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Publication Account

Date 1987

Event ID 1016935

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The round tower and some of the sculptures preserved within the cathedral are all that survive of an early monastery; the tower was originally free-standing, and its contemporary church probably lay beneath the later cathedral. The tower is likely to date to the 11th century, while the earliest parts of the cathedral belong to the 13th century (the aisle now joining the tower to the cathedral is modem).

The tower rises gracefully to a height of just over 26 m at the wall-head, and the present roof was added in the 14th century. The windows are mostly in the upper part of the tower, and the entrance is fully 2.1 m above ground-level so that a portable ladder was needed to reach it Inside, the tower was divided into seven storeys by wooden floors, each reached by a wooden ladder, but the interior is not open to visitors. The entrance is thickly framed by carved stonework, including a crucifix, clerical figures and animals (the blank panels flanking the head of the doorway are thought to be unfinished, their decoration for some reason left uncarved).

Inside the cathedral, the portion of the tower incorporated into an aisle displays another, unframed doorway cut and subsequently blocked up again in modem times. This corner of the cathedral houses a small collection of carved stones, including architectural fragments and a 17th century tombstone, a fine late 8th-early 9th century cross-slab and a superb hogback tombstone of the early 11th century. One end of the hogback is damaged, but the rest is entirely covered by elaborate carving in relief including clerical figures and intertwining animals along the sides, foliage along the top and a magnificent beast's head with prominent eyes forming the intact end of the monument Similar clerical figures, gazing out full-face from the stone, are carved on the cross-slab alongside, which came originally from Aldbar, some 3 km south-west of Brechin. This stone has the theme of David the shepherd and psalmist, showing David rending the jaws of the lion, together with a sheep and a harp. The highly decorative cross rises from a socketed base, shown in plan on the stone.

At the east end of the nave are a medieval graveslab and part of an important cross-slab of late 9th century date. Both this cross-slab and the hogback must have embellished the graveyard contemporary with the round tower. Only the front position of the head of the cross has survived, but it shows very clearly, as does the hogback, that the Brechin sculptors were familiar with the fashions and tastes current in northern England. The centre of the cross depicts the Virgin and Child, encircled by a Latin inscription reading 'St Mary, the mother of Christ', and the scale and sophistication of this fragment imply a free-standing cross-slab of which the Brechin monastery would have been proud.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

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