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St Ninian's Shetland Visitor Information Guide

  • St Ninian's Latitude: 59.972427 N Longitude: -1.346998

St Ninian's not strictly an island because it is joined to the Mainland by a spit or tombola of white sand described as one of the most beautiful in the world, lies about 6 miles north west from Sumburgh off a side road which rejoins the main road to Lerwick.

This was long known as the site of one of the early Celtic churches in Shetland, but the church itself was buried in sand and its exact location lost for many years.

The ruins of an ancient chapel attracted the attention of a group of students from Aberdeen University and, under the late Professor O'Dell, they undertook a systematic dig in l958 and an archaeological find of the greatest importance was revealed, with priceless treasure trove.

The chapel foundations revealed a medieval apse, altar and nave and nearby a Bronze Age burial ground with the remains of a pre-Norse one: these alone were notable achievements, but then a local schoolboy helping with the dig prized up a stone slab, and there was what has become known as the St Ninianis Treasure.

This was an amazing hoard of silver, bowls, beautifully worked, brooches, a spoon probably used at Communion, and other superbly fashioned items of uncertain origin.

Ownership of the treasure was eventually decided in favour of the Crown, after a lengthy lawsuit to decide whether the Crown could claim ‘treasure trove‘ in Shetland, where Udal law still applies: the treasure is now preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh, and a fine set of replicas placed in Lerwick Museum.

It is generally assumed that the treasure was that of the monks of St Ninian's, buried by them in the face of Viking marauders before they were wiped out and their church destroyed.

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