Friday 29 June 2012

St Michael's Font

Baptismal Font 

One of the larger items in Carmichael's collection is this baptismal font, on display at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. St Michael's font came from St Maelrubha's chapel, Eynort, Syke and is really spectacular. The carvings depict Christ on the cross, the Virgin and child (above), a bishop 'in full pontificals and crozier' and St Michael slaying a dragon. If you get a chance do pop into NMS to see it.

There is a reference in the notebook to the font (CW104/27), and in a blog entry from April 2010 the account of how Carmichael came to have the font is available. But recently I came across another account of how he came to receive the font and thought it would make a great blog! Otta Swire, from Skye, records in her book Skye: The Island and Its Legends:

Near this same burial-ground there was once a small chapel dedicated to St Maelrhuba, patron saint of Bracadale. Like all old Skye churches, it has become a ruin; but on one night of storm towards the end of the ninteenth century a fishing boat from south Uist found itself in danger and ran for shelter to Loch Eynort. The fishermen landed and went up to the little ruined church to return thanks for their safety and to pray for good weather. There they found the old stone font with its beautiful antique carvings. They were Roman Catholics and thought it sacrilege to leave a consecrated font exposed to the weather, and, still worse, in Protestant hands, so they carried it carefully on board their boat and, the gale having dropped, put to sea. But at once the wind rose again, mountainous waves pounded the boat, and back to Loch Eynort they ran. Again the storm dropped, again they put to sea, again the wind rose and drove them back. This time it occurred to them that perhaps St Maelrhuba wanted his font and did not wish for them to remove it, so they returned it to the ruins and had a calm and pleasant voyage to Glasgow, their destination. But the font worried them. On the return journey they called again to Loch Eynort. This time they went ashore and prayed to St Maelrhuba for a sign. Did he, they asked, wish them to carry his font to south Uist as a gift to their priest and for its proper use, or to leave it in the ruins? The sun came out, a favouring breeze arose, and the fishermen took heart again and, lifting the font with great reverence, carried it once more on board their boat. This time the weather favoured them and the font was soon safely in the hands of their priest. After his death his successor gave it to the Celtic antiquarian, Mr. Carmichael, and he presented it to the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh, in whose museum it now rests in peace.

Quite a tale! And it is always interesting to read variations of the same story.

Carmichael, Alexander, 'Donation of baptismal font from Chapel of St maelruve, Lochaoineart, Skye', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries for Scotland, vol viii (1868-1870) pp. 237-239.
Swire, Otta Skye: The Island and its Legends (Edinburgh; Birlinn Limited, 2006)
St Michael's font from

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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). [©]