New Build Chapel on the West Coast

Posted by on Nov 10, 2017 in Architecture

New Build Chapel on the West Coast

And now finally, after around 16 months on site, I can reveal the completed chapel.  Although anticipation of Hurricane Ophelia caused the planned dedication service to be postponed until more settled weather in early summer, everything is now finished except for a few minor points of snagging.


One of the final touches was the installation of the door handles onto the double boarded studded oak door.  These were cast in bronze from my designs by Black Isle Bronze.  This would have been an easy place to compromise and settle for off the shelf handles but instead we decided to push for something special. On the threshold of the building, the handles tell the story of St. Comghan who is believed to have been an 8th century Celtic monk.  According to The Aberdeen Breviary, he was born an Irish prince, inherited his father’s kingdom and ruled it wisely and well.  When shot in the foot by an arrow and, having seen too much of the shedding of innocent blood in warfare, he left his kingdom, became a monk and went to Scotland. He founded a church in Lochalsh where he lived as a hermit and was reputedly buried in Iona.  While the hagiography may be little more than legend, we know that a chapel or monastery dedicated to him existed at Kilchoan. The ring handle echoes the shape of an ancient Celtic torc reflecting his origins as an Irish prince.  The back plates are based on St John’s Cross on Iona and tell of him leaving that life behind and becoming a Scottish monk.

This is a common theme throughout the building – simple geometric forms, massive walls and small windows, contrasted with intricate decoration in selected areas.  The Chapel comes from an architectural tradition that is described, like the chapels on Iona, as Romanesque.  Yet it also celebrates an earlier tradition dating back to the early days of Celtic Christianity to which the Saint himself belonged.  This 21st century design is therefore unapologetically eclectic in combining the chevrons and stylised foliage designs typical of Romanesque architecture with Celtic key patterns and knot work.  This is also seen in the excellent stone carving by Zenon Przelasa at Forth Stone.

There was much debate about what the floor finish should be with the conclusion being that an earth floor would probably be most authentic but not suitable for modern use and instead I decided to use  two different materials.  The chancel is set apart with flame-textured Ross of Mull granite slabs specially sawn for us by Fyfe Glenrock while the main floor is covered with large handmade terracotta tiles supplied by the Original Tile Company finished in linseed oil and beeswax which gives a lovely warm colour and subtle sheen that goes well with the stonework and the oak furniture.

The pattern of the floor tiles reflects the geometry of the nave – a golden rectangle made up of a golden rectangle narthex-like entrance zone and the main square of the main seated area.  The rest of the chapel is built on similar simple geometries of squares and circles and also makes use of the symbolic numbers of three (the Trinity) and seven (creation, perfection, Sabbath rest).

Last week the photographer, Kevin McCollum spent a full day on site capturing the changing light and produced these wonderful images that really show off the building well and it’s idyllic setting.

This project has been a real joy to work on – if at times challenging and all consuming.  It is a privilege that many architects will never get to be able to design a building like this and not have to compromise on everything.  And it has been a privilege to work with Ian Cumming and his men at Ardle Construction who have put real love and care into the construction of this unique building.

Standing back and looking at it now there is something slightly strange about it – it still looks new – but a few wild west-coast winters will quickly make it settle timelessly into the landscape.  Hopefully the story of the design and construction will be just a small part of the history of this chapel.  As the client stated, “No-one can really own a chapel”.  This building will stand as a place of quiet contemplation and worship for the enjoyment of generations to come.

If you would like a chapel of your own, I would love to do more of these!

Soli Deo Gloria.

Neil McAllister