Grip Stave Church is one of Norway's smallest churches (it is only 12m long and 6,5m wide). The church was built in about 1470 at the island's highest point. The church is of the Møre type, being structurally similar to the larger Kvernes and Rødven stave churches. Because of the barren nature of the island, there is no cemetery on the church grounds, and bodies had to be buried elsewhere, in the cemetery of Bremsnes Church, over 10 kilometres away over open sea.
It underwent major modifications in 1621 when the walls were replaced, and a flèche was added. Today's windows were installed in the 1870s, and at the same time both a weaponhouse and a sacristy were added. During restoration work in 1933 a new foundation was added, and the exterior walls were panelled. All this rebuilding is why the exterior does not resemble the more typical Norwegian stave churches.
The altar is a triptych from Utrecht in the Netherlands, dated to about 1520, with a central sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, flanked by sculptures of Saint Olaf of Norway and Saint Margaret the Virgin, locally known as St. Maret.According to legend, the triptych is one of five altars donated to Norwegian churches by princess Isabella of Austria after being escorted by Erik Valkendorf, Archbishop of Norway, in terrible weather en route to her wedding in Copenhagen with the Danish king Christian II in 1515. Other altars were donated to the churches of Kinn, Leka, Hadsel and Røst. The five altars are referred to by art historians as the Leka group. Four of the altars have survived intact to this day, but Grip has the only complete altar in the original church.
Despite having sculptures of three saints, the altar survived the protestant reformation of Norway in 1537. The altar was restored in 2002. The church also has a small altar cup from 1320, a 16th-century double-sided painting on canvas, murals from the 1621 modifications, and two votive ships.References:
Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.
Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.
The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.