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Aberlemno

Cross Slab (Pictish), Pictish Symbol Stone (Pictish)

Site Name Aberlemno

Classification Cross Slab (Pictish), Pictish Symbol Stone (Pictish)

Alternative Name(s) Aberlemno Churchyard; Aberlemno No 2.

Canmore ID 34806

Site Number NO55NW 26

NGR NO 52239 55554

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/34806

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2017.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Angus
  • Parish Aberlemno
  • Former Region Tayside
  • Former District Angus
  • Former County Angus

Archaeology Notes

NO55NW 26 52239 55554

For parish church and churchyard, see also NO55NW 28.

(NO 5223 5555) Cross Slab (NR)

OS 6" map (1970)

An upright cross-slab of Old Red Sandstone, 7ft 6ins high by 4ft 2ins wide at the bottom and tapering to 2ft 11 1/2ins wide at the top, by 8ins thick. The ornament is partly incised and partly relief, consisting of a cross edged by spirals, and on the reverse the two-legged rectangle, the Z-rod, the triple disc, and a battle scene consisting of three rows of figures.

J R Allen and J Anderson 1903

Activities

Field Visit (21 August 1958)

This large Cross Slab remains as described in front of the west gable of Aberlemno Church.

Visited by OS (JLD) 21 August 1958

Publication Account (1987)

This group of stones makes an excellent introduction to the range and skill of Pictish carving, beginning with the most easterly of the three stones beside the road. This is an early Pictish monument, unshaped and incised on one face with a serpent, a double disc and Zrod and a mirror and comb. A group of prehistoric cup-marks low down on the reverse of this slab suggests that the Pictish sculptor made use of an existing standing stone. Both this and and the next slab have been moved to their present positions in recent times, unlike the great cross-slab which remains in its original position. The small centre stone may also be a prehistoric standing stone, although there are indistinct traces of a crescent and a curving line. The tall, narrow cross-slab is likely to be the latest of the Aberlemno group; it stands almost 3m high and is heavily ornamented on every face, although weathering and pollution have sadly blurred the details. The cross-head is sculptured in high relief with bosses and panels reminiscent of the jewelled metal crosses used inside churches, and the shaft is flanked by angels, panels of interlace and animals. The sides of the slab are carved with a running spiral pattern. The back is dominated by two huge symbols, the crescent and V-rod and the double disc and Z-rod, both fIlled with decoration. The central panel contains a hunting scene, with a fme pair of trumpeters in the top right corner, and below are a centaur and the figure of David rending the jaws of a lion, accompanied by a sheep and a harp.

Better preserved and an outstanding example of Pictish art is the cross-slab in the churchyard, lovingly carved in the full range of a master craftsman's techniques, from light incision to high relief The cross stands some 12cm proud ofits background, representing colossal effort in removing unwanted stone, and its surface is intricately carved with interlace patterns. The background is carved with amusingly intertwined animals showing strong Northumbrian influence. If you begin at the feet of the animal at the bottom of the left-hand panel, you will be able to trace its hind-legs and tail within the circle of its elongated body curving round to its forelegs, and then its neck curving backwards until its jaws grasp the hindquarters of the next animal. The back of the slab is framed within two serpentine animals whose heads confront one another at the top (the hole is not part of the original design but appears to have been bored in more recent times). There are two symbols: a rectangle and Z-rod and a triple disc, and beneath them a panel containing the only known battle-scene in Pictish art. The horsemen and foot-soldiers are carved in an ingenious combination of incision and low relief that creates a sense of perspective. Middle left is a group of three foot-soldiers, armed with shields (shown in profIle) and spears; the central figure holds his spear on his right side and it is carved in relief whereas the third soldier is carrying his spear in his left hand, lightly incised to show that it is further away.

Aberlemno is only some 10km from the site of the battle of Nechtansmere, which took place in AD 685 near Dunnichen (a modem cairn at NO 509487 commemorates the battle, along with a cast of the symbol stone found nearby, which is now in Dundee Museum). It has been suggested that the AberIemno battle-scene depicts the historic occasion of Nechtansmere, when the Picts defeated the Northumbrian army, and that the stone was erected some hundred years later to record the battle.

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

Reference (1997)

Class II symbol stone - Aberlemno 2 - showing a cross on the face. On the reverse is a divided rectangle and Z-rod beside a triple disc. Below these are a detailed battle scene.

A Mack 1997.

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