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St Clement's Church


(Rodel Church, Tur Chliamainn)

A Mediaeval church located in Rodel, at the very south of the Isle of Harris, St Clement's (sometimes simply Rodel Church, or Gael: Tur Chliamainn - literally Clement's Tower) is the finest example of pre-Reformation ecclesiastical architecture in the Outer Hebrides. Although it may represent an earlier foundation, the present structure was begun c.1520 by the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan (Skye) and is of cruciform plan - unique for its time in the islands. Its architectural influences come from Iona Abbey and Ireland. The church is built from roughly-hewn local banded gneiss, with the exception of the light-coloured stone used in the lancet windows which may have been imported from Carsaig on Mull. The prominent square tower, which is accessible by stair and ladder, has foundations of solid rock on the up-slope side of the church ensuring the highest possible elevation on the site. It was quite possibly built in several phases, but was abandoned after the Reformation and, by 1705, it lay in ruins. Beginning in 1784, the church was rebuilt by Captain Alexander MacLeod, the owner of the island, although it was damaged by a fire three years later caused by careless carpenters who were working on the interior, necessitating considerable repairs and a replacement roof. MacLeod's work included inserting larger windows and building a parapet around the tower. Again the church fell into disuse before being restored by Inverness-based architect Alexander Ross (1834 - 1925) in 1873 on the instructions of Lady Catherine Murray, the Countess of Dunmore (1814-86).

The interior comprises exposed bare rubble walls, while the floor is laid with flagstones. There are three notable tombs carved in local stone, each depicting knights in armour. The most important is the last resting place of Alasdair Crotach, the 8th Chief of the MacLeods of Dunvegan, who is thought to have been the founder of the church. Previously MacLeod Chiefs had been buried on Iona, so Alasdair was certainly making a statement by building a church here and choosing this as his last resting place. The tomb is dated 1528, some nineteen years before his death, and is decorated with mural panels of remarkable quality. These comprise a combination of Gothic and Celtic motifs depicting a stylised castle, a hunting scene with dogs and deer and MacLeod emblems, together with religious images such as the Virgin and Child, twelve Apostles and bishops, possibly including St. Clement himself. The other tombs are most-likely those of William, the 9th Chief, who died in 1551, and John Macleod of Minginish, another MacLeod chief who died c.1557. The former features a triangular pediment and is to be found on the south wall of the nave, while the latter is located at the north end of the nave.

The graveyard includes the burial aisles and memorials of several further important MacLeods together with other notables. At least part of its boundary wall may represent a Mediaeval boundary.

The property is maintained by Historic Environment Scotland and is a popular attraction for visitors.


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