Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Skaill, St Mary's Church

Church (Medieval), Cross Slab (Early Medieval), Hogback Stone (Early Medieval)

Site Name Skaill, St Mary's Church

Classification Church (Medieval), Cross Slab (Early Medieval), Hogback Stone (Early Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Deerness, Old Parish Church

Canmore ID 2931

Site Number HY50NE 18

NGR HY 5886 0635

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2022.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish St Andrews And Deerness
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Skaill 1 (St Mary), Deerness, Orkney, hogback gravestone

Measurements: L 1.73m, W 0.36m to 0.50m, H 0.20m to 0.23m

Stone type: red sandstone

Place of discovery: HY 5886 0635

Present location: in the Session House attached to the present St Ninian’s Church.

Evidence for discovery: it was seen in the graveyard by George Low in 1774, and remained there, in the north-east corner and aligned ENE-WSW, until the mid twentieth century when it was moved into the Session House. The earlier church of St Mary, sketched by Low, had two round towers at its west end and dated probably to the twelfth century, and there was presumably an earlier church on the site.

Present condition: worn but intact.


The ridge is slightly arched and there are four rows of tegulae along both long sides, mostly rectangular with clipped corners. Both ridge and ends are plain. It may be noted that Low describes the stone as carved on one side only.

Date: late eleventh or early twelfth century.

References: Low 1879, 54; Lang 1974, 232.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2017

Archaeology Notes

HY50NE 18 5886 0635

For (adjacent) successor and present St Ninian's Church, see HY50NE 67.

Sketches of old church.

G Low 1879.

The church stood about 40 ft. East of the present church (HY50NE 67), which was built in 1796.

M Spence 1903.

The church of Deerness was dedicated to St Mary. In the 16thc the parish was united to St. Andrews.

H Scott 1928.

In the churchyard there is a hog-backed stone.

RCAHMS 1946, visited 6 June 1930.

The pre-Reformation church stood at HY 5886 0636. When the last foundations were removed (1870-1880) two coins of Edward I of England, c1280 AD were found. They were presented to Kirkwall Museum in the 1930's (Information from Rev H Mooney, The Manse, Deerness). The hog-back stone is now in the Session House.

Visited by OS (RD), 30 August 1964.

The two coins are silver pennies of Edward I of England, one of London, the other of Canterbury. Their date is c.1280 AD.

Information from R Kerr (Numismatist to Soc Antiq Scot) 4 June 1965.

The modern church at Skaill stands somewhat to the NW of the medieval one, which was dedicated either to St Mary or to St Ninian. There is today no trace of it, but Low's sketches of 1774 show a most remarkable Romanesque church, which had a vaulted chancel provided with an upper floor set between twin eastern round towers. A hogback monument now in the Session House of the modern church, formerly stood in the NE corner of the churchyard.

G Low 1879; RCAHMS 1946; J T Lang 1974; RCAHMS 1987.


Publication Account (1996)

This is a well-preserved hogback of red sandstone, 1.73m long, with four rows of tegulae or roof-tiles carved along either side, the tiles increasing in size towards the base. It was found in the north-east corner of the churchyard, lying east-north east/west-south-west, and originally belonged to an earlier church on the site. A fine church with twin towers, comparable to the single-towered St Magnus on Egilsay (no. 41), is known to have existed here and an Early Christian ancestry for the site is indicated by the recent find from nearby excavations of a fragment of a cross-incised gravemarker. These excavations have uncovered a Norse farm and an earlier Pictish settlement, and it is clear that Skaill has a long history of Dark Age, Viking and medieval settlement aga inst which its hogback monument may be set. In the 11th century, Skaill was the Orkney home of Thorkell , foster father to Earl Thorfinn, and it was undoubtedly a Christian Norse household.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Orkney’, (1996).


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions