Cill an Ailean
Cill an Ailean means the Chapel of the Beautiful Place. The remains of this ancient chapel and burial ground are located on the slopes of Glen Aros, on the island of Mull.
A 19th century dry-stone wall encircles the burial ground, but the remains within date back to medieval times. The oldest surviving remains belong to the chapel. Its rectangular outline is still visible today. Carved sandstone fragments of part of the window or door are datable by their design to the 13th century.
The name Cill an Ailean, however, suggests an even older age for the chapel grounds. The Gaelic pre-fix Cill is old and could date it back to before 800 A.D. However, there is no written or archaeological evidence to prove this as yet.
Historians think that the chapel was originally dedicated to the Irish St Fillan, believed to have miraculous healing powers.
The graveyard at Cill an Ailean
There are many tombstones surviving within this graveyard. One of the oldest is a two metre long stone slab laid flat within the old walls of the chapel. Designs carved into the stone include a cross and a sword. These date back to the 14th/15th century.
There are many upstanding headstones with different designs and inscriptions. Most date to the 18th and 19th centuries. The last burial recorded on a tombstone is Catherine MacLean in 1925.
The gravestone can provide information about individuals buried in the graveyard. Between 1990 and 2003 The Cemetarii, a group of locals on Mull, recorded the gravestone inscriptions at Cill an Ailean.
These inscriptions name individuals, for example Alex McPhail, who died on 29 November 1885. The surnames on the gravestones represent some of the oldest family names on the island, including MacLean, McPherson and Campbell.
During the 18th century, it was fashionable to have symbols carved into the stone, often uniquely designed for the person buried there. This included symbols representing death, like a skull, and symbols representing the afterlife, including angels.
Symbols could also represent a person's job or trade. On the back of Donald McAlam's gravestone is an elegant high-heeled shoe and hammer. He was a shoemaker who died in 1742.
Protecting historic graveyards
Graveyards provide important evidence about people and their community. Many graveyards are under threat from natural erosion. It is important that we keep a record and protect these places for future generations.
The recording of a graveyard can provide an important historical record, particularly if it is under threat of destruction. Each graveyard will have its own story to tell. Recording and Analysing Graveyards by Harold Mytum (2000) and Understanding Scottish Graveyards by Betty Wilsher (2005) are excellent guidebooks to undertaking a churchyard project.
Visiting Cil an Ailean
The exact location of Cil an Ailean is grid reference NM 546 456.
You can view the site from the woodland walk at Glen Aros.
All sites managed by Forestry Commission Scotland are open for you to explore. However, not all sites have paths or signage and some are a considerable distance from car parking. We recommend that visitors consult a detailed map and wear appropriate clothing.
Please follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and remember that historic sites should be treated with care and respect.