Visit the Govan Stones

Govan Jordanhill Cross

Copyright © Tom Manley Photography


Last week saw the official unveiling of the Govan Stones in their new positions, following a major project to improve their display and interpretation. This stunning collection of early medieval sculpture has now re-opened for the summer season and can be visited free of charge. The 31 monuments include the magnificent Govan Sarcophagus, carved from a single block of sandstone and depicting a hunting scene reminiscent of Pictish examples. Similarly impressive are five hogback gravestones – traditionally associated with the Vikings – and the enigmatic Sun Stone.
Govan hogback stones

Copyright © Tom Manley Photography


What makes the Govan collection unique is that it represents the stonecarving tradition of the Strathclyde Britons, a people whose role in Scottish history is frequently overlooked. The Britons are less well-known, for instance, than their Pictish neighbours, despite playing an equally important part in the shaping of medieval Scotland. Govan was a major religious and ceremonial centre for the kings of Strathclyde at the height of their power in the 9th-11th centuries.
Govan Sun Stone

Copyright © Tom Manley Photography


This fine assemblage of ‘Dark Age’ Celtic sculpture is housed in the old parish church (known as Govan Old) on the south bank of the River Clyde. The church, which occupies a site of Christian worship reaching back to the fifth century, sits in a distinctive heart-shaped graveyard. It is easily accessible to visitors arriving by car or public transport, or on foot from the Riverside Museum on the opposite shore (via a free ferry service running until 11 August 2013). A selection of books and leaflets can be purchased inside the church, and guided tours of the sculpture are available. Refreshments can be found nearby in the excellent Cafe 13 which has recently moved to a new location at Govan Cross, just across the road from the subway station.

So, if you’re visiting Glasgow in the next couple of months, or simply passing through the south side of the city with a few hours to spare, make a short detour and visit the old parish church beside the river. If you’re an admirer of Celtic art and ancient carved stones, and you’re planning a trip to Scotland this summer, be sure to add the Govan collection to your ‘must see’ list.

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Opening times for Summer 2013: Saturday to Thursday, 1pm to 4pm.
Entry is Free.
See the Govan Stones website for further information.

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Many thanks to Tom Manley for permission to use his brilliant photographs, which can also be seen in this gallery at his website.

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3 comments on “Visit the Govan Stones

  1. Erica says:

    I in fact when a couple weeks ago even though I’d been years ago before the remodel and it was well worth it.

    For those on the lookout, one of the stones, theoretically one of the “recumbents” that has been stood up against the wall, has an upside-down scene on one side with a man seated in a chair (and I think another man standing over him). Given that even if the stone were placed in a recumbent position the scene would be sidewise–not much improvement over upside-down–there is now speculation that it may have been the lower shaft of a cross. The new lighting apparently makes the scene far easier to spot, but it is still essentially in a crack between two stones making it somewhat difficult to see clearly. I’ve yet to find out if my attempts at photographing it came out.

    Also, when I saw the Sun Stone I couldn’t help but be reminded of this medieval manuscript: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beinecke_library/4382669434/in/set-72157623494993704/ This depiction of the “sun” (yes, look through the whole mss if you doubt my assertion that this is the sun; I believe my identification is sound even if you could be forgiven for thinking it was a cthuloid squid-creature ready to devour the world) is surely no stranger than one which radiates squirming snakes. Yes, I know the Sun Stone may not represent the sun at all. Probably doesn’t in fact. But the parallel to the manuscript is *funny* if entirely coincidental.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for visiting, Erica. I’m intrigued to know which stone you refer to in the first part of your comment. I’m guessing it’s the one known as ‘no.29’ with a panel depicting a seated figure and a cloaked standing figure, this being tentatively identified as a biblical scene (Samuel anointing David as king of Israel). The idea may have been copied from elsewhere, such as Kinnitty in Ireland where a 9th century cross has an almost identical panel. The two are illustrated together on page 50 of Govan and its Early Medieval Sculpture (1994).

      I agree that the object in the Rothschild Canticles has to be the sun, but the rays are oddly serpentine and the parallel with Govan’s Sun Stone is indeed interesting.

  2. […] it over to the tenth-eleventh century Govan Stones on exhibit at the old Govan Church, as urged by Tim Clarkson of Senchus, whose books were on prominent display in the entry […]

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