A major project to consolidate and conserve the historic Eye Church in Aignish, Isle of Lewis, is now underway. Preparatory works for the £324,000 project began in July and works officially began in November, with the aim being to prevent the church from further deterioration and to reinstate it as a functioning community asset.
Historic Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, LEADE Innse Gall, Stornoway Trust and Point Community Council have all provided financial and practical support for the project.
The large pre-Reformation church was the burial ground of the MacLeods of Lewis and was the principal church of the Isle in medieval times. The name of the peninsular – ‘Eye’– comes from the Old Norse word Eið, meaning a narrow neck of land or isthmus.
Although only the south burial ground remains due to erosion of the coastline, the church was previously rectangular in shape and would have had a burial ground on both north and south sides. There are two grave slabs in the church ruins – one of Roderick Macleod 7th Chief of Lewis who died in 1498, and the other of his daughter Margaret Mackinnon, who died in 1503.
Donald Crichton, chairman of Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe, which was set up to save the ancient building, said: “We are pleased to announce that G Brown Stonemason Ltd has been awarded the contract for carrying out the work and will be working closely with our project managers, Addison Conservation and Design.
“The church will provide excellent opportunities to increase tourism and to promote the site both locally and internationally, given its links to the three clans which owned Lewis (Nicolson, MacLeod and Mackenzie) and it is of interest to the wider Scottish Diaspora.”
The church has a number of names: ‘Chapel of Ui’ or ‘Eye’; ‘St Columba’s Church, Aignish’; ‘Old Kirk of Eye’; ‘Aignish Church’ and in Gaelic ‘Eaglais na h-Aoidhe’, meaning Church of the Eye or Isthmus.