DoSH - dedications to St Mary

Above: Alasdair Crotach's wall tomb with St Mary as the central figure (St Clement's Church, Rodel in Harris); from Wikimedia Commons.

The Virgin Mary, Moire Òigh, is one of the ‘universal saints’ found on Uist. As the mother of Jesus devotion to her goes back to the early centuries of the church, and extends into the later medieval and modern period, continuing to the present day. There are commemorations of her in place-names throughout Scotland (DoSH: Mary, Mary the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady; [simple_tooltip content='MacKinlay, J. M. 1910. Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland: Scriptural (Edinburgh), <>, 336-56.']Mackinlay 1910, 70-179[/simple_tooltip]). As such, and like the presence of St Peter, Christ, and the archangel Michael in Uist, it is difficult to gauge the significance of Mary here. In the later middle ages, there was clearly a trend to add Mary to local dedications ([simple_tooltip content='Hammond, M. 2010. ‘Royal and aristocratic attitudes to saints and the Virgin Mary in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Scotland’, in S. Boardman and E. Williamson (eds), The Cult of Saints and the Virgin Mary in Medieval Scotland (Woodbridge), 61-85.']Hammond 2010[/simple_tooltip]). This may be what we see at Howmore, where Martin Martin tells us one church was dedicated to Columba and the other to Mary. And she became the default dedication for many churches and new monastic foundations during this period. There was a vibrant devotion to Mary in late medieval Gaelic culture as well, as discussed in detail by [simple_tooltip content='Innes, S. 2010. ‘Is eagal liom lá na hagra: devotion to the Virgin in the later medieval Gaidhealtachd’, in S. Boardman and E. Williamson (eds), The Cult of Saints and the Virgin Mary in Medieval Scotland (Woodbridge),125-42; Innes, S. 2011. Cràbhachd do Mhoire Òigh air a’ Ghàidhealtachd sna meadhan-aoisean anmoch, le aire shònraichte do Leabhar Deadhan Lios Mòir. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow <>.']Sìm Innes (2010; 2011)[/simple_tooltip]. Some of the presence of Mary in the Uist landscape may come from this period—thinking in particular of Cladh Mhoire at Baile nan Cailleach in Benbecula, which once belonged to the nunnery on Iona, and remembering the double tombstone of Prioress Anna Maclean of Iona, with an image of herself on one side and of the crowned Virgin Mary on the other (the image of Mary was destroyed at some point in the late 18th or 19th century, but a drawing was made before this: see image on Canmore).

Statue of St Mary (St Michael the Archangel's Catholic Church, South Uist)

As can be seen in the case of Peter, however, devotion to the Virgin Mary was established early among the Gaels, and we see it in a developed form early at the monastery of Iona. Here we can see it in the work of Adomnán, ninth abbot of Iona (†704), who tells us a miracle story relating to an image of Mary in Constantinople in his De Locis Sanctis, ‘On the Holy Places’ ([simple_tooltip content='Meehan, D (ed.) 1958. Adamnan’s De locis sanctis (Dublin), 118-19.']Meehan 1958, 118-19[/simple_tooltip]) ; and Mary was invoked as a patron and prompt for his Law of the Innocents, passed by assembled clerics and kings from Ireland and northern Britain in 697 ([simple_tooltip content='Clancy, T.O. and Márkus, G. 1995. Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery (Edinburgh), 177-92; Márkus, G. 1997. Adomnán’s ‘Law of the Innocents’: Cáin Adomnáin. A seventh-century law for the protection of non-combatants (Glasgow).']Clancy and Márkus 1995, 177-92; Márkus 1997[/simple_tooltip]). That devotion is also found on early sculpture from Iona, on St Martin’s Cross for instance; and further afield at Kildalton and also probably Canna ([simple_tooltip content='Hawkes, J. 1997. ‘Columban Virgins: Iconic images of the Virgin and Child in Insular Sculpture’ in C. Bourke (ed.) Studies in the Cult of St Columba (Dublin), <>, 107-35.']Hawkes 1997[/simple_tooltip]; see [simple_tooltip content='Clancy, T.O. 2002. ‘“Celtic” or “Catholic”: Writing the history of Scottish Christianity, AD 664–1093’, Records of the Scottish Church History Society 32, 5-40.']Clancy 2002, 36-8 for general discussion[/simple_tooltip]).

Given this level of early evidence for devotion to the Virgin Mary, it Is quite possible that there would be an early commemoration of her on Uist. The landscape of Cille Mhoire, Kilmuir in North Uist, is complex and varied; it may well reflect an older church foundation, and early sculpture perhaps points in this direction. It is worth considering the possibility that Cille Mhoire reflects an early medieval church in its dedication as well.

For a flavour of early devotion to Mary, and a sense of how she was seen in the early period of Hebridean Christianity, the Latin hymn by Cú Chuimne, a monk of Iona, gives us some sense. ([simple_tooltip content='Clancy, T.O. and Márkus, G. 1995. Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery (Edinburgh), 177-92.']Clancy and Márkus 1995, 182-5[/simple_tooltip]). It can be found in the Irish Liber Hymnorum of the 11th century, but also shares a manuscript with the hymn to Michael Archangelum mirum magnum:

For a modern setting of the hymn, [simple_tooltip content='O’Shea, P. 2014 Cantemus in omne die (SwirlyMusic):
<>.']Patrick O’Shea’s[/simple_tooltip] composition is worth a listen:

1. Cantemus in omne die
concinentes varie
conclamantes deo dignum
ymnum sanctae Mariæ

2. Bis per chorum hinc et inde
collaudemus Mariam
ut vox pulset omnem aurem
per laudem vicariam

3. Maria de tribu Iudæ
summi mater Domini
oportunam dedit curam
egrotanti homini

4. Gabriel aduexeit verbum
sinu prius paterno
quod conceptum et susceptum
in utero materno

5. Haec est summa haec est sancta
virgo venerabilis
quae ex fide non recessit
sed exstetit stabilis

6. Huic matri nec inventa
ante nec post similis
nec de prole fuit plane
humanae originis

7. Per mulierem et lignum
mundus prius periit
per mulieris virtutem
ad salute rediit

8. Maria mater miranda
patrem suum edidit
per quem aqua late lotus
totus mundus credidit

9. Haec concepit margaretam
non sunt vana somnia
pro qua sani Christiani
vendunt sua omnia

10. Tunicam per totum textam
Christi mater fecerat
quae peracta Christi morte
sorte statim steterat

11. Induamus arma lucis
loricam et galiam
ut simus deo perfecti
suscepti per Mariam

12. Amen Amen adiuramus
merita puerperae
ut non possit flamma pirae
nos dirae decepere

13. Christi nomen invocemus
angelis sub testibus
ut fruamur et scriptamur
litteris celestibus

Let us sing every day.
harmonising in turns,
together proclaiming to God
a hymn worthy of Mary.

In two-fold chorus, from side to side,
let us praise Mary,
so that the voice strikes every ear
with alternating praise.

Mary of the Tribe of Judah,
Mother of the Most High Lord,
gave fitting care
to languishing mankind

Gabriel first brought the Word
from the Father’s bosom
which was conceived and received
in the Mother’s womb

She is the most high, she the holy
venerable Virgin
who by faith did not draw back,
but stood forth firmly.

None has been found, before or since,
like this mother—
not out of all the descendants
of the human race.

By a woman and a tree
the world first perished;
by the power of a woman
it has returned to salvation.

Mary, amazing mother,
gave birth to her Father,
through whom the whole wide world,
washed by water, has believed.

She conceived the pearl
--they are not empty dreams—
for which sensible Christians
have sold all they have.

The mother of Christ had made
a tunic of a seamless weave;
Christ’s death accomplished,
it remained thus by casting of lots.

Let us put on the armour of light,
the breastplate and helmet,
that we might be perfected by God,
taken up by Mary.

Truly, truly, we implore,
by the merits of the Child-bearer,
that the flame of the dread fire
be not able to ensnare us.

Let us call on the name of Christ,
below the angel witnesses,
that we may delight and be inscribed
in letters in the heavens.