Saint Ninian's Chapel

A place for thanksgiving

The windswept ruins of Saint Ninian’s Chapel stand on the edges of the Isle of Whithorn, which is a fishing village about 3 miles (5 km) south of Whithorn.

St Ninian chapel    Before the 1560s, the Isle of Whithorn was one of the main ports used by pilgrims from

  • the Isle of Man,
  • Ireland and
  • England

travelling to and from Whithorn.
The chapel was used by both the newly arrived pilgrims and local community to offer thanks to Saint Ninian.

Chapel Finian in Mochrum also served the same purpose for pilgrims arriving by sea. This was one of a network of chapels on the roads leading to Whithorn.

The chapel's design

Most of what we see at the Saint Ninian’s chapel today dates from about 1300, although it underwent major repairs in 1898.

The chapel is a simply designed, rectangular building with a door in the south wall and small arched windows along its side walls.

Originally, its west end was illuminated by a pair of tall windows with pointed arches. Outside the chapel are the remains of a stone wall stretching around what was once the churchyard and, possibly, a house for a priest.

There is little evidence to suggest what the interior would have looked like. Carvings or decorations were probably destroyed during the Reformation of 1560.
  St Ninian Chapel

Unlike in modern churches, medieval worshippers rarely had pews to sit on, but there are remains of benches set into the wall in the chapel’s nave. These were probably for the relief of tired pilgrims.

Earlier church

Archaeological excavations in 1950 revealed evidence of an earlier church below the 1300 chapel.

The earlier building stood inside a circular enclosure, which probably included a graveyard and priest’s house. Sometimes circular enclosures can be a sign that the site is particularly ancient, but archaeologists found no early Christian carvings or any sign of early origins at the site.

Little is known about this early church. It was certainly smaller. The foundations of the eastern end (called the chancel) were narrower than the existing ruins.

The church’s small size, combined with the numbers of pilgrims coming to Whithorn, may explain why bigger church was built around 1300. Pilgrimage would have brought a good deal of income both to the chapel and Whithorn Priory.