St Mary's Old Church, Dunvegan
St Mary's Old Church, Dunvegan

St Mary's Old Church is a roofless ruin in the hamlet of Kilmuir, just outside Dunvegan. The church was built in 1694 -- the date is inscribed on a stone over the north door -- to replace an older medieval church that served as the parish church for the Duirinish region of northern Skye.

The original building was a simple rectangle, but a north burial aisle was added in 1839. A 1735 burial enclosure with fine Renaissance carving stands against the west gable.

The church interior
The church interior

The church stands within a stone-walled burial ground enclosure. Within the burial ground are three medieval grave slabs carved with traditional claymore and foliage symbols. The largest of these stones measures 6'5" long and 20 inches across, tapering to 16.5" at the foot.

Interestingly, several chiefs of Clan Macleod are buried here, though the church at Rodel on the Isle of Harris was the principal burial place for clan chiefs. Also buried here are several generations of MacCrimmons, who served as hereditary pipers for Clan Macleod.

The Lovat Memorial
The Lovat Memorial

The Lovat Memorial

The most striking memorial inside the burial ground is a large ashlar obelisk commemorating Lord Thomas Fraser, 10th Lord Lovat, who died in 1699 when visiting his brother-in-law at Dunvegan Castle. Note that the inscription uses the spelling 'Frazer' for the family name.]

The monument was erected by his son Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat. The younger Fraser supported Bonnie Prince Charlie's 1745 rebellion, and, as a result, was tried for treason and executed on Tower Hill in London in 1747.

Donald Macleod monument inside the church
Donald Macleod monument inside the church

Lord Lovat was the last person to be executed by beheading in England. It could have been worse; he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, but King George commuted the sentence to a less painful death by beheading.

A visitor in 1888 recorded the obelisk as lying in pieces on the ground, but it has obviously been restored at some point since then.

Celtic cross in the burial ground
Celtic cross in the burial ground

Window opening, south wall
Window opening, south wall

Getting There

The church is extremely easy to spot on the A850 about 300m east of its junction with the A863 in Dunvegan. There is a lay-by on the northern (eastbound) side of the A850, with a short path up the hill to the church. Visible on the hilltop above the churchyard is the Duirinish Stone, a monolithic standing stone erected by the villagers in 2000 to mark the millennium.

About Dunvegan, St Mary's Old Church, Skye
Address: A850, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, Highlands and Islands, Scotland, IV55 8ZR
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On the A850 in Kilmuir, immediately east of the A850 junction with the A863.
Website: Dunvegan, St Mary's Old Church, Skye
Location map
OS: NG248473
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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