The Jesus and Mary Magdalene stained glass window is one of seven stained glass windows within Kilmore Church, in the village of Dervaig on the Isle of Mull. This striking image appears to show Jesus and Mary Magdalene holding each other in a loving embrace. It has been the source of much admiration over the years, and continues to intrigue the many visitors who flock to admire it.
It is often written that Kilmore means ‘Mary’s Church’ however this is not the case. Kilmore means Great Church, in gaelic ‘cill’ means church, whilst ‘mhor’ means great. A nearby town however called ‘Tobermory’ does have a reference to Mary in it; the name Tobermory means ‘Mary’s Well’. This may suggest this ancient location, once a Druidic Site of gathering and worship, may have also been an ancient side of Miriam devotion.
The church is architecturally unusual in the sense that it has a large tower above the entrance. It was built in 1905 by the prominent Scots architect Peter MacGregor Chalmers (1859-1922). Chalmers was the architect to Paisley Abbey, he was also responsible for restoring Iona Abbey.
Chalmers’ work consisted mainly of the design of churches. His church designs were often unusual with styles including Romanesque, Italian and German. The round tower design of Kilmore Church is intriguing because it appears to be a unique approach to twentieth century Scottish architecture.
Some have suggested that this design may be linked to the style of the Irish round towers including Cashel, Enniskillen, Clonmacnoise and Kilmacduagh. In Scotland there are the remains of two earlier round towers, Abernethy and Brechin. Both of these are thought to have been earlier bell towers or treasuries, as well as providing a secure place during times of conflict.
The artist who was responsible for the window was Stephen Adam (1847-1910) who was based in Glasgow. Born in Edinburgh in 1847 Adam was one of Scotland’s leading Stained Glass Window artists. A student at Glasgow school of Art, he was hired as an assistant to Daniel Cottier; a leading pre-raphaelite artist who’s work was influenced by the grail legends and traditions. Adam’s wife was from Dervaig and they married in the Old Kilmore Church in 1887.
The window was commissioned by Isabella D. Forrest in loving memory of her sister Mary Forrest, who died aged 60 on the 23rd of October 1904 in the Parish of Kilninian and Kilmore on the Isle of Mull. Isabella and Mary were both born in Glasgow, they had one brother John Forrest. Their father was Glasgow Merchant John Forrest, who married Isabella Campbell in Glasgow in 1831. Isabella and Mary lived together throughout their lives, even when Isabella married Kenneth D. Watson, they remained close living together until until Mary’s death. Isabella died in 1913, aged 78.
Celtic Hand Fasting
A sash is tied beneath Mary’s swollen abdomen and she appears to be pregnant. Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s right hands are lovingly joined indicating an ancient Celtic marriage/commitment ritual known as ‘Celtic Hand Fasting.’ Hand Fasting was an ancient marriage ritual common within the Scottish Celtic Traditions. Author Mary Neasham in her book, Hand Fasting: A Practical Guide describes this ancient sacred ritual as enabling couples to put ‘their spiritual self on a higher plane’. This ancient ritual celebrated the joining of couples within a spiritual partnership.
This exquisite stained glass window continues to attract visitors from across the world, many of whom leave with this powerful image etched in their hearts forever…