Sign in / register

Applecross, St Maelrubha's Monastery

You may copy, display, store and make derivative works for personal use or use solely within an educational institution by staff and students, under these conditions: the ScotlandsPlaces website is attributed, there is no commercial use or sale, and no public distribution (for example, by hand, email, or web). Full licence details.

Record Detail

  • Organisation
  • Alternative name(s)
  • Canmore ID
  • Site type
  • Parish
  • Council
  • NGR
    NG 7135 4583
  • Latitude, longitude
    57.445016N, 5.812227W
  • Archaeological notes
    NG74NW 1 7135 4583 See also NG74NW 3. (NG 7135 4583) The monastery established by St Maelrubha at Applecross in 673 survived in 1963 (A C Thomas 1971) as an oval enclosure, almost ploughed out; and a low mound known as Claodh Maree was alleged to contain St Maelrubha's grave. The topography suggests that the modern church, built in 1817 partly on the site of an older church extant until 1792, occupies the site of the actual monastery. Reeves (W Reeves 1862) mentions a low nearly circular embankment, about 30' diameter internally, south of the cross (NG74NW 2) and on the opposite side of the road. It was said to be venerated and to contain human remains. Embankments near the river in the meadow below the church, were alleged to be connected with the Abbot's Mill; and a mound a short distance NE of the east boundary of the churchyard was said to have been used as an altar. He also mentions the alleged remains of St Maelrubha's tomb consisting of red granite fragments, some lying about the churchyard and others built into the manse. The sanctuary of the monastery is said to have extended for six miles. Orig Paroch Scot 1855; W Reeves 1862; A C Thomas 1971; Information from A C Thomas to OS 26 October 1966. There is now no trace of the oval vallum recorded by Thomas (A C Thomas 1971). MacRae (K MacRae, 42 Denny, Inverness) is an obervant and reliable informant whose great grandfather supplied Reeves with his information and he states there never was anything ancient visible outwith the modern graveyard, except a pool, now drained, S of the old manse which was known as the "Pool of the Coracles". The N arc of the circular embankment noted by Reeves (D Reeves 1862) survives in the S corner of the modern graveyard and is shown on Thomas' plan (A C Thomas 1971). It is a curving turf-covered bank 3.0m wide, 0.5m high and c. 16.0m long, which isolates an area where there is only one recent gravestone. The area enclosed must have exceeded 30ft but there is now no trace of the remainder outside the graveyard. According to MacRae this area was not venerated as stated by Reeves (W Reeves 1862), indeed the opposite as a suicide was once buried in the enclosure. According to MacRae (K MacRae) the whole area between the east gable of the chapel (NG74NW 3) and the graveyard wall is known as Claodh Maree and there have never been burials in this traditionally venerated area. He is uncertain of the origin of the two small pillars which occur here at distances of 11.5 and 13.5m from the gable. It was in this area (some 4 to 5 yds from the gable) where he found a long cist in 1934 which he believes was Maelrubha's grave. At that time there were visible traces of three walls of a building some 10 ft wide, whose W end he believes was overlaid by the chapel. He thought it represented an oratory. He estimated where the altar would be at the E end and dug at its right side. At a depth of about 12 inches he found a rough flagged floor and some 18 inches below this was a slab which when lifted proved to be the cap of a long cist. The slab lined cist was bottomed with loose gravel amongst which were pieces of charcoal and calcined human bones and also an artifact of 'yellow metal' probably bronze which Callander identified as a ring brooch with a bent pin though MacRae still maintains it was more like a link of an ornamental chain. It was made of 'thin yellow wire' and seemed precisely bent. Each end had an ornament of three grooves and was blunt, not pointed as a pin would be. The cist was carefully re-covered. MacRae (K Macrae) says that in the area immediately SW of Cloadh Maree where the most northerly of the modern graves occur, several similar, but not so well constructed, stone cists have been found over the years. One which he uncovered about 2ft down, was constructed above another at a lower level. It was in this same locality that from time to time he found five sculptured cross fragments which were preserved in the modern church, although only two of them are there now. A third preserved there, the largest of three, was discovered built into the wall of the chapel. All the fragments seemed to be from different crosses. There is no trace of the pre-1817 church, but MacRae (K MacRae) knows the tradition of its site under or beside the modern church. He knows nothing of the mound NE of the E boundary of the graveyard, nor of the embankments near the river. None of the alleged fragments of the Saints' tomb were noted at the old manse which is now a farm-house. Visited by OS (A A) 31 May 1974. D Reeves 1862; A C Thomas 1971. The brooch found was deposited in the National Museum of Scotland, accession number H.NGA 174. Information from A Saville (NMS), 1998. The monastery of Applecross was founded in 673 by Maelrubha, a monk of Bangor (Co.Down), who had left Ireland two years earlier. His death in 722, and those of later abbots up to the early 9th century, are recorded in the Irish annals, and it is clear that the connection with Bangor was maintained (a). At the time of its foundation, however, the monastery was probably in Pictish territory, and dedications to Maelrubha are found in Easter Ross, Sutherland and the north-east as well as being widespread on the W coast (b). Its name is a medieval corruption of a Brittonic one, recorded in 673 as Aporcrosan, meaning 'the mouth of the Crossan' (the former name of the Applecross River). The district is known in Gaelic as a' Chomraich, 'the sanctuary', and it was marked by crosses, one of which survived at Camusterrach, 4km to the S, until about 1870 (c). The monastery was situated about 250m from the head of Applecross Bay, on the NW bank of the Applecross River and opposite what are now the policies of Applecross House. The site is occupied by an L-shaped burial-ground containing the former parish church of 1817, with a small post-medieval 'chapel' or burial-aisle close to the E boundary. It has been suggested that aerial photographs indicate a larger curvilinear enclosure measuring at least 180m from NE to SW by 140m, but the area S and E of the burial-ground was planted with conifers in the 1960s and no surface-remains survive (d). A low curving mound in the W part of the burial-ground may represent a small enclosure described by W Reeves (e), who also recorded that a 'little hillock' named Claodh Maree, the supposed burial-place of the saint, lay S of the 'chapel'. A large cross-slab (no.4) stands inside the W entrance of the churchyard to the N, and three carved fragments are displayed in the porch of the former church. The largest of these (no.1) was formerly built into a wall of the 'chapel', and the other two, with three other lost pieces, were found in the area to the S of it by the grave-digger in the 1930s (f). It is possible that some of these fragments belonged to the monument of 'red granite', supposedly sent by the daughter of the King of Norway to mark the grave of Maelrubha himself, that was broken during the construction of the manse in 1796 (g). They are presumably to be distinguished from the 'several carved stones' that were buried under a path near the S wall of the church when it was being built in 1817 (h). In the churchyard there are also a sandstone graveslab with a moulded margin of late medieval type, and a large slab of late 17th-century character bearing emblems of mortality (i). (1) Fragment of red-brown Torridonian sandstone, comprising part of the right half of a large cross-slab and the decorated right edge. It measures 1.33m in height and 0.31m in surviving width and varies in thickness from about 95mm to 55mm at the edge. The back may have suffered some damage, but the form of the right edge makes it unlikely that any carving has been lost. The slab was divided into rectangular panels by bead-mouldings 12mm to 15mm wide which merge into the edge-moulding, and the cross-head had a pierced ring whose lower quadrant survives. The other fragme....
  • Architectural notes

Related material information


  • 1171068 (1/6/2009)
    General oblique aerial view of Applecross Bay, taken from the SW.
  • 1171067 (1/6/2009)
    General oblique aerial view of Applecross Bay, taken from the SW.


  • 11734 (28/11/2011)
    Report to Scottish and Southern Energy: 'Underground Power Supply at Clachan Church, Applecross. Watching Brief'.


  • 11734 (1963)
    Applecross, St Maelrubha's Monastery. Monastic settlement. Photograph showing view of embankment within the churchyard. frames 7a, 9, 13, 19, 25, 29: details of possible monastic enclosure bank, Applecross. frames 11, 12: sub-circular feature in kirkyard south facing from mortuary chapel. frames 3a, 10, 15, 28, 30-35 not printed.
  • 11734 ()
    cross-slab with outline of ringed cross from St. Moelrubha's Monastery, Applecross.
  • 11734 ()
    Reconstruction of cross-slab (fragments nos 1, 2, 3) from St. Moelrubha's Monastery, Applecross.
  • 11734 ()
    Cross-slab from Applecross.


  • 404553 (26/6/1990)
    Digital copy of drawing of Applecross cross-slab fragments (nos.1, 2, 3).
  • 404552 (17/1/1992)
    Digital copy of drawing of reconstruction of cross-slab (fragments nos 1, 2, 3).


  • 11734 (3/2/1997)
    Outline drawing of cross (no.1).
  • 11734 (26/6/1990)
    Applecross. Cross-slab fragments (nos.1, 2, 3).
  • 11734 (17/1/1992)
    Applecross. Reconstruction of cross-slab (fragments nos 1, 2, 3).


  • 11734 (1995)
    The Highlands

1st edition 6-inch maps

TitleDateOther parishes/counties
 Ordnance Survey six-inch to the mile, Ross-shire & Cromartyshire (Mainland), Sheet CII1875

1st edition 25-inch maps

TitleDateOther parishes/counties
 Ordnance Survey 25 inch to the mile Ross and Cromarty, Sheet 102.091875