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Field Visit

Date July 1987

Event ID 1082871

Category Recording

Type Field Visit


This Early Christian cross-slab stands at the W edge of a well surrounded by the ruined buildings of the former township of Kilmory, in an area which was recently cleared of dense conifer plantations. The site is about 40m w of the forest road along the NW shore of Loch Coille-Bharr, and 1.5km from the head of Loch Sween. There is no evidence of the burial-ground, dedicated either to the Virgin Mary or St Maelrubha, that is implied by the place-name.

The stone is a roughly rectangular slab of local chlorite-schist, 1.37m in visible height by 0.40m by 0.11m thick; the top is irregularly broken, and the lower right part of the W face has flaked off. The W face (a) is carved in low relief, using incision and pocking to outline the main features in such a way that it is not always possible to distinguish between intended motifs and areas left uncarved. At the top, which is damaged and much worn, there are two opposed animals, both apparently horses and that at the left perhaps with a rider. This is followed by a cross with a square-ended top arm and a transom with barred terminals, having above the transom two opposed birds, perched on what have been described as leaves (en.1) but appear to be uncarved areas, and below it two discs, probably representing sun and moon; the disc to the right has an attached bar extending to the edge of the slab. Below this, at just above mid-height of the cross, is a second transom, with narrow curving arms expanding to broad terminals, and then the cross-shaft is flanked by a second pair of birds, whose inclined attitude contrasts with the horizontal position of those above. Immediately below the left bird, flanking the foot of the cross-shaft, there is a panel bearing an incised saltire, probably for one of the thieves' crosses at Calvary, and there are traces of a corresponding saltire to the right, most of which has flaked off. At the foot of the slab, to the left, there are at least two animals.

The E face (b) bears an incised outline cross with a triangular upper terminal and square-ended side-arms, and the foot is open, but it is marked by lines extending to each side. Since this base-line corresponds in level with the apparent base of the cross on the W face, it appears that both carvings are contemporary. The cross-head and shaft are marked by a discontinuous series of short vertical incisions, which may be early, but the significance of the bolder vertical grooves on the right cross-arm and cross-head, and similar horizontal markings near the foot of the shaft, is unknown.

Pairs of birds, both doves and peacocks, are frequently associated with the cross in Gaulish and Mediterranean sculpture and metalwork, and the latter are found, without the cross, in the Book of Kells and on the Kildalton Cross (en.2). The motif is rare in Britain, but occurs in simplified form on a slab from the early monastic site at Reask, Co. Kerry, and it is found on some Manx carvings of the Norse period (en.3*). The cross with double transom is also of Mediterranean, and more specifically Byzantine origin, and the few supposed comparisons in British and Irish sculpture, including those at Ellary (No. 20), are of much simpler character (en.4*). An 8th- or9th-century date is possible for this slab, but it could be later. (White, Knapdale, 103, pl.46, 1 and 2; ECMS, 3, 406; PSAS, 38 (1903-4), 136-40; Campbell & Sandeman, 72, no.462).

WELL. This is a rectangular pool measuring l.4m by 1.1m by 0.6m in depth, lined with drystone masonry and partly covered on the w by a massive schist slab. The overflow forms a small stream flowing to Loch Coille-Bharr.

RCAHMS 1992, visited July 1987

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