St Trinian’s Church is the roofless ruin of a small chapel at the foot of Greeba Mountain, adjacent to the main A1 Douglas – Peel Road in the parish of Marown, Isle of Man. Referred to in the Manx language as a “Keeil Brisht” (broken church), the church is the source of an ancient Manx folktale concerning the Buggane, a huge mythical ogre who lived on Greeba Mountain and who vowed that the church should never be completed.
Tradition says that the church was erected in fulfilment of a vow made by a shipwrecked person. It was dedicated to the 4th century Scottish Pictish saint, Ninian, but later the name changed to Trinian.
St Trinian’s is recorded as a ruin of a 14th century church on an ancient site, as proved by the 7th century cross on the grave which can be seen at the front of the remains of the altar. The cross possibly marks the site of the founder’s shrine in what would have been an original Manx Keeil.
In connection with St Trinian’s Church there was an independent barony, whose tenants owed no immediate fealty to the King of Mann, though the Baron was the King’s vassal. The barony lands were given by King Olaf II of Man in or about the year 1230, and successive charters or confirmations refer to the church of St Ninian and the hospitals at Ballacgniba and Balhamer.
The Barony of St Trinian’s therefore consisted of a religious house, the hospitals (or guest houses) and the church. All the time the monks were at St Trinian’s it may be assumed that the church was to all intents and purposes the parish church.
Traditionally the plan of the old Manx churches is in proportion to that of St Trinian’s: the length is about three times the breadth.
After the collapse of the religious house the church was moved to a site on the hill beside the Rocky Lane above Ellerslie Farm, which was established as Old St Runius. There was certainly an earlier church on this site, but the structure which stands there today undoubtedly contains a great deal of material removed from St Trinian’s.
For the first time in many hundreds of years divine service was conducted at St Trinian’s on 4 September 1911. Contemporary reports state that a large number of people attended: far too many to be accommodated inside the chapel. The Bishop of Sodor and Man officiated, accompanied by the Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man, Lord Raglan, who read the lesson, and the Reverend Clarke who read the prayers. Lady Raglan also attended; the Crosby Brass Band accompanied the singing. This led to other occasions when the church was used for worship.
In September 1916 St Trinian’s was used as one of the locations for the filming of The Manxman, a film based on the novel by Hall Caine. Caine lived in Greeba Castle, adjacent to St Trinian’s.
Despite more fanciful folk tales to the contrary, the most probable reason why the church remained unfinished is that it was being built some time in the early 14th century, while the island was under the rule of the Scots. Construction may well have halted in 1343, when William Montagu, 1st Earl of Salisbury, conquered the island and expelled its Scottish owners, who would have included the monks of Whithorn Priory.