St Clements Church - Rodel - Isle of Harris - Western Isles


A beautiful church - late medieval sculpture at its best! A beautiful and atmospheric pretty church - in Rodel - The Isle of Harris - Western Isles. One of the finest examples of a pre-reformation church dedicated to St Clement. The church houses monuments to the Macleod clan - including the tomb of Alexander Macleod. Churches in The Outer Hebrides
Stornoway Harbour
St Clements Church / Tur Chliamainn - Rodel. This beautiful building, St Clements Church - Rodel - Isle of Harris, described by many - as an ecclesiastical jewel - certainly is an impressive structure. If you are visiting. The Isle of Harris - this little gem - just cant be missed. It is also called Tur Chliamainn, which literally means 'Clements Tower'.
Rodel - St Clements Church- Isle of Harris
Graveslabs in the North Transept of Rodel Church
This beautiful church, dating from the sixteenth century, is dedicated to St Clement, who was a bishop of Dunblane parish. Whilst the outside of this pretty Rodel church is pretty lovely - the inside is really impressive and very atmospheric. The church contains some of the finest examples of late medieval sculpture in the Outer Hebrides / Western Isles.
In 1841, Lady Dunmore was appointed a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria. She resigned when her husband died four years later. Following his death, she inherited 150,000 acres if the Dunmore estate on the Isle of Harris.

The architect was Alexander Ross - who was based in Inverness The timber arch-braced roof and oak door are his design and creation. This is commemorated by a stone plaque above the nave

St Clements Church - Rodel
The church was built using local Lewisian rock. It is sometimes known as Eaglais Ròdal or Rodal Church.

Built for the Chiefs of the Macleods of Harris
One of the best examples of its type in Western Scotland. The Rodel Church was built around 1520 for the Chiefs of the MacLeods of Harris. The Macleods actually lived across the Minch at Dunvegan Castle

It is thought that this church was actually built on the site of another older church - but the facts aren't proven

St Clements church fell into disuse after the reformation in 1560.

Although not actually in use - the outside was still used for Macleod burials.

Rebuilt in 1784 by Captain Alexander Macleod
In 1784, the church was rebuilt by Captain Alexander MacLeod, the owner of The Isle of Harris. He had just bought The Isle of Harris from his cousin , Norman Mcleod of Dunvegan.

Captain Alexander Mcleod was the son of Donald Macleod (nicknamed the Old Trojan) of Berneray who was a supporter of Prince Charlie in the1745 rebellion. Donald Mcleod is buried in the family Caibeal (private burial enclosure) on the hill behind the tower of St Clement's church

Graveslabs in the North Transept

The picture opposite is of two of the graveslabs in the North transept of the St Clements Church


Damaged by Fire in 1787
The church had been restored as a Protestant church in 1784 was now subjected to a fire three years later after having been restored by Captain Alexander. The fore was caused by careless carpenters who were working on the interior of the church. Considerable repairs and a replacement roof were necessary.. MacLeod's put in larger windows and building a parapet around the tower.

 

Perhaps related to Augustinian nunnery in Iona
It is thought that the church is closely related to an Augustinian nunnery in Iona, Sheela na gig. There is a female effigy of "Sheila na gig" on the south wall of St Clements Church. There is also an exact copy of this one on an outer wall in Iona.

This particular Sheela na gig is of a woman giving birth. Sheela na gig" the goddess of fertility and of life and death - Sheela-na-Gigs are religious carvings of women, usually parting their vulvas.

They were said to have been placed on many churches to remind those with the ability to see that entering a sacred space is to enter the Womb of the Goddess They acted as dedicatory or protective symbols promoting good luck and fertility. Such carvings are said to ward off death and evil.

Entrance is a Doorway Into The Nave
The entrance is a doorway into the nave - the north side the nave runs directly into the choir, but these might originally have been divided by a timber structure.

 

THe Nave seen from the CHoir - St Clements Church at Rodel

Final Resting Place of Alexander Macleod
It is also said of course the final resting place of Alexander MacLeod of Dunvegan and Harris (Alasdair Crotach) (d. 1547), - known also as the Humpback, has one of the most exquisite burial sites.

It is said that he had ordered and supervised the making of his gravestone, nineteen years prior to him dying. By making the decision to be buried in The Isle of Harris, he was breaking with tradition, as the previous chiefs of his clan had until then been buried in Iona.

It again Fell into disuse - Restored again in 1873
Again the church fell into disuse and was last restored on the instructions of the Countess of Dunmore.

A carving in the stone at St Clements Church, Rodel, Western Isles.
Carving in the Wall of St clements Church
St Clements CHurch at Rodel -  Photograph Gallery
Rodel - St Clements Church -  Photo Gallery
Glass information plate with offerings
Glass Covered Information Tablet
with coin offerings which people have left
Remains of a Late Medieval Cross
Straight opposite the door as you enter you - in a small window opening - you see the remains of a medieval cross showing the crucifixion to the front of it on display.

Tomb of Alexander Macleod - Alasdair Crotach - in South Wall Recess

The magnificent tomb of Alasdair Crotach's / Alexander Macleod , made in 1528, two decades before his death, lies in an arched recess in the south wall of the chancel. Carved in black gneiss depicting a knight in armour - an effigy of himself dressed in full armour, guarded by 2 crouching lions. It has both gothic and celtic undertones and motifs.

The inclusion of the Virgin Mary with a bishop at each side could strike you as being strange for an area which was predominantly Protestant - however this really is probably due to St Clements having been built well before The Reformation.

There is a hunting scene with dogs and deer, a castle and galley (MacLeod emblems) and Saint Michael and the Devil at the weighing of souls.The tomb of Alexander also has panels with carvings of the 12 Apostles, angels, the Holy Trinity, the 4 Evangelists, a 12-rayed sun, the Virgin and Child, several bishops - maybe one is St Clement himself.

Remains of Medieval cross at St Clements Church - Rodel
Carving at St Clements Church - Virgin Mary - Two Bishops
The Remains of The Medieval Cross
Carving above Alistair Crotachs - Alexander Macleod's Tomb
Virgin Mary - A bishop at each side
5 Grave slabs In The North Transept
In the north transept are 5 grave slabs, displayed against the wall. Four are medieval and were moved from their original position in the choir floor to protect them. A fifth (the one on the extreme right of the picture) which is dated 1725 - came from a caibeal outside near the tower - the initials probably stand for Roderick Campbell and his wife Ann MacSween. ( Campbell may have been a former Chamberlain of Harris.

The other notable tomb, with a triangular pediment in the nave's south wall, is probably that of Alasdair Crotach's son, William, 9th Chief. The tomb has a triangular pediment

The Tower at St Clements Church
The tower itself is accessed through a door at the West End - which you will be surprised to see a very dark ( and I mean very dark) stone staircase which is inbuilt into the thick stone walls. The tower is built on an outcrop of rock, at a higher level than the rest of the church. There are several carved panels facing the four cardinal points, one of which has the figure of a bishop - perhaps St Clements himself. It is supposed that St Clement was the 3rd Bishop of Rome after St Peter, and was much favoured as a patron of churches in the medieval norse world. Perhaps this would account for the size of St Clements Church large by Hebridean standards - only the Benedictine Abbey on Iona is larger.

Once you get past the stone staircase - leading to the first landing - you then encounter a wooden step ladder - which leads upwards - it is almost vertical. It consist of thankfully - only t a few steps and you are then on another landing - where there is a second vertical step ladder leading you to the very top of the tower. Apart from the magnificent views - you will see that in the window recesses - many people leave their offerings - as it often the custom in churches - there are sweets - tobacco - and lots of small pieces of paper - containing verses or prayers - that people have left.

Outside the church there are lots of burial places of many of The Macleods. They really are quite magnificent as there are separate 18th century Caibeals (small burial enclosures/chapels).
St Clements - Grave slab  of 1725 Roderick Campbell
Tomb of John Macleod
Tomb of William Macleod
Tomb of John Macleod at St Clements Church - Rodel
Graveslab of 1725
Roderick Campbell
Burial Chamber 18th century caibeal
Tomb of William Macleod
Burial Chamber 18th Century Caibeal
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