Kirkmadrine stones return to Galloway

Kirkmadrine map
Last month, a group of early medieval sculptured stones returned to their home at Kirkmadrine in the Rhinns peninsula, a quiet corner of Galloway. They had spent some time at Historic Scotland in Edinburgh where they were cleaned by specialist conservators. This important work gave other experts an opportunity to re-examine the stones with new technologies such as laser scanning.

Three of the stones were carved in the sixth century and have long been recognised as among the earliest Christian monuments in Britain – perhaps even the oldest. All three are tall monoliths, possibly originating as prehistoric standing-stones. It is believed that they were erected by members of a religious community who established a major monastery at Kirkmadrine.

Two of these monuments commemorate named individuals: Florentius, Mavorius and Viventius. Florentius seems to have his own memorial but the other two appear together on one stone. While Florentius is not specifically identified as a cleric, Mavorius and Viventius are described as sacerdotes (‘senior priests’ or ‘bishops’).

Kirkmadrine stones

The sacerdotes and Florentius stones at Kirkmadrine (from John Stuart’s Sculptured Stones of Scotland).

Little is known of the early religious settlement at Kirkmadrine. Unlike the great monastery at Whithorn, situated on a neighbouring peninsula, Kirkmadrine has left no trace in the surviving chronicles. Yet its sculpture suggests that it was a place of considerable wealth and status. Its monks were overseen by high-ranking clerics who must have secured protection from a local ruler – probably a king whose realm included the Rhinns peninsula. The name of this kingdom, like the story behind the stones, is part of Galloway’s lost Dark Age history.

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The Herald newspaper: Historic stones return to their origins
Historic Scotland: Kirkmadrine stones come home
Visit Scotland: Kirkmadrine Early Christian stones

My previous blogpost on Kirkmadrine: A major monastery?

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2 comments on “Kirkmadrine stones return to Galloway

  1. dearieme says:

    Decades ago I visited the museum in Dumfries where the curator proved a wonderful fount of enthusiasm and information. One of his points impressed me no end: Galloway had been Gaelicised; the place names, personal names, and above all language leave no doubt. Yet there is no historical evidence for it at all; no one wrote down anything that survived.

    Is that still the state of play, or has anything turned up recently?

    • Tim says:

      The Gaelicisation of Galloway is still a bit of a mystery. Proximity to Ireland was always going to leave this region open to influence from the west, and to colonisation as well. Some Gaelic place-names in the Rhinns of Galloway, such as sliabh (‘mountain’) might be as early as the sixth century. But most historians and archaeologists seem to regard the Viking Age as the time when Gaelic made major inroads into South West Scotland. This was the era when the Gall-Gaidhil (Gaelic-speakers with a Viking lifestyle) were roving around the coastlands of the Irish Sea, making settlements and establishing power-centres, Following the collapse of Northumbrian rule around the Solway Firth in the late ninth century, groups of Gall-Gaidhil seem to have arrived to fill the vacuum, bringing Gaelic speech and eventually giving their name to Galloway. However, none of this is really clear-cut, so the date when Gaelic replaced English and Cumbric as the primary language is still a matter of debate.

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