Bigger Picture

When assessing whether Class 2 Stones might be considered as “transition” Stones, comprehensive information and analysis has been compiled on a per location basis in Synopsis and Evaluation by Stone. That output taken together with a review of “features” across Stone locations has prompted this Bigger Picture view:-

For Stones by, in or near water – 19 are identified with their original position and are either still there or have been moved to safer ground. Any perceived “significance” for these Stones being close to water is considered in the context of religious belief and practice. For example baptism in Christianity and the proximity with water for Temples of Mithras. As such the specific locations reinforce their use as a gathering place for pursuing a religious belief.

For Mithraism this has been described by the author as an “Outdoor Mithraeum” whereby
the Symbol Stone is the terrestrial part of the Mithraeum (or temple) with its skyward view towards the planets and celestial sphere. For Christianity the use of a Stone with a Cross would have served as an outside place of assembly for worship later progressing indoors to a church.

Of the 10 Class 2 Stone locations in a raised or open area, 6 are by, in or near water (relevant to the practice of both Pictish-Mithraic and Christian beliefs) of which 2 are at or near a church location and 2 have an association with a Saint. Only 4 have being in a raised or open area as their only “feature”; they each have complementary Pictish-Mithraic and Christian carvings making them strong contenders as “transition” Stones – isolated locations seemingly are not a barrier and may be a feature in themselves.

Visibility was seen as a key feature to consider when exploring the physical location of Pictish Symbol Stones. In terms of beliefs there are two directions – to the Stone in the context of those by or near a church and from a Stone if, in Pictish-Mithraism, linking carvings on the Stone to a sky-ward view. In fact being in a raised or open area is not as much of a feature as anticipated.

Altogether there are 34 Stones that are at or near a church several having combinations with other features – 12 have an “association with a Saint”, 14 are “by, in or near water” and 2 are “in a raised or open area”. Overall there could fairly be an assumption that the location is not just coincidental with the built place of worship being constructed some time after the Stone’s erection, the Stone having previously served as an outdoors place of worship.

Whilst an association with a Saint seems to add importance or profile to a Symbol Stone’s location it is difficult to determine whether that relationship is with the Stone, any co-located church or both. Prospective connections can be tenuous but a perceived association with a Saint appears to be more with a Stone than a church. Conversely, collectively the Saint associations for these Stone locations suggests, for some, a broad dating for a move from outdoors to indoors worship on the basis that the Saint association is more with a church not a Stone. There are two instances of Stones not near a church but with Saint associations – Balluderon (also known as St Martin’s Stone) and Cossans (the so-called St Orland’s Stone). Although the reasons for the associations are unclear these are clearly associations specifically between a Stone and a Saint rather than with a church.

A dating prospect for the erection of a Class 2 Stone has arisen from considering any prospective association with a Saint. Based on 7 of the 12 Stones with Saint association having what can be seen as tenable dates, this covers the period from the 5th to 7th century. Whilst adding to the bigger picture it should be stressed that this information applies to only 7 Stones and should not be expanded to cover more Stones.

An important element in the bigger picture is the “strength” of the carvings as this underpins the degree to which the objects of two beliefs are related – with broad knock on effects e.g. acceptability of changing belief and religious practice. What has become apparent, for each Stone, is the varying “strength” of the relationship between the carvings for the two beliefs which can at best be “complementary” or at least suggesting an “implied acceptance“.

Of the Pictish-Mithraic and Christian carved objects on Class 2 Stones, 59% can be regarded as “complementary” and 41% as having an “implied acceptance”. A greater “strength” for being complementary can be reinforced in Stones where the style and execution of the carvings for both beliefs look as if they came from the same hand such as Shandwick, Elgin and Brodie.

Looking across all the Class 2 Stones there is a mixture of combinations, by Stone, from the 3 physical features. Marking one end of the scale, as such, is Woodrae which has none of the features in this table. At the other end (each with 3 features) are Aberlemno Roadside 2 in an open area by the roadside, near a church & near the River South Esk and St Vigeans 1, 2, 4 & 6 located on a glacial mound which has a church and by Brothock Water. In between 22 locations have only 1 feature (of these 17 are at or near a church) and 16 locations which have 2 features (12 of which are by, in or near water and at or near a church). A final overview is that in terms of a Stone location being at or near a church (perhaps not built when the Stone was erected) is maybe not a coincidence but reinforcing the nature of transition from one belief to another and the progression to an indoors place of worship.