Isle of Man

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August, 2018

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Christianity arrived early on the Isle of Man with the arrival of Irish missionaries known as “Culdees” who first arrived around AD447. They began converting the Manx population and built tiny chapels known as Keeils all round the island. There remains can still be found in isolated places. These were used to shelter the monks rather than to hold a congregation. They baptised Christians in holy wells like St Maughold’s Well on Maughold Head and buried them with graves marked by a simple stone cross.

Many were destroyed when Viking raids began at the end of the C8th, and the Vikings brought their Norse gods with them. By the C10th, the Vikings had settled and embraced Christianity. Some of the keeils may have been rebuilt as simple churches.

“St Patrick’s Isle”: in Peel became an important early Christian site and a monastery was founded here. The remains of a C10th round tower and St Patrick’s church with its herring bone masonry still survive.

By the C12th Christianity was flourishing with the building of “Rushen Abbey”: and St German’s Cathedral on St Patrick’s Isle. The island was divided into into 17 parishes in the C12th, each with its parish church. Some these like “Kirk Maughold”: were built on of the site of an early keill, and can be recognised by the Gaelic saints names.

Each parish covered an area of disperse settlement and the parish church was usually built in the centre of the parish. It was a long walk for parishioners, particularly during the winter months.

By the C19th, many of these churches were in poor condition. The population was growing rapidly and many of the original parish churches were in inconvenient locations. New churches were built in the growing villages and towns and can be recognised by their more common Roman saint names.

Churches like Lonan Old Church were left to fall into ruin. Ballaugh Old Church and St Runius survive as examples of simple ancient churches. Braddan Old Church is next to the New Church but is no longer used.

Most of the ‘new’ churches are Victorian Gothic in style and vary from simple churches like that of “Christchurch”: in Glen Mona to impressive buildings like the new “Cathedral Church of St German”: in Peel. “St Paul’s Church “: in Ramsey is completely different with its white plastered exterior with red sandstone quoins and stunning white interior.

I have always been fascinated by churches, their history and architecture. Each is unique and you never know what surprises are waiting inside the door when you push it open. I managed to visit several churches and enjoyed them all.

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