MHG42210 - Cross Slab - Chapel, St. John's Point


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Type and Period (1)

  • CROSS SLAB (Early Medieval - 561 AD to 1057 AD)

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Full Description

ND37NW 2 3107 7508.
St John's Chapel (NR) (Site of) OS 6" map, (1960)

The remains of alleged Chapel of St John, situated on inner slopes of rampart of promontory fort (ND37SW 1), and partly traversed by a modern wall.
The foundation, partially cleared by Nicolson in 1919, but now (MacDonald and Laing 1969) turf-covered, measure about 24 by 12ft internally, exterior being flush with present ground level. It lies E-W and had an entrance in W end, immediately inside which Nicolson found an oriented "slab-lined grave" one end of which was formed by an incised cross-slab of yellow sandstone, the cross having hollowed 'arm-pits' and a tapering shaft. The slab measured 2ft 10ins long by 1ft 11ins max breadth. One of side slabs, 1ft 8ins in max width, bore an oblong panel bordered by two parallel lines. The inside lintel of door formed part of cover.
Immediately E of 'chapel' are turf-covered footings of a small building, probably about 12ft square, now flush with ground level and lying E-W. To N is a mounded area roughly 40 yds square running from rampart of fort to cliff edge on NE in a pronounced curve. NE sector seems to be artificially scarped but rest is probably natural. This may be graveyard in which a seaman was buried about 1850.
Lamb (info from R G Lamb, Birmingham University to OS, 12 January 1972) considers site to be an eremitical monastery.
Name Book 1873; A D S macDonald and L R Laing 1969; RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910; J Nicolson 1922.

Although still known locally as St John's Chapel, partly turf-covered footings of this building, exposed in top of rampart of fort (NT37SW 1) may be of more recent origin. Oriented NE-SW it measures 6.6m by 2.2m internally, NE gable standing to height of 0.5m and SW gable to 0.7m. There are traces of dry-built inner face of SE wall in SE corner and inner face of NW wall is visible intermittently. The wall thickness cannot be ascertained. There is no entrance in SW wall as stated by Nicolson, although a different type of masonry in centre of wall suggests that entrance has been blocked up after excavation. There is no trace of a building immediately NE (sic) of 'chapel' described by MacDonald and Laing (1969). Here, there is merely an irregular slight depression about 2m in diameter which could be due to any number of reasons. Apart from building foundation on promontory (see ND37NW 1), which may be comparatively recent, there are no traces of any other structures to suggest monastic occupation.
Immediately to N of 'chapel' is a raised area about 22m by 35m, which may have been artificially scarpped in NE as suggested by MacDonald and Laing. There is nothing now to suggest it has been a graveyard.
Surveyed at 1:10,000. Visited by OS (A A) 20 April 1972.

Dunmey is alternative name for promontory on which chapel lies, and the 'chaplainry of Dunmy' is on record in 1561 and 1566.
Orig Paroch Scot 1855.

No change. Visited by OS (J M) 6 July 1982.

St John’s Point, Canisbay, Caithness, cross-slab
Measurements: H 0.86m, W 0.58m, D 0.05m
Stone type: Old Red Sandstone
Place of discovery: ND 3107 7508
Present location: Caithness Horizons, Thurso.
Evidence for discovery: found during excavations in 1919 by John Nicolson within the remains of a building thought locally to be the site of a chapel. The stone had been re-used as the end slab of a cist just within the doorway in the W gable, together with another fragment, now lost, which was incised with ‘an oblong panel bordered by two parallel lines’.
Present condition: broken but the carving is crisp.
The slab bears a finely incised outline cross with round arm pits, set within an incised frame with the ends of the arms coeval with the frame. Outside the frame at the top right is a segment of a circle, and there are extra lines outside the long sides of the framed cross.
Date: seventh or eighth century.
Compiled by A Ritchie, Early Medieval Carved Stones Project, 2016

The stone is listed in the Caithness Horizons catalogue under Acc. No. ARC66. <1>

Sources/Archives (7)



Grid reference Centred ND 3107 7507 (10m by 10m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND37NW
Civil Parish CANISBAY
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

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