‘A magnum monasterium in SW Scotland? New work on Kirkmadrine and its stones’

Published on: Author: CSCS 3 Comments

On 14 May 2013, the Centre was pleased to welcome Katherine Forsyth and Adrián Maldonado who discussed, ‘A magnum monasterium in SW Scotland? New work on Kirkmadrine and its stones’. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

Adrian began by contextualising the landscape and surroundings of Kirkmadrine. Kirkmadrine is in Galloway, south-west Scotland, situated in an area known as The Rhinns. Generally, Kirkmadrine has been vastly overshadowed by its neighbour, Whithorn, yet much of this talk was aimed at redressing this imbalance and ensuring Kirkmadrine is recognised as a hugely significant site for early medieval sculpture.

The current churchyard at Kirkmadrine dates to the 1840s, built as a burial-ground for the MacTaggart family. The early-medieval stones of Kirkmadrine were eventually found in 1870 but they had been used as gate-posts for the church. As a result, two of the stones have holes drilled into them! Another stone wasn’t found until 1917 as it was also being used as a gatepost elsewhere. An excavation was conducted in 1889 by William Galloway but it was relatively brief and no work has been done in Kirkmadrine since. Kirkmadrine was first mapped by Blaeu’s Atlas in 1654 and later by Roy’s Military Map in 1755, the latter of which clearly displays the boggy surroundings of the area. The first edition of the OS Map in 1848 shows the church at the centre of a number of natural springs, which may indicate a cultic association with the site. In general, Adrian argued that Kirkmadrine is situated within a pre-historic ceremonial landscape.

Katherine then began assessing the evidence from the stones themselves. Kirkmadrine (1) has a Latin inscription that translates: ‘Here lie the holy and outstanding sacredotes (priests/bishops), that is to say Viventius and Movorious.’ Viventius is a Roman name and Movorious is derived from Magurix and is Celtic. The stone is dated to the sixth century and it can be seen here: http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/details/1324016/. The next stone she discussed was inscribed slightly later and notes the burial of two people named Florentius. The third in the sequence features a quotation from scripture, ‘The beginning and the end’, which references Christ. Katherine argued that these three stones were made over the course of a few generations, or fifty or so years. They can be dated to the mid-sixth century-beginning of the seventh.

Katherine argued the inscription of the first stone, Kirkmadrine (1), demonstrates clear knowledge of scribal practice, redolent of a learned environment. Whithorn features a stone, ‘Latinus’, from the fifth-century but it is not explicitly ecclesiastical. Kirkmadrine’s ecclesiastical stones are therefore earlier than Whithorn’s. The ‘Peter’ stone from Whithorn dates to the seventh-century and recalls the earlier Kirkmadrine stones. Later in the talk, Katherine even suggested that this was originally made in Kirkmadrine as the stone comes from deposits local to the area. 

Katherine demonstrated that while Whithorn became the major ecclesiastical site in the tenth and eleventh century, Kirkmadrine was ascendant in the sixth century. It was likely the ‘mangnum monasterium’ of the talk’s title, ‘Great Monastery’, that had a connection to Finnian and Nennio (Ninnian). At this time, Whithorn was a burial ground for the secular elite and a major feasting/royal site. It became more important in the Anglian period and eventually developed into the famous ecclesiastical site that we are familiar with. In the tenth century, Kirkmadrine was revived, causing a resurgence of local sculpture.

After the talk, there was considerable discussion about this puzzling stone, Kirkmadrine (7): http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/details/1324004/. Some argued it may represent the springs surrounding Kirkmadrine, while another audience member suggested it could depict a crucified human figure.

You can see the rest of the Kirkmadrine stones, photos taken within the month, here: http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/60441/digital_images/kirkmadrine+church+and+burial+ground/?&z=0

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

The Centre’s seminar series continues continues on 21 May with Brian Taylor’s ‘The referendum of 1997: the settled will of the Scottish people?’, as the final part of the Vox Populi series. This will be held in Room 611 of the Boyd Orr building at 5.30pm.

3 Responses to ‘A magnum monasterium in SW Scotland? New work on Kirkmadrine and its stones’ Comments (RSS) Comments (RSS)

  1. I’ve only just been alerted to this interesting piece on Kirkmadrine: indeed, you don’t have to go far from there on a clear day to see the Ards Peninsula, location of Finnian’s Movilla. But I’m cautious of awarding priority, whether historical or hierarchical, to one site over another. We just don’t know how things were organised in the very early church in Britain, but my tentative hypothesis would be that Kirkmadrine and Whithorn, and probably other sites in the Rinns and Machars were part of a ‘monastic territory’, a sort of ecclesiastical ‘multiple estate’. But the relative status and maybe different functions of the various sites are probably beyond retrieval.

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