Places to Visit in Scotland
- Aberlemno Pictish Stones, Angus
Aberlemno is a small village on the B9134 minor road between Forfar and Brechin. There are two cross-slabs (a combination of Christian cross and Pictish artwork) and a symbol stone beside the road and a third cross-slab beside Aberlemno church. A fourth cross-slab was found near the village of Woodrae, not far away. But this is now in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh (having at one time been in the possession of Sir Walter Scott).
The tallest of the cross-slabs is known to be in its original position from Pictish times, so clearly this area was of some importance to the Picts, the native people who lived in the Highlands and central Scotland as far south as Fife and the Forth valley until the 9th century.
The Cross-slab at Aberlemno Church
On one side of this 8th century standing stone is carved a Celtic cross, decorated with an interlacing pattern and flanked by well carved panels - the Pictish carvers often mixed the Christian symbols with those from their earlier history. The mythical beasts in the bottom right-hand corner may have represented sea horses.
On the other side, there are Pictish symbols at the top - a notched rectangle, a "Z-rod" which some experts suggest represents a broken arrow or spear, and a circle with two smaller circles on each side which some researchers suggest my be a symbolic cauldron.
Underneath is a battle scene. On the top row, a mounted Pictish horseman is chasing a Northumbrian (identified from his helmet and nose-guard) warrior who has thrown away his helmet and sword. The two tails of the two horses are not docked, which may be an indication that they are important. On the next row, three Pictish soldiers are attacking a Northumbrian horseman and on the third row two warroirs are charging at one another while a third lies dead on the ground - with a raven already picking at his head.
It is very likely that the battle being depicted is that of Dunnichen (also known as Nechtansmere) which took place on May 20, 685. King Bruide of the Picts defeated an invasion by Ecgfrith, King of Northumbria. King Ecgfrith, who was an accomplished general, had previously defeated the Picts and a second victory would have resulted in the expansion of the Britons into that part of the island - and might have meant Scotland never becoming a separate country.
This carved stone is 7½ feet tall and and was made around 750AD - a hundred years after the Battle of Dunnichen. The hole near the top of the slab is a modern addition - it was cut to make it easier to move it in the days before damaging such historic monuments was considered to be a crime!
Roadside Scuptured Stones
The earliest of the three stones beside the B9134 road has only Pictish symbols carved on it and dates from the 7th century. Running up the slab is the "Z-rod" of a broken arrow or spear, going across the connected double disc (connected to the Druidic duality of the sun and moon. At the foot are a mirror and comb - frequently found on Pictish stones - there are 59 known examples on various stones uncovered to date. At the top is a symbolic snake.
The cross-slab at the side of the road is over nine feet high and is sometimes called "The Mourning Angels" as the lower panels on each side of the shaft of the cross show angels with heads bowed in either adoration or grief.
On the other side of the cross there is an ornamented crescent and "V-rod" (a broken arrow?) at the top, followed by a double disc and "Z-rod". After this, there is a hunting scene with four mounted men, three stags and three dogs.
There is a third stone (not illustrated here) which shows a centaur with a bird-like creature under its legs. There is also a representation of King David as a shepherd tearing the jaws of a lion.
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