OS Grid Reference: NS 96842 72506. An ancient standing stone known as the ‘Torphichen Sanctuary Stone’ is to be found at the west-side of the kirkyard and preceptory of Torphichen parish church, 2¼ miles to the north of Bathgate in west Lothian, Scotland. The stone has five small prehistoric cup-marks, but also a Celtic-style carving from the Dark Ages when St Ninian lived here, while on the top of the stone there is a medieval incised cross and a small hollow. It is the central-most stone of three – the other two being within a 1 mile radius of the preceptory. The thinking is that the santuary stone came from the ancient site of Cairnpapple Hill, about 1½ miles to the east. Torphichen’s medieval church and preceptory are located at the east-side of the village on The Bowyett, which runs off from the B792 road. You will find the little standing stone set amongst the gravestones at the west-side of the grassy kirkyard.
The little standing stone was set up here in the 12th century by the Knights Hospitallers (Knights of St John) to mark out a place of sanctuary or refuge for local people and pilgrims from further afield who wished to seek ‘a place of safety here’, or more likely the stone was already here when the Knights founded their preceptory/hospital and church in 1168; an incised cross was carved on the top of the stone and the little hollow carved to either hold a cross or maybe holy water? But the stone was used at an earlier date by St Ninian, who had settled here in the 4th century and, in the 7th century St Fechin, an Irish monk and missionary from the monastery of Fore, County Westmeath, apparently also made use of this standing stone – the Celtic-style carving on the stone would date from this time. The five small cup-marks on the side of the stone date from the early Bronze Age when it stood on Cairnpapple Hill where there is a Neolithic henge monument and Bronze Age cairn. The pre-ceptory which was the Knight’s Hospitallers Scottish base, is now in ruins although the central tower, west tower-arch and transepts remain; the nave was rebuilt in the 17th century and now forms part of the present parish church. Some of the domestic buildings and parts of the hospital also still stand.
There are two other associated sanctuary (refuge) stones (West and East) both of which stand about 1 mile distant from the central stone here in the Torphichen kirkyard. The W stone, which had a Maltese cross carved upon it, is located at Westfield farm (OS grid ref: NS 9437 7211) while the E stone is at Easter Gormyre farm near the hamlet of Gormyre (OS grid ref: 9806 7311), according to the Canmore website entries.
Sources of information and related websites:-
Ancient Monuments — Scotland, Volume VI, H. M. Stationery Office, Edinburgh, 1959.
Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1981.
The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, London, 1963.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.