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.

Folio 285 Recto

Folio 285 recto from the Book of Kells; “Una autem sabbati valde…”
[Now upon the first day of the week…] (St. Luke 24:1).

Folio 202 Verso

Folio 202 verso from the Book of Kells; the Temptation of Christ.

Folio 114 Recto

Folio 114 recto from the Book of Kells; the arrest of Christ.

Folio 188 Recto

Folio 188 recto from the Book of Kells; the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Luke.

Folio 200 Recto

Folio 200 recto from the Book of Kells; (part of) St. Luke’s genealogy of Jesus.

Folio 28 Verso

Folio 28 verso from the Book of Kells. St. Matthew the Evangelist.

Folio 8 Recto

Folio 8 Recto from the Book of Kells; beginning of the Breves causae of the Gospel of St. Matthew.

Folio 34 Recto

Folio 34 recto from the Book of Kells; Chi-Rho page; introducing St. Matthew’s account of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Theft of the Book of Kells

The theft (and eventual recovery less its golden cover) of the Book of Kells is recorded in the Annals of Ulster under the year A.D. 1007.

* * *

The Great Gospel of Colum Cille was wickedly stolen by night from the western sacristy in the great stone church of Cenannas. It was the most precious object of the western world on account of the human ornamentation (?). This Gospel was recovered after two months and twenty nights, its gold having been taken off it and with a sod over it.

Annals of Ulster, U1007.11.

Folio 40 Verso

Folio 40 verso of the Book of Kells; The Beatitudes.

Folio 291 Verso

Folio 291 verso from the Book of Kells; St. John the Evangelist.