St. Ninian’s Island

St. Ninian’s is a small island to the south west of the mainland of Shetland connected to it by a sandbar. St. Ninian is Shetland’s Patron Saint, so it was only natural to have a site dedicated to him.


St Ninian’s Chapel on St Ninian’s Isle (Shetland Islands)
By Unukorno – Own work, CC BY 4.0,


The site consisted of a small Christian chapel was attacked in 806 by Vikings along with the Island of Iona.

The current chapel dates from the 12th century, but during excavations an earlier was uncovered and believed to date from before the Norse arrival – making it Pictish. There have also been Neolithic burials discovered on St. Ninians Isle, showing its value and importance pre-Christianity.

In 1958, during excavations at the site, a young boy uncovered a wooden box which was located under a slab with a cross carved upon it.

The wooden box contained 7 silver feasting bowls, 12 silver brooches and a number of items believed to be the mountings of weapons. The hoard dates from the second half of the 8th century and it is suggested that they were buried due to the Viking activity. The interesting fact though, is that the items are not all from the same date – suggesting they were collected or held over time by a family or group.


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The site was excavated again during 2000/2001 and the results you can read all about in this weeks Recommended Reading placed at the base of our blog post.

The graveyard was utilized right up until the 19th century, demonstrating the importance of the site as one of worship and significance. Carved stones have been uncovered and you can read more about them HERE.


A view of the sand causeway across to St. Ninians Isle in the Shetlands.
By Chris Combe from York, UK – St. Ninians Isle Beach, CC BY 2.0,


References & Bibliography

Barrowman. R. C. 2017. The Chapel and Burial Ground on St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland: Excavations Past and Present: v. 32: Excavations Past and Present. Routledge.

Jennings. S. 2018. In Depth – (not the) St Ninian’s Isle (treasure). Archaeology Shetland. Available at

Jennings. S. 2016. Site in Focus – St Ninian’s Isle. Available at

National Museum of Scotland

Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (2020) The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]


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