Eilean Mor, ‘the big isle’ at the south end of Loch Sween, has three ancient monuments – a cave, a chapel and a cross. Together, they tell the story of Christianity in this corner of Scotland.
The cave is known as St Cormac’s Cave, after the Irish saint Cormaig, legendary founder of nearby Keills Chapel, who is reputed to have used the cave as his hermitage, or retreat. It is now entered through a fissure in the rock face, but was originally reached along a 3m-long tunnel. The cave itself, around 3m long, 1m wide and 2m high, contains little other than two incised crosses on its east wall, dating to around AD 700 judging by their style.
A ruined drystone structure nearby may have been a later ‘ticket office’ for controlling medieval pilgrims heading for the saint’s abode.
This little chapel stands close to a natural landing place at the north-east end of the island. It has had a chequered history. The simple rectangular structure was built in the 13th century. It was extensively altered in the 14th century, when John MacDonald, 1st Lord of the Isles had the chancel upgraded. It was finally converted into a dwelling house around 1700, for use by a tenant of Macneil of Gillchoille, the island’s owner. The effigy of a late-medieval cleric, richly attired in his vestments but now headless, is still preserved here.
Beside the chapel stands St Cormac’s Cross, believed to be of 10th-century date. Only the shaft and lower part of the ringed cross-head survive, and much of the decoration on the west face is damaged. The east face, though, is still festooned with monsters wrestling and gripping snakes, and a hooded rider astride an oversized horse. The disc-headed cross on the island’s highest point is a replica of the late 14th-century cross erected by Mariota de Ros, wife of Donald MacDonald, 2nd Lord of the Isles. The original was taken for safe-keeping to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh in 1937.References:
Heraclea Lyncestis was an ancient Greek city in Macedon, ruled later by the Romans. It was founded by Philip II of Macedon in the middle of the 4th century BC. The city was named in honor of the mythological hero Heracles. The name Lynkestis originates from the name of the ancient kingdom, conquered by Philip, where the city was built.
Heraclea was a strategically important town during the Hellenistic period, as it was at the edge of Macedon"s border with Epirus to the west and Paeonia to the north, until the middle of the 2nd century BC, when the Romans conquered Macedon and destroyed its political power. The main Roman road in the area, Via Egnatia went through Heraclea, and Heraclea was an important stop. The prosperity of the city was maintained mainly due to this road.
The Roman emperor Hadrian built a theatre in the center of the town, on a hill, when many buildings in the Roman province of Macedonia were being restored. It began being used during the reign of Antoninus Pius. Inside the theatre there were three animal cages and in the western part a tunnel. The theatre went out of use during the late 4th century AD, when gladiator fights in the Roman Empire were banned, due to the spread of Christianity, the formulation of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the abandonment of, what was then perceived as, pagan rituals and entertainment.
In the early Byzantine period (4th to 6th centuries AD) Heraclea was an important episcopal centre. A small and a great basilica, the bishop"s residence, and a funerary basilica and the necropolis are some of the remains of this period. Three naves in the Great Basilica are covered with mosaics of very rich floral and figurative iconography; these well preserved mosaics are often regarded as fine examples of the early Christian art period.
The city was sacked by Ostrogoth/Visigoth forces, commanded by Theodoric the Great in 472 AD and again in 479 AD. It was restored in the late 5th and early 6th century. When an earthquake struck in 518 AD, the inhabitants of Heraclea gradually abandoned the city. Subsequently, at the eve of the 7th century, the Dragovites, a Slavic tribe pushed down from the north by the Avars, settled in the area. The last coin issue dates from ca. 585, which suggests that the city was finally captured by the Slavs. As result, in place of the deserted city theatre several huts were built.
The Episcopacy Residence was excavated between 1970 and 1975. The western part was discovered first and the southern side is near the town wall. The luxury rooms are located in the eastern part. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th rooms all have mosaic floors. Between the 3rd and 4th rooms there is a hole that led to the eastern entrance of the residence. The hole was purposefully created between the 4th and 6th century.