Two Oransay Grave-slabs

Slabs at Oransay, Argyll, Plate LX, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.


The slabs on this Plate are selected from the many examples within the ruined church here.

The one represents an abbot1 in his rich ecclesiastical vestments, with one hand lifted up in the act of benediction, and the other holding his staff.

Grave-slab at Oransay Priory; photo credit: Andreas G. Wolff.

The other pourtrays a man in armour. Two figures, apparently ecclesiastics, are engaged in buckling on his Spurs. The sculpture of this slab is in high relief. One of the figures on the pillar may represent St. Michael and the Dragon.

1 Sir Donald MacDuffie, Conventual Prior of Oransay, d. 1554/5.

Grave-slab of Domhnall MacDubhtaich, Conventual Prior of Oransay (1538-1554/5); photo credit: Carron Brown.

“Here lies Sir Donald MacDuffie, Conventual Prior of Oransay, who died in the year 155-”

[This tombstone was originally in the mural recess of the MacPhie chapel, with the foot towards the east. He was appointed Prior by authority of the Pope in April 1538 and died in 1554; he had probably been in ill-health since an application had been made to permit him to retire, and since his gravestone was able to be prepared with confidence in advance.]


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Canna, Cross, and Camel

Sculpted cross at Canna, Plate L, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
Sculpted cross at Canna, Plate L, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
Sculpted cross at Canna, Plate LI, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
Sculpted cross at Canna, Plate LI, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.

The island of Canna, along with the islands of Eigg, Muck, and Rum, form the parish of Small Isles, in Inverness-shire.

The church of Canna, dedicated to St. Columba, stood about the centre of the island, in the bottom of a narrow glen. There are two burying-grounds close to each other. In the older one, now disused, are traces of the old church. In it also stands the sculptured cross here figured.

St. Columba's Church, Canna.
St. Columba’s Church, Canna.

Unlike most of the crosses of the Western Highlands and Islands, the monument is formed of yellow sandstone. It is cruciform in shape, and is about six and a half feet in height.

East side of Celtic cross at Canna.
East side of Celtic cross at Canna.

Isin bliadain sin tucad in camall, quod est animal mírae magnitudinis, o ríg Alban do Muircertach U Briain

Annals of Innisfallen, I1105.7.

On the east side of the remaining limb of the cross is a well-sculptured camel, of which there is no other example on our Scotch crosses.1 That this creature was not, however, unknown in Scotland in early times, we may gather from an entry in the Annals of Innisfallen, which, under the year 1105, records, “In this year a camel, which is an animal of wonderful size, was presented by the King of Alban [Edgar] to Mucertac O’Brian.” Some of the knotted work and patterns are the same as those on the early crosses on the east coast, but the figures of men and beasts on the east face are of a different contour, and the design and general idea of the monument is peculiar.

1 A camel is depicted on the reverse of the Pictish cross-slab Meigle 1 (Meigle Museum).

Kildalton Cross

The parish of Kildalton, of which the church was dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, forms the south-east side of the island of Islay. The original church of the parish stood at Kildalton, a few miles south-west from the entrance to the sound of Islay, where its cemetery, walls, altar, and font still remain.

The large cross in these plates stands in a stone base in the burying-ground, on the north side of the ruined church. It differs entirely in form from all the other crosses on the west coast, and also in style of ornamentation from all except that called Martin’s Cross at Iona and the cross at Keils, which it greatly resembles in many of its details, but is richer than either of them. It partakes very much of the character of the Irish crosses — especially in the length of the arms and in the circle which connects them with the stem; and in outline and some details it may be compared with the south cross at Clonmacnoise. The disengaged circle, which is so common on the Irish crosses, occurs only on two of the Scotch ones — viz., the present example, and Martin’s Cross just referred to. It has been elsewhere remarked that on the cross slabs on the east coast this circle appears as if in embryo on the slab, preparatory to the monument being shaped into the form of a cross with the circle cut into a free ornamented band.

Kildalton Cross, Plate XXXVI, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
Kildalton Cross, Plate XXXVI, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.

On the east side of the cross the figure of the Blessed Virgin and Holy Child, with a male figure on either side, is cut, and at the extremities of the arms of the cross are groups of figures apparently of ecclesiastics. This cross is, in my opinion, of a style greatly earlier than the class of monuments represented by that at Campbelton, and comes much nearer in character to the Irish examples, which are ascribed to the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The smaller cross, of which the shaft is unsculptured, stands on the outside of the churchyard.

Kildalton Cross, Plate XXXVII, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
Kildalton Cross, Plate XXXVII, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.

On the hill of Dun Borreraig are the ruins of a circular hill-fort 52 feet in diameter inside, with walls 12 feet thick, a gallery within the walls, and a stone bench 2 feet high round the area. Near the bay of Knock are two large upright flags called “The Two Stones of Islay.” Monumental stones, as well as cairns and harrows, occur, and stone and brass [bronze] hatchet-shaped weapons or celts, elfshots, or flint arrow-heads, and brass fibulae, have been frequently dug up.

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.


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.


MacMillan’s Cross at Kilmory

MacMillan's Cross, Plate XXXIII, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
MacMillan’s Cross, Plate XXXIII, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.


Detail of inscription on the rear face of MacMillan's Cross.
Detail of inscription on the rear face of MacMillan’s Cross.

The chapel of Kilmorie, in South Knapdale, has been already referred to as having traditionally been erected by St. Charmaig (Cormac). Its walls are still almost complete, and it is surrounded by a burying-ground. In both the chapel and graveyard are many slabs ornamented with the sword and shears. The cross figured in this Plate is in the churchyard. On one side is represented the crucifixion of our Lord, with figures which may be meant for the Blessed Virgin and St. John. Beneath is a two-handed sword. On the other side of the shaft is a stag-hunt, the dogs being represented with collars, as on some of the early east cross slabs, and lower down is an armed man holding in his hand a battle-axe, with a large horn suspended from his shoulder. Beneath his feet is the inscription — HEC EST CRVX ALEXANDRI MACMVLEN. The Macmillans, according to their traditions, were connected with the clan Chattan, and a branch of them possessed the greater part of Southern Knapdale, where their chief was known under the title of Macmillan of Knap; but although they were at a very early period in Knapdale, they probably obtained the greater part of their possessions there by marriage with the heiress of the chief of the Macneils in the sixteenth century. To an early part of this century the cross is probably to be ascribed. A drawing and notice of this monument occurs in Archæologia Scotica, vol. iv. p. 377.

Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.

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.

Inveraray Cross

Inveraray Cross, Plate XXXI, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
Inveraray Cross, Plate XXXI, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.

At Inveraray there is a beautiful Cross, which is well known to tourists, but which (so far as I know) has not been the object of much antiquarian research. It is commonly said to have been brought from Iona; but I never met with any historical proof that this was the case. The stone crosses and sculptured tombstones in Argyllshire are commonly called Iona Crosses and Iona Stones; and it is a prevailing belief that they were all brought from that celebrated place of sepulture. But as to the Crosses,– it can be proved that some of them never came from Iona; and if all the tombstones of the same character were collected there, they would far more than fill even S. Oran’s burying-ground. I have little doubt that the Inveraray Cross stood in the old town, near the old chapel. It was, until late years, lying at the entrance of the great beech-avenue; and it is now erected on the edge of the Loch, at the end of the main street. In shape it might be called a cross-flory. The upper part of the south side is overrun with foliage, moving in very capricious lines and passing below into a trefoiled arch, which seems to have been meant for a figure or inscription. Below this is a complicated arrangement of similar foliage, falling into two divisions, the stems of which become the tails of two fantastic animals. Under these animals are four others, on one side a pig and a dog, on the other apparently a larger and a smaller monkey. Under them again is a horseman; and at the base of all a rectangular space inclosing the end of the inscription, which with its earlier portion covers the west side of the Cross. This inscription is as follows in Lombardic characters.

Haec. est. crux. nobilium. vivorum. videlicet. Dondcani.
M’Engyllichomghan. Patrici. filii. ejus. et. Maelmore.
filii. Patrici. qui. hanc. crucem. fieri. faciebat.

I believe nothing is known of the personages here mentioned. I once saw a curious paper in possession of one of the parish school children, containing a translation in English, French, Gaelic, and Greek, where Mc Eichgyllichomghan is turned into Cunningham: but I apprehend this is merely a conjecture. It is to be observed that the leaves in the foliage are mostly double, a larger and smaller; and this is the character of the ornament of the east side. The north side is covered with foliage of a different and still more beautiful character.

Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Argyllshire, No. V. Stone Crosses,
Transactions of the Cambridge Camden Society
,  1841.