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St. Cormac's Cave

Eilean Mor, Argyllshire.

NGR:NR 66591 75032
WGS84:55.91160, -5.73639
Length:2 m
Vert. Range:2 m
Altitude:15 m
Geology:Crinan Grit Formation - Quartzite
Tags:Cave, Archaeo, SAM
Registry:main

A tiny cave extended by drystone walls. Largely open to the sky.

A cave, or retreat, such as this is a characteristic of the Celtic church and used by a desiring greater austerity than his community provided, usually for a short time. Two inscribed crosses on the wall of the cave date it to the 8th century. Its veneration continued, Pilgrims were attracted, an it seems that a small chapel, whose remains survive, was erected at the mouth of the cave. [Descriptive notice on site]

At one time, the cave was approached via a short tunnel leading out behind the shrine, but this has long since collapsed. One of the flat stones tipped up as I stepped on it, and I was suddenly reminded of Indiana Jones approaching the temple where the Holy Grail was guarded by the last Knight of the Crusades. (There's actually a fascinating parallel here, and I'll tell you more in a bit, if you're prepared to suspend disbelief for a minute!)

The cave itself turned out to be more of a pit, and a gloomy one at that. A natural cavern, I imagine, created by cooling basalt columns, its floor lies about eight feet below the opening, and can't be much more than nine or ten feet at its widest. To one side of this chamber, I could see a very narrow vertical slit in the rock face with the suggestion of a further cave beyond, possibly only accessible by a thin hermit.

It certainly wasn't the cosiest looking hide-out I've ever seen, and although I could have jumped down there fairly easily I had no wish to do so. In fact, I felt repelled by the place. My immediate thought was that it was the ultimate 'man-cave' - not surprisingly, because I knew about its history. Since then, having spent a few days reading more about it, I find that the Statistical Account of the Parish of South Knapdale (1797) claims that the cave "possesses the wonderful power of causing sterility in every person who dares to enter it." Well, that's one way of deterring unwanted visitors! And although I'm not planning on having any more children, I'm quite happy I didn't climb in!

I did, however, return to the cave. I'd read on the information board that there were two early Christian crosses carved on one of the walls, and I wanted to see them. I was still adamant that neither of us should go in, so Colin helped me dangle over the side with my camera set on flash, aiming at what we thought was a circular symbol, glimpsed very much side-on. [The Hazel Tree]

The miracles performed by St Cormac for many years after his death apparently stopped because the Saint was offended by the foul language used by a woman seeking a cure for dysentry and the caves contraceptive properties seem no longer effective (if they ever were). {OSA]

Alternate Names: Fear (Uamh na), Uamh na Fear, Man (Cave of the), Cave of the Man

Notes: Near the south-east end of Eilean Mor, a gully is walled with thin courses of drystone work, enclosing a rectangular area - the 'cell', described by Donaldson as 11' square, within 4' - 5' thick walls, with a doorway c. 2' wide, to east, and steps. At NW, fallen stones probably cover a passage and entrance to a tiny cave "Uamh nam Fear" now entered from above. A hexafoil and a Maltese cross are carved on the east side of this cave, said to have been used as a retreat by St Abban. [Canmore]

Now owned by the Trustees of the Scottish Nationalist Party, 6 Charlotte Street, Edinburgh. It is in the guardianship of Historic Scotland. [Oldham]

Hydrographic Feeds: None

Hydrographic Resurgences: None

Links and Resources:

This entry was last updated: 2020-11-02 14:24:42

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