Mausoleum of the MacMillans
Kilmory Knap Chapel was built in the 1100s or 1200s as a dependency of the parish church of Knapdale at Keills
. The rectangular building probably stands on the site of an earlier church, judging by the discovery of seven early Christian grave-slabs, now on display.
But the largest part of this collection of around 40 stones comprises late-medieval grave-slabs. Most are memorials to MacMillans, the clan most closely associated with Knapdale in the late Middle Ages. The chapel and graveyard at Kilmory Knap was their place of worship and their mausoleum.
West Highland grave-slabs
The memorials date between the 1300s and 1500s and are known as West Highland grave-slabs. They are the most tangible examples of a highly distinctive style of art that flourished in late-medieval Scotland and appeared on tapestry, wood and metal as well as in stone.
The most striking feature of West Highland grave-slabs is their figurative art, particularly effigies. There are five effigies at Kilmory Knap. Two depict warriors clad in armour and armed with spears and broadswords. Two are clerics depicted in prayer and wearing vestments. The fifth is perhaps a deacon – a junior cleric – since he is depicted wearing a long cassock.
All the grave-slabs feature a wide range of decorative motifs. These include crosses, swords, galleys (one of which has two men on deck), animals and grotesque monsters, combs and mirrors, and tools of trade (such as a hammer and anvil, carpenters’ axes, cropping shears and a priest’s chalice). Several are inscribed with named individuals, including ‘John the carpenter’.
One piece of sculpture stands out from the rest – MacMillan’s Cross. Erected in the later 1400s, this disc-headed cross commemorates Alexander MacMillan, keeper of nearby Castle Sween
for his lord, Alexander MacDonald, Lord of the Isles.
The cross stands almost 3m high and is splendidly decorated. One face of the shaft has an unsheathed sword flanked by interlace, while the cross-head shows the crucified Christ flanked by St John and the Virgin Mary.
The other face shows a hunting scene, in which three hounds attack a stag while an axe-wielding huntsman approaches. The centre of the cross-head is decorated with a small leaping animal biting its own tail.
- The hunting scene on the MacMillan’s Cross – an outstanding example of late-medieval monumental art.
Region – Central and West
On the shore between Loch Sween and Loch Caolisport in South Knapdale off the B8025.
Grid reference - NR 703 752.