Cille Bhrea Chapel
Attribution: unknown (Greenhill street in Dingwall looking North)
Cille Bhrea Chapel, Lemlair, Dingwall. [NH. 576614 - Nat. grid ref.]
The information given below, and the associated photograph, is taken from notes provided by AOC Archaeology Group, with additional details by the unknown “T.W.”
Cille Bhrea, on the north shore of the Cromarty Firth, was established by 1228 as the parish church of Lemlair and continued in use until the early 17th century. A cross inscribed slab was recovered from the foreshore and, although of uncertain date, it may suggest an earlier origin for the Christian use of the site. During the life of this parish church it became famous as the first place in Easter Ross where the Reformed Doctrine was preached by Dr. Munro of Castlecraig, who crossed the Cromarty Firth to do so. After the abandonment of the chapel in the early 17th century, the graveyard was used intermittently during the 18th and 19th centuries, with the most recent burials being from a cholera outbreak in 1836.
During the 1990s Historic Scotland, who scheduled the monument in 1970, became increasingly concerned by the erosion of the site by the firth. This process was steadily removing the east end of the chapel and exposing human skeletal material, from the graveyard on the foreshore. Historic Scotland decided that a programme of managed retreat was appropriate and commissioned AOC Archaeology to undertake the excavation of the elements of this medieval church and graveyard, which were at risk from erosion over the next couple of decades.
The fieldwork, in August 1998, examined a strip along the erosion edge, excavating 50 graves. These graves were nearly all orientated east-west and 21 contained skeletal material, in varying states of preservation. Some graves also contained coffin nails, with attached mineralised wood fragments, and shroud pins. The walls of the church were also exposed and recorded, and the interior of the church investigated. Post-excavation analyses are proceeding to determine the time range through which the church and the graveyard were used and to clarify the characteristics of the population buried there. In accordance with Historic Scotland policy the human skeletal material, after analysis, will be buried in the graveyard, away from the erosion edge.
Additional notes (by "T.W.")
The ruins of the old parish church of Lemlair are situated close to the North side of the Cromarty Firth, some 21/2 miles North-East of Dingwall and measure 10.8 x 4.4 metres. The West gable stands about one metre high. First recorded in 1227, the church is reputed to be the first in the Highlands where the Protestant doctrine was preached after the Reformation in 1563. The incumbent, Henry Kincaid, did not conform to Protestantism and the Charge was held in conjunction by the Commissioners, Donald Munro, and Kincaid. Lemlair was joined to Kiltearn in 1618, whereupon Lemlair Church was abandoned, though burials continued in the kirkyard for many years.