The monument comprises the remains of a medieval chapel containing several finely carved gravestones, together with its surrounding burial ground, a prehistoric cup-marked stone and the remains of a small post-medieval township. A separate upright stone slab 70m ENE of the chapel is also included. The monument is situated in rough grazing land on the W coast of the Rinns of Islay, overlooking the valley of the Abhainn na Braid, a burn which drains into Kilchiaran Bay, approximately 400m to the W. The monument was last scheduled in 1963, but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the archaeological remains: the present rescheduling rectifies this.
The chapel measures 16m E-W by 6.5m transversely and has been partially restored. The E gable end stands to its full height and represents the best surviving medieval fabric. The other walls survive to a maximum height of 3m and are up to 0.7m thick, but only the lowest courses are original. In the interior, a low wall marks the division between nave and chancel. The floor of the chancel was about 0.6m higher than that of the nave, accessed by centrally placed steps. A walled burial enclosure abuts the E gable of the chapel. The chapel's original masonry is of random rubble construction with quoins and dressings formed of worked blocks of the same material. Cill Chiarain is thought to date from the 13th century. It was recorded as being in use during the late 17th century and roofless by 1794. The adjacent burial enclosure is thought to date to the 18th century. Within the chancel are a stone font and a group of late medieval West Highland grave-slabs, including six which date from the 14th -15th centuries and one of the Loch Sween school, probably from the 15th-16th centuries.
The chapel lies within its burial ground, which measures 60m SW-NE by 37m transversely, and sits atop an eroding escarpment above the Abhainn na Braid. A cup-marked stone lies within the burial ground, 13m SW of the chapel, measuring 1.7m by 0.98m and up to 0.15m thick. The stone displays at least 19 plain cup-marks. Beyond the burial ground, 70m ENE of the chapel is an unmarked upright stone slab. Within and around the burial ground, the turf-covered footings of four small buildings are visible, as well as a trackway, cut into the burial ground. The trackway and small buildings probably represent the remains of a small post-medieval township.
The area to be scheduled is in two parts. The first is irregular on plan and includes the chapel, burial ground, cup-marked stone and post-medieval township; the second is a discrete area to the ENE, centered on the upright slab and measuring 10m in diameter. The areas include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction and use may survive, as marked in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the drystone dyke running along the SE boundary of the monument.
Statement of National Importance
The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:
The chapel was restored and partially reconstructed in 1972-3. Before these works took place, it was recorded that the E gable stood to its full height and most other walls stood less than 1m high. Some original features also survive internally, such as the chancel, nave and font; the altar was constructed in 1972 on earlier footings revealed by excavation. The monument is now in good condition, with its overall form intact.
The chapel, burial ground, carved stones and the remains of the post-medieval settlement all have high research potential. The chapel was built probably around the 13th century and documentary evidence suggests it remained in use into the 18th century. As such, Cill Chiarain chapel has the potential to inform our understanding of medieval ecclesiastical architecture and the development of places of worship over time.
The presence of a cup-marked stone schist slab, lying flush with the ground, and a possible standing stone to the ENE, extends the time-depth of the site into prehistory. The medieval carved stones range in date and quality; they display a number of different motifs typical of West Highland sculpture, such as swords, mythical creatures, animals and decorative plant-scrolls. They consist largely of recumbent tapered slabs of local stone. The collection includes one slab incorporating the effigy of a tonsured priest in Eucharistic vestments with a chalice below the hands, which are joined in prayer, and a second tapered slab with Lombardic inscriptions. These carved stones have the potential to contribute towards our understanding of West Highland sculpture and religious art, and funerary monuments in general. They also enhance our understanding and appreciation of medieval society and regional identity in the west of Scotland, and Islay's political history and its importance during the medieval period.
It is possible that erosion of the NW edge of the escarpment is impacting on the burial ground. However, substantial sections of the burial ground survive, within which there is further potential for the presence of important buried archaeological remains, spanning from the earliest use of the chapel through to the post-Reformation period. The burials have the potential to inform our understanding of burial practices over an extended period of time and, together with other features such as the remains of the post-medieval township, they can add to our understanding of the use, development and abandonment of places of worship and burial. Any skeletal remains can tell us about the population of Islay and the lay society that used Cill Chiarain. They can also reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps the types of activities people undertook during life.
The monument is situated on the S bank of the valley overlooking the Abhainn na Braid, and has views of Kilchiaran Bay, one of the only harbours on the exposed W coast of the Rinns of Islay.
This is a good example of a small medieval chapel and burial ground. It has particular value as part of a group of similar small rural chapels in Islay, with at least 15 examples known. These sites may provide distinctive evidence for Irish influence in Scotland during a crucial period in Scottish history and can help us to understand early politics as well as the origins and spread of Christianity. Although larger than most parochial chapels in the area, Cill Chiarain was evidently a dependency of the medieval parish church of Kilchoman, together with those at Nereabolls and Kilnave. After the Reformation it was occasionally described, with Kilchoman, as one of two parish churches in the Rinns.
Comparative studies could enhance our understanding of the organisation of Christianity in the medieval period, and the origins, nature and development of places of worship from the early Christian to the post-Reformation period. The collection of carved stones can be compared with others across the west of Scotland, particularly the collection at Iona, to enhance our understanding and appreciation of West Highland sculpture and religious art, as well as medieval society and politics in this region.
The chapel is thought to have been dedicated to St Ciaran or Queranus, who is recorded as being the well-known Ciaran Macantsaor, or son of the carpenter, abbot of Clonmacnois, who died in AD 548 at the age of 33 years. Local tradition records that chapel-goers turned a pestle in the cup-marked stone and made a wish. Some of the cup-marks display wear that is consistent with secondary use.
Both the chapel and burial ground are depicted on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map as 'Cill Chiarain Chapel in ruins'. The place-name 'Cill' is Gaelic, meaning 'chapel' or 'burial ground' and supports its early origins as a place of worship for the lay population.
This monument is of national importance as a well-preserved ecclesiastical site, in use from the medieval through to the post-Reformation period, and containing a fine collection of medieval carved stones. The presence of prehistoric features and a post-medieval settlement adds considerably to the time-depth of this monument, enhancing its significance. Cill Chiarain has the potential to increase our knowledge of medieval stone carving and our understanding of social, political and ecclesiastical life in Argyll from the medieval period through to the 18th century.