Clement

Above: Alasdair Crotach's wall tomb (St Clement's Church, Rodel in Harris); from Wikimedia Commons: Saint Clement is on the right.

St Clement’s name is found at ‘St Clement’s Chapel’, which is recorded as such only from the 19th century. Earlier versions of the place, reflecting the Gaelic in which it was originally named, are Kilchalma and Kilchalmag, both of which suggest that the church was originally dedicated to a Gaelic saint, named Calmag, earlier Colmóc or perhaps Mo-Cholmóc, a variant of the very common names Colum or Colmán. There are very many saints in Ireland named Colmán, with very many variations on the way the name was adapted into ‘nickname’ forms: see the entry on this name for further discussion.

Because the name fairly clearly originally did not contain the name, it is tempting to dismiss any connection of St Clement with North Uist, but two factors mean we should at least think about Clement a bit. First, Clement is undoubtedly the saint commemorated in the prominent church at Rodel in Harris (Crawford 1999), not very far across the Sound of Harris from the site of ‘St Clement’s Chapel’. As such, his cult was certainly present in this area in the middle ages. Second, Clement shares a feast day (24th November; though usually the 23rd in the West) with at least one Gaelic saint named Colmán, Colmán of Dubchuilenn. So the connection between the original saint of the Gaelic place-name, and the saint found in the English version, may not be entirely random.

There are a number of saints named Clement (including a Scottish saint, the Dominican bishop Clement of Dunblane, d.1258), but there is general agreement that the saint commemorated in Scottish place-names is the Clement, pope and martyr, whose cult became particularly popular in England and Scandinavia from the 10th century on (Farmer, 104-5)). Barbara Crawford (2008) has made the most intensive study of Clement’s cult in Britain, including pondering the dedication at Rodel, and notes the many different impulses which might lie behind the choice of Clement as a patron saint. Certainly, his ostensible martyrdom by being drowned with an anchor around his neck made him an obvious patron for seafarers. So too, he became associated with maritime mercantile activity, trading across the seas. But he was also clearly adopted by early convert kings in Scandinavia: both Olaf Trygvasson (d. 1000) and his grandson St Olaf Haraldsson (d. 1031: see entry on Amhlaibh), are said to have founded the church of St Clement in Trondheim (Crawford 2008, 17). That church appears to have recently been discovered, and is in the process of being excavated. (Norsk institutt)

Barbara Crawford leaned towards the period of the rule of King Cnut, in England and Denmark and far beyond as a possible context for the introduction of the cult of Clement into the Hebrides at Rodel. She noted in particular reference to an Earl Haakon, who, according to late Scandinavian sources, was said to have been given the Hebrides  (Suðreyar) by St Olaf in 1015, ‘and he was king there for as long as he lived’ Crawford 1999, 117-19).

On the other hand, the presence of the dedications to St Olaf in South Uist and Lewis, might suggest a later importation of the cult of Clement, along with that of Olaf, into the Western Isles, once Olaf had been declared a saint. So it might be better to think of the cult of Clement in Harris as part of a mid/late-11th-century phenomenon with a Norwegain dimension. Yet again, remembering that in the 12th and 13th centuries the Western Isles were under the jurisdiction of archbishops in Trondheim (Nidaros), it is possible that the dedication to Clement reflected that bishopric’s influence in the west, and so it might derive from any point in the middle ages.

Of course, as noted above, while Clement is the dedicatee of Rodel, he seems not to be the real saint to which the site now called St Clement’s Chapel is dedicated. The cult of Clement certainly belongs to the medieval world of the Hebrides, but at this site in North Uist, it was probably just a best guess, by someone, at some point, as to who the saint of ‘Kilchalmag’ or ‘Kilchalman’ might be.