Many of the Symbol Stones have been moved from their original locations, others have remained in significant sites especially those with high geographic visibility. Some sources give insufficiently accurate pin points; in other cases Stones have been broken up and parts dispersed; some Stones are just lost.
Noting the wide range of locations of Symbol Stones prompted grouping them by aspects of their Physical Locations as follows:
Church interior / foundations / wall; Churchyard / graveyard; Church or chapel nearby; Manse; Stone circle – part of or nearby; In a field; In or by a farm; In a garden; In foundations of buildings; From a dyke; Near a broch; On a barrow or tumulus; Long cist capstone cover; Over a low rectangular cairn; Side of an irregular cist; Covering an inhumation burial; Cover of a cist-like structure; Near a long cist; By / near water; In water; In a raised or open area.
This Physical Locations of Pictish Symbol Stones PDF (comprising both Class 1 and Class 2 Stones) takes account of the aspects above and lists the original and currently very visible locations of the majority of those Stones and also those that are in museums and other public buildings.
Pictish Symbol Stones located in museums makes them highly accessible for raising public awareness of them and for the study of their artistic and symbolic carvings but the feeling of their geographical location cannot be there. A whole set of new dimensions (physical and otherwise) appears when the Stones are seen in their original locations. Field visits to the Stones and predecessor monuments show a geographic context with Stones often being on very raised or open terrain, prompting the viewer to consider 360° views – clearly something that cannot be done indoors.
Views from Stones to other contemporary (and earlier) constructions suggest purposes beyond the Stone alone. For example, looking south from the Picardy Stone there is an uninterrupted view of Bennachie with the remains of an Iron Age fort on its summit. From the Craw Stane at Rhynie not only is there a clear panoramic view but “line of sight” to the Tap o’Noth. Both are hills with a partially vitrified Iron Age fort.
Standing at these sorts of locations makes one wonder about what the Stones were used for and can be quite an experience – the concept of an outdoors or open-air place of worship crystallises. With many of the Symbol carvings decoded in the context of a form of Mithraism, the first use of these physical locations of the Stones can be seen as an outdoors place of worship. This prospect is developed in the pages of:- Open-Air Mithraeum or Temple.
In fact, looking beyond the first use of Symbol Stones in the context of Pictish-Mithraism it may be reasonable to conclude that those Stones with a Christian Cross were used as a place for Christian worship – an outdoors church.
Many Stones are in, under or near churches – not just current ones but also previous buildings. This suggests some form of reverence, acceptance or superstition by the people living in Pictland on the transition from Mithraism to Christianity which continued as Christianity was established. Maybe few surprises here as traditionally transitions have occurred with the recognition and sometimes absorption of previous religious beliefs into the new one; also Christian churches were built over Mithraea in Italy and elsewhere.
Symbol Stones have been re-used as grave slabs, others have been built into walls (inside and out), protected from the weather in porches, propped up against walls and been re-erected in churchyards and graveyards. Others can be seen at the sites of now derelict churches.
All of this suggests no fear coming from the location of the symbols of an older or previous religious belief being used alongside the one that has, in effect, replaced it.
An example of a combination of a Pictish Symbol Stone near a church and with an open view is at Dunfallandy near Pitlochry. This is the view from the Standing Stone which has the church behind it.
Some Symbol Stones, in their original locations, are near water. Guy de la Bédoyère in “Gods with Thunderbolts” states that “a Mithraeum could be built anywhere so long as running water was available”. Isabel Henderson in “Origin Centre of the Pictish Symbol Stones” plotted the locations of the Class 1 Stones; the majority in Aberdeenshire and Moray are located by or near rivers in particular the Don, Urie, Deveron and Spey. Almost all the Sutherland Stones are coastal.
It seems reasonable that the proximity of Pictish Stones to water and the building of Mithraea near water further tends to support a relationship between Mithraea and Pictish Stones. Maybe many modern churches are near water because their medieval predecessors (which they replaced) were built at Symbol Stone sites which do seem to be located by water for religious belief reasons.
This is the view towards the River Spey from Inveravon Church between Aberlour and Grantown on Spey. There are four Symbol Stones located in the church porch (for many years mounted on the church wall).
Another aspect when considering original locations concerns saints. For some locations there is foundation by a specific saint, such as St Nathalan at Tullich, the bulk are dedications. This page leads to a list of locations with associations between Saints and Stones.
The meanings of the carved objects – whether Celtic, Mithraic or Christian – and their combinations is explored in this website at Investigations into “Shared Space Belief Combinations.
With a focus on Class 2 Stones, features of physical locations, associated Saints, proximity to water etc. are considered together in the Pictish Transition Stones pages of this website.