The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Ancient Cross-shafts in Dunblane Cathedral, Perthshire, Scotland

NGR:- NN 78149 01389. Dunblane Cathedral is situated on Kirk Street at the western side of the town, which is in Perthshire, Scotland. The cathedral occupies the site of a Celtic monastery that was founded in the 6th Century AD by St Blane. The saint is said to have been born on the Isle of Bute in 530 AD where he became a monk at a monastery founded by his uncle, St Cathan, though his parents were from Ireland, and Blane may have been educated over in Ireland by St Comgall. He was eventually made Bishop of the Picts at Kingarth. His death was recorded as being in 590 AD. The Cathedral was founded in 1141 by David, King of Scotland, but much of the architecture is 13th Century. In the nave are two cross-shafts that date from the 9th-10th Centuries AD; they were found during restoration of the building in the 1870s; the highly-sculptured carvings on the taller shaft are Pictish in origin but Christianized with a very nice carved cross – whereas the smaller shaft is thought to be from a broken cross-shaft. Before visiting the Cathedral [please check first] to see if the building is open at this time of Covid-19 restrictions. Dunblane is 6 miles north of Stirling on the A9 road.

Photo is courtesy of Patrick John Leonard.

Photo is courtesy of Patrick John Leonard.

Elizabeth Sutherland (1997) gives details of this site, saying that: “12 Dunblane Cathedral is an ancient Christian Pictish site dedicated to the 6th century St Blane. Part of the tower was built before 1100.  It was restored in 1889 when two stones were recovered. Dunblane 13.1: C.III. ORS. c. 6 ft (183 cm) tall.  Ringed cross-slab. Front: top and lower ends of a cross termi-nate in single spirals. Bead moulding outlining the cross ends at the foot in two serpent heads with protruding tongues.  Back: single panel reading from the top: (1) two facing beasts on hind legs with fore-paws crossed and a single spiral in upper right corner; (2) a piece of square key-pattern surrounding square figure filled with five bosses like dots on dice;  (3)  a small ringed-cross on the left with a design like a key-hole plate to the right; (4) a horseman with a spear and dog; (5) a disc ornamented with a cross on the right surrounded by crude key-pattern and also spirals; (6) a man with a staff lying with his feet towards a single spiral on the right similar to the spiral on the top of the stone. 13.2: C.III. ORS. 2¾ ft (71 cm) long. Side panel contains three pieces of ornament, ten-cord plaiting, diagonal key-pattern and zoomorphic interlace.” 

Joyce Miller (2000) tells us more about the Cathedral, saying: “In the picturesque town of Dunblane by the banks of the Allen River, is the fine Cathedral, which is dedicated to St Blane. Blane was active trying to convert the Picts in the 6th century, at the same time as Mungo was preaching in Glasgow. Blane was from Kingarth on Bute, and is said to have been given a dun or fort here. Although there was a church here from Pictish times, the cathedral dates substantially from the 13th century. The bell-tower is earlier, probably 11th century. The cathedral became ruinous after the reformation, except for the choir – but the whole building was restored in 1889-93 by Sir Rowand Anderson. There is fine carving inside the church, medieval stalls, and a 9th century ringed cross-slab with two serpent heads. On the back of the stone are several more carvings with animals, figures and a disc and cross. There is another carved stone. The building is still used as the parish church.”

Joyce goes on to tell us about St Blane’s Chapel, Kingarth, saying: “The site is surrounded by an enclosure wall, and there are several ruinous buildings, including ‘The Cauldron’, the purpose of which is unclear, although it is recorded as being used as a place of punish-ment. In the middle of the site is the 12th-century chapel, with a finely decorated chancel arch. There is also an upper and lower burial yard with some fine gravestones, the upper yard being used for burying men, while the lower was for women. A spring here, a reputed holy well (and also believed by some to be a wishing well) is known as St Blane’s Well.” 

Childe & Simpson (1959) say that Dunblane Cathedral is: “One of Scotland’s noblest medieval churches. The existing building dates mainly from the thirteenth century, but embodies a square tower, once free-standing, the lower part of which is Norman work. The cathedral consists of an aisled nave, an aisles choir, and a lady-chapel attached to the north wall of the choir. There are no transepts. The nave was unroofed after the Reformation, but the whole building was restored in 1892-5, under the direction of Sir Rowand Anderson. Apart from the Norman tower, the oldest portion is the Lady-chapel. The east and west gables of the church, and the nave arcade, are particularly fine essays in the high style of the thirteenth century. The church contains some good monuments, also important remnants of the medieval carved oaken stalls. In the nave are buried James IV’s mistress, Margaret Drummond, and her two sisters, all poisoned at Drummond Castle in 1502. The cathedral occupies a commanding and beautiful position overlooking the Water of Allan. It is well seen from the railway. The most celebrated Bishop of Dunblane was the saintly Robert Leighton (1661-71).”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Many, many thanks to Patrick John Leonard for the use of his two photos (above). The photos are copyright © Patrick John Leonard.

Childe, Gordon & Simpson, Douglas, Ancient Monuments—Scotland—Illustrated Guide, H. M. Stationery Office, Edinburgh, 1959. 

Miller, Joyce, Myth and Magic — Scotland’s Ancient Beliefs & Sacred Places, Goblinshead, Musselburgh, Scotland, 2000.

Sutherland, Elizabeth, The Pictish Guide, Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh, 1997.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunblane_Cathedral

https://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/corpusofscottishchurches/site.php?id=158011

https://canmore.org.uk/site/24673/dunblane-kirk-street-dunblane-cathedral

https://senchus.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/dunblanes-late-pictish-cross-slab/

https://dunblanecathedral.org.uk/page/43/historical-introduction-cathedral

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

Author: sunbright57

I am interested in holy wells, standing stones and ancient crosses; also anything old, prehistoric, or unusual.

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