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St Blane's Church, Kingarth

A 12th-century Romanesque chapel

St Blane's Church, Kingarth

A holy place
We do not know when Christianity arrived in Bute. Several surviving early chapel sites – dedicated to saints such as Ninian, Marnock, Adomnan and Catan – prove the existence of a Christian community by AD 600. The best-preserved is St Blane’s monastery, in the south-west of the island.

St Blane’s monastery did not survive the Viking incursions that began around 790. St Blane’s only re-emerged as a Christian site in the 1100s, as the parish church for the entire island.

During the 1200s another parish was created, centred on St Mary’s Church, near <Rothesay Castle>. The two parish churches continued to serve the islanders until the Protestant Reformation of 1560. After that St Blane’s fell out of use.

Saintly relatives
Tradition holds that St Catan founded the monastery in the later 6th century. The story goes that his sister, Ertha, became pregnant by an unknown man and Catan cast her and her baby, Blane, adrift in an oarless boat. The two were eventually washed up in Ulster, where Blane grew up in St Congarth’s monastery at Bangor.

On returning to Bute, Blane was reunited with his uncle and succeeded him as abbot of the monastery and bishop of the surrounding area until his death around 590.

The remains of their monastery comprise a stone wall enclosing the foundations of numerous circular buildings and a well. Beside the entrance into the enclosure is a stone base which once held a stone cross. At the centre of the enclosure is a cemetery in two parts. The upper cemetery is crowned by the church built in the 1100s, but the discovery of early Christian stones here testifies to its use in St Blane’s time.

A hogback stone found here (erroneously known as St Blane’s tomb) dates from the 10th or 11th century. It shows that the Norsemen who settled here eventually became Christian themselves. The small oblong structure in the lower cemetery may well be an early chapel or oratory.

Kingarth parish church
The ruined church in the upper cemetery was built in the mid-1100s as the island’s parish church. Its Romanesque architecture is first-rate, particularly the chancel arch. The chancel dates to the 1300s.

The upper and lower cemeteries of St Blane’s monastery continued in use for a long time; the lower cemetery was long known as the women’s cemetery. The rectangular footings at the south-west corner of the site were probably the parsonage, or manse.

Highlights
  • The location – a tranquil and enchanting spot, in a wooded setting with fine views across the Sound of Bute to Arran.
  • The Romanesque church – a surprising building in so remote a setting.
The enclosure wall – a rare survival, 1,400 years old, marking the boundary between the secular world and the spiritu


Facilities

Car Parking

Location

Region – Glasgow, Clyde and Ayrshire

At the south end of the Isle of Bute.

Grid reference - NS 094 535.