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Thursday, 27 June 2013


The stone that fell from the ancient wall upon my approach has peaked my interest. Since arriving home Saddell Abbey floats in my fore mind demanding more from me, I have not exhausted my interest yet.

Saddell Abbey was founded in 1160 by Somerled (summer wanderer) of Norse Viking origin, a connection he may have ben unaware of as he fought for the Celtic cause driving the Vikings from Argyle. Forging a link in the chain that braced the Viking and the Celtic races inevitably through inter racial coupling. Somerled was the son of Gillabrigte Mac Gille Adomnan and an unknown Viking women: he was the first Lord of The Isles and his descendants flourished into the Mac Donald clan and from there filtered into our own generations.

I have been delving into the ancient historical record and reading all that I find. In actuality this boils down to a few snippets of information other researchers have pieced together from lists and records, which mention Saddell Abbey. To find out about Somerled or Someraile Mac Brigte who founded the abbey, one must leaf through the delicate register of almost prehistory, through the annals of Tigernach and the Chronicon Scotorum (489 – 1178) for mentions of the name and links to his ancestors, thankfully others have been before me and I am happy to take their word on the matter.

Although founded in 1160 it seems that completion of the Abbey was accomplished during the reign of Somerled’s son Ragnall in 1207. Nestled in the Saddell glen alongside the Alt an Manoch  (stream of the monks) Saddell takes its name from the Norse, Sandy Dale or valley and is referred to through history as Saundle, Sandal, Sadgul, Sagadul and Sconedale. Saddell Abbey was the only Cistercian foundation in the West Highlands. The Cistercian monks were farmers they were known as the ‘Grey monks’ because of the light coloured robes with black hoods in which they wore.

In a list compiled by the mother Abbey in Citeaux France during the 13 century now held in the British Museum, there is a reference to Saundell in Cantire translated as Saddell in Kintyre. There are few further references over the following few hundred years until the last in 1498 which shows the Abbey is still receiving gifts but by 1507 the Abbey is no longer in use.

It is the twelve graven slabs discovered in the long grass by the river that have kept Saddell alive, schist forged under the extreme heat and pressure of an evolving earth, carved in relief and placed upon graves. They are quite magnificent standing tall in their protected shelter. These effigies were carved in the ‘Kintyre School’ and on Iona they depict West highland lords, West highland galleys and priests it would seem that they are the only surety about history of Saddell Abbey.

The mystery shouts out to me across the time void, so many questions and answers hidden between the fields of black oats and barley, buried in the midden with the periwinkles and limpets and burned on the fires of Alder, Hazel and Birch.

So what is it that Saddell Abbey is trying to say, what secrets does it hold and what binds it in mystery apart from the nihility of fact. I think it is the Lilliputian amount of evidence coupled with its tenuous nature that alights the imagination. Legend and myth compete for power; within the vagaries many things are possible.

The few facts stand out like beacons in the record of Saddell Abbey inviting the historian archaeologist and storyteller alike to search out the links and fill the gaping holes. Along the obscure pathways and dimly defined limits of the historical record there has been a suggestion that Joan of Arc came to Saddell to learn the arts of the fight and that the Templar knights may have fled to Kintyre.
The truth however is that no one knows for certain and everything is still to be discovered.

This fact finding mission has been very interesting but still the image of the falling stone blazes across my memory, it was of course the result of a long hot dry spell and the drying out of old masonry or rather the mud and moss that held it together over the last thousand plus years.  However during my recent reading  (along the obscure pathways and dimly defined limits) I happened across a certain narrative buried under the layers of text. It was a brief piece recounting sightings of the shade of a monk who is said to be angry that the stone from the abbey was taken for the construction of Saddell Castle.. 

 "It is said that a former laird removed the headstones from nearby churchyards to use as construction material for his castle - hence, much of the area is haunted by those disturbed. Particularly noted are the shades of a monk and that of a white lady."

It was a strong warm and sunny afternoon even the shadows seemed happily defined, I did not see any shades in the bright light, but perhaps the graveyard was not as quiet as it appeared.

Further reading:

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