by Tim Blackie
In 2004, I was looking over my garden wall into Rosemarkie’s ancient graveyard and noticed gravediggers preparing a burial plot. Pictish sculpture has been discovered for over two centuries in the graveyard so I leapt over my wall and was told that it was an old family plot and a recently deceased woman was about to join her long-departed husband.
I asked if any pieces of stone had been recovered from the burial plot and I was pointed in the direction of a piece of dressed stone holding down the edge of the tarpaulin. After cleaning off the dirt, I noticed incised lines appearing on one side of the stone. It turned out to be a fragment of a Pictish grave marker dating to the 8th or 9th century. Carved on a finely dressed face was a quadrant of an incised ringed cross with the connecting ring and part of the shaft and one of the cross arms.
I have been interested in Pictish sculpture for many years and I co-authored ‘The Sculptured Stones of Caithness’ (Pinkfoot Press 1998). During my time living in Caithness, I had travelled the county examining old walls and clearance cairns near early chapel sites in the hope of discovering reused pieces of sculpture without success. I was therefore seriously chuffed to have recovered a piece of Pictish sculpture in Rosemarkie graveyard, next door to my garden! This carved stone is now on display in Groam House Museum (GHM) (https://her.highland.gov.uk/Monument/MHG38857).
The museum is famous for its unique and rich collection of Pictish sculpture and a visit to the museum is always inspiring with the magnificent Rosemarkie cross slab taking pride of place. There are also many other pieces of sculpture on display including parts of an altar or a shrine, emphasising the importance of Rosemarkie as a major monastic settlement in early medieval times (https://her.highland.gov.uk/Monument/MHG25214).
Some of the carved stones were discovered while repairing the medieval church in 1735 when “stone coffins of rude workmanship…” were revealed “…in a vault under an ancient steeple”1, and others were found in the surrounding graveyard over the last two centuries. A number of other fragments of sculpture have been found more recently in local garden rockeries in Rosemarkie and Fortrose! The medieval church was demolished in 1821 and replaced by the current church.Continue reading