Time Team Series 17: A Saintly Site (Baliscate Chapel, Isle of Mull)

Broadcast 25 April 2010 | Report available

One of the more remote and romantic sites visited by Time Team, Baliscate (Coille Creag A’Chait) is located close to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland. Today the site is in woodland owned by the Forestry Commission, but amongst the trees are the tumbled remains of two stone-built enclosures, one containing a rectangular building thought to be the remains of an early Celtic Christian chapel.

Trenches excavated by Time Team were able to confirm that this was indeed a chapel, which originated as a timber building. A burial associated with this first phase gave us a radiocarbon date in the 7th century AD. To set this against the historical background, the arrival of Christianity in Scotland is traditionally associated with St. Ninian of Whithorn whom Bede recorded as having converted the southern Picts, perhaps as early as 397 AD, with a second mission by St. Columba to the northern Picts around565 AD, although the earlier date is now thought to be inaccurate.

The timber chapel was later rebuilt in stone. Exactly when is uncertain, but part of a stone cross recovered from demolition material overlying the chapel was thought to date to the 8th century AD. The chapel sat within a larger monastic complex containing at least one other building; the surrounding enclosure covers an area of just under 1.5 hectares. This is small when compared to sites such as Iona, where by the 8th century the monastic enclosure coveredapproximately 8 hectares. It is clear that Baliscate never sustained a large religious community, but it would have formed part of a larger Celtic Christian network throughout western and northern Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Exactly when the chapel went out of use is also uncertain. A few sherds of medieval pottery (late 12th to 15th century) were found on the site, as well as a coin of Edward II (1320-35). The chapel may have been reused as a domestic structure, but the few finds may just have been deposited during demolition. Stone from the chapel was later used to build the adjacent enclosure, which was shown to be a sheep pen (or ‘fank’) with a shieling for the shepherd.


Baliscate Chapel, Isle of MullBaliscate Chapel, Isle of MullFragment of an 8th century stone cross, Baliscate Chapel, Isle of Mull



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