MHG13828 - Cross Slabs - St. Columba's Chapel, A'Chill, Canna


Cross fragments and Cross slab found in the burial ground of St. Columba's chapel, including the fragmented no. 13, and also no. 8, no. 15 and no.16.

Type and Period (2)

  • CROSS SLAB (CULTURE 300; CULTURE 900; , Pictish - 300 AD to 900 AD)
  • CROSS (Early Medieval - 561 AD to 1057 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Renumbered from NG20NE0001B
Jhooper, 5/6/2002
St Columba's Chapel (NR)
(Site of) Burial Ground (NR)
OS 6" map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., (1903)

St Columba's Church, Canna, is mentioned by Archdeacon Monro in 1549, but was in ruins when noticed by Pennant in 1772.
Orig Paroch Scot 1855; D Monro 1884; T Pennant 1790

A fragment of a cross-shaft was found c.1900 in a wall not far from the free-standing cross, (MHG5602) and presumably also in the churchyard. It is in two pieces (together 2' x 1' x 3") and features a design of human legs and entwined serpent. It was preserved within the modern Memorial church but appears to have been since removed by J L Campbell (the laird) to Canna House (NG20NE 24), where it was seen by Rivet in 1961.
RCAHMS 1928; J R Allen and J Anderson 1903; OS 6"map annotated by A L F Rivet, 26 June 1961

Lethbridge suggests that the cross may be of the 7th century.
Private 6" map of T C Lethbridge, 1953

St Columba's Chapel and burial ground were destroyed in the mid 19th century during land improvements, and the present burial ground at NG 2690 0544 was inaugurated about 90.0m to the S.
The sculptured grave slab, probably from the old burial ground, is still within the W half of the modern burial ground, but lies loose (See MHG5536). The fragments of the cross shaft are preserved at Canna House. A third piece has been found by Mr Campbell.
Visited by OS (A A) 30 May 1972.

The fragments of the cross shaft and the sculptured grave slab are as described by the OS in 1972.
Visited by RCAHMS (ARG), 20 August 1996

13) Two fragments of a cross-shaft were discovered in the wall of the burial-ground not long before 1895 and published in 1903. In the same year Lord Archibald Campbell was sent a rubbing of a third fragment, also described as being in the burial-ground, but the stone was subsequently lost and was rediscovered there in 1939. The two lower fragments were kept for some time at the Roman Catholic church on Sanday, but all three are now at Canna House along with a fragment, found in a ruined house near the harbour, which appears to be from the top arm of the same cross.
The cross is carved from a medium-grained reddish-brown sandstone with some pebbly quartzitic inclusions. The surviving fragments of the shaft, which is incomplete at the foot but includes the lower constriction of the cross-head, have a combined length of 1.03m and taper in width from 0.34m to 0.31m. The front is of convex section and the shaft is thickest towards the cross-head, varying from 85mm to 100mm at the edges and from 95mm to 130mm at the centre. There was no provision for a ring, and the broken upper end preserves the lower arcs of two broad semicircular armpits.
The front of the shaft (a) is carved in relief with a single scene, a large standing figure, lacking the head, whose legs are entwined with a serpent. The arms, broken at the wrists, are crossed on the breast and the baggy sleeves are decorated with central ribs and possibly an oblique cuff. Below the arms and above the slightly oblique waist-belt there is a slanting line, perhaps a fold of the tunic, and between the belt and the plain hem of the skirt there is a vertical panel containing two triquetras set diagonally to form a single ring-knot. The legs, whose knees are bent outwards, appear to be bare, although there is a possible central rib on the lower right leg, but the feet are shod. The legs are intertwined with the upper part of a double-S-curved serpent whose snout or beak touches the hem of the tunic, and whose tail terminates at the bottom right in a tightly-coiled spiral. The upper part of its body is much worn, but the lower part preserves traces of overall curvilinear ornament.
The back of the shaft (c) bears, between circular angle-mouldings, three panels of ornament whose divisions coincide closely with the breaks between the three fragments. The lowest panel shows four symmetrically interlaced snakes whose heads, like those on f.130 of the Book of Kells, are seen from above and have large eyes and prominent snouts, in this case ribbed transversely. The heads, however, are set at the outer angles of the panel, each biting the body of its neighbour, and the four fish-like tails meet at the centre in a cruciform motif. Two of the heads have long ears curving out, while the other two have ears tightly clasped to the bodies, all of which have central ribs. This panel is separated by a moulding bearing a T-fret from the next, a square containing four identical squares of knotwork (RA 758) combined to produce cruciform, saltire and diagonal-square divisions. The panel in the upper part of the shaft and lower part of the cross-head is bounded at the top by an arc of a circular moulding. It bears a diagonal fret similar to that in the corresponding position on the W face of the Canna Cross (no.12), but with curved rather than straight-line spirals.
The right edge (b) bears a continuous knot-pattern. The lower part of the left edge (d) bore at least two, and possibly three double spirals with hollow-triangle terminals. Above this there is a pattern of paired Stafford knots with repeated cruciform breaks (RA 598).
The material of the arm-fragment is more purple in colour than the shaft, but identical in texture. It measures 0.16m by 0.14m and like the shaft it is convex on one face, varying from 60mm at the edge to 100mm. This suggests that it was the upper right angle of the top arm. The front bears, within an edge-moulding, parts of two broad curving bands, perhaps the body of a serpent, and the back bears a fragment of a diagonal fret similar to that on the shaft. <1>

A’ Chill 13 (St Columba), Canna, Skye & Lochalsh, cross fragments
Measurements: H H 1.03m, W 0.34m, D max 0.13m
Stone type: reddish-brown sandstone
Place of discovery: NG 2692 0553
Present location: in Canna House.
Evidence for discovery: the two lower fragments were found in the late nineteenth century in re-use in the wall of the burial ground at A’ Chill, and kept at the Roman Catholic Church in Sanday before being taken to Canna House. The fragment forming the top of the shaft was later found in the burial ground and taken to Canna House. A fourth fragment was found ‘in a ruined house near the harbour’. The cross is likely to have come from the early burial ground close to cross no 12.
Present condition: weathered and broken, with the base of the shaft and most of the cross-head missing.
Three substantial and conjoining portions of the upper shaft of a free-standing cross have survived, together with one small fragment from the terminal of an arm, probably the upper arm. All faces are carved in relief. Face A is filled with the body of a man, intact up to his shoulders, with a serpent entwined round his legs. The frontal figure wears a short tunic with a panel decorated with two triquetra knots, and the serpent's tail is coiled into a spiral. Narrow faces B and D bear interlace, with the addition on face D of running spirals. Face C is divided into three large panels, the top of which is filled with diagonal key pattern and probably acted as the lower arm of an equal-armed cross-head. The middle panel contains four smaller panels of interlace forming a cross, and the lower panel contains four symmetrically entwined serpents. The arm fragment is carved on face A with two relief arcs and face C with diagonal key pattern.
Date range: ninth or tenth century.
Primary references: ECMS pt 3, 109-10; Fisher 2001, 100-1.
Compiled by A Ritchie 2016 <2>

Three other carved stones have been found which are likely to have come from the early burial ground close to cross no. 12. Two (no. 15 and 16) are lost; after the island was cleared of tenants in 1851, a farm manager is said ‘to have broken up carved stones from the old graveyard at Keill and used them in building; two particularly fine ones were hidden by local patriots who buried them in some spot that is now unfortunately forgotten’. Cross no. 8 was found during ploughing at A’ Chill in 1947, and is now preserved at Canna House. See link below to HES Canmore records NG20NE 1.08 for additional information on cross no. 8. <3> <4>

Sources/Archives (9)



Grid reference Centred NG 2692 0552 (10m by 10m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NG20NE
Civil Parish SMALL ISLES
Geographical Area LOCHABER

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