For people interested in religion, the Isle of Lewis has it all. Ancient sites which predate Christianity by thousands of years, as well as 1400 years of Christian history which spans the old Celtic church, the Viking age, the Protestant Reformation, and a population today still retaining a strong faith.
Part of this faith involves keeping Sunday as a special day, when only essential work gets done. We hope you will embrace this very sensible tradition of restricting working, shopping and consuming to 24/6 instead of 24/7 when you visit, as it is not only good for the soul but is also good for the planet.
In keeping with this tradition, we give our staff a day of rest on Sunday, so the Grinneabhat café will be closed that day. But don’t worry, we won’t let you go hungry! Just let us know in advance and we can prepare meals for you, ready to be reheated in the hostel kitchen.
Although Lewis is strongly associated with the Protestant faith, with different Presbyterian congregations, there are also Episcopal and Catholic churches, smaller Christian groups and a mosque. All churches welcome visitors to services. There is normally a Gaelic service in the Bragar Meeting House on the 1st Sunday of each month but this is currently suspended due to Covid and the closest church services are at the Shawbost Free Church - details at shawbostfreechurch.org.
Christianity came to Scotland from Ireland in 563 AD with Calum Cille (known in English as St Columba). Early Christian monks in Scotland echoed the Desert Fathers of Egypt and northern Africa, heading out into the sea instead of the desert to found monasteries on remote islands, such as North Rona off the northern coast of Lewis.
Echoes of that ancient church can also be heard in the unique sound of Gaelic psalm singing, which has been likened to Coptic Church music. The ‘call and response’ nature of Gaelic psalm singing, having been taken across the Atlantic by economic and forced migrants from Scotland to the USA from 1700 onwards, is also thought by some to have influenced American Gospel music.
The Norse came to Lewis in the 9th century and the island became part of the Bishopric of Sudrey and Man, under the authority of the Bishop of Trondheim in Norway until 1380. The following centuries saw the building of many chapels in Lewis, with one of the best preserved being found in Bragar. This church is known by a Celtic/Norse name, Cill Sgàire, and also by a Gaelic Biblical name, Teampall Eòin Baistidh (the temple of John the Baptist). The ruins of Cill Sgàire are located within the cemetery near the shore.