Pictish Belief “Transition”- A Prospective Timeframe

As demonstrated here in the Pictish Symbol Stones website, so-called Class 2 Symbol Stones were carved with objects reflecting Christian and Mithraic beliefs. They appear to have been preceded by Stones with Pictish-Mithraic (and often Celtic) objects then succeeded by Stones with Christian Crosses but no Pictish Symbols. Arguably Class 2 Stones were designed then erected in specific locations to serve a purpose at the time of Transition between the two beliefs. They sit within a wider timeframe as the introduction to Christianity is known to have occurred before what is generally considered to be the timeline of these Stones being erected.

Dating of the changeover in belief, and therefore the erection and use of Class 2 Stones, could arguably be related to a) the active dates of specific Saints and b) to the establishment of Monastic Houses. In this investigation “changeover” is a gradual transition between beliefs rather than a short term, perhaps abrupt or enforced, move.

An initial investigation into the prospect of dating Class 2 Stones considered any direct association that a Stone might have with a Saint. From historic information for the birth and death dates and locations of many Saints, it became apparent that associations were more with “Saints Names” than necessarily with living Saints themselves – many were a dedication to a particular Saint often well beyond that Saint’s lifetime. For the 49 Class 2 Stone locations it was found that 11 had a recorded association with a Saint’s name. This is a small proportion of the total number of Saints in this website’s Comprehensive List of Names of Saints of Scotland (i.e. those who have a feast day (sometimes an annual religious celebration) dedicated to them.

It should not be assumed that

  • the only places where Pictish-Mithraic belief was practiced or observed were adjacent to known Class 1 and 2 Stones,
  • the only places where Christianity was adopted were adjacent to known Class 2 Stones and 
  • all Symbol Stones have been discovered. 

It is with these overall caveats that a prospective timeframe for belief Transition is put forward.

Degree of influence is explored in these pages:

Saints Relevance and Influence – summary

Monastic Houses Relevance and Influence – Summary

Outcome Roundup for the Investigation So Far

“Round-up” is a deliberately chosen term because there is no absolute dating conclusion to this investigation. It is recommended that the material is used to further pursue a more definitive timeframe.

Although some authors question the “Class” number system of Allen and Anderson, alternatives are not apparent. For this investigation and throughout this author’s research and writing the Class numbers are used. In terms of positioning the Transition Timeframe the numbering gives a chronological sequence based on carvings: Class 1 – Pictish Symbols such as V-Rod & Crescent, Z-Rod & Double Disc; Class 1 – Pictish Symbols such as V-Rod & Crescent, Z-Rod & Double Disc Class 2 – Pictish Symbols and Christian Crosses (plus Biblical stories) and Class 3 – Christian Crosses with no Pictish Symbols.

Having carved objects relating to Mithraic and Christian beliefs the Class 2 Stones are firmly in the Transition Timeframe. What is not yet certain is exactly when these Stones started to be carved and under whose instruction.

Considering the 10 instances of Saints associated with specific Stones, there is sufficient information for 6 Saints to derive a proposed date for that set of Stones. If the associated Stones were erected approximately half way through each Saint’s life (by that time having established their activity and influence in the transition to Christianity) this would date the Stones to the early 7th century. This can be transferred not only into a time marker within the Transition Timeframe but also gives a strength to the influence of specific Saints as the association between Class 2 Stones and Saints is within their lifetimes.

With the relatively low number of locations where there are Monastic Houses nearby to Class 2 Stones what seems apparent is that there was not a planned reliance on their proximity for one to be considered to have supported the other in influencing the transition to Christianity. Regarding dating, taking 5 of the “plausible” locations (Abernethy, Brechin, Dunkeld, Monymusk and St Serf’s) each has a reference to Culdees between 6th and 10th centuries (3 in the 9th) maybe reinforcing a date range for nearby Class 2 Stones.

In terms of time period markers if appears that a start point for the introduction of Christianity in Scotland could be 400 with St Ninian (unless that was preceded by a Roman Empire influence with the state church being Christianity from about 380).

A time period marker for the stage beyond Transition is the appearance of Class 3 Stones.

Any influence a Saint might have had in facilitating the erection of a Stone is unclear as is the prospect of their using Class 2 Stones to promote transition between beliefs. However, based on active dates of Saints (both those with Stone associations and not) a prospective Transition Timeframe is 6th/7th centuries i.e. 500s and 600s.

Here is the complete Outcome PDF.