Cross-marked slab at Howmore

Project background
Little is currently known about the early and medieval Christian heritage of Uist. While there are local traditions associated with particular sites and saints, there is little access to up-to-date scholarship which would align these traditions alongside recent research and ways of understanding the early and medieval Christian past of these islands, and its legacy. Part of the problem in Uist and other parts of the Western Isles in particular is the almost complete lack of historical documentation for the period before the later middle ages. This means that we need to think carefully about all the various types of information we do have at our disposal—archaeology and place-names chief among them. An obvious marker of early Christianity is the presence of archaeological evidence such as early medieval cross-incised stones. However, archaeology on its own is problematic—an absence of archaeology does not necessarily indicate an absence of early Christian activity. This is where place-names come into the picture. The importance of place-names as a source for culture and society is becoming increasingly realised by both scholars and the wider public. In a Christian context, they function as transmitters of saints’ cults and both local and national beliefs.

This project seeks to take the first steps towards a better understanding of early Christianity in Uist, focusing primarily on place-names and archaeological evidence. On the basis of an initial survey of the material, 45 sites have been identified as of potential interest. The initial analysis of these sites is presented here, but the aim of the project is to stimulate further discussions on the sites in question and Uist’s role in the early Christianity of the Western Isles.

Aims of the project
To draw together information on writings to date on the early and medieval Christianity of Uist.
Importantly, one of the aims of this project is to draw together relevant research from the Papar project. This includes enhancing our knowledge of the Norse witness to early Christianity in the Hebrides.

To identify sites and place-names of interest for the early and medieval Christianity of Uist.
An initial survey of the 1st ed six-inch Ordnance Survey map identifying potential place-names of interest has formed the basis for the head-entries presented here. These sites are discussed in the context of material from resources such as Canmore and DoSH, and other published materials.

To discuss the saints associated with sites in Uist.
Preliminary observations identified a number of saints of potential interest (see Saints). These are discussed both individually and, where relevant, in the context of place-name entries (see North Uist, Benbecula, and South Uist).

Project team
Principal investigator: Prof Thomas Clancy (University of Glasgow)

Research assistant: Dr Sofia Evemalm-Graham (University of Glasgow)

Project officer/translator: Liam Alastair Crouse (Ceòlas Uibhist)