St Mary

A tiny, rectangular church that was replaced when the new church was built some two miles to the south. The old church had gone through many changes and its present form is only half the size that it had been in the 18th century. The blocked-up entrance to the now demolished west gallery can still be seen over the west porch. One of the west gallery musicians took over playing the organ when the new church was dedicated.


The Old Church of St. Mary de Ballaugh (from Bal-ny-laghey, homestead of the Curragh, or, more probably from Bal-laff, Our Lady’s Place) occupies a site of some importance in pre—historic times. In 1877 the grave of a young chieftain, dating hundreds of years before the coming of Christianity to the Island, was found 100 yards east from the Churchyard wall. Sepulchral urns have been found elsewhere in the parish. Like other ancient Manx Parish Churches, it is almost certainly the successor of Celtic and Norse Churches on the same site, and it contains material in its walls from previous buildings, notably the few remaining dressed stones used as cornerstones. The bell-cote resembles those in Saxon churches in England.

The church is first mentioned in a Papal Bull of 1231. The earliest known Rector was Donald McCorkyll (1408) and though little is known of the church’s history before 1700, it would be like other old Manx Churches, rectangular and three times as long as wide. In 1717 it was lengthened by 21 feet, the parish paying £12 and Bishop Wilson the rest. A gable was added at the west end, adorned by two pilasters and surmounted by a bell-cote. Tradition says that the two gate pillars were purposely built leaning in. They are not earlier than the 18th century.

Between 1757 and 1777 rear and side galleries, reached by an outer double stairway rising on either side of the porch, were erected by Rector James Wilks. The present north-side windows are 18th century at the earliest, and replace two small openings of earlier times. Because the Manx people believed Jeremiah’s statement that evil came from the north, there were very few windows on the north side of the Old Manx Churches.

In 1832 the new Parish Church was built. This was because the Old Church was then in a very bad state or repair, it was situated a long way from the village, and it could only seat 350 in a parish of 1487 people. For some years the Old Church was disused and fell into decay, but in 1849 it was rescued by Rector Howard who re-roofed it, removed the galleries and took down the 1717 extension to the chancel, thus reducing the length by one third. It was further restored by Rector Kermode in 1877 and again by Rector Elliott in 1955, since when it has been regularly used for Worship. Evensong is Said every Sunday at 6 p.m. and Holy Communion is celebrated at Christmas, Easter, Harvest Thanksgiving and on the second Sunday of the month. Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals also take place.

In the Church is an 11th century Runic Cross, the only one found in Ballaugh, which shows features of the great sculptor Gaut. The weather-worn Runic lettering runs "Ouliabr Loitulfsunr raisti krs thana aftir Ulb sun Sin" (Olaf Liotulfson erected this cross to the memory of Ulf his son) . The Font, made out of a red sandstone block, and built into a window-sill is of unknown antiquity. It is decorated with a cross cut in relief, and the Manx inscription runs "Ta un Chiarn, un Credjue, un Vashtey, un Jee as Ayr jeh ooilley" ("There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all").

On the North-East corner of the Church is a sandstone block which once bore the word - "Salvation".

The two Jacobean chairs in the sanctuary were given by Bishop Wilson (died 1755) and the reading desk and pulpit were given by Bishop Hildesley and Rector Wilks in 1772. The earliest memorial in the Churchyard is to "Anne Ellison, 1654". The Burial Register begins at 1598 (the oldest in the Island) the Baptismal Register in 1607, and the Wedding Register in 1695. The Old Registers had become very dilapidated, so they were copied out by Thomas Howard (Rector — 1836-76)

All sorts of changes, good and bad, have occurred since 1717 when the restored church was re-opened, and great events have occurred in the history of our Island and the world; but still the Old Parish Church stands here, and still people come, like their forefathers, to Worship God. It will still be here when even the youngest of us is no more, a silent witness to Jesus.Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever. Still visitors from our big towns come in summer to enjoy its peace and quiet, which makes all our bustle and noise seem so silly. As you stand in the Church, remember the generations of Rectors and people who have worshipped here and who have come in times of joy and sorrow. Pray, if you will, that God will continue to make this Church a centre of sanity in our confused and unhappy world.

(Many of these notes were made by former Rector Elliott and the late Mr. David Craine).
M.I’s have been transcribed and are available from the society.



Map reference  :  
Pictures kindly supplied by John Vigar, © 2002

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