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Grid Ref: NG 857 807
Church Web Page
St Maelrubha's Church
St Maelrubha's Church

St Maelrubha's Church stands a little back from the main road from Gairloch on the southern edge of Poolewe. What you find is a low single storey building whose walls are supported by massive buttresses. It is easy to draw the conclusion that what you are looking at is a medieval or Celtic church which has somehow survived in use across the centuries: and the dedication to St Maelrubha, an Irish monk who founded a monastery at what is now Applecross in the 670s only helps confirm this impression.

Roadside Sign
Roadside Sign
Fragment of Stone Cross
Fragment of Stone Cross

The most obvious clue that this isn't an ancient church is in the building's alignment, which is roughly north-south rather than the east-west favoured by early church builders. But it still comes as something of a surprise to find that the church was only built in 1965, when it became the first Scottish Episcopal Church to be built in the north-west Highlands since the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. The local Episcopalian community had previously worshipped in the Gairloch Hotel and then in Poolewe Village hall, but in the early 1960s Major and Mrs Buchanan MacDonald gifted an existing old byre, and work began on a rebuild to a design inspired by early Celtic churches.

West Side of the Church
West Side of the Church
Interior, Looking South
Interior, Looking South
North End of the Church
North End of the Church
The Font
The Font

The Scottish Episcopal Church is a member of the world-wide Anglican Communion which traces its history back to St Columba and the early days of Christianity in Scotland. Like its sister-church south of the border, the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church is governed by Bishops. This is one of the things that distinguishes it from the much larger Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian Church governed by representatives of the congregation.

This may not initially sound like a major difference, but it was King Charles I's efforts to impose government by Bishops on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland which led to a riot in St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday 23 July 1637. This in turn led directly to the Bishops' Wars; the Wars of the Covenant; the English Civil War; the execution of Charles I; and Cromwell's occupation of Scotland: 23 years of wide-ranging conflict that did not really end until the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Those days are, thankfully, long gone, but it helps to know that differences of opinion about church governance were once, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Within the church there is one tangible link with St Maelrubha in the shape of a fragment of a stone, probably part of a Celtic cross, set into the wall to the left of the altar. This was found on the site of St Maelrubha's monastery at Applecross. From the style of carving the stone probably dates back to within just a century or two of St Maelrubha's time, when his monastery would have still been thriving before it was disrupted by the arrival of Norse raiders.

Interior of the Church, Looking North
Interior of the Church, Looking North
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