Nigg Stone Restored

In April of 2013, restoration work on the Nigg Stone, an incomplete Class II Pictish cross-slab, perhaps dating to the end of the 8th century, was completed in Edinburgh, and the stone returned to stand in a room at the west end of the parish church of Nigg, Easter Ross.

"Front" of the Nigg Stone, an incomplete Class II Pictish cross-slab, perhaps dating to the end of the 8th century, Old Nigg Church, Nigg, Easter Ross, Scotland.
“Front” of the Nigg Stone, an incomplete Class II Pictish cross-slab, perhaps dating to the end of the 8th century, Old Nigg Church, Nigg, Easter Ross, Scotland.

The cross-slab, one of the finest surviving Pictish carved stones, formerly stood in the kirkyard of Old Nigg Church (itself largely rebuilt in 1626). Blown down and shattered by a storm in 1727, it was set up against the east gable of the church. The stone was broken once more while being moved to allow access to a burial vault and subsequently re-erected upside down. Later it was moved yet again to an open-sided porch at west end of the church, from whence it was finally taken inside to a room immediately outside the vestry some years ago.

Detail of boss and serpent design on the Nigg Stone.
Detail of boss and serpent design on the Nigg Stone.

The upper and lower parts were crudely joined together using metal staples (now removed), and the shattered intervening portion — a chunk of which was discovered in a nearby burn in 1998 — was discarded. In 2011, Old Nigg Trust secured a funding package of £178,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish Government, and the European Community Highland LEADER 2007-2013 Programme to restore the monument.

Obverse of the Nigg Stone (pre-reconstruction) as depicted in Sculptured Stones of Scotland, 1856.
Obverse of the Nigg Stone (pre-reconstruction) as depicted in Sculptured Stones of Scotland, 1856.

The Nigg Stone bears an elaborately decorated cross in high relief on the ‘front’ and a figural scene on the reverse. This scene is extremely complicated and made even more difficult to interpret by deliberate defacement. Among the depictions are two Pictish symbols: an eagle above a Pictish Beast, a sheep, the oldest evidence of a European triangular harp, and hunting scenes.

Reverse of the Nigg Stone (pre-reconstruction) as depicted in Sculptured Stones of Scotland, 1856.
Reverse of the Nigg Stone (pre-reconstruction) as depicted in Sculptured Stones of Scotland, 1856.

The carvings include a unique illustration of a miracle, the first monks, SS. Paul and Anthony, receiving bread in the desert from a raven sent by God: and David, King and Psalmist, saving a sheep from a lion, his harp (modelled on a contemporary Pictish instrument) beside his shoulder. The style echoes that of the the sculptured crosses on Iona, as well as the Hiberno-Saxon/Insular style of the Book of Kells, and illustrated manuscripts of Lindisfarne in Northumbria and Durrow in Ireland.

Author: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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