'Bana Thighearna nan Eilean' ('Our Lady of the Isles') – Outer Hebrides, Scotland - Atlas Obscura

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'Bana Thighearna nan Eilean' ('Our Lady of the Isles')

When a missile testing site was proposed near this site in the Outer Hebrides, this statue was commissioned in response. 

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On South Uist, one of the islands of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides archipelago, you can find a huge sculpture of a Madonna and Child. This is the work of Scottish artist Hew Lorimer.

Outer Hebridean culture is defined to some degree by religion, especially Christianity. The archipelago is roughly divided along the middle of the island of Benbecula into a northern Protestant half and a southern Catholic one. The Protestant areas are well known for their Sabbath, where every Sunday is marked by the closure of most businesses and a general atmosphere of inactivity. South Uist is immediately south of Benbecula and as such, it can be seen as a gateway into the Sabbath-free Catholic half of the islands. Generally speaking, images of the Madonna have been much more popular in Catholicism than Protestantism, especially around the times of the schisms between both sects of Christianity. But over time, depictions of virgins and saints have lost their implications as idolatrous for many Protestant communities, including a large population of the Outer Hebrides.

This sculpture, known in English as Our Lady of the Isles, and in Gaelic as Bana Thighearna nan Eilean, could actually be seen as a symbol of unity for both communities of these islands. In the 1950s, the Ministry of Defense planned to use existing military facilities to install a missile testing range in this area. Members of both Protestant and Catholic groups that opposed the range were rallied by Father John Morrison and, after a fundraising effort, the decision was made to commission the sculpture.

The missile testing range would go ahead, although the sculpture is located within sight of it. Despite earlier disapproval, the range has now become a major employer in the area, and its possible closure is hotly debated whenever the issue has been brought up in the 21st century.

During this same period, while still among the most Christian areas in Scotland, the demographics of the Outer Hebrides have gone through changes. As a result of increasing diversity, the United Kingdom’s northernmost mosque was opened on the Isle of Lewis in 2018, and serves as a hub for Muslims in the Outer Hebrides.

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