Scheduled Monument

Nigg Church, Pictish symbol-bearing cross-slabSM1680

Status: Designated

Documents

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Summary

Date Added
18/05/1925
Last Date Amended
02/03/2004
Supplementary Information Updated
23/06/2015
Type
Crosses and carved stones: symbol stone
Local Authority
Highland
Parish
Nigg (Highland)
NGR
NH 80435 71702
Coordinates
280435, 871702

Description

The monument comprises a particularly fine example of a Pictish symbol-bearing cross-slab. Dating to the late 8th century, it is no longer in its original position but it is earthfast and still associated with its findspot, the now redundant 17th-century parish church of Nigg. Historic Scotland's predecessor body was responsible for relocating the cross-slab in 1978. The monument was first scheduled in 1925, rescheduled in 1993. However, there is a discrepancy between the scheduled map and the description and the present scheduling rectifies this.

The cross-slab is an upright, rectangular sandstone slab with a pedimented top, 2.2m high by about 1m wide, sculptured in both high and low relief on front, back and right side. The front bears a cross with complex relief interlace work, set in a field bearing bosses which are also decorated with, and surrounded by, interlace. Above the cross, at the apex of the stone, there is a scene depicting SS Anthony and Paul and the raven. The reverse of the stone was badly damaged in antiquity but there is evidence of an eagle above a Pictish beast with, below, a hunting scene including a hound, a deer, a mounted figure and a standing figure. Within the hunting scene is a representation of the biblical King David killing the lion.

The cross-slab was broken sometime in the past (the stone is believed to have been intact until 1725 when it is reputed to have been blown over in a storm), and a section which measures between 16cm and 26cm is now missing. The missing section is filled with a concrete. However, despite the loss of the portion of the cross, it is relatively intact. In 1998, a piece of the missing section of the cross-slab was found in the bed of a small burn a few metres below the E gable of the church. This has not been physically reunited with the cross-slab.

The cross-slab is one of a series of outstanding carved stones of 8th/9th century date found in Easter Ross. Stylistically, it is particularly closely related to the stones at Shandwick (in situ) and Hilton of Cadboll (now in the Museum of Scotland/Hilton), and the smaller fragments from Portmahomack. As a group they suggest the existence of a local school of carvers connected to ecclesiastical centres of some description, with considerable patronage from the local aristocracy. On stylistic grounds the Nigg cross-slab is believed to stand between the Hilton of Cadboll and Shandwick cross-slabs, and is perhaps the most accomplished of all.

The carving on the cross-slabs demonstrate the many wide artistic, iconographic and cultural connections that this area of Scotland had with the rest of the British Isles and beyond to Continental Europe. It has been suggested that the influence of the Easter Ross school extended as far as Iona; the prominent bosses, covered in interlace work and encircled by snakes, of St John's and St Oran's crosses appear to have been influenced by the Nigg cross-slab. The overall design of Nigg, front and back, shows an orderly and symmetrical balancing of panels of decoration, and this use of panels becomes a distinctive feature of later cross-slabs.

The icongraphic programme of the Nigg Stone has distinct similarities to that of the St Andrews Sarcophagus, and has huge potential to inform us about the nature of Christianity and its relations to the secular world of the Pictish kingdom. Strong stylistic parallels suggest that the St Andrews Sarcophagus and Nigg Cross-slab were carved by sculptors trained in the same school, if not the same sculptor.

The area to be scheduled is a rectangle measuring 1.3m by 0.4m, to include the cross-slab, its modern mounting and associated fittings, both above and below ground. The detached portion discovered in 1998 cannot be scheduled because it is portable.

Statement of National Importance

The Nigg cross-slab is indisputably one of the most beautiful, technically brilliant and important examples of Insular art anywhere in the British Isles. As such it has very close links with high status early medieval fine metalwork and ornate manuscripts. There are particularly close connections with the St Andrews Sarcophagus, an internationally significant royal burial shrine (the sculptor may even be the same person). Additionally, the Nigg cross-slab is the 'jewel in the crown' of a tight group of geographically, chronologically and stylistically related Pictish sculptures. Each is significant in their own right; as a group they are of outstanding significance. Their presence can possibly be attributed to the presence and patronage of a wealthy monastery at Tarbat: the Tarbat peninsula may have been a monastic estate. The cross-slab is therefore of importance as an outstanding example of Pictish artistic, technical and spiritual endeavour, but also as a tangible clue to the type of religious and social structure that may have led to its creation.

References

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the site as NH87SW 1.

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Scheduling is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance as set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments that are found to be of national importance using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map showing the scheduled area is the legal part of the scheduling. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

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Printed: 23/05/2019 21:50