Early Medieval

Gellyburn cross-slab

A damaged cross-slab with the uppermost portion missing and a repaired fracture mid-way along its length. Both faces are intricately carved with Pictish and early Christian motifs. It was discovered built into the foundations of a cottage in Gellyburn, near Murthly, Perthshire, from where it was removed and donated to Perth Museum and Art Gallery in 1949.  It probably reflects the presence of a now lost church site in the Murthly area.

The cross-slab is of an unusually small size and the carving demonstrates a high level of technical and artistic ability. One of its broad faces it bears the carving of a Celtic cross shaft in-filled with beast headed swirls and interlace patterns. The other broad face bears a Pictish beast or elephant beneath a crescent and v-rod symbol. Above then are traces of what is thought to be a circular cross.

This unique knife handle was found in 1977 during excavations on the High Street, Perth (in advance of the construction of Marks & Spencers store) and is arguably the most exciting of all the many objects found during that excavation. The handle is made of walrus ivory and can be dated to the 14th century. It shows a hooded face carved in fine detail (only slightly marred by damage to the nose) and with intricately carved leaves being held to either side of the hood. It probably represents someone enjoying May-time festivities. The celebration of May often included the gathering of seasonal greenery. It is a further, fine indication of a thriving cultural life in medieval Perth.

Inchyra Pictish slab

Early medieval sculptured slab bearing incised Pictish symbols and ogam inscriptions. The Inchyra stone was found in 1945, when ploughing unearthed it as the cover stone of a grave in the parkland of Inchyra House, Carse of Gowrie, Perthshire. It is incised with several sets of Pictish symbols: a fish and a snake on one side (incomplete because of damage to the stone) and a fish with a double-disc on the other broad face. The latter side also has the apparently unfinished symbols of a mirror and a tuning fork.

In addition the stone bears four sets of inscriptions on the narrow faces and one of the broad faces. These are in ogam, a form of script using incised lines that originated in Ireland. The inscriptions on the Inchyra stone are unintelligible but appear to contain personal names.

Preserving the Picts

In the first thousand years AD the country we now call Scotland was dominated by changing groups of Celtic peoples, most notably the Picts. From AD 250-900 they controlled most of Scotland north of the Forth.  We do not know what they called themselves. The Picts  – meaning “the painted ones” – is the name the Romans gave them. Their language has disappeared and no Pictish manuscripts are known to have survived. But their art does survive on over 300 pieces of carved stonework and a much smaller number of portable objects such as jewellery.

The photographic collections of Perth Museum & Art Gallery include a number of important images of Pictish sculptures taken between 1880 and 1920.

Some of these photographs are displayed here both as works of art in their own right and as important historical records, preserving much artistic detail now lost on the actual stones. Recently taken photographs of some of the stones help to highlight this continuing threat.

A series of display panels (PDF: 5.22Mb) features major stones in Perthshire and the bordering counties of Fife and Angus.

A leaflet details information about the Kettins Cross Slab [495kb].

St Fillans hand bell

St Fillan’s bell is an early Christian hand-bell formerly kept and used in St Fillan’s Church, Struan (near Blair Atholl), Perthshire, and possibly associated with that place since the eighth century. It is quadrangular shaped and made of wrought iron, coated or dipped in bronze. The bell was donated to Perth Museum in 1939, after the donor purchased it at auction. It had been given into private hands in the 19th century when William McInory of Lude gave the church a new bell and was given St Fillan’s bell in return.

Such bells appear to have been primarily associated with missionary work by the early Church but in time came to be associated with the cult of saints which preserved the memory and example of the early saints. Objects associated with the saints were thought to be imbued with their spiritual power and a legend attached to St Fillan’s bell tells how a man from Rannoch attempted to steal it and was thwarted by the bell sticking itself fast to a rock until the thief decided he must return it.

Written (primarily Celtic/Irish) Saints Lives (including that of St Columba) often refer to the use of such bells, part of the tradition of Irish monasticism and so the Columban church of Iona. A 9th century Irish poem evoking the sound of such bells has been translated by Gerard Murphy as: “Bell of pleasant sound ringing on a windy night: I should prefer to tryst with it to trysting with a wanton woman”.

St Madoes cross slab

This magnificent piece of early medieval sculpture, the Pictish St Madoes cross-slab, dates to the eighth century AD. Its imagery powerfully symbolises the authority of the Christian church. The whole is dominated by the ring-headed cross that fills what we can accept as the front of the slab. It is surrounded by biting dogs and with two lion-like creatures facing each other across the top of the stone.

The back of the slab shows three cloaked and hooded riders, probably churchmen (possibly a reference to the road and its users between St Andrews and Scone) and below them three Pictish symbols: a crescent and v-rod, a double-disc and z-rod and a Pictish beast. The symbols are much worn due to exposure to the elements when it stood in St Madoes churchyard. In 1991 the stone was conserved and moved to Perth Museum & Art Gallery.

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