St. Luke Portrait from the Lichfield Gospels

Portrait of St. Luke (perhaps also representing High King of Ireland, Flaithbertach mac Loingsig, r. 728-734 (723-729), † 765), Lichfield Gospels, p. 218.
Portrait of St. Luke (perhaps also representing High King of Ireland, Flaithbertach mac Loingsig, r. 728-734 (723-729), † 765), Lichfield Gospels, p. 218.

Grave Slabs at Keills

Two grave slabs at Keills, Knapdale, Plate LVII from Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Volume II, Aberdeen: printed for the Spalding Club, 1856.
Two grave slabs at Keills, Knapdale, Plate LVII from Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Volume II, Aberdeen: printed for the Spalding Club, 1856.

The grave slabs here represented are in the ruined chapel at Keills, Knapdale. Both of them are early and interesting specimens of the class to which they belong. In each case the two-handed sword is obviously a portrait of the real weapon. On the first there appear on one side of the sword a harp, comb, shears, and mirror, besides an object which may be a case or cover, and a smaller figure which may be meant for a box containing some toilet appendage. A surrounding inscription is almost entirely defaced.

The second slab has on one side of the sword an inscription, and on the other a deer-hunt and some grotesque creatures, with a galley at the bottom.

Keills Chapel, Knapdale.
Keills Chapel, Knapdale.

The simple, rectangular Keills Chapel, dedicated to St. Cormac, served as the parish church of Knapdale until the parish was split into two in 1734. It is one of few churches from the 1100s and 1200s surviving in Argyll. What sets it apart is what it contains: a sculptural feast of almost forty carved stones, ranging in date from the 8th to the 16th century. Pre-eminent among them is the 8th-century Keills Cross.

Brecbannoch

The Monymusk Reliquary, Plate 11 from Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Volume II, Aberdeen: printed for the Spalding Club, 1856.
The Monymusk Reliquary, Plate 11 from Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Volume II, Aberdeen: printed for the Spalding Club, 1856.

BRECBANNOCH. Between the years 1204 and 1211, King William the Lion granted to the monks of Arbroath “custodiam de Brechbennoche,” and “cum predicta Brachbennoche terram de Forglint datam Deo et sancto Columbe et le Brachbennache,” on the tenure “faciendo inde servicium quod michi in exercitu debetur de terra ilia cum predicta Brachbennache.” This grant is recited in the charter of Arbroath, passed by the same king in 1211-1214; and substantially repeated in a confirmation by King Alexander II. in 1214-1218. In 1314 the convent grants to Malcolm of Monimusk “totam terram nostram de Forglen que pertinet ad Bracbennach cum omnibus pertinenciis suis una cum jure patronatus ecclesie ejusdem terre.  . . . Dictus vero Malcolmus et heredes sui facient in exercitu domini Regis nomine nostro servicium pro dicta terra quod pertinet ad Bracbennach quociens opus fuerit.” From the Monimusks the lands of Forglen, with the custody of the Bracbennach, passed by inheritance to the Urrys and the Frasers, in the latter of which families they were found in 1388. In 1411 they were surrendered to the convent, and about 1420 they were conferred on Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum. In 1847 [sic; perhaps 1478?] they had passed to his grandson, who held them of the abbot and convent by service of ward and relief, “ferendi vexillum de Brekbennach in exercitu Regis,” and the payment of the annual rent of 40 shillings. In 1481 Alexander Irvine did homage for these lands and purtenances to the abbot, who “dixit et constituit ut tenentes regalitatis dicti monasterii de Aberbrothoc ubicumque existentes cum dicto Alexandro ad exercitum domini nostri Regis sub le Brecbennoch videlicet sub vexillo dictorum abbatis et conventus meabunt et equitabunt cum requisiti fuerint per dictum dominum abbatem et conventum dicti monasterii et suos successores pro defensione Regis et regni.” In 1483 Alexander Irvine had a charter of the lands of Forgone, the the advowson of the church “faciendo in exercitu domini nostri Regis servicium de le Brekbannach debitum et consuetum.” And lastly, in 1494 it was found that Alexander Irvine was the lawful heir of Alexander Irvine of Drum, his father, in the lands of Forglen, with the advowson of the church, held as above. From these notices we learn that this reliquary was a banner, and held so sacred in the beginning of the thirteenth century that it was named in the dedication clause of the earliest charter. Also, that it was coupled with St. Columba’s name, not because the abbey of Arbroath was under his invocation, for it was under that of St. Thomas of Canterbury; nor because he was patron saint of the parish, for St. Adamnan was reputed to be so; but, as we may conceive, because this banner was in some way connected with St. Columba s history, either by use or blessing. Possibly it was like the Vexillum Sancti Cuthberti, so fatal to the Scots at Neville’s Cross.

Ther did appeare to Johne Fossour, the Prior of the Abbey at Durham, a vision commanding him to take the holie Corporax Cloth, which was within the corporax, wherewith Saint Cuthbert did cover the chalice, when he used to say masse, and to put the same hole relique, like unto a Banner, upon a spare point.

The name Brecbannach seems to be formed from breac beannaighthe, “maculosum benedictum,” and denoted something like the bratacha breac-mergeada, pallia maculatorum vexillorum, which were carried in the battle of Magh Rath. The Brecbannach probably served a double purpose, being, like the Banner of Cuthbert, “shewed and carried in the abbey on festivall and principall daies,” and also “presented and carried to any battle, as occasion should serve.” Whence King William obtained the reliquary is not stated. Probably it had been kept in the parish of Forglen by the hereditary tenants of the church lands. Between 1172 and 1180 the king granted to the Canons of Holyrood the rights, tithes, and obventions of four churches in Cantyre, which had previously been enjoyed by the abbey of Hy; and his grant of this reliquary, with its appurtenances, to Arbroath, may have been a transfer of a like nature.

— Dr. William Reeves in the Introduction to his translation of St. Adomnán’s Life of Saint Columba, 1874.

 

Foundation of the Monastery of Deer

Folio 3 of the Book of Deer (Leabhar Dhèir) contains a continuation of the Gospel According to St. Matthew and a Scottish Gaelic account of the foundation of the Monastery of Deer by SS. Columba and Drostan.

Colum Cille & Drostán mac Cosgreg a dalta tángator a hÍ mar ro falseg Dia doib gonic’ Abbordoboir, & Bede cruthnec robo mormær Buchan ar a ginn; & ess é ro thidnaig doib in gathraig-sain in saere go bráith ó mormaer & ó thosec. Tángator as a athle-sen in cathraig ele, & do-raten ri Colum Cille sí, iar fa llán do rath Dé. Acus do-rodloeg ar in mormær .i. Bede go-ndas tabrad dó, & ní tharat. Acus ro gab mac dó galar, iar n-ére na glérec, & robo marb act mad bec. Iar sen do-chuid in mormaer d’attac na glérec go ndéndaes ernacde lesin mac go ndísad slánte dó; & do-rat i n-edbairt doib ua Cloic in Tiprat gonice Chloic Pette Mec-Garnait. Do-rónsat i n-ernacde, & tánic slá dó. Iar sen do-rat Collum Cille do Drostán in chadraig-sen, & ro-s benact, & fo-rácaib in mbréther, ge bé tísad ris, ná bad blienec buadacc. Tángator déara Drostán ar scarthain fri Collum Cille. Ro laboir Colum Cille, ‘Bed Déar a anim ó shunn imacc.’

Columba and Drostán son of Coscrach, his disciple, came from Iona, as God guided them, to Aberdour; and Bede the Pict was mormaer of Buchan on their arrival; and it is he who bestowed on them that monastery, in freedom till Doomsday from mormaer and toísech. They came after that to the other monastery, and it pleased Columba, for it was full of the grace of God. And he begged the mormaer, that is, Bede, that he should give it to them, and he did not. And a son of his took a sickness, after the clerics had been refused, and was all but dead. Thereupon the mormaer went to beseech the clerics that they should make a prayer on behalf of the boy, that health might come to him; and he gave to them land as a grant from Cloch in Tiprat as far as Cloch Peitte Meic-Garnait. They made the prayer, and health came to him. Thereupon Columba gave Drostán that monastery, and blessed it, and left the curse that whoever should go against it should not be full of years or of success. Drostán’s tears [déra] came as he was parting from Columba. Columba said, ‘Let Deer be its name from this on.’

Book of Deer.

Derrynaflan Paten

This composite silver paten, was discovered on 17 February 1980, near Killenaule, County Tipperary, as part of the Derrynaflan Hoard, a collection of five liturgical vessels, including a silver chalice and bronze strainer, dating from the VIII to IX centuries. The paten was assembled from more than 300 pieces. The dish is made of beaten silver which is soldered and stitched with wire to a bronze rim. Twelve curved gilt-bronze frames on the rim each contain two gold filigree panels and a central decorative stud. These frames are attached to each other by bronze rivets, the heads of which are concealed under twelve glass and enamel studs. Some of the filigree panels have abstract patterns, and human and animal motifs are also seen. A number of panels depict pairs of kneeling men placed back to back. Derrynaflan, the site of an early Irish abbey, is a small island of dry land situated in a surrounding area of peat bogs, in the townland of Lurgoe, Co. Tipperary, northeast of Cashel.

Stowe Missal: Folio 1 Recto

Folio 1 recto (incipit of the Gospel of St. John) from the Stowe Missal (MS D II 3, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin).
Folio 1 recto (incipit of the Gospel of St. John) from the Stowe Missal (MS D II 3, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin).

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.

Cover of the St. Cuthbert Gospel

The original tooled red goatskin binding is the earliest surviving intact Western binding, and the virtually unique survivor of decorated Insular leatherwork. The decoration of the front cover includes colour, and the main motif is raised, which is unique among the few surviving Early Medieval bindings. The panels of geometrical decoration with two-stranded interlace closely relate to Insular illuminated manuscripts, and can be compared to the carpet pages found in these. Elements of the design also relate to Anglo-Saxon metalwork in the case of the general origin of interlace in manuscripts, and Coptic and other East Mediterranean designs.

Ardagh Chalice

The Ardagh Chalice is a large, two-handled silver cup, decorated with gold, gilt bronze, brass, lead pewter and enamel, which has been assembled from 354 separate pieces; this complex construction is typical of early Christian Irish metalwork. The main body of the chalice is formed from two hemispheres of sheet silver are joined with a rivet hidden by a gilt-bronze band. The names of the Twelve Apostles are incised in a frieze around the bowl, below a girdle bearing inset gold wirework panels of animals, birds, and geometric interlace. Techniques used include hammering, engraving, lost-wax casting, filigree applique, cloisonné and enamel. Even the underside of the chalice is decorated. The Chalice was discovered in 1868 in a potato field on the south-western side of a rath (ring fort) called Reerasta beside Ardagh, County Limerick, Ireland, along with a much plainer stemmed cup in copper-alloy, and four brooches, three elaborate pseudo-penannular ones, and one a true pennanular brooch of the thistle type, together the Ardagh Hoard.

Corpus-Cotton Gospels: Folio 1 Recto

Folio 1 recto from Corpus Christi College, MS 197B (Otho-Corpus Gospels); the Eagle of St. John. The Otho-Corpus Gospels is a badly damaged and fragmentary 8th century illuminated manuscript. It was part of the Cotton library and was mostly burnt in the 1731 fire at Ashburnham House. The manuscript now survives as charred fragments in the British Library (MS Cotton Otho C V). Thirty six pages of the manuscript were not in the Cotton collection and survived the fire. They are now in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MS 197B).

The South Cross at Mainistir Bhuithe

Muiredach’s High Cross is a high cross from the X or possibly IX century, located at the ruined monastic site of Monasterboice (Mainistir Bhuithe), County Louth, Ireland.
East face of Muiredach’s High Cross.
West face of Muiredach’s High Cross.

Muiredach’s High Cross is one of three surviving high crosses located at Monasterboice (Gaeilge: Mainistir Bhuithe, “Buithe’s monastery”). The monastic site is said to be founded in the 6th century, by St. Buithe. It is most famous for its 9th and 10th century high crosses—most notably Muiredach’s High Cross. These crosses are all made of sandstone and are referred to as the NorthWest, and South Crosses. It is not certain whether they stand in their original locations. The South Cross is commonly known as Muiredach’s cross because of an inscription on the bottom of the west-face. The inscription reads ÓR DO MUIREDACH LAS NDERNAD IN CHROS, which translates from Gaeilge as “a prayer for Muiredach who had this cross made”. It is thought that this Muiredach is likely Muiredach mac Domhnall (died 923), who was one of the monastery’s most celebrated abbots; he was also the abbot-elect of Armagh and also the steward of the southern Uí Néill. There is, however, another abbot named Muiredach who died in 844. Another possibility is that Muiredach may refer to Muiredach mac Cathail (died 867); a king whose territory included the site of the monastery.

The cross measures about 19 feet (5.8 m) high; including the base, which measures 2 feet 3 inches (0.69 m). The cross is made of sandstone which is yellow in colour. The main shaft of the cross is carved from a single block of sandstone; the base and the capstone on the top are carved from separate stones. The base is the shape of a truncated pyramid of four sides. It measures 2 feet 2 inches (0.66 m) high and 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 m) at the bottom; it tapers to 3 feet 8 inches (1.12 m) by 3 feet 4 inches (1.02 m) at the top. The main shaft is rectangular, measuring 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) high; 2 feet 2 inches (0.66 m) by 1 foot 8 inches (0.51 m) at the bottom. tapering to 2 feet 4 inches (0.71 m) by 1 foot 7 inches (0.48 m) at the top. The topmost stone, or capstone, is carved in the shape of a house, with a sloping roof; and has a crescent-shaped finial at each end. It is thought that such house-shaped capstones may represent reliquaries, which, like the Monymusk Reliquary, typically took this form in Celtic Christianity.

Every piece of the cross is divided into panels which are decorated with carvings. The carvings are remarkably well preserved; however, they certainly would have originally had much finer detail. Even so, certain details about clothing, weapons, and other things, can still be clearly made out. Biblical themes dominate the carved panels; though there are pieces which feature certain geometric shapes and interlace ornaments.

XXth century Irish archaeologist Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister noted that there are 124 figures sculpted upon the panels of the cross—119 of which shown in some form of costume. The cross is not unlike other works of Insular art where the artist has represented people in contemporary costume. All, except one, of the figures is depicted bare-headed. The lone figure with headgear is Goliath, who wears a conical helmet. Generally the hair is worn clipped in a straight line over the forehead, though in some cases it is shown to be distinctly curly. Many of the figures have no facial hair, though several of them wear very long moustaches, with heavy ends which hang down to the level of the chin. There are very few beards represented; those shown with beards are Adam, Cain, Moses and Saul. Macalister considered that the artist excelled in the geometric and abstract patterns which appear on the cross. On the ring surrounding the head of the cross, there are 17 different patterns. Macalister stated that Celtic geometric patterns fall into three categories: spiralinterlace, and key-patterns.

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).