[From Manx Antiquities,1863]



THE History of the Island will now for a moment occupy our attention — a history fraught with much interest ; for here were early preached the doctrines of the Cross, and from here they spread throughout the whole Isle of Man. It is matter of history that the Romans only obtained a permanent footing in Britain about the year 43, and although pagans themselves, and many of them prominently adverse to the Christian faith, they were nevertheless the means of introducing Christianity early into Britain. The constant communication which was taking place between the Imperial Court and the Provincial Government, along with an annual influx of strangers as the Roman sway in Britain extended itself, must necessarily have introduced to these islands many who had already been converted to the Christian faith in Rome or elsewhere. In no other way can the statement of Tertullian be accounted for, that about the beginning of the third century places in Britain where the Roman arms could never penetrate were subject to Christ ; that there his name reigned and his kingdom was established.1 Whether the rapid spread of Christianity among the native tribes of Britain arose from Christian missionaries secretly introduced into the country under the protection of Rome, or that the Roman Governors of the period tacitly permitted them to enter so long as they were guilty of no crime against the state, it is impossible to determine. Certain it is that the Christian faith spread over the length and breadth of the land and its adjacent islands, and that, more than a century before the Roman evacuation of Britain, in addition to the many places of worship made of boughs, reeds, and wicker-work, there was actually a stone church in existence, which was built and used by the Christian missionary Nynius or Ninian, on one of the headlands of the old province of Galloway, in Scotland. This was long known as the " Candida Casa," the first stone church in Britain.

The death of the renowned Scottish Bishop Ninian took place A.D. 432. According to accepted biography, it was in the following year that Pope Celestine consecrated St Patrick a Bishop, and sent him on a mission to Ireland. History has not handed down to us more than the simple fact that, in his progress to this country, he landed upon this little island, and first preached the doctrine of the Cross to the native Manxmen. From this spot the Candida Casa of his illustrious predecessor must then have been visible. The success of his missionary labours proved satisfactory, for we find that he remained here from 432 to 447 — a period of nearly fifteen years. In this latter year, however, he departed for Ireland, leaving his friend and fellow-missionary, St Germanus, behind — "a holy and prudent man " — " ad regendum et erudiendum populum in fide Christi," says Jocelin.

During the early visit of St Patrick to the Isle of Man, it is not likely that anything was done in the way of erecting more than a temporary place for the worship of Christ, and Bishop Wilson informs us that the present ruin of the Cathedral of St Germanus was begun by Bishop Simon, who afterwards became Bishop of Sodor in 1226. This was erected upon the site of a more ancient Cathedral Church, of which not a vestige now remains. The formation of the walls and other accessory buildings may rightly be attributed to Henry, Third Earl of Derby, in 1593, and from the manner in which they join the Cathedral and other parts of the neighbouring buildings, denote a similarity of age and erection. To the Round Tower and Chapel I am inclined to align the same age, but what that was, unfortunately, we have no means of determining. The Tower, like those of Scotland, was probably built by Irish Ecclesiastics, for it seems to have been a style of architecture familiar to this people, and yet it differs from anything of the kind which at present exists either in Ireland or Scotland. It has a battlemented crown, and is not so elevated as those in the sister Island, yet its use was doubtless the same, and it probably had its embrasured top placed upon it in this place, occupying, as it did, a prominent point of a fortress. Mr Petrie has assigned to the Round Towers of Ireland.a date between the 5th and 13th centuries ; and although great antiquity has been assigned by many to the example under consideration, I am inclined to assign to this one a place in the 11th or 12th century. There is nothing in the architecture of the Tower that points to its age ; there is no moulding and no Christian emblem. The doorway and windows are square headed, but, as I consider the Chapel and Tower of the same age, I draw that conclusion principally from one of the windows of the Chapel, which, although very ruinous, still shews a circular form, as if its early style had been Norman. In Ireland, in buildings adjoining and connected with these Round Towers, as at Roscrea, we have circular arched windows and doorways which have been, on the best authority, assigned to the 10th or 11 th centuries.

It appears not improbable that this Round Tower and Chapel, with its mound and earthen redoubts, fosse, &c., constituted the early fortress of this little Isle.

Leaving Peel and all its antiquarian associations behind, we proceed in the direction of Castletown. The road rises gradually from the low elevation of Peel, and the traveller by slow degrees reaches the higher level of the surrounding country. About three miles from Peel a church and village, with a peculiar low-terraced hillock on the left, attract his notice. This is the Tynwald mount or hillock, from which the laws of the Island are proclaimed in Manx and English — a very distinct remnant of the permanence of Scandinavian sway in this place.2 This mount is a grass-covered hillock, about 12 feet in height, a 40 feet in circumference at its base and 21 at its summit. Its acclivity is cut into three circular terraces rising above each other, and all approached by a flight of wide steps, made on the eastern side of the grassy sod, in the direction of the Chapel of St John. A flag-staff at present occupies the centre of the mount top, and a neatly-kept gravel walk leads to the chief entrance-gate of the Church. The Tynwald Hill or Mount, called also Cronk-y-Keeillown (i. e., St John's Church Hill) is said to have been composed of earth brought from each of the seventeen parishes of the Island ; formerly it was walled round and had two gates. The word Tynwald has its origin from Thingwall or Thingvallr, which means a court held in the open air. The early Scandinavian appearance of the structure can best be drawn from Cambden's description of it. He says, " it was surrounded with a ditch and rampart of earth, including an area of the form of a right angled parallelogram, and within which, at the end facing the steps, is a small church, in which, previous to the promulgation of the new laws, the magistrates, &c., attended divine service. The entrance into the area was through some upright stone jambs covered with transverse imposts, like those of Stonehenge ; most of those imposts are now thrown down."

Other mounds seem occasionally to have been used for similar purposes. At Cronk-Urleigh or Eagle-Hill, near Kirk Michael, meetings of the Legislature and people took place in the fifteenth century ; they have also been held at Castle Rushen, and also on a mountain called Ben-y-pot in Baldwin.

For many centuries these courts have been held on Midsummer Day, the 5th of July, it being also the festival day of St John the Baptist. The ceremonial of Tynwald Day, as at present followed, is thus given by Mr Cumming (p. 185.) " A tent is erected on the summit of the mound, and preparations are made for the reception of the Officers of State according to ancient custom. Early in the morning the Governor proceeds from Castletown, under a military escort, to St John's Chapel, which is a few hundred yards to the eastward of the Tynwald Hill. Here he is received with all due honours by the Bishop, the Council, the Clergy and the Keys, and all attend divine service in the Chapel — the Government Chaplain officiating. This ended, they march in procession from the Chapel to the Mount — the military formed in line on each side the green turf walk. The Clergy take the lead, the juniors being in front and the Bishop in the rear ; next comes the Vicar-General and the two Deemsters, then the bearer of the Sword of State in front of the Governor, who is succeeded by the Clerk of the Rolls, the twenty-four Keys, and the Captains of the different parishes." " At the present day the chief ceremony of the Tynwald Hill is the proclamation in Manx and English of all the laws which have been passed during the year."3

The present Church of St John is an elegant granite edifice of recent date, having been constructed on the site of the small ancient chapel referred to by Cambden. Tradition affirms that a Temple to Thor once occupied this same site, which, although possible, and even not improbable, must have been of high antiquity, seeing that we have a monument which now stands at the side of the present church, and which was removed from the smaller chapel when it was pulled down, which dates as early as the ninth or tenth centuries.

The monument referred to is a very beautifully executed Runic stone, unfortunately broken and defaced, and with the principal part of the inscription awanting. The Runes announce that "Ina the Swarthy engraved them," but nothing is left to shew to whose Christian spirit these runes were written or the monument raised.

St. Trinian's Chapel
St. Trinian's Chapel

About a mile beyond the Tynwald Mount, on the road to Douglas, and in a field on the lefthand side, stand the ruins of the ancient Chapel of St Trinian. The present ruin is of no great age ; for although the belfry and east window bear the characters of middle-pointed architecture, still its general appearance does not correspond to that period, and it is possible, like many other structures here and elsewhere, that it has been rebuilt after a more ancient model which existed at or near the spot. From the road, the appearance of the ruin is chaste and artistic, the verdure of the numerous ash-trees which spring from the interior of its lichened walls blending harmoniously with the sombre tints of architectural decay.

These trees, many being of considerable growth, have been regarded by some as a sort of data by which to reckon the antiquity of the church, as they are said to have sprung from seed deposited there since the building became a ruin. This is fallacious reasoning, for the ash is a tree of rapid growth, and in twenty years may attain to greater dimensions than any of those in St Trinian's Chapel.

There is no authentic account of such a saint as Trinian. He is said to have been an Archbishop of the Picts about the middle of the fifth century. The venerable Bede says that " Trumwine" (of which Trinian may be a Manx variation) was appointed in 681 Bishop over the Pictish province of Galloway, and was stationed at Whithorn. But it is not unlikely that the original name was Ninian, the Scottish saint who flourished also in the neighbouring province of Galloway about the middle of the fifth century.

This was a Trin or Treen Chapel, so called, according to Cregeen's Dictionary, " from Treen, which means a township (or broogh) that divides tithe into three ;" and one writer suggests that Trinian is derived from this word, and not from any saintly personage. To say the least of it, there is something essentially confusing in the account given by different Manx writers of their Trin, Treen, or Quarterland Chapels; so much so that I begin to suspect the word Trin or Treen had a different origin altogether. May they not have been called " Treen" Chapels from having been originally constructed of wood ? We have in our language treen, both as an adjective and a noun, although now obsolete. The adjective signifies wooden, and the noun is the plural of tree. The termination en is the old manner of forming the plural of words derived from the Celtic languages. Moreover, churches in the early ages of Christianity in this country were not built of stone ; and when St Ninian erected his stone church at Whithorn, in Galloway, it was known as the Candida Casa, or white house, in contradistinction to the wattled and wooden structures which were common elsewhere.

These chapels were also called " Keeils." This word is of Celtic origin, and is popularly translated " church." In Scotland it takes the form of " Kil," and towns bearing this prefix are known to have been the sites of early churches and religious houses. " Keeil" also means a pin or peg, and in this sense it is applied to the beam in the bottom of vessels, it being the bar to which the ribs of the ship are pinned. Tradition tells us that St Columba's first chapel was his boat, drawn on shore and turned keel upwards, which, no doubt, suggested an architectural model and a name for subsequent oratories ; and which, accordingly, were called keeils, kils, cells, and, in English, cells. Columba's keil was then the first Treen Chapel, undoubtedly pinned together by treen-nails. The mud and stone erections which followed were built after the old boat model; but being roofed with turf, they externally resembled the " barrows" or burial mounds — the keeils of the dead.

The ruin of St Trinian's Chapel, like other remains of Keeils or Treen Chapels throughout the island (and which are built of stone and lime), are of no great age, and may be safely referred to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. But they were, in all probability, erected on the site of older buildings, which, in their turn, had been raised on the consecrated spot where ancient oratories of wood or turf stood.

There are many mounds throughout the island, which still retain the name of Keeils or Treen Chapels. Some of these present the appearance of small barrows, with hollows on the top, and surrounded with the debris of a mud wall ; and often within this enclosure there is the evidence of sepulture having been practised. Keeil Vail, on the elevated ground between Balladoon House and the seashore, is an example of this early form. Others have been raised of more durable materials of stone and mud, buttressed with sods out-side. Oswald,4 in his " Vestigia," has given an interesting account of a Keeil of this class at Eyrey Cosnahan. The walls of the ruin " were about 3 feet in thickness; their exterior rough, and buttressed with sods, but the stones in the inside were set so as to form even masonry. The interior measured 12 feet in length and 8 feet in width. Its narrow door at the weft end entered obliquely." " The floor was paved with smooth rounded pebbles, about the size of eggs, and apparently from the neighbouring sea-beach. Some of the stones in the interior, and one in the door, were marked with rough crosses of different forms." " No appearance of stone graves or urns was found underneath, and no signs of a sepulchral kind in the enclosure which surrounded it." Although the remains of this ancient oratory at Eyrey Cosnahan do not seem to have been ever used for sepulture, there are very few throughout the island that have not been used for this purpose. There is always the enclosing mud wall, within which the graveyard stretched around the ancient place of worship. In some instances, these graves are still marked by head-stones, some of them carved with Runic work. In all instances, the graves range from east to west, and the precincts of it are sometimes marked by slabs of the slaty stone of the district, placed edgeways in the surface sod. These graves have from time to time been opened, and skeletons have been found, generally in stone Gifts. At Kerroodhoo, a farm a little to the south of Slieuwhallen, are the remains of a chapel under the invocation of St Mary, the walls of which, at the east end, are about 4 feet high. The burial-ground is about an acre in extent, covered with stone coffins, the tops of which, in many places, are visible.

Those early places of Christian worship and burial have a more than usual interest to the antiquary. They are doubtless the spots, and often the remnants of those early buildings, from which the light of Christianity shone forth upon a benighted people ; and these bear evidence, in the absence of all other records, of the success of St Patrick, and the spread of the Christian faith at a very early period throughout the island.

St Patrick's Chair
St Patrick's Chair

From the Chapel of St Trinian, we follow the road to Douglas as far as the village of Crossby, where a bye-path, on the right-hand side, leads onward in the direction of Castletown. The old and nearly ruinous Church of Marown is soon passed — an edifice which is likely soon to be taken down, and which will doubtless yield trophies for the antiquary who may watch its demolition. Not far beyond, in the same direction, and on a farm revelling in the truly Scandinavian name of "Gart" — which means a garden — is a curious hagiological relic, " St Patrick's Chair." This consists of the remains of a long flat stone, which had been used for a seat, and five upright stones behind, from 3 feet to 5 feet 6 inches high — the two tallest being inscribed with the cross, deeply incised. The inscribed faces are towards the west, and an abundant spring of pure water gushes from the ground at the one side of it. The chairs of favourite saints are common in Scotland and elsewhere, and this early relic of monastic times owes its origin, like the others, to having been erected as a resting-place between sacred edifices. The Patron Saint of Ireland is said to have sat in this chair to bless the people. It is not unlikely that he may have rested here during some of his missionary excursions through the island, and have taken advantage of the crystal fountain at his feet to administer to his early converts the sacrament of baptism.

A small encircled barrow on the lefthand side of the road, about a mile onward, will repay a visit. But in this district we are in the midst of the remains of fortified hills and barrows, some with and some without the usual Scandinavian standing-stones ; and by the antiquary zealous in such pursuits much may be done at small labour and cost in tracing out the history of these early sepulchral remains.

" Whilst I remained on the island," says Chaloner (page 101 ), " I caused one of these round hills to be opened, in which were found fourteen rotten urns or earthen pots, placed with their mouths downwards, and one more neatly than the rest, in a bed of white sand, and containing nothing but a few brittle bones (not having passed the fire, no ashes being discernible." " Hereabouts are divers of these hills to be seen, but in other parts of the isle few and dispersedly — some of them being environed with great stones picked endways in the earth."

The village of Ballasala is soon reached. At one time it was the largest on the island, but this was doubtless during the time when the Abbey of Rushen flourished, The ruins of this Abbey are in the immediate neighbourhood, romantically situated, with a nice wooded hill behind, and the clear Silverburn in front. Little now remains but the ruined walls, which afford props to sheds for the shelter of cattle ; and the tower, a square structure of compact limestone, which has well withstood the effects of time and weather, The age of this tower is not anterior to the thirteenth century, and is characteristic of this period ; but the Abbey was founded, according to the " Chronicon Manniæ," in 1134. It is probable that, while the Abbey itself was begun at this time, the tower which now stands was a subsequent erection. The Crossag, an old bridge connected with the Abbey, is to be seen in a wonderful state of preservation, crossing the Silverburn a little above the Abbey. It is composed of two arches, both of which have the appearance of being pointed. It is, like most old bridges, very narrow, and unfitted for any traffic but what could be carried on mules and packhorses. Just above it is a mill-dam which has been attributed to the Monks of this Abbey. " How frequent," says Mr Cumming, " is the mill to the religious houses of the Cistertian Order, and as they, in the Isle of Man, were the especial almoners of the poor, there is surely good reason for persuading ourselves that it has not been by mere accident that in this locality the Abbey and the mill are so closely connected ; there is the same evidence of design in the contiguity of a mill with the Friary Burmakin in Arbory — an offset from the Abbey of Russin ; we have it again in the mill hard by the Nunnery of St Bridget, near Douglas."5 The remains of this abbey, early bridge, and mill-dam, are all hallowed to the antiquary from their associations with the " Chronicon Manniae," an early and most interesting historical record of this island.

Rushen Abbey
Rushen Abbey

A short drive from Ballasalla brings us to Castletown ; but long before reaching the town itself, the massive keep and square towers of Castle Rushen attract the notice of the traveller. Castletown was once the principal town of the island, and the seat of Government. It is now like a deserted place. Castle Rushen is situated in the centre of it — an admirable example (and nearly in its original state) of the castellated architecture of the middle ages. As it has been somewhat minutely described in most works on the Isle of Man, it would be superfluous for me to repeat the task ; but I would recommend the antiquary to examine it carefully, and especially its four magnificent towers, one of which reaches to the height of 80 feet ; its portcullis gate ; the remains of the fosse, with the sluices still existing which admitted the water from the harbour ; and the more modern glacis beyond, said to have been added by Cardinal Wolsey. Castle Rushen is now used as a common prison.


1 " Brittanorum inaccessa Romanis loca Christo vero subdita — Christi nomen regna — Christi nomen et regnum colitur." — Tertullian Adv. Jud.. p. 189.

2 Amongst all the Scandinavian Thing-hills or Tbing-walls (Thingavellir) that can be traced in the old Danish part of England, in the Norwegian part of Scotland, as well as in the Orkneys and Shetland islands, and which also formerly existed in Iceland, Norway, and throughout the North, Tynwald in Man is the only one still in use. — Worsaae.

3 NOTE. — "The ancient Scandinavian courts were held in the open air, generally on natural hills or artificial tumuli. Their colonies in England and Scotland adopted the same practice, and hence many eminences, erroneously supposed to be Roman camps, still retain the name of Ting or Ding — such as Dingwall, the Tinwald Hill in Dumfriesshire, the Tynwald Hill in the Isle of Man, Tingvilla in Iceland, &c." — Palgrave.

4 Manx Society Transaction, vol. v., p. 77.

5 Cumming's Isle of Man, p. 46.



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