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THIS extraordinary monument of antiquity is by writers of the first authority ascribed to the Druids. It is situated near Loch Stennis, and consists of a circle sixty fathoms in diameter, formed by a ditch on the outside twenty feet broad and twelve deep, and on the inside by a circle of stones from twelve to fourteen feet high and four broad; several are fallen down; of some only fragments remain, and the situation of others is marked by the holes in which they were formerly placed. The earth taken from the ditch is supposed to form four tumuli or barrows of considerable magnitude, two of which are situated on the east, the others on the west of the circle.
The rev. James Headrick, in his edition of the late rev. Dr. Barry's History of the Orkneys, makes the following remarks relative to Druidical circles. "In general, these stones were intended to represent the equatorial circle: but some of them have a smaller circle contiguous, which was intended to represent the ecliptic, or apparent path of the sun among the fixed stars."
"We are perfectly satisfied that these circles were intended to serve the purpose of rude astronomical observatories, by which the priests could mark out the rising of the sun, moon, and stars; the seasons of the year; and even the hours and divisions of the day. Where they are tolerably entire they might serve these purposes at this day, to one who has bestowed a little attention on the position of the
"The sun was the great object of Druidical veneration as an emblem of the Deity; and to observe his apparent motions would be an object not merely of curiosity but of piety.
"The circle of Stennis is of very large dimensions, affording room to mark all the necessary subdivisions of direction by stones in its periphery, without having recourse to concentric circles." The sacrificial stones, a portion of these remains, are seen due south from the centre of the circle, a bridge of loose stones across the Loch forming the communication. It is supposed that a sacred grove once occupied the centre of the circle.
THE remains of this once splendid establishment are situated in a rich and beautiful valley, through which meanders the river Are; they consist principally of the church, much dilapidated; some small portions of the other buildings still exist; the whole site is thickly wooded; the trees, having struck their roots into the crevices of the floors, extend their rich branches over the ruins. The church, which appears to have been a most stately pile, in the form of a cross, having at the east end six chapels, was in length 445 feet, and exhibits that struggle between the Norman and early English styles of architecture that took place in the reign of Stephen: the windows and doors have circular arches, adorned with zigzag or rectangular mouldings. The columns in the interior of the building are clustered, but very massive, with capitals highly ornamented, each varying in pattern from the rest. The tower, at the time when the church was erected, was carried but a little higher than the roof; but the lofty addition made to it about the time of Henry VIII. so loaded the columns on which it stood, that, some few years since, the north-west pillar gave way, and drew after it an enormous ruin of two sides of the whole tower. The western front of the church is beautifully enriched with sculpture; the entrance doorway is highly embellished, and the window over it, which is divided by a clustered column, is still more so; over this is a smaller
window that once enlightened the roof; on each side are buttresses, which, with the pediment, terminate in turrets. The eastern end of the church is ornamented in an equal degree with the west. The interior contains not the traces of a single monument; and it is worthy of remark, that the building does not stand due east and west.
South of the church, on the east front of the ruins, are several vaulted chambers supported by columns, which have a very gloomy aspect; the southernmost of them seems ready to fall on the head of the spectator who has the hardihood to enter it.
The chapter-house, of which there are some remains, was very uncommon in design, being an oblong, divided by double arches into two compartments; that portion contiguous to the cloisters has the remnant of a cluster of columns supporting two divisions of groins, and so strongly is the masonry united, that, notwithstanding all the columns are gone excepting the centre one, the capitals belonging to them and the springing of the groins retain their positions.
The cloister quadrangle, with vestiges of the apartments that once surrounded it, may still be traced. The original refectory, for there are parts remaining of another of a much later date, has been a magnificent vaulted room, supported by two cylindrical columns, each apparently of a single stone.