Drawing a Pictish symbol

John Romilly Allen

John Romilly Allen (1847-1907)

Whenever someone adds a comment here at Senchus, a small picture or ‘avatar’ shows beside their name. These images are generated automatically, unless the person already has a WordPress account of their own with an avatar attached to it. My own avatar is a representation of the ‘Crescent & V-rod’, a Pictish symbol, which I also use on my Twitter profile. I’ve been using this for about 7 years. It’s my own variant on the symbol and was created on a computer using Photoshop.


If I was more artistic I could quite happily spend time designing variants of other symbols, perhaps even building up a stock of avatars that I could then rotate around my social media profiles. In the absence of such a talent, I simply resort to admiring the artwork of others, most notably John Romilly Allen. Today, no new book on the Pictish symbols is complete without a selection of Allen’s fine drawings. The originals were published more than a century ago in ECMS (The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland), a comprehensive survey of Scotland’s Dark Age sculpture compiled by Allen himself and Joseph Anderson.

I’ve always liked Allen’s distinctive style which is characterised by bold shapes in black ink on a plain white background. It really makes the Pictish symbols stand out. In this blogpost I’ve reproduced a few examples of his drawings from ECMS. These show four Pictish stones from north-east Scotland and one from Orkney, the common link between them being the Crescent & V-rod symbol.

Pictish Stone Dingwall

Dingwall, Easter Ross (front and rear of stone).

Pictish Stone Inverurie

Inverurie, Aberdeenshire.

Pictish Stone Rosemarkie

Rosemarkie, Easter Ross (rear of cross-slab).

Pictish Stone Craigton

Craigton, Sutherland.

Pictish Stone Paplay

Paplay, South Ronaldsay, Orkney (front and rear of stone).

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J.R. Allen & J. Anderson (1903) The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh)
[Available as a 2-volume reprint from the Pinkfoot Press, Brechin]

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10 comments on “Drawing a Pictish symbol

  1. Jo Woolf says:

    I’ve probably seen Allen’s work without realising how long ago it was done. I shall have to look out for the book, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland!

  2. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Tim. I like your Pictish symbol as it is. But I also like your idea of using other symbols.

  3. dearieme says:

    Distant relatives of alchemists’ symbols?

  4. Helen McKay says:

    Yes they are so beautiful, no doubt. But they’re going to be even more spectacular when we figure out what they mean. After all, that’s why these stones have been left in the landscape by the Picts, for us to see and understand and know. And they wouldn’t have gone to all that effort for us for nothing. This symbol is the most common symbol of all, about 20% of all CI symbols, and twice the number of the next two most frequent symbols, the beast and the double-diskZ. But with CII stones, it reduces to roughly the same frequency as the other two. Does that give us any clue?

  5. dearieme says:

    Is it even known whether the symbols are Christian or Pagan? In era, I mean, not necessarily in intent.

  6. Helen McKay says:

    That’s a great question to begin with. I fear that many just take it for granted that the CI (without a cross) and CII (with a cross) are pagan and Christian respectively – but its not a given, it really does have to be asked and answered. And, having spent many years looking for that answer, all I can say for sure is that the answer isn’t a simple one. Although I now think that it is correct to think of those with crosses as Christian, its not something I can say for absolute sure.

  7. Tim says:

    My own view on the Class 1 symbol stones is that they’re connected in some way with Christianity and with an awareness of Christian literacy but, as previous comments by Helen and other people have pointed out, the date of the carvings is too uncertain to be sure of anything about their context or meaning.

  8. dearieme says:

    Off the point, but irresistible. More things in heaven and earth ….


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