Monday 19 March 2012

A lost St Kilda Gospel?

All sorts of unusual information and anecdotage lurk in murky corners of the Carmichael Watson Collection. Here is a piece relating to the Island of Boraraigh or Boreray in the St Kilda archipelago. A recent survey by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) has found evidence that the island, previously thought only to be home to many thousands of seabirds and a flock of sheep, may in fact have been inhabited by humans for many centuries, right up until the seventeenth century.

The undated item, CW170 fo.16, is written in Carmichael’s hand. It refers to the Rev. Lauchlan MacLeod (1762–1832), minister of St Kilda between 1788 and 1830 when he left his charge and retired to the Island of Berneray, Harris: perhaps a corroboration of part of the story given below.

Macleod, Lachlan Rev.


Mr Lachlann Macleod was for many years minister in S. Kilda. After coming from S. Kilda, when dining with Macleod of Bearnaray in the Sound of Harris, he was choked with a piece of beef. He told Macleod of Bearnaray that boys – perhaps girls also – were digging in taigh an stallair in Boraraidh near S. Kilda and in their upturning they came upon a curious ‘stone’. They brought home the stone from Bororay to St. Kilda. The ‘stone’ was a parchment manuscript of the Gospels now become hard and solidified like stone. The minister said that  the letters were like Hebrew – old Celtic. What became of the M.S. no one knows. Probably the M.S. belonged to the anchorite who lived in [the] lonely spot.

When the team were up in Fort William looking at Carmichael’s material collections, one of them got rather excited when he found in a box of odds and ends a small lump looking like a stone on the outside, but apparently made from closely packed sheets with writing on them. Could this be part of the Rev. Lauchlan’s long-lost parchment manuscript? Unfortunately, probably not: the rock seems to be a papier-mâché one made for the West Highland Museum and once used as a perch for a stuffed bird or animal in their exhibition!

References: CW170 fo.16
Hew Scott et al. (eds), Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ vii, 194.

Image: The Island of Boreray, from the website

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]