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Publication Account

Date 1987

Event ID 1016951

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/event/1016951

More than thirty carved stones and fragments are known to have been found in Meigle, and there can be little doubt that an early ecclesiastical centre existed here, attracting important secular burials. Historical sources record the work of Thana, perhaps a monastic annalist, at Meigle in the mid 9th century, implying an appropriate setting for the sculpture. Some fragments have been lost, but the remaining collection includes large and small cross-slabs, horizontal or recumbent graveslabs and a hogback tombstone, as well as an architectural fragment that may have decorated a 9th or 10th century church (no. 22 in the collection). None of the stones need be dated earlier than about AD 800 and most are later, although several bear Pictish symbols including a fmely executed 'Pictish beast' or 'swimming elephant' on the side of no. 5. The crossslabs are mostly small in size, with the exception of nos 1 and 2. No. 1 is the earlier of the two and, although quite crudely composed, the scene on the reverse includes not only Pictish symbols (fIsh, 'elephant', serpent and Z-rod, mirror and comb) but also more exotic elements that must have been copied from an imported carving or manuscript: on the right is a kneeling camel, and on the left a winged fIgure identifIed as a Persian god. Cross-slab no. 2 is an imposing 2.4m in height, carved in high relief but unfortunately much worn by weathering. A unique feature is the series of projections on the side and top, as if the slab were intended to be slotted into a wall or screen. The cross is massively proportioned, and the back of the slab is dominated by the central fIgure of David, flanked on either side by two lions and possibly a lion cub. Above the lions on the left is a row of three horsemen, depicted by the overlapping outlines of their horses.

The small cross-slab no. 3 is of particular interest because of the details of the horseman on the reverse; his broad scabbard has a rounded chape or protective tip, silver examples of which were found in the treasure from St Ninian's Isle in Shetland. Instead of a stirrup (which were unknown at this period in Scotland), his foot appears to be braced in a slipper-like pocket at the point of the saddlecloth.

There are two fme tombstones designed to lie horizontally over their graves. The earlier of the two, the wedge-shaped no. 26, is a vigorously carved Pictish monument of the 9th century. The socket in the top at the higher end was probably intended to hold an upright cross at the head of the grave, and the end panel is carved with a beast pursuing a bearded man. Both sides and top are decorated with animal, abstract and human motifs, including a beautifully devised swastika of human bodies. Perhaps because of this taste for wedge-shaped monuments, the hogback tombstone no. 25, carved in the late 10th century, was also made in this way instead of the normal houseshape, although it does bear the usual decoration in the form of roof-tiles. At the higher end of the ridge is a fine animal-head with long snout and flowing ears, very similar to the animal-heads decorating the base of the cross on no. 5. The hogback is clearly the work of local sculptor, adapting an exotic fashion in tombstones to local taste.

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

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