Kilchoman Cross

Kilchoman Cross, Plate XXXIV, <em>Sculptured Stones of Scotland</em>, Vol. 2, 1856.
Kilchoman Cross, Plate XXXIV, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.

This parish [Kilchoman] consists of the south-west portion of the island of Islay, known as the Rinns. The church, apparently dedicated to St. Comghan, stood on the west coast, to the south of Loch Guirm. In the surrounding graveyard the present cross stands. Near to it is a fragment of another cross, and in the neighbouring fields are two small crosses of a peculiar type, said to have been two of three crosses which marked the limits of the sanctuary. There are five churches in ruins, to each of which a burying-ground is attached, in some of which specimens of the sculptured slabs so common on the west coast are to be seen. There are also several unsculptured obelisks in the parish, and many fortified sites. Two gold ornaments were found under a large pillar near to Sunderland House, which weighed 22 ½ sovereigns. About thirty years ago several stone coffins, of from 2 ½ to 3 feet in length, were discovered in the conical hills below Sunderland Farm. Some of them contained one or two clay urns; others contained skulls and other human bones.

This monument, which is of the Campbelton type, has on the east face a representation of our Lord on the cross, surrounded by four figures within the disc, and an angel in each arm of the cross. Near the top of the shaft are two figures under a cusped arch, and beneath them an inscription in fourteen lines, mostly illegible. Towards the bottom is a horseman under another arch of like form. The west side is covered with foliated patterns on the shaft, with knot-work on the arms of the cross.

Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.

Kilchoman Cross in the churchyard, behind the ruins of Kilchoman Old Parish Church.
Kilchoman Cross in the churchyard, behind the ruins of Kilchoman Old Parish Church.

This beautiful cross measures 8 feet 4 inches in height, and with the exception of the inscription it is in a very perfect state of preservation, though the design is in places obscured by lichen. An illustration of it appears in Dr. Stuart’s Sculptured Stones of Scotland.

Beginning with the east face we find on the circular head a representation of the crucifixion. The upper part of the cross head is filled with plaited scroll-work, in each of the arms is the figure of an angel, while to the right and left of the crucified Saviour are four figures in the attitude of adoration. The upper figure on the right is winged and below it is a fragment of scroll-work like that at the top. Below this group and at the top of the shaft are two figures in a niche, and these have probably some connection with the inscription immediately below them. The same arrangement of niche and lettering is to be seen on the Campbeltown Cross with which this has many points of similarity.

Diagram of Kilchoman Churchyard from The Carves Stones of Islay. The Kilchoman Cross still stands at the position marked 39.
Diagram of Kilchoman Churchyard from The Carves Stones of Islay. The Kilchoman Cross still stands at the position marked 39.

I think the following can be fairly made out of the inscription. The illustration shows all that can be obtained from a photograph of the cast. The cast itself is naturally easier to make out, though extremely difficult at the best.

Below the inscription there is foliated scroll-work surmounting another niche which contains a mounted figure, and below that again there is a panel of simple but effective interlaced bands.

Inscription on the east face of the Kilchoman Cross, Islay.
Inscription on the east face of the Kilchoman Cross, Islay.

The reverse of the cross head is singularly rich and the combination of bands more elaborate than is generally to be met with. A sketch is given on the next page to show the way in which these bands interlace.

It will be seen that the design consists in part of a series of circles each complete in itself: there are five of these counting from top to bottom, six counting from arm to arm. Again there is a continuous band crossing in the centre and forming four heart-shaped loops, in the direction of the circular segments of the cross head. Again, close to these segments and forming the outer part of the design are eight more loops complete in themselves, not circles this time, but arranged to work into the geometrical pattern already arrived at; within the scolloped pattern formed by the inner edges of these eight loops there is another complete band of an octagon form. The whole design is completed by the scroll which forms into loops at the extremities; this can be traced working its way in and out through the maze of circles and loops about half-way between the octagon band and the edge of the design. It will thus be seen that no less than twenty-three different bands are introduced into this elaborate composition.

Diagram showing scrollwork on the head of Kilchoman Cross, west face.
Diagram showing scrollwork on the head of Kilchoman Cross, west face.

The cross-shaft is adorned with foliated scroll-work which springs from the tails of two animals at the base.

The cross still stands in its original three-stepped pedestal of which the two lower steps are protected with concrete; but the top one is untouched, and at its angles may be seen four curious depressions varying greatly in depth, as one is only a slight hollow while another goes through the entire thickness of the stone.

A pear-shaped stone which tradition says was used to form these depressions is kept at the manse. At one time it lay in one of the holes, but it has had many vicissitudes. Once it was thrown into the sea but in a short time was found again lying on the shore. At another time it was buried in a grave, but before many years had passed it had found its way to the surface. What the object of these holes was is unknown, but a local tradition gives the curious explanation that they were made by expectant mothers anxious to secure male offspring.

— Robert C. Graham, The Carved Stones of Islay, 1895.

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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