History of the Diocese

A Brief Summary of the Dioceses of Argyll and The Isles united in 1847 as The Diocese of Argyll & The Isles


From the introduction of Diocesan Episcopacy in Scotland what is now the Diocese of Argyll was part of the vast Diocese of Dunkeld. In 1188, on his appointment as Bishop of Dunkeld, John the Scot, had to acknowledge that his inability to speak the Gaelic language presented a serious handicap in his ministrations in the western part of his Diocese where the Gaelic language was spoken by the people. He petitioned the Pope to create a separate Diocese in the west and his request was granted and around 1200 in the reign of William the Lyon (1143-1214) the Diocese of Argyll or Lismore was founded and the first Bishop made Lismore his Cathedral, and for several centuries the Bishops were styled Episcopi Lismorenses, or Episcopi Ergadienses. When the See of Glasgow was elevated to an Archbishopric in 1492 Argyll became part of the Province of Glasgow and remained so until the dis­establishment of the Church in 1689.


Archbishop Fairfoul who had been consecrated at Westminster in December, 1661 consecrated David Fletcher, incumbent of Meirose, as Bishop of Argyll in Glasgow Cathedral in 1662. During this period there were four successive Bishops of the Diocese the last being Hector Maclean a former incumbent of Dunoon, who held the See until his death late in 1687. King James nominated Dr Alexander Monro, Principal of Edinburgh University as his successor but before the election could be confirmed and Dr Monro consecrated, the church suffered disestablishment.


This was a time of strife for the Episcopal Church and for almost fifty years the Church suffered state imposed penalties. During this time no attempt was made at Diocesan organization, the Bishops ministering confirmation when called to do so by congregations without permanent places of worship, but following the repeal of the Penal laws in 1792 there was a slow return to the recognition of Diocesan boundaries and titles and by 1819 the Dioceses of Argyll, The Isles, and Ross were under the superintendence of the Rt. Reverend David Low who resided at Pittenweem in Fife where he was incumbent. In 1838 the Diocese of Ross was placed under his spiritual jurisdiction and as he advanced in years he proposed to his fellow Bishops that The Isles and Argyll should be disjoined from Moray and Ross and made a separate United Diocese. He promised to provide for the income of the Bishopric and to endow the new Diocese to the extent of £8,000. In August 1846 the United Diocese of Argyll & The Isles was created and later that year the Reverend Alexander Ewing, incumbent of Forres, was elected as the first Bishop. At that date there were congregations only at Appin, Ballachulish, Dunoon, Fort William, Rothesay, Stornoway and Skye but during Bishop Ewing’s episcopate the number of congrega­tions and church buildings increased and this expansion continued under his two successors; George Mackarness and Alexander Chinnery-Haldane. In 1876 the Collegiate Church on the Isle of Cumbrae was consecrated as the Cathedral of The Isles.


The history is very involved as it did not become part of the Church in the British Isles until after the defeat of the Norwegians by Alexander III at Largs in 1263. The Isles, or the Sudries (i.e. all the islands south of Orkney including Man and the two larger islands in the Firth of Clyde), were restored to Scotland by the Treaty of Perth in 1266. The Bishop of The Isles had his Cathedral on the Isle of Man and after occupation of Man by the English in 1334 the See was subsequently linked ecclesiastically with York. After a century of confusion about church appointments and rival occupants of the See the Diocese was separated from Man during the reign of James 1st (1424-1437) and the Bishop of The Isles took his seat in the Scottish parliament in 1430. The Bishops had been styled, Episcopi Sodoenses and this title was retained by both the Scottish and English lines and to the present the Bishop of Man signs himself Sodor & Man although it is many centuries since the Sudries formed part of his island Diocese. In the reign of James IV the Abbey Church at lona was elevated to be the Cathedral of The Isles. Like Argyll the Diocese of The Isles was in the Province of Glasgow. It is interesting to note that the Cumbrae Isles were not included in the Diocese of the Isles but were in the Diocese of Glasgow and today within the Roman Catholic Communion Miliport is in the Diocese of Galloway.

At the disestablishment of Episcopacy in 1689 the Bishop of The Isles was Archibald Graham, a former incumbent of Rothesay, who continued to live on the Isle of Bute during his tenure of the See and after the disestablishment. He died in Edinburgh a few weeks after the accession of Queen Anne and bequeathed his library for the benefit of the poor of Rothesay.

 The Diocese of The Isles shared the same fate as the rest of the Scottish Church in the eighteenth century and it was not until the first half of the last century that places of worship were opened on Bute, Lewis and Skye but after the creating of the United Diocese, Mission stations and Chapels were opened in other parts of the Diocese.