the west wall of the nave. Rescue excavation in 1994 showed the burial aisle overlies earlier burials.

The area to be scheduled comprises a rectangular area of ground measuring some 37m SW-NE by 15m SE-NW, including the church, the burial aisle, the tombstones and an area of ground extending 4m from the church on all sides, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance as representing one of the principal medieval parish churches in Lewis and one of the best preserved medieval churches in the Western Isles. Its importance is enhanced both by the survival of architectural evidence for the internal liturgical division of the nave and chancel, and of two significant Macleod tombstones of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In addition, the below-ground archaeological remains have the potential to shed further light on the building history and use of the church, and on the activities that took place on the site before the present church was constructed.




Pringle, D. (ed.), The Ancient Monuments of the Western Isles (Edinburgh 1994), 44-46.

RCAHMS, Ninth Report with Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles (Edinburgh 1928), 12-14. no. 43.

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Scheduling is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance as set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments that are found to be of national importance using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map showing the scheduled area is the legal part of the scheduling. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief. Some information will not have been recorded and the map will not be to current standards. Even if what is described and what is mapped has changed, the monument is still scheduled.

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Printed: 22/05/2019 08:28