killean-chapel-5Killean, where a medieval church once stood, was associated with Iona Abbey in the 14th century, being on the pilgrim route as one of a string of churches leading to Iona.

The secluded ruins of this old parish church lie within a burial ground containing several sculptured slabs, which is situated about 250 m from the east shore of the Loch Spelve near the point where the narrow entrance of the loch widens to form a deep-water anchorage.  The church, which measures approximately 13.1 m by 5.8 m, is sited near the west bank of a small stream.

The chapel was dedicated to St John and its earliest record was in 1393, when a papal indulgence was granted in favour of those who visited it and made donations.  In 1561 the parsonage of ‘Keillean in Toirrasa in Mulle’ was listed among the former revenues of the abbot of Iona.  During the 17th century the name of ‘Killean’ was still applied to the parish in spite of frequent vacancies, and it is thought that the chapel became derelict during this period.  In the late 18th century the parish was served by a church at Craignure and by meeting-houses at Kinlochspelve and Salen, both of which were subsequently replaced by parliamentary churches.

Today most of the walls are turf-covered rubble about 1.0 m high, although a short length of wall-face is visible towards the west end of the south wall.

A carved medieval grave slab lies within the church and is of the Iona School, 14th – 15th century.  The upper part of this slab has been re-used as a headstone.

There is another unusual fragment of a medieval carved window-head in the grave-yard.  It is of sandstone and a small daylight-opening can be seen, together with its glazing-groove.  The details on the window resemble those found on the canopy-work of certain early 16th-century, west-highland tombstones and, therefore, it may belong to the same period.  Other post-reformation tomb stones can also be seen.

Legend has it that there was always a bone lying on the wall of the graveyard.  Whenever anyone was buried there this bone was placed under the last sod. However, somehow or other, this bone always reappeared on the wall in time for the next burial.

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 killean-chapel-11  killean-chapel-12 Click on images to enlarge

For further information see:

  • Currie, J, Mull The Island and its People, 2000
  • Brown, O & Whittaker, J, Walking in South Mull, revised 2010

For walking tours to Killean go to

Grid Reference NM 710 284