We haven’t finished with Marown just yet. Less than a mile away, up a not very well signposted track covered in sheep poo and surrounded by sheep is St Patrick’s Chair. It’s not a chair, of course, and it’s unlikely St Patrick was ever there but nevertheless that’s its name.
There are three standing (actually leaning!) granite stones and two that have fallen over completely. Two of those standing have inscribed Christian crosses. Nobody knows how long the stones have been here but it seems likely that they are ancient stones, possibly forming a burial site, appropriated for Christian purposes probably between AD600 and 800. Bear in mind that early Christianity was quite comfortable with re-using sites of earlier spiritual significance. Indeed, it was seen as a valuable weapon in the conversion of pagans.
The original keeil at what is now Marown Old Church itself dates from the seventh century. It would hardly have justified the word “church” but it does rather beg the question of why anyone would create another Christian site so close by? Maybe it was a place of Christian gathering before the keeil was built, in the manner of a preaching cross because there is absolutely no way of knowing when these crosses were carved. Maybe it was simply a case of religious appropriation. SS Runius, Connachan and Lonan, all bishops, are known to have lived in the Marown area so perhaps they decided to inscribe the crosses. We can’t know. Just in passing, those three names give us some idea of the changing notions of sainthood. Here you have three men, surely of unimpeachable piety and presumably ferociously evangelical, of whom we know barely anything who were created saints by nobody knows who. Compare that with St Mother Theresa of Calcutta whose achievements we can all know and admire, beatified in a blaze of publicity for what seemed to be - excuse my cynicism - a campaign conducted by the Vatican PR department and which would, I feel, have embarrassed the lady herself!
A former friend of mine used to rib me about my perceived predilection for taking pictures of “piles of stones”. That’s literally true on this occasion. You might wonder why you should go out of your way to negotiate the poo, the ruts and the farm gates. Well, as with St Runius Church, maybe you will be able to sense the simple piety of the Celtic Christianity of this period. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but if you want to understand church architecture as a manifestation of social history rather than just as a manifestation of changes to art or design then you need to understand something of the evolution of the religious institution. St Patrick’s Chair will make you think about those early centuries when simple monks preached their message in the fields and hamlets of Britain.
By the way. Don’t under-estimate the poo. It’s not just those little hard pellets on the ground it’s also wet and messy. I was wearing nice light-coloured cotton chinos. Don’t make the same mistake! Have a change of shoes in your boot as well.