Kilmartin Graveyard

The Antiquity of Kilmartin Churchyard, Scotland

 

Kilmartin Parish Church stands in the centre of  Kilmartin Glen, and just south down the glen, are a profusion of prehistoric remains, including a linear cemetery, numerous standing stones, and several sites with cup and ring carved rocks.  But for me, it was the graveyard and church that lured me in to explore this ancient site.   You can see the church from the road, and in 2014 we didn’t have time to visit, but in May of 2016, we did.  You know when you see sometime, and you hold your breath, think wow, this is going to be amazing, thats what I felt when we walked through the arch to explore.

I have already posted about some of the stones, those thought to be most at risk from weathering, under cover of a former mausoleum building at the rear of the churchyard, this post is of what is still in situ in the graveyard.

Together with the sub-circular form of the church graveyard, the stones hint at a much longer history of religious activity at Kilmartin, ranging in date from the 900’s to the 1600’s. 

 

 

 I think most of the mediaeval grave slabs in the raised enclosure, photos above, beautifully carved slabs that once covered the graves of members of the Malcolm family, are from St Columba’s Chapel in Poltalloch, which have been move to Kilmartin.  Many of the stones were the work of a group of sculptors working in the Loch Awe area through the 14th and 15th centuries.  The carvers may have had a workshop at Kilmartin itself or in the surrounding area.  The quality of the carvings of the highest order, and the designs are similar to others in the West Highlands, such as Kilberry, Keills, and Kilmory Knap.

I found an early Christian Stone with a cross very similar to the one I found on Tiree, a Hebridean Island, but as yet I haven’t found any information on it.

The above slabs are still in situ and have wonderful symbols on them.

I will post about the museum, church and the two remain stone crosses later.  It is worth a visit before going off down the Glen to visit the more well known sites.  

Killmartin Grave Slabs, Scotland

The information board invites you to step into this burial aisle for a glimpse of the Gaelic warrior culture that dominated the West Highlands in the Middle Ages….. and so we did, last May 2016.  Kilmartin is a small village in Western Scotland, famous for Kilmartin Glen, where there are over 320 prehistoric monuments in a six mile radius.  But for me, the graveyard of the village church holds untold stories of buried Highlanders, which got my imagination working overtime.  These grave slabs were collected from the graveyard, but there are still more grave slabs to be seen.  There are also historic crosses inside the church and next door you will find a museum that will tell you the story of the Glen.  This post is to show the grave slabs, that now stand side by side.

A little history for you……..Originally, the 23 stones would have been laid flat on the ground to cover a grave. After the Reformation, however, many of the stones were moved, and in 1956 they were moved inside a shelter to protect them from the weather. The symbolism of the motifs carved onto the slabs is the subject of much discussion and speculation. Many feature swords or claymores, some alone, others with surrounding designs of twining or interlaced foliage. Several depict armed men. 

The structure was originally built as a burial aisle for Neil Campbell and his wife Christiane in 1627. Neil Campbell became Bishop of Argyll, while Christiane was the daughter of Bishop John Carswell, who built nearby Carnasserie Castle in the late 1660s. Since 1956 their mausoleum has served as a lapidarium, sheltering the best of the medieval graveslabs identified in the churchyard.

More about Kilmartin to follow.