St Adamnan’s Church (Lonan Old Church)

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Things to do


Date of travel

August, 2019

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On your own

Reasons for trip

You have to want to find this church as it is one of the most isolated on the island, surrounded by farmland with scattered farms and on the line of the old packhorse route between Douglas and Laxey.

The site is close to good landing beaches and may have been used for Pagan worship before the arrival of Celtic missionaries in the C5th. It is a well chosen site with running water and a well. A keeil (a Gaelic word originally meaning a monastic cell or tiny chapel) was built here in C5th by travelling monks, known as Culdees. It was intended as a shelter for shelter for the Culdee as services were held outside. Although destroyed by the Vikings, it was rebuilt.

When the parishes were established in the C12th, this became the parish church for Lonan parish. Unlike other parishes where the parish church was at the centre, in Lonan, the church was at the southern end of the parish, indicating there must have been some special significance to the site. The parish is named after Lonan, a nephew of St Patrick and a Bishop of Sodor and Man. The church is dedicated to St Adamnan, who was an abbot of Iona Abbey between 679-704.

The parish church was a simple rectangular building and the fabric of the west end of the church dates from the C12th. The original north door was blocked up and replaced by a door in the south wall. There has long been a superstition that ‘bad luck comes from the north’ ( the Viking invaders came from the north) and many doors on the north side of churches were blocked off. At some time the east end was demolished and the church extended over what may have been part of the burial ground.

In 1733 the parishioners petitioned Bishop Wilson complaining the church was inconvenient as it was at the extreme south end of the parish. It was agreed to build a new church, All Saints’, in a more central position. This was eventually completed in 1833 and, although more central, was equally as isolated and unpopular. One critic complained “if the old church is stranded like a whale, the new church is stranded like Noah’s Ark’.

The Act of Tywald permitting the building of a new church ordered the destruction of St Adamnan’s but fortunately this was ignored and the church was allowed to fall into disrepair.

St Adamnan’s has always held a special place in the Manx pysche and John Quinn, who was appointed as Vicar of All Saints’ Church Lonan in 1895, was horrified to find the east end being used as a hen house. He raised money to restore the old church. The western end is still a ruin.

The eastern end has been restored and the interior is pure Victorian. It is very simple inside with whitewashed walls and stained wooden pews. Oil lamps still hang from the ceiling but are now lit with light bulbs. The east window depicts the Resurrection. The Small Norman window in the north wall contains stained glass designed by John Quinn. This has the arms of the Bishopric of Sodor and Mann as well as Rushen Abbey with a Viking boat.

The Friends of St Adamnan’s were formed in 1968 to keep the old church in good repair and ensure it remained a working church. There are regular services during the summer months which are advertised on their “Facebook”: page. A large grassy car park is provided for use during services.

This is possibly one of my favourite churches on the island, not only for its isolated setting but also for the early Christian crosses. The beautiful “wheel cross”: in the churchyard dates from the C5th and the only cross still to be found standing in its original position. It was probably the place where early converts gathered to worship.

The church is open daily and is signed (St Lonan Old Church) off the A2. In the isolated area between Onchan and Baldrine, it is advisable to have a map to help find this.

For those on foot, alight at Halfway House (near the now closed Liverpool Arms) and follow the track signed footpath Baldromma. After about three quarters of a mile there is a T junction, with a house opposite. Turn right. In a short distance, turn left and then right to reach church.

Alternatively. from Lime Kiln Halt on the Groudle Glen Railway, take the footpath up to a road. Take the right had fork (straight on) and follow this road for about a mile to a junction on the right which has a green signpost for St Lonan Old Church, and turn right again.

The Grid reference is SC 427794 and the nearest post code is IM4 6AL

There are more pictures “here.”:


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