Statement of National Importance
The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:
The monument is the buried remains of an early Christian site and later medieval church. The collection of early medieval carved stones from within and around the churchyard are some of the earliest Latin-inscribed stones discovered in Scotland, thought to date to the 6th century. The quality and content of the inscriptions strongly points to the existence of a monastic community at Kirkmadrine at this time. The earliest stone, Kirkmadrine 1, commemorates two sancti et praecipi sacerdotes, 'holy and outstanding priests', which may indicate that they were bishops. The other Latin-inscribed stones, Kirkmadrine 2 and 3, are also memorials to named individuals and, like Kirkmadrine 1, display Chi-Rho crosses. Other carved stones indicate that the site continued to be an important ecclesiastical centre during the 9th to 11th centuries. By the 13th century, it was the site of the parish church of Toskerton which was a benefice of Whithorn Priory.
The monument survives as a distinct mound within the later graveyard, which has been partially cut into during construction of the medieval parish church and later 19th century burial chapel. There remains, therefore, the potential to understand the developmental sequence of the monument from early medieval through to its 19th century redevelopment through surviving archaeological deposits.
There have been limited interventions to the site in the form of excavations to provide foundation trenches for the medieval church and later burial chapel. There have been no modern archaeological excavations or surveys at Kirkmadrine. The site has the potential to provide information on the nature and extent of the 6th century occupation of the site, to which the early Latin inscribed stones belonged, as well as information on the type of activities undertaken on site. The monument also provides the opportunity to better understand rural parish churches, in particular during the 9th to 11th centuries to which the later carved stones belong.
Early historic monastic settlements known to have surviving physical remains are rare in Scotland. Nevertheless, excavations within the monastic enclosures at Whithorn, Hoddom, Portmahomack and Iona, as well as remains at Inchmarnock and on the Isle of May provide evidence which places Kirkmadrine in context through the carved stones found there.
Kirkmadrine is strongly associated with Whithorn, which was once thought to be the site of the church known as Candida Casa, the 'white house' founded by St Ninian, who traditionally arrived at Whithorn either in the 4th, 5th or 6th century. However, recent research has cast doubt on the tradition of St Ninian, while the archaeology of Whithorn suggests that it was not a monastic settlement in the 6th century, but rather was an important royal centre. Kirkmadrine, with its collection of distinctly ecclesiastical memorials (Kirkmadrine 1-3 as well as the lost Ventidius' stone that refers to a sub-deacon) is likely to have been an important monastic centre in its own right, perhaps the centre of the original Bishopric, which for political reasons moved to Whithorn during the Northumbrian takeover of the area. The carved stones therefore strongly suggest that Kirkmadrine may pre-date nearby Whithorn as a monastic centre. One of the carved stones from Whithorn (the Petrus stone) may have come from a workshop at Kirkmadrine.
The stones which bear the earliest recorded personal names in Galloway, show a mixture of Britonnic, Irish, Roman and Gaulish name forms. The use of Latin script, the lanuage used and the appearance of a rare, early form of Christian symbolism, the Chi-Rho cross, shows that there was a highly literate Christian community at Kirkmadrine in the 6th century, likely to have been monastic in nature. This indicates a continuation of late Romano-British Christianity in south west Scotland with contacts within Britain and with the Continent, as well as the emerging early church in Ireland.
The place name Kirkmadrine post-dates the 6th century and in conjunction with the later carved stones places this monument within the realm of the Gall-Ghàidheil, or 'stranger Gaels', Irish speaking Norse descendants strongly linked to the Viking kingdom of Dublin and Man which expanded to southwest Scotland in the 10th century.
Kirkmadrine is located on a natural ridge which provides the monument with an elevated position in the landscape. There are several springs and wells surrounding this site, and one open pool to the northwest of the monument is the source of a burn now diverted to run along the 19th century tree-lined avenue which forms southern approach to the site. This pool may have been an early holy well.
Kirkmadrine's importance has been acknowledged for over a hundred years and was recognised in the first measure to preserve key ancient monuments, in the Ancient Monuments Act of 1882.
Statement of National Importance
This monument is of national importance because it makes a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular of early monastic settlements and the nature of Christianity in the early medieval period. The site has the potential for well-preserved archaeological deposits relating to a monastic settlement which could make a very significant contribution to our knowledge of monastic organisation and economy. Archaeological deposits offer particular potential to illuminate early Christianity in Scotland during the 5th to 7th centuries and developments in the 9th to 12th centuries, when Northumbrian control waned and Norse and Irish cultural influence was strong. As one of the earliest Christian sites in Scotland, the loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the origins and development of early monasteries, their role in manufacturing, trade and exchange, and their part in the conversion of Scotland to Christianity.