Kilmartin Church & Medieval Grave Slabs
I'm finishing up the tour of Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, Scotland with a visit to Kilmartin Church which sits in Kilmartin Village beside the museum.
Kilmartin (Cille Mhrtainn) is Gaelic for ‘the church of (St.) Martin.’ The area was an important center for early Christianity. Most travel in the early days in this area was by sea and lochs. Kilmartin was on the route between the Irish coast and the important religious island of Iona. Iona was the focus of St. Columba’s mission in the 6th century.
Kilmartin Parish Church was built in 1835 and is the latest of a series of churches built on this site. The graveyard outside is interesting because some of the graves and gravestones are from medieval times. This churchyard contains some of the oldest carved grave slabs in Scotland. It is also one of the largest collections, containing around 79 stones.
Some are outside and some are on display inside a stone mausoleum building beside the church. The earliest has been dated to about 1300. Grave slabs such as these are found throughout the Western Highlands, some carved by sculptors from Ireland and others from the Loch Awe school of sculpture.
|Some of the oldest medieval grave slabs.|
Some of these medieval grave slabs were moved from St. Columba’s Chapel in Poltalloch. These were carved in the late 14th century in the Loch Awe area for the Malcoms of Poltalloch. A plaque inside the mausoleum reads: “The grave slabs would have been laid flat on the ground over the grave. After the Reformation, however, many of the stones were moved, and it is unlikely that any of these were in their original positions when they were moved into this shelter in 1956. As well as the figures, many of them armoured, the motifs include swords, grotesque animals and shears. Much of the decoration represents foliage.” And it includes a map of Argyll and the islands close by showing where each of the grave slabs was taken from.
The carved slabs were laid on the ground to mark the burial site of several generations of the same family. Names are not recorded on most of the stones so it’s unknown who they were carved for. But experts believe they were for local ruling families.
|One of the later slabs|
Thanks for taking this virtual tour with me through Kilmartin Glen. If you missed my earlier posts, you can find them at: Temple Wood & Kilmartin Village, Carnasserie Castle, Nether Largie South Cairn and Nether Largie Standing Stones.