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Eigg, Kildonnan

Cross Slab (Early Medieval)

Site Name Eigg, Kildonnan

Classification Cross Slab (Early Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Kildonan 6

Canmore ID 319415

Site Number NM48NE 24.06

NGR NM 48 85

NGR Description NM c. 48 85

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/319415

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Small Isles
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Lochaber
  • Former County Inverness-shire

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project (17 August 2016)

Kildonnan 6 (St Donnan), Eigg, Skye & Lochalsh, inscribed cross-slab fragments

Measurements: estimated original H 0.95m, W 0.36m, D 0.08m

Stone type: reddish Torridonian flagstone

Place of discovery: NM 4885 8536

Present location: in St Donnan’s Roman Catholic Church at NM 4741 8853.

Evidence for discovery: found in the ruined church of St Donnan. Initially displayed, with the fragments cemented together, in the porch of The Lodge at Galmisdale, this is now set in a modern socket-stone in St Donnan’s RC Church.

Present condition: broken and weathered.

Description

Two large fragments survive of this elaborately ornamented and slightly tapered cross-slab, one of which is the top portion of the slab and the other is part of the lower portion. The base of the stone is hidden in the socket-stone. Face A is carved in false relief, while face C is carved in low relief, and the narrow sides are plain. A plain flatband moulding frames face A and is overlapped by the ringed head of a cross. The shaft is missing but must have been quite short, and it rose from a panel of decoration spanning the width of the slab. In addition, at the foot of this panel there is a rounded tenon with a basal spike. On the tenon is a group of three small pits, and there is a similar group on either side of the tenon.

The base panel is filled with diagonal key pattern, whereas the head of the cross is filled with interlace, which becomes a simple two-cord twist within the ring. The cords have a median line. The centre of the cross-head is squared, creating stepped armpits, and the upper arm projects beyond the ring and into the flatband moulding along the slightly rounded top of the slab. On the moulding on either side of the arm are incised the half-uncial letters IHU and XPI, meaning ‘O Jesu’ and ‘of Christ’.

On the reverse, face C, there is a single figural panel, set vertical on the slab with an extensive plain area at the base. This unusual orientation has led to the suggestion that this was originally a side-panel of a composite stone shrine and was later re-used as a cross-slab (Gondek & Jeffrey). The panel is carved in false relief and shows a hunting scene with a rider on a horse galloping to the right, accompanied by two hounds. The lower hound is eying a bird of prey. The horseman is in pursuit of four animals in two registers fleeing to the right: possibly representing a bull, a boar, a lion and a deer. A later addition to the scene is an incised Latin cross with ball terminals, which has been inserted in the space between the horseman and his prey so as to stand vertically when the slab was set on end.

Date range: eighth or ninth century.

Primary references: Fisher 2001, 93-4; Gondek & Jeffrey 2003.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Activities

Reference (2001)

(6) Two fragments of a cross-slab of reddish Torridonian flagstone, lacking the central portion, which has been made good with concrete, and slightly damaged at the edges. The sides are tapered and the original height can be estimated as about 0.95m above a narrower butt which is set into a modern sandstone base. The slab tapers in width from 0.36m at the slightly rounded top to 0.31m and is 75mm in thickness. On one face (a) there is carved in false relief a ringed cross-potent whose short narrow shaft, now entirely lost, rose from a wide base-panel. At the top and sides there is a plain margin, 25mm to 30mm in width, into which the top arm of the cross and the sides of the ring are inset. The top margin is 40mm deep and flanking the cross-arm in incised half-uncial letters with pronounced serifs there are the Latin abbreviations: IHU XPI ('O Jesu. Of Christ'). The spandrels of the cross-head are plain, showing pocked tooling, and this technique of carving can be identified in other areas. The cross is defined by bead-mouldings with bevelled edges, which at the top and sides of the head merge with the margin. It has a ring 50mm wide and 0.35m in height but only 0.32m across the side-arms, which do not project. The top and bottom arms project 30mm beyond the ring, the return of the latter being visible at the left just above the break in the slab. The cross is of cross-potent type with a square central expansion, and is filled with double-beaded interlace which merges with the twist-pattern of the ring. The interspaces are sunk to the same 50mm depth as the spandrels, and are outlined with bead-mouldings. The interlace of the bottom arm ran into the lost shaft, which was about 75mm wide. The panel of diagonal key-pattern forming the base (variant of RA 974) measures 0.25m in width by 0.27m in incomplete height and appears to have lost only a few millimetres at the top left edge of the fragment. It is separated from the margin by a 10mm pocked groove which merges at the foot with the outline of a 'tenon' 70mm high and 50mm wide, terminating in a spike (cf. no.1). On the tenon itself and in the spaces flanking it there are three triangular groups of small pock-marks.

The back of the slab (b) is carved in low relief with a hunting-scene running down its vertical axis. The carving fills the width of the slab without any margin and has been about 0.72m long, a straight edge defining a plain area of 0.22m above the butt. The figures are formed by the smooth surface of the flagstone, with lightly pecked detail, and the background has been pecked with bevelled edges to a depth of no more than 3mm. At the left of the panel there is a bearded rider on a rearing horse. His right arm is outstretched behind him but there is no evidence of any weapon, and no horse-harness is shown. Above and below the horse's head there are dogs, the upper one pursuing a large ?bull whose head is lost at the break in the slab. The lower dog stands looking at a bird, probably an eagle, which turns its head to the left, and an animal with a curled tail, probably a boar but lacking its head, occupies the space below the ?bull. On the lower fragment there are parts of two animals, the upper one, a lion with mane and open jaws, being almost complete. Below it there is the head of a ?deer with two short antlers. On the vertical axis, filling the space between the horse and the two large animals, there is an incised cross with expanded terminals and an open central lozenge. It is 70mm high with the side-arms, 60mm in span, at mid-height, and the forked lower terminal is set on a shaft or pedestal 75mm high which rises from the angle of the ?bull's hoof. The cross is of an early form and resembles that at Bagh na h-Uamha, Rum (No.26), but it has presumably been added to the hunting-scene, which has strong Pictish connections.

The form of the cross-head on face (a) also has unusual features which are paralleled on symbol-less cross-slabs in eastern Scotland. The side-arms contained within the ring are found on a late cross-slab at Invergowrie, and interlace running into the ring without break on a cross-slab at Meigle (vii). A late 9th-century date is likely for the cross, and probably for the hunting-scene which appears to be carved in a similar technique and conforms to the taper of the slab (viii).

Footnotes:

(i) Annals of Ulster, s.a. 617, 725, 752; A O Anderson 1922, 1, 142-5; N MacPherson 1878, 577-8; A Macdonald 1974, 58-60, 67-9.

(ii) Macdonald, op.cit., 59-64, 69-70; N MacPherson 1878, 589-92; S Wade Martins 1987, 13-15; NMRS database NM48SE, nos.2 (burials) and 15 (fort). The location of the burial containing a fine sword-hilt (NMS X.IL 157; N MacPherson 1878, 586-9) is uncertain, but it was probably in the Kildonnan area (NM48NE 21).

(iii) Name Book, Inverness (Hebrides), No.13, pp.2, 16; NMRS database NM48NE, nos.23 and 25.

(iv) The Commissioners are indebted to Mr D Campbell, Eigg, for information about this discovery.

(v) Information painted on wooden frame of fragment.

(vi) Cf. Inishmurray (W F Wakeman 1893, pl.5).

(vii) Allen and Anderson 1903, 3, 255-6 (Invergowrie 1), 297-8 (Meigle 2).

(viii) D MacLean (1997, 181) suggests that the hunting-scene is earlier than the cross-face.

(NMS cast, X.IB 219; PSAS, 67 (1932-3), 65 and fig.3 on p.66; J S Richardson 1964, pl.9 (face b); S Wade Martins 1987, 16 (face a); D MacLean 1997, 181; C Dressler 1998, 1 (face b) and pl.2 (face a)).

I Fisher 2001.

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