A parish church existed in Ballaugh, and presumably on the place where we now stand, at least as long ago as the year 1231, when it is mentioned in a Papal bull.
It has continuously been dedicated to St. Mary, “Our Lady,” and Canon Quine holds that the second syllable in the parish name means ‘lady’. The Anglo-Saxons had a word ‘hlafdige’*, loaf or bread-giver, which was the origin of the modern word lady. This implies that the Anglo-Saxon language was once used in the Isle of Man. There is evidence, both in documents and in inscribed crosses, that Man was conquered by the Angles of Northumbria, but the occupation is not believed to have lasted long.
The Rev. James Wilks, one of the most famous rectors of Ballaugh, held that the original name was ‘Bat-ne-laghey’, “with ‘laghey’ signifying mud, wherewith this parish formerly abounded,” and Mr J. J. Kneen’s version is ‘Balley-ne-loghey’, “the place of the lake” – this particular lake being situated in the area still called the Dollagh, which means “black lake.”
It may be that adjoining the parish, called Kirk Christ in fine Ayre, there was one called St. Mary, in the lough or the curragh. The church now before us was replaced in 1832, but its use has been kept alive by weeknight services and special Sunday services in the summer. The late Miss Winifred Kneale, daughter of the then rector, had a great affection for these weeknight services and did much to keep them going. The building was enlarged by Bishop Wilson in 1717, but has the appearance of something really ancient, and the quaint slanting gate pillars – “nutcrackers” as they have been described – have often been admired. The Rev. John Mason Neale, a High Church leader, and the author of many beautiful translations of the hymns of the early Church, visited the Isle of Man in 1848 and made notes on what he called its ecclesiology. He says of Ballaugh Old Church that “though new, it is evidently rebuilt on the old plan, and its west facade is extremely interesting. It has a western porch, which I suppose resembled that at Kirk Maughold, and from this two flat square-edged pilasters rear up to the campanile” i.e. the bell tower “which is of the same character as in our own Saxon churches. It is much to be wished that the original work remained as it is.”
In a paper read before this Society a few years ago, Miss Beatrice Kneen draws attention to the door of the old church, which is of oak, nail-studded, like the doors of Castle Rushen.
The arch of the doorway, she says is old red sandstone and Norman in its style of architecture. Canon Quine also describes the porch as Norman in character.
A year after Neale’s visit, the church was shortened by about a third and the chancel, which apparently included a stone marked with the initials of Bishop Wilson, and a flat tomb containing a Latin inscription composed by the Bishop in memory of his friend and fellow-prisoner, the Rev. Villiam Walker, was taken away.
There was another alteration in 1879, by the Rev. William Kermode. He noted, in the north-eastern corner, a block of red sandstone bearing the word “salvation,” the letter “t” being shaped so as to form the centre of a cross. Mr Kermode came to the conclusion that this was the foundation of a former church and that the word “salvation” was inscribed in obedience to the passage of Isaiah, “Thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise.”
* Note on the word LADY: the word began as a designation for the wife of the Anglo-Saxon chief. Each tribe cultivated its warriors, bringing them all under one roof of the chief’s house.
In the warriors’ big house, the chief was the warden of the loaves, or “hlafweard,” (later “laward,” eventually “lord”) and she the loaf kneeder, the “hlafdige” (later “lavedi,” eventually “lady”). A difference in power and prestige is obvious at the origin. Even though labor is more essential to social survival, it is distinguished here from authority and possession which are handed to the male of the pair.
But “lady” was not without prestige. Most important, she and the lord were socially unique. There was but one lady per tribe. The closest equivalent in present-day English would be “queen.” Subordinate she may have been, but she received her tribe’s deference deflected from her husband.
(source: 1) Excursion Notes 1938, IOM Natural History & Antiquarian Society Proceedings Vol.V, No.3, 1939; 2) Language & Philology; 3) coloured photo of Ballaugh Church courtesy of Peter Killey at Manxscenes Photography; 4) b/w photo courtesy of A Manx Notebook. Further info on Ballaugh Old Church at http://manxscenes.com/