The conversion of the Manx to Christianity is attributed to Celtic monks, most of whom were followers of St. Patrick from Ireland and St. Ninian from Galloway. A small monastery with a timber and sod church established on St. Patrick’s Isle at Peel in the fifth century was sacked by Viking invaders about 300 years later. Subsequently Christianity spread through the Norse Empire and in the 12th century the Vikings gave the Isle of Man an organised system – developing one keeill (place of prayer) in each parish into a church – and democratic governance, Tynwald, which has remained since. Most of the Anglican churches are built on or near the site of former keeills.
In May each year there is a week of Praying the Keeills with guided walks and times of reflection at the ancient sites. And you can tap into the rich Christian heritage and continuing presence whenever you visit the island, visiting ancient keeills and today’s churches.
At Maughold Head on the north east coast, a church was founded around 450 A.D. by Saint Maughold. The parish church at Maughold started life as a monastic keeill and contains traces of later 12th century construction, possibly commissioned by the Viking King Olaf 1 (1114-1154). There are three extant keeills in the large monastic enclosure (now the graveyard), together with a large collection of Celtic and Viking crosses.
In a tranquil southern coastal spot at Santon, with a presence traced back to Celtic Christianity in the 400s, the church dedicated to St Sanctain was built in the 1700s.
Old Kirk Braddan is the former parish church of the parish of Braddan in the east, on a site used for a church since the Dark Ages. It ceased to be the parish church when the new Kirk Braddan was consecrated in 1876. The present Kirk Braddan is built in the area of one of the earliest Celtic Keeills dating back to the fifth century.
St John the Baptist, the Royal Chapel, is built on the site of an ancient keeill in the west. The chapel of St John was first referred to in 1557 but was likely to have been built before this date. In 1847 the chapel was demolished and in 1849 the current building was constructed. At the heart of the building is seating for Tynwald Court, which meets here on Tynwald Day for an act of worship before Court commences.
St Lupus, Malew is an ancient Manx church with fascinating components, especially the Georgian interior with its box pews, galleries and marble monuments. Parts of the current building may well date from the 12th century, or earlier. Special services are also held at times, often featuring choirs or soloists.
In the 19th century Bishop Ward created three combined schoolrooms and chapels in the isolated mountainous regions of the island. St Luke’s Baldwin is the church nearest to the geographical centre of the Isle of Man, alongside an ancient keeill and Tynwald Mount, the former site of Tynwald. St James Dalby on the beautiful west coast looks across to Ireland and the Mountains of Mourne. St Stephen Sulby is along the Sulby Straight made famous by the TT race.
St George, consecrated 1781 (now St George & All Saints), has always been at the heart of the island’s business sector. In the churchyard is the grave of Sir William Hillary, an Isle of Man resident who founded the RNLI in 1824.
St Ninian’s Douglas has the TT Grandstand on its doorstep. St Ninian’s in Douglas was the latest church to be founded, in 1914.
The Cathedral Church of St German is in the heart of Peel. The original cathedral on St Patrick’s Isle fell into disrepair in the 18th century. The Bishop’s residence was at Bishopscourt and incorporated St Nicholas Chapel which, eventually, was consecrated as the pro-cathedral in 1895. When the Bishop’s residence was moved to Douglas in 1980, Bishopscourt passed into private ownership. So it was that in 1985 it was decided to consecrate Peel’s sizeable Parish Church of St German as the island’s Cathedral.
COASTS AND HILLS
Right on Castletown harbour and next to historic Castle Rushen, the architectural profile of St Mary’s on the Harbour is not readily spotted as a church building so it is a delight to discover that inside it is beautiful and practical.
Part way along the farthest south road to the Sound and the Calf of Man, St Peter’s Church is a quiet sanctuary at the heart of the Manx National Heritage village of Cregneash.
If you want to try a different kind of accommodation for your holiday, St Mark’s Schoolroom, among rolling hills and vales, can be used as a bunkhouse, or for ‘Champing’, with the lovely tranquil church next door.
World famous Manx artist, “Arts and Crafts” designer Archibald Knox (1864-1993) was instrumental in renovating St Adamnan, Lonan Old Church; designed silverware commissioned by St German’s Cathedral; and designed the gravestone for several friends including Canon John Quine buried at Lonan, a church now closed. Knox himself was buried in new Braddan graveyard and his gravestone is inscribed, ‘Archibald Knox, Humble Servant of God in the Ministry of the Beautiful’.
Perhaps you’d like to trace an ancestor of your own – someone who lived in the Isle of Man recently or long ago – by searching online with the Manx iMuseum. Once you find the record of your family member you can visit the church where they were Christened, married or buried.
As well as their own variety of worship and teaching which you can find out about on A Church Near You, churches of the Diocese of Sodor and Man host music concerts and art exhibitions and take part in a wide range of island events.
Many churches provide wonderful teas and refreshments during the famous TT race fortnight and Southern 100 in May/June and the Manx Grand Prix in August. Among them are Ballaugh, Ballasalla, Kirk Bride, Kirk Braddan and St Ninian’s.
During the annual Isle of Man Flower Festival in July you will find lots of the churches participating. You can drop in and enjoy the magnificent floral arrangements, and spend some time quietly soaking up the peace from centuries of Christian presence in each place.
There’s something for everyone on Ellan Vannin: from scuba diving to mountain biking; rock pooling to pilgrimage; gentle ambling to rugged hillwalking; architecture to agriculture; sacred space to ice creams; snail’s pace to unlimited speed; steam trains to dark skies; and a few more things besides.
You will be welcome!