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Canna, A' Chill, St Columba's Chapel

Cross (Early Medieval)

Site Name Canna, A' Chill, St Columba's Chapel

Classification Cross (Early Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Keill, St. Columba's Chapel; Canna House; Canna 2

Canmore ID 319894

Site Number NG20NE 1.12

NGR NG 2692 0553

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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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

A’ Chill 13 (St Columba), Canna, Skye & Lochalsh, cross fragments

Measurements: H H 1.03m, W 0.34m, D max 0.13m

Stone type: reddish-brown sandstone

Place of discovery: NG 2692 0553

Present location: in Canna House.

Evidence for discovery: the two lower fragments were found in the late nineteenth century in re-use in the wall of the burial ground at A’ Chill, and kept at the Roman Catholic Church in Sanday before being taken to Canna House. The fragment forming the top of the shaft was later found in the burial ground and taken to Canna House. A fourth fragment was found ‘in a ruined house near the harbour’. The cross is likely to have come from the early burial ground close to cross no 12.

Present condition: weathered and broken, with the base of the shaft and most of the cross-head missing.


Three substantial and conjoining portions of the upper shaft of a free-standing cross have survived, together with one small fragment from the terminal of an arm, probably the upper arm. All faces are carved in relief. Face A is filled with the body of a man, intact up to his shoulders, with a serpent entwined round his legs. The frontal figure wears a short tunic with a panel decorated with two triquetra knots, and the serpent's tail is coiled into a spiral. Narrow faces B and D bear interlace, with the addition on face D of running spirals. Face C is divided into three large panels, the top of which is filled with diagonal key pattern and probably acted as the lower arm of an equal-armed cross-head. The middle panel contains four smaller panels of interlace forming a cross, and the lower panel contains four symmetrically entwined serpents. The arm fragment is carved on face A with two relief arcs and face C with diagonal key pattern.

Date range: ninth or tenth century.

Primary references: ECMS pt 3, 109-10; Fisher 2001, 100-1.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016


Field Visit (3 July 1925)

FRAGMENTS OF CROSS-SHAFT. A section of a cross-shaft (Figs. 305, 306), in this case of sandstone, is preserved within the modern Memorial Church. It is fractured and measures 2 feet in height by 1 foot 2 inches in breadth and 5 inches in thickness. On the front is carved in low relief the lower part of a figure clad in a tunic from waist to knees; the tunic is hemmed and has on one side a triketra. Legs and feet are bare or tightly clad, and round these a serpent writhes. The back of the slab bears two panels of interlacing ornament, the lower being serpentine.

RCAHMS 1928, visited 3 July 1925.

Reference (2001)

(13) Two fragments of a cross-shaft were discovered in the wall of the burial-ground not long before 1895 and published in 1903. In the same year Lord Archibald Campbell was sent a rubbing of a third fragment, also described as being in the burial-ground, but the stone was subsequently lost and was rediscovered there in 1939 (vii). The two lower fragments were kept for some time at the Roman Catholic church on Sanday, but all three are now at Canna House along with a fragment, found in a ruined house near the harbour, which appears to be from the top arm of the same cross.

The cross is carved from a medium-grained reddish-brown sandstone with some pebbly quartzitic inclusions. The surviving fragments of the shaft, which is incomplete at the foot but includes the lower constriction of the cross-head, have a combined length of 1.03m and taper in width from 0.34m to 0.31m. The front is of convex section and the shaft is thickest towards the cross-head, varying from 85mm to 100mm at the edges and from 95mm to 130mm at the centre. There was no provision for a ring, and the broken upper end preserves the lower arcs of two broad semicircular armpits.

The front of the shaft (a) is carved in relief with a single scene, a large standing figure, lacking the head, whose legs are entwined with a serpent. The arms, broken at the wrists, are crossed on the breast and the baggy sleeves are decorated with central ribs and possibly an oblique cuff (viii). Below the arms and above the slightly oblique waist-belt there is a slanting line, perhaps a fold of the tunic, and between the belt and the plain hem of the skirt there is a vertical panel containing two triquetras set diagonally to form a single ring-knot. The legs, whose knees are bent outwards, appear to be bare, although there is a possible central rib on the lower right leg, but the feet are shod. The legs are intertwined with the upper part of a double-S-curved serpent whose snout or beak touches the hem of the tunic, and whose tail terminates at the bottom right in a tightly-coiled spiral. The upper part of its body is much worn, but the lower part preserves traces of overall curvilinear ornament.

The back of the shaft (c) bears, between circular angle-mouldings, three panels of ornament whose divisions coincide closely with the breaks between the three fragments. The lowest panel shows four symmetrically interlaced snakes whose heads, like those on f.130 of the Book of Kells, are seen from above and have large eyes and prominent snouts, in this case ribbed transversely. The heads, however, are set at the outer angles of the panel, each biting the body of its neighbour, and the four fish-like tails meet at the centre in a cruciform motif. Two of the heads have long ears curving out, while the other two have ears tightly clasped to the bodies, all of which have central ribs. This panel is separated by a moulding bearing a T-fret from the next, a square containing four identical squares of knotwork (RA 758) combined to produce cruciform, saltire and diagonal-square divisions (ix). The panel in the upper part of the shaft and lower part of the cross-head is bounded at the top by an arc of a circular moulding. It bears a diagonal fret similar to that in the corresponding position on the W face of the Canna Cross (no.12), but with curved rather than straight-line spirals.

The right edge (b) bears a continuous knot-pattern (x). The lower part of the left edge (d) bore at least two, and possibly three double spirals with hollow-triangle terminals. Above this there is a pattern of paired Stafford knots with repeated cruciform breaks (RA 598).

The material of the arm-fragment is more purple in colour than the shaft, but identical in texture. It measures 0.16m by 0.14m and like the shaft it is convex on one face, varying from 60mm at the edge to 100mm. This suggests that it was the upper right angle of the top arm. The front bears, within an edge-moulding, parts of two broad curving bands, perhaps the body of a serpent, and the back bears a fragment of a diagonal fret similar to that on the shaft.

(vii) E Beveridge 1922, 2, pl.301 (1895); J Anderson 1897, 300-2; Allen and Anderson 1903, 3, 109-10; Campbell rubbings in Inveraray Castle (copies in NMRS), vol.1, nos.8 and 9. For the rediscovery of the third fragment, see M F Shaw 1993, 147-8.

(viii) Cf. supra p.18, and n.162 on p.158.

(ix) D MacLean (1997, 180) compares this with examples in Co.Durham and suggests a 'Viking' date.

(x) Allen identified this as RA 568, but each of the figure-of-eight knots has an additional loop.

J Anderson 1897, 300-2; Allen and Anderson 1903, 3, 109-10; Inveraray Castle, Lord Archibald Campbell rubbings (copies in NMRS), vol.1, nos.8,9; E Beveridge 1922, 2, pl. 301; RCAHMS 1928, No.678 and figs.305-6; J L Campbell 1994, pl.15; D MacLean, 1997, 178-80.

I Fisher 2001.


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