Kildalton Chapel is one of the most iconic archaeological and historic sites on Islay. It is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit, located in the lovely SE corner of the island and many others key sites that tell the story of Islay. Today we see the walls of the 13/14th century chapel, within the 19th century boundary walls of a graveyard and with an adjacent 8th century early Christian cross.
But what would the chapel have looked like in the 13th century? To explore this Islay Heritage undertook a digital reconstruction of the chapel. With funding support from the Ian Mactaggart Trust, Islay Heritage was able to commission Archaeovision to undertake the reconstruction, drawing on the expert advice from Professor Richard Fawcett of St Andrews University, the foremost expert on Scottish Medieval chapel.
By visiting the Kildalton reconstruction page you can view how the chapel once looked, both inside and out, by taking a digital walk around Kildalton.
If you want to know more about how the digital reconstruction was made, read the report by James Miles of Archaeovision, located here: Making the digital reconstruction, or a summary provided within an Islay heritage Lecture here: Imaging Kildalton Lecture. And the geophysics survey of the chapel can be located here: Kildalton geophysics survey
The church served the medieval parish of Kildalton, which was an independent parsonage in the patronage of the Bishops of the Isles. Although the earliest documentary record dates from 1425, the architectural characteristics of the building indicate that it was erected in the late 12th or early 13th century. The building as it currently stands has been heavily restored, although some interior features including the remains of the piscina and aumbry are still seen. The building remained in use until the end of the 17th century, when services were transferred to a site at Lagavulin.
The building measures 17.3 metres E-W and 5.7 metres N-S, with walls that are 0.9 metres thick. They are of peculiar construction, the side walls being composed of ten courses of large roughly shaped stones with smaller stones between. There are doors in both the north and south walls and two pointed windows in the east. There are also round-headed windows at the east end of the north and south walls as well as a small one high up in the west gable. All the openings were faced with white sandstone. Internally sockets for a chancel screen are visible as are traces of plaster on the walls. The piscina and font still survive.
Although the church has a Medieval dedication, the name Kildalton suggests an early foundation. This is confirmed by the existence at NR 4580 5083 in the burial ground of a very fine high cross, probably dating from about 800 AD. Carved from a single block of local blue-stone, it is a free-standing, Celtic ring-cores, 9ft high whose ornament consists of panels with interlacing, zoomorphs and biblical motifs, carved in relief. The SE corner of its basal flagstone formerly bore a ‘cup-mark’, 15cm in both diameter and depth, with a pestel, which were associated with superstituous rites, as at Kilchoman NR26SW). It was broken off and removed between 1900 and 1910. The cross has been stabilised by the construction of a flight of steps.
Other carved stones from the site cover the period from the 10th to the 18th centuries and a presumably associated Medieval cross stands 50m NE of the churchyard at NR 4583 5086. It stands on a cairn base and is sometimes referred to as “The Thief’s Cross’. It is a fine example of the geometrically patterned head type with a plain shaft except for roll-moulding at each edge. The chapel was restored by the Islay Historical Works Group in the 1980s.