Scheduled Monument

Kildalton Church, church, High Cross, and cross 60m NE ofSM13236

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Crosses and carved stones: cross (free-standing); tombstone, Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard; church
Local Authority
Argyll And Bute
NR 45797 50818
145797, 650818


The monument consists of an early Christian high cross, and a substantial medieval church and its graveyard, which contains several finely carved gravestones. It also includes a later medieval cross, which stands 60m to the NE of the church and burial ground. Kildalton is situated in the SE of the island of Islay. The monument lies at approximately 20m above sea level, on the side of a valley surrounded by rough grazing land with rocky outcrops. The monument is being rescheduled to incorporate the small cross to the NE of the church, which was previously scheduled as a separately, and to bring the documentation up to modern standards.

The church stands within its burial ground, which is enclosed by 19th-century walls. The current church building dates to the late 12th or early 13th century and was in use until the end of the 17th century. It is a simple rectangular structure measuring 17.3m E-W by 5.7m transversely, with walls up to 0.9m thick standing to wall-head height. It is of masonry fabric comprising regularly shaped, flat-faced boulders bonded with lime mortar and dressed with sandstone. At the E end of the S wall are the remains of a projecting piscina surmounted by a canopy, while at the N end of the E wall is an aumbry. The original entrances are located at the western end of the N and S walls and measure 0.9m in width; the S entrance is taller than the N. At the E end of the interior, the chancel has two lancet windows on each of the N, S and E walls, and there is one window at the W end, in the upper portion of the W gable.

The Kildalton High Cross stands within the burial ground, to the N of the church. It is an almost complete ring-headed cross with elaborate decoration on both sides. The cross stands over 2.5m high and is in its original socket stone on a 19th-century stepped plinth. It is carved from a local chlorite-schist. In style and form, the cross is comparable to several crosses on Iona (such as St Oran's, St John's and St Martin's). The cross resembles St Martin's Cross for its figure scenes, while the delicacy of its carving and the proportions of the cross-head are akin to St John's Cross. The Kildalton High Cross is likely to date to the second half of the 8th century, although it appears to have been erected on a site which already had an established Christian presence.

Within the church and surrounding burial ground are a number of other carved stones, including four early Christian cross-slabs, a fine collection of late medieval West Highland grave-slabs and five notable post-Reformation gravestones, indicating continued use of the site into this period. Some 60m NE of the burial ground stands a free-standing disc-headed cross with splayed arms, sometimes referred to as the 'Thief's Cross'. It stands up to 1.94m in height on an artificial stony mound and is enclosed by iron railings. The cross is 14th-15th century in date and belongs to the Iona School.

The area to be scheduled is in two parts. The first is the church and its graveyard and is defined by the walls of the graveyard. The second is an area 3m square to include the cross situated 60m NE of the graveyard and an area around it, defined by but excluding the iron railings. Also excluded from the scheduling are all active burial lairs and the modern walls enclosing the graveyard. The scheduled areas include the remains described above as shown in red on the accompanying plan.

Statement of National Importance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is in excellent condition overall and it has an impressive chronology. The church, both of the free-standing crosses and the fine collection of carved stones all have a high research potential. The church is in a stable condition, although in places the original sandstone quoins and dressings have been robbed and much of the fabric has been restored. However, its overall form remains intact and some interior features survive, such as the aumbry and piscina. It was built in the late 12th or early 13th century and served the medieval parish of Kildalton, an independent parsonage in the patronage of the Bishops of the Isles, but continued in use until around 1700. The church has the potential to inform our understanding of medieval ecclesiastical architecture and the development of places of worship over time.

The high cross is complete and shows signs of only minor decorative damage. It is the finest example of an intact 8th-century high cross in Scotland, and is the only ring cross in Scotland to survive in its original location. The decoration survives to a remarkable degree and the fact that it is carved from a particularly hard, local chlorite-schist adds to our appreciation of the fine sculptural work. As such, it is an exceptionally valuable resource for the understanding of early Christian sculpture. Other carved stones at the site, including a number of early Christian cross-slabs, and the later medieval free-standing cross to the NE of the burial ground, also all have considerable research potential.

The medieval stones range in date and quality and display a number of different motifs typical of West Highland sculpture, such as swords, mythical creatures, animals and decorative plant-scrolls. They consist largely of recumbent tapered slabs of local stone. The collection includes a number of effigies, and slabs that incorporate warrior figures, all of them depicted wearing bascinets and knee-length aketons and holding single-hand swords. These carved stones have the potential to contribute greatly towards our understanding of West Highland sculpture and religious art, and funerary monuments in general. They also enhance our understanding and appreciation of medieval society and regional identity in the west of Scotland, and Islay's political history and its importance during the medieval period.

Within the burial ground, there is further potential for the survival of important buried archaeological remains spanning a considerable period of time. Whilst the high cross is thought to have been carved in the second half of the 8th century, it appears to have been erected on a site that already had an established Christian presence. Limited excavations have revealed early Christian deposits, including an early cross-slab at the base of the high cross, that pre-date the high cross and the current church building, indicating a long development sequence at the site with very early origins. It is possible that foundations or features relating to an earlier church survive beneath the existing church. There will also be burials, potentially dating from as early as the 7th century through to the post-Reformation period. These burials have the potential to inform our understanding of burial practices over an extended period of time and can tell us about the population of Islay and the lay society that used Kildalton. The skeletal remains can also reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps the types of activities people undertook during life.

Contextual characteristics

The high cross is a rare and extremely fine example of an early Christian free-standing cross in Scotland; it is one of only 10 major crosses from Scotland that has a cast displayed in the sculpture collection of the National Museum of Scotland. In style and form, it is directly comparable with two other early Christian crosses, both on Iona: St Martin's and St John's, although the cross at Kildalton is particularly striking for its Celtic artwork. It is recognised internationally as a masterpiece of 8th-century religious art and has attained iconographic status.

The church is comparable with others on Islay, and any comparative studies would enhance understanding of the organisation of the Christian church in the medieval period and the origins, nature and development of places of worship from the early Christian period to the post-Reformation period. The collection of carved stones can be compared with others across the west of Scotland, particularly the collection at Iona, to enhance our understanding and appreciation of West Highland sculpture and religious art, as well as medieval society and politics in this region.

Associative characteristics

The earliest documentary reference to the church dates from 1425, but the place-name evidence supports the archaeological evidence in pointing towards much earlier origins for this site as a place of worship in the early Christian period.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance as an ecclesiastical site containing one of the finest surviving examples of early Christian sculpture in Britain. The presence of the substantial medieval church indicates that, although the site may not have seen continuous use, it was regarded as an important location right up to the Reformation. The quality and range of the medieval carvings in the burial ground at Kildalton is particularly fine, even for Argyll. The site has the potential to increase our knowledge of medieval stone carving and social, political and ecclesiastical life in Argyll throughout the Middle Ages.



Allen and Anderson J R and J 1903, The early Christian monuments of Scotland: a classified illustrated descriptive list of the monuments with an analysis of their symbolism and ornamentation, Edinburgh, pp. 391-2.

Fisher I 1997, 'Early Christian archaeology in Argyll', in Ritchie, G, The archaeology of Argyll, Edinburgh, pp. 200-1.

Fisher I 2001, Early Medieval sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands, RCAHMS/SocAntScot Monograph series 1 Edinburgh, pp. 138-9.

Graham R C 1895, The carved stones of Islay, Glasgow, pp. 81-93.

Henderson I 1986, 'The 'David Cycle' in Pictish art', in Higgitt, J, Early Medieval Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, Brit Archaeol Rep, BAR British, vol. 152 Oxford, pp. 93-4, 105.

Hunter J 2002, 'Saints and sinners: the archaeology of the late Iron Age in the Western Isles', in Ballin Smith, B and Banks, I, In the shadow of the brochs: the Iron Age in Scotland, A celebration of the work of Dr. Euan MacKie on the Iron Age of Scotland Stroud, pp. 137.

Lamont W D 1968, Ancient and medieval sculptured stones of Islay, Glasgow, pp. 4-57.

MacKie E 1976c, 'Cultoon, Islay', Glasgow Archaeol Soc Bull No. 2.

OPS 1854, Origines parochiales Scotiae: the antiquities ecclesiastical and territorial of the parishes of Scotland, vol.2, 1 Edinburgh, pp. 269.

PSAS 1883 'Donations to and purchases for the Museum and Library, with exhibits', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 17, pp. 277-9.

RCAHMS 1984, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 5: Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay, Edinburgh, pp. 203-15, no. 367.

Ritchie and Harman J N G and M 1985, Exploring Scotland's heritage: Argyll and the Western Isles, Exploring Scotland's heritage series Edinburgh, pp. 108-9, no. 45.

Ritchie and Harman J N G and M 1996, Argyll and the Western Isles, Exploring Scotland's Heritage series, ed. by Anne Ritchie Edinburgh, pp. 37, 114-15, 149.

Steer and Bannerman K A and J W M 1977, Late medieval monumental sculpture in the West Highlands, Edinburgh.

Stuart J 1867, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, vol. 2 Edinburgh, pp. 24.

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Kildalton Cross

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Printed: 29/03/2023 13:58