The Coninie Stone

The period 400 to 600 AD was a time when Christianity, the religion of the last Roman emperors, was gaining ground in many parts of Britain at the expense of home-grown pagan beliefs. The spread of Christianity brought an ecclesiastical infrastructure of churches, monasteries, priests and bishops. It also initiated a stonecarving tradition in which crosses and Latin inscriptions were incised on memorials to the dead. Some of the finest examples of this type of sculpture come from Southern Scotland, bearing witness to the growth of Christianity among the Northern Britons in the fifth and sixth centuries. In this blogpost I’ll be highlighting one such monument, the Coninie Stone, which is of particular interest because it commemorates a woman. Only rarely do we find women identified by name on early medieval sculpture, their minimal appearance on inscriptions matching their sparse treatment in contemporary literature.

Coninie Stone

The Coninie Stone formerly lay in the valley of the Manor Water, a tributary of the River Tweed, but is now kept in the Tweeddale Museum at the Chambers Institution in Peebles. It has been known since 1890 when it was associated with a cairn of smaller stones situated on sloping ground beside the Newholm Hope Burn. The cairn was demolished sometime between 1890 and 1934, when the Coninie Stone was transferred to the museum. Measuring just under a metre in length, the stone is an irregular slab of whinstone with a cross and a Latin inscription incised on the flattest side. The two-line inscription begins with the word Coninie, deriving from Coninia, a Celtic female name that may be of Irish provenance. The second word –tirie is incomplete and is missing a letter or two at the beginning. One theory proposes that the absent letters are M and A, thus making martirie (a form of the Latin word for ‘martyr’). An alternative view is that there’s only one missing letter, an E, for Ertirie, with the inscription then commemorating a woman called Coninia Ertiria. The form of lettering and the design of the cross suggest a date in the late sixth century.

Coninie Stone

Whoever she was, Coninia was clearly remembered with affection and respect by the people who commissioned her memorial. She may have been buried inside or beneath the cairn, or her stone may have marked a separate grave nearby. The cross and the Latin inscription tell us that she was a Christian, but this is as much as we can say about her. If her name is indeed of Irish origin, she might not have been a native of the area. Missionaries from Ireland, both male and female, appear to have been active in northern parts of Britain during the sixth century and this could provide a context for her presence in Tweeddale. Alternatively, she may have been a Briton with an Irish name, or someone with a name that isn’t actually Irish at all.

St Gordian's Kirk

St Gordian’s Kirk. Image via Wikimedia Commons © Chris Eilbeck / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

The stone and cairn were found close to a mysterious site traditionally known as St Gordian’s Kirk or St Gorgham’s Chapel. This is marked today by a small enclosure containing a Celtic-style cross (erected in 1873) and an early medieval cross-base. The latter was moved from a location some distance away and is often referred to as St Gordian’s Cross. It has been hollowed out to resemble a baptismal font but the basin was originally the socket for a (now lost) cross-shaft possibly carved in the tenth century. St Gordian’s Kirk has earthwork traces of buildings that, according to local tradition, are the remains of an ancient church. In the absence of a detailed excavation, the date and purpose of these features are unknown, but the prevailing view among archaeologists is that the visible remains look secular rather than ecclesiastical. On the other hand, nearby place-names like Kirkhope and Kirkstead are suggestive of an old church having stood in the locality at some point. The traditional connection with the obscure saint Gordian is also interesting. He was a Christian martyr executed in Italy in 362 but is hardly well-known in Britain. Even if there really was a church at this site in the secluded Manor Valley, we would be left to wonder why it was associated with him. A modern archaeological investigation could perhaps answer some of these questions. At the very least, it might enable us to provide Coninia and her memorial with a little more context.

Manor Valley

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Notes

I visited the Tweeddale Musuem on 19th February 2020. At that time, the Coninie Stone was not on public display, having been moved to a storage area. I am grateful to Wendy at the museum and to Trevor Cowie of the Peeblesshire Archaeological Society for enabling me to see the stone and to take the photograph below. The stone lay on the floor under a tall shelf-unit and was partly obscured by other artefacts that were too heavy to move aside. I managed to crouch down and take this ‘snap’ using the camera on my phone. I will try and get a better-quality image on a future visit!

Coninie stone

For an excellent study of the Early Christian stones of Southern Scotland I recommend the following paper by Dr Katherine Forsyth, Reader in Celtic and Gaelic at the University of Glasgow:
K. Forsyth, ‘Hic Memoria Perpetua: the Inscribed Stones of Sub-Roman Southern Scotland’, pp. 113-34 in S.M. Foster and M. Cross (eds.) Able Minds and Practised Hands: Scotland’s Early Medieval Sculpture in the Twenty-First Century. (Leeds: Society for Medieval Archaeology, 2005)

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Portmahomack Pictish monastery: free e-book

Portmahomack Pictish monastery
Described by one reviewer as “a major landmark in Pictish studies” and by another as “a stunning achievement”, this detailed report on the archaeological excavations at Portmahomack is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the Picts. It is particularly useful for what it reveals of Pictish Christianity, giving insights into the daily lives of monks who inhabited this site in Easter Ross more than a thousand years ago. Published in 2016 by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the report has been made available as a free full-text download. It is one of two scholarly monographs on the Society’s Open Access Digital Books platform, the other being The Scottish Antiquarian Tradition , a collection of essays edited by A.S. Bell.

Portmahomack, situated on the Tarbat Peninsula overlooking the Dornoch Firth, was the location of a major Pictish monastery that reached its high point during the eighth century AD. The monastery was burned in the ninth century, possibly by Viking raiders, and ceased to function around the same time, although the site was re-developed as a trading settlement. This, too, eventually fell out of use. In the early 1100s, long after the end of the Pictish period, the site’s former religious character was revived with the founding of St Colman’s parish church.

A programme of archaeological excavation began in the mid-1990s and continued for more than ten years, unearthing clear evidence of the monastery’s importance as a centre of writing, stone-carving and metalworking. Some of the finds, including fragments of Pictish sculpture, are now displayed at the Tarbat Discovery Centre housed in St Colman’s Church. The Centre is well worth visiting and can also be followed on social media (see links below).

Portmahomack Pictish stone

Fragments of a Pictish cross-slab from Portmahomack (from The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, 1903).

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Links

Martin Carver, Justin Garner-Lahire & Cecily Spall (2016) Portmahomack on Tarbat Ness: changing ideologies in North-East Scotland, sixth to sixteenth century AD (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland) [e-book free download]

Tarbat Discovery Centre is open from April to October. It can be followed on Facebook and Twitter

Joining the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is an excellent way to keep up-to-date with all the exciting news from Scottish archaeology. Members of the Society are known as Fellows and are entitled to use the post-nominal letters FSA Scot. Fellowship is open to anyone who has a keen interest in Scotland’s past. More information on how to apply can be found at the Society’s website.

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Columba – Pilgrim, Priest & Patron Saint

Columba - Pilgrim, Priest & Patron Saint

My biography of St Columba, first published in 2012, now has a re-designed cover. I received half a dozen free copies of the new version last week and am very pleased with how it looks.

The publishers – Birlinn of Edinburgh – have moved the book from their academic imprint ‘John Donald’ to their main stable. Two of my other books – The Picts: A History and The Makers Of Scotland – made the same migration some years ago. It means a slightly reduced size (the John Donald format tends to be larger) but otherwise the book is unchanged.

Columba by Tim Clarkson

Five of my six free copies, posing for a photo after their journey south from Scotland.

The new cover incorporates an image of Columba that I think is one of the most evocative. For me, it captures the saint in a moment of serious reflection, perhaps when his mind was lingering on a matter of sorrow or regret. The image was created in stained glass by Karl Parsons (1884-1934) for a window in St Michael’s Church at Sulhamstead, Berkshire.

Credit for the re-designed cover goes to James Hutcheson of Birlinn whose creative skills are responsible for the covers of all my books.

Columba by Tim Clarkson

The back cover ‘blurb’ and design credits.

Here’s a link to the book’s page at the Birlinn website:
Columba: Pilgrim, Priest & Patron Saint

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The Govan Stones: new discoveries

Govan Stones 2019
A major archaeological find at Govan has been causing quite a buzz in the past week or so. No doubt many of you will already be aware of the news from social media and other sources. The find is indeed exciting: three early medieval carved stones, long assumed to have been lost forever, have been rediscovered in the graveyard of the old parish church.

The discovery happened during a community archaeological project called Stones and Bones which is run by Northlight Heritage, a charity closely involved with the conservation of the church (known as ‘Govan Old’) and its collection of early medieval sculpture. The significance of the new find becomes clear when we look back at the long history of the Govan Stones.

wr_gopc

The story begins a thousand years ago, in the Viking Age, when Govan was a centre of royal power in the kingdom of Strathclyde. In those days, the site of Govan Old was occupied by a church that served the spiritual needs of Strathclyde’s rulers – a powerful dynasty of Britons whose realm extended northward to Loch Lomond and southward across the Solway Firth. The kings with their families and other members of the local elite worshipped at Govan, burying their dead in the churchyard and marking the graves with elaborately carved stones. After the Scottish conquest of Strathclyde in the eleventh century, the line of local kings came to an end but the gravestones remained. In later times, when the old kingdom of the Britons was barely a memory, many of the stones were re-used by prosperous Govan families as memorials for their own deceased. Hence we see the initials of people who died in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries inscribed on a number of stones, overlaying the Viking-Age carvings of crosses and interlace patterns. In the early nineteenth century, the churchyard still contained more than 40 ancient monuments. Most were recumbent cross-slabs, designed to lie flat over graves, but there were other types too, the most impressive being 5 hogbacks and (after its discovery in 1855) a magnificently carved sarcophagus.

Govan Stones

Hogbacks and cross-slabs in the churchyard of Govan Old, c. 1900 [T.C.F. Brotchie]

In the late nineteenth century, Glasgow landowner and politician Sir John Stirling-Maxwell arranged for cast replicas to be made of the early medieval stones. These were then individually photographed, with the images being published by Sir John in 1899 under the title Sculptured Stones in the Kirkyard of Govan. Some years later, the sarcophagus was placed inside the church for safekeeping, to be followed in 1926 by many of the other stones. The rest remained outside. A plan of the churchyard, drawn in 1936 (see below), shows 19 stones lying in a line along the east wall. On the other side of the wall lay one of Govan’s famous shipyards.

Govan Stones

Govan Stones 2019

Aerial view of Govan in the 1930s, showing the churchyard (highlighted in green on this copy of the original), the River Clyde at upper right and the Harland & Wolff shipyard in the centre.

And so we come to one of the darkest chapters in the story of the Govan Stones. In the early 1900s, the shipyard erected huge sheds right up against the churchyard wall. These enormous buildings were demolished in 1973. Unfortunately, the demolition work brought debris crashing down on the ancient stones lying beside the wall. At the time, it was believed that nearly all of these precious monuments had been reduced to shattered fragments amongst the rubble. A few survived, though badly damaged, and are now inside the church.

Fast forward through four decades to 2019 and the Stones and Bones ‘community dig’. One of the dig’s local volunteers was Mark McGettigan, age 14, a pupil of Lourdes Secondary School in Cardonald. Mark was using a probe to search for objects buried beneath the surface near the eastern edge of the churchyard when he made a remarkable discovery:
I was just prodding the ground to see if there was anything there and suddenly it made a noise and I realised I had hit something. Myself and two of the archaeologists worked out the area of the object and started to dig it out and clean it. I wasn’t too sure at the start what it was. But then we checked with the records and we realised it was one of the lost Govan Stones. I am extremely happy, in fact I’m ecstatic at what I helped to uncover.”

The stone turned out to be a cross-slab from the Viking Age, carved in the 10th or 11th century. Nor was it a lone discovery: another two slabs were also found. All three have been matched to their corresponding photographs in the Stirling Maxwell survey, published 120 years ago, and identified as ’30’, ’38’ and ’40’ according to Sir John’s classification of the Govan monuments. The composite image at the top of this blogpost shows the three photographs grouped together (by me) but in the original 1899 publication they appear on separate pages.

Conservation and analysis by specialists are the essential next steps for these important relics of Scotland’s ancient past before they can be put on public display. In the meantime, it is quite possible that other stones – hitherto thought to have been reduced to rubble – survived the disaster of 1973 and still await rediscovery. We shall see what happens in the coming months but these are certainly interesting times for Govan’s ancient heritage.

Below are some photographs of the new finds, reproduced here by kind permission of archaeologist Ingrid Shearer from Northlight Heritage.

Govan Stones 2019

Uncovering one of the three cross-slabs (Mark McGettigan kneeling at top right).


Govan Stones 1899

Frazer Capie (Riverside Museum) and Ingrid Shearer (Northlight Heritage) using the 1899 survey to identify the three slabs.


Govan Stones 2019

An early medieval masterpiece revealed (the stone shown as ‘No. 40’ in the picture at the top of this blogpost).


Govan Stones 2019

Photogrammetric recording by Dr Megan Kasten of the University of Glasgow.

Finally, a message for those of you who enjoy getting out and about to see Pictish stones and similar ancient stuff. If you haven’t yet visited the collection at Govan Old, you’re missing out on one of Britain’s premier ‘Dark Age’ attractions. The Govan Stones are an absolute must-see for anyone who has an interest in Viking-Age sculpture, Celtic art or Scotland’s early history. Govan was the capital of the kingdom of Strathclyde, the last realm of the Cumbri or Northern Britons. Hardly anyone seems to know about this kingdom, even though it was a major player on the turbulent political stage of the ninth to eleventh centuries. Its inhabitants are the most obscure, the most enigmatic of Scotland’s early peoples. If you think the Picts and their symbol-stones have an aura of mystery, see what you make of the Northern Britons and their hogbacks. Stepping inside Govan Old feels like entering the heart of a strange, forgotten realm that somehow got left out of the school history books. The exciting new discoveries by Mark McGettigan and his fellow community diggers have brought a little bit more of this long-lost kingdom into focus.

Kingdom of Strathclyde

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Notes & Acknowledgments

My thanks to Frazer Capie for telling me about the discovery and to Ingrid Shearer for letting me use the press release images and other media information.

The Govan Stones and the churchyard have Scheduled Monument status and are protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The Stones and Bones community dig has scheduled monument consent from Historic Environment Scotland.

The Govan Heritage Trust is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to secure the future of the church and its rare collection of early medieval sculpture. Anyone wishing to support the Trust can contribute via this link.

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Links

The Govan Stones Project has a website and can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

Other useful Twitter accounts for news and updates about the latest discoveries:
Northlight Heritage
Love Archaeology
Dr Megan Kasten
Dr Kasten has produced a superb 3D image of one of the newly unearthed cross-slabs.

And, lastly, a couple of media reports, one from Scotland and one from the USA:
Lost Glasgow
New York Post

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Early Christianity in Glen Lyon

Next week, on Thursday 30 August at 1.00pm, Dr Anouk Busset of the University of Glasgow’s archaeology department will be giving a talk at Govan Old Parish Church. This is an event I would very much like to get to but unfortunately can’t make it. Those lucky enough to attend will hear Anouk speak on the following topic:

The Early Christian landscape of Glen Lyon: investigating sacred movement in the Early Middle Ages

Glen Lyon is a place I’ve visited a few times. It’s a scenic gem – a long valley in the Highlands with picturesque views of the surrounding hills. It’s also an area rich in history and archaeology. Cairns, stone circles and standing stones bear witness to the glen-dwellers of prehistory. Those same folk probably held sacred the majestic old yew of Fortingall at the eastern end of the glen, a tree that is still alive thousands of years later.

Fortingall Yew

The Fortingall Yew in the early 1800s.

Christianity eventually supplanted the local pagan religion, bringing a new package of beliefs and rituals. At Fortingall, the village church has long been assumed to occupy the site of an ancient predecessor, perhaps a monastery founded by missionaries from Iona. Fragments of finely carved Pictish cross-slabs are displayed in the present building while other, simpler Early Christian monuments can be seen outside. In September 2017, to widespread dismay, a Celtic hand-bell dating from the seventh or eighth century was stolen from a niche inside the church.

Further along Glen Lyon, a standing stone known as St Adamnan’s Cross bears the name of the famous abbot of Iona who died in 704. According to local tradition, Adamnan (Adomnán) undertook missionary work among the glen’s pagan inhabitants and performed a miracle that the monolith supposedly commemorates.

Anouk Busset gained her PhD from the University of Glasgow in 2017 and is one of the new generation of up-and-coming archaeologists whose work is making a difference to our understanding of Scotland’s early medieval past. This year she was part of a team undertaking a project in Glen Lyon, hence the theme of next week’s event at Govan Old. Her talk is sure to be enthralling, and I recommend it to any Senchus readers who want to know more about the Early Christian archaeology of the Highlands. It’s free to all, with no need to book a seat in advance (and with free refreshments too).

Anouk Busset's talk at Govan Old

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LINKS

Anouk Busset on Twitter

Jo Woolf’s articles on St Adamnan’s Cross and the Fortingall Yew.

Website of the Govan Stones at Govan Old Parish Church

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Bede’s World reborn

St Paul's Church, Jarrow.

St Paul’s Church, Jarrow.


The Venerable Bede was an English monk who spent almost his whole life at the dual monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. He wrote about the evolution of early English Christianity in his best-known work, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in AD 731. Despite its title the book is far more than a religious chronicle and contains a wealth of information on kings, kingdoms and politics in Dark Age Britain. Bede is one of our key sources on Pictish history. In fact, his book is a useful one to wave around whenever someone asks “Do we really know anything about the Picts?”

Bede

Bede on his deathbed in AD 735 (a painting by James Doyle Penrose).

Jarrow is situated on the south bank of the River Tyne. Its parish church, St Paul’s, stands on the site of the Anglo-Saxon monastery and preserves some of the original stonework. Nearby stands Jarrow Hall, an eighteenth-century mansion which opened to the public as the Bede Monastery Museum in 1974. Nearly 20 years later, in 1993, a new museum and heritage centre called Bede’s World was unveiled. This had a “living history” aspect which included representations of Dark Age farming with real animals of the type an Anglo-Saxon monk would have seen. I visited Bede’s World a couple of times and always enjoyed it. As well as the historical displays and archaeological relics it had a nice gift shop and cafe (the latter being located in Jarrow Hall). Beyond the old monastic boundary lay the post-industrial landscape of Tyneside but this just seemed to add something to the overall experience.

Anglo-Saxon window at St Paul's Church, Jarrow.

Anglo-Saxon window in the wall of St Paul’s Church at Jarrow.

However, the recession of the early twenty-first century has had a big impact on heritage tourism sites, especially those that rely on government funds to supplement visitor revenues. Bede’s World was one of the places that fell victim to the cutbacks. Despite attracting more than 70,000 visitors per year, this unique and exciting venue was forced to close its doors in February 2016.

However, the story did not end there. A few weeks after the closure, some very encouraging tidings were heard. South Tyneside Council, the landowner of the Hall and museum, announced that the venue had been saved from oblivion. A charity called Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle would be taking over as the new operator.

Things have moved further along in the intervening months. Last week it was reported that the site will re-open in October as “Jarrow Hall – Anglo Saxon Farm, Village and Bede Museum.”

This is all good news. I look forward to seeing the new version of Bede’s World in the autumn. If it’s even half as good as the old one it will be well worth a visit.

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Bede

The sad tale of the closure of Bede’s World and the rather happier story that followed can be traced via the links below.

Bede’s World: Cash crisis forces closure of Jarrow tourist attraction

Bede’s World attraction in Jarrow saved from closure

Former Bede’s World museum to reopen as Jarrow Hall

More links….
Jarrow Hall – Anglo Saxon Farm, Village and Bede Museum
Jarrow Hall on Twitter
St Paul’s Church, Jarrow

Wearmouth & Jarrow: Northumbrian Monasteries in a Historic Landscape, a book by Sam Turner, Sarah Semple and Alex Turner (published in 2013).

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The Kilmorie Cross (again)

Kilmorie Cross
This magnificent cross-slab from the Viking Age stands in the churchyard of Kirkcolm in the Rhinns of Galloway. I blogged about it two years ago, reproducing a nineteenth-century drawing (see below) together with photographs from Allen and Anderson’s Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (published in 1903). Here’s an extract from my description of the carvings:

‘On one side, the hammerhead cross carries a rough representation of the Crucified Christ. Another figure stands below, flanked by two birds, a set of blacksmith’s tongs and an unidentified rectangular shape. It has been suggested that this lower figure is the Scandinavian hero Sigurd, juxtaposed with the Crucifixion to highlight the mingling of pagan and Christian beliefs in a region colonised by Vikings. On the other side of the slab, the hammerhead cross is decorated with spiral patterns, below which are two horns, a coiled serpent and a panel of interlace terminating in a pair of snakes.’

Kilmorie Cross

Illustration from J. Stuart’s Sculptured Stones of Scotland

After describing the stone I added these words: Having not yet visited the Kilmorie Cross I don’t have any photographs of my own to accompany this blogpost. This situation can now be remedied. A recent holiday in Galloway has given me an opportunity to see the monument in all its glory.

Kilmorie Cross

The hammerhead cross on the front of the slab.

Kilmorie Cross

Interlace patterns on the front face.

Kilmorie Cross

The rear of the slab.

Kilmorie Cross

The Christ figure.

Kilmorie Cross

The pagan figure (possibly representing Sigurd?)

Kirkcolm Church, Galloway

Kirkcolm Church

Kilmorie Cross

Visitors to the church are invited to view its Dark Age monument.

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Photographs in this blogpost are copyright © B Keeling.

My original post on the Kilmorie Cross can be found via this link.

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The Over Kirkhope Stone

Over Kirkhope stone
This curious piece of Early Christian sculpture was found in the mid-nineteenth century at Over Kirkhope, a farm in the valley of the Ettrick Water in the Scottish Borders. It was discovered by Jim Elliot, a local shepherd, in a field that had once been an old burial ground. The stone is one of the oldest Christian monuments in Scotland and was probably carved in the fifth or sixth century. It is a roughly shaped pillar of sandstone, some 4 feet tall, with a human figure – usually interpreted as male – carved near the top. A small cross is inscribed on the front of his tunic and the letters PP can be seen in a rectangle above his head. His arms are raised in what appears to be the ancient way of praying, hence he is usually identified as an ‘Orans’ figure – an image in Christian art representing the soul of a dead person who, having gone to Heaven, prays for the souls of the living.

The burial ground may have been associated with a very early church and, although there are no visible traces of such a structure, the first element of the place-name Kirkhope is certainly suggestive. A few hundred yards to the north – according to tradition – there once stood a chapel. This may have been built on the site of something far older, perhaps even a small wooden church dating from c.500 AD. Only a modern archaeological survey could shed more light. In the meantime, we now have plenty of interesting food for thought, courtesy of renowned local historian Walter Elliot whose great-grandfather discovered the Over Kirkhope stone. Walter undertook his own ground-based survey in September 2015 and his report can be viewed at Richard Strathie’s Border Archaeology website (see the link below).

The stone is now at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. The close-up of the Orans figure at the top of this blogpost is taken from an illustration in Allen and Anderson’s Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (1903). Here is the original illustration which shows the shape of the whole pillar:

Over Kirkhope stone

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Links

Border Archaeology – Over Kirkhope: the story so far by Walter Elliot

National Museums of Scotland – database record for the Over Kirkhope stone

Over Kirkhope

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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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Links

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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The Northern Picts Project

Tarbat Old Parish Church, Portmahomack

Tarbat Old Parish Church, Portmahomack, Easter Ross (© B Keeling)


The Northern Picts Project is a collaborative venture involving the University of Aberdeen and the Tarbat Discovery Centre in Easter Ross. The main focus of research is the archaeology of Fortriu, a major Pictish kingdom that was once believed to lie in southern Perthshire. In 2006, a groundbreaking article by Alex Woolf suggested that Fortriu lay further north, beyond The Mounth (the eastern part of the Grampian Mountains). Woolf’s revised geography has generally been accepted, with the result that the kingdom’s heartland is now seen as Moray and Easter Ross rather than Strathearn.

As well as investigating the archaeology of Fortriu, the Northern Picts Project also looks at the kingdom’s history. This is the topic of A Historical Introduction to the Northern Picts, written by Nicholas Evans and issued by the project as the first in a series of publications.

One area of particular interest for the project is the Tarbat Peninsula. This contains not only the major Pictish monastery of Portmahomack – reputedly founded by St Colman in the seventh century – but also a number of hillforts and carved stones. The site of the monastery is now occupied by Tarbat Old Parish Church, now home to the Tarbat Discovery Centre – an award-winning museum and heritage venue.

The wider context of the Northern Picts Project is an international study called Pathways to Power: Rise of the Early Medieval Kingdoms of the North which encompasses a broad swathe of North European peoples and cultures. This larger project enables historians and archaeologists to consider how the early kingdoms of Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and elsewhere interacted with one another as they evolved during the first millennium AD.

Further information can be found via the links below.

Northern Picts Project
Tarbat Discovery Centre [follow on Twitter @TarbatMuseum]
Pathways to Power: Rise of the Early Medieval Kingdoms of the North
A Historical Introduction to the Northern Picts [book by Nicholas Evans]
Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts [book by Martin Carver]

Reference:
Alex Woolf, ‘Dun Nechtain, Fortriu and the geography of the Picts’ Scottish Historical Review 85 (2006), 182-201.

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