Discovering Albion – day 6: Intrigued…in Brechin

scotland trip jan 15 551He was right, I couldn’t believe it. A whopping great Pictish Cross slab right opposite the door… and looking so fresh you wouldn’t believe it. Four letter words chased through my mind in lieu of superlatives, along with wondering why they had wasted my schooling with a year studying the history of tarmac when I could have been studying stuff like this.

scotland trip jan 15 444The thing stands man-height and is carved of old red sandstone and is said to date to around the 10th century. The front shows a cross… not just any cross, mind you… the symbolism of square and circle will need some thinking about in that context. Again there are twin birds and twin figures, robed and holding what appear to be books. And that, with the interlaced carving, would have been enough.

scotland trip jan 15 448But the back is carved too with what the information available calls ‘indeterminate figures’… though I have to say that there seem to be an awful lot of legs on that bottom creature… as many, say, as Sleipnir, the eight legged steed of Odin. Which begs the question of who the other figures might be and will no doubt send us delving into the myths once more. And you then have to wonder about the two birds on the front of the cross… the doves of the Holy Spirit… or Hugin and Munin, the Ravens of Odin?

scotland trip jan 15 536

The official line is that we have King David battling the lion… which is how the St Andrews sarcophagus is interpreted… The mounted figure they posit to be Goliath and the eight legged creature is supposed to be two creatures, ‘one half hidden’… which doesn’t seem to sit right with the way these things are usually carved. Or it could be an eight legged steed after all, and ‘King David’ perhaps Odin battling Fenrir… but then, I’m no archaeologist of course… just intrigued.

Odin battles Fenrir, Thorwald's Cross, Isle of Man... another example of syncretic art showing Norse and Chritian scenes. Image: BBC

Odin battles Fenrir, Thorwald’s Cross, Isle of Man… another example of syncretic art showing Norse and Chritian scenes. Image: BBC

It certainly wouldn’t be the first stone we have seen ancient crosses where symbols and stories of the old gods and the new were shown together. We have explored this in the Doomsday books. Perhaps such stones drew a parallel between the sacred stories of both traditions? Maybe they were used to teach or to show that the new came not to oust the old gods to but illuminate them? It is a possibility. And one with some basis in historical record.

scotland trip jan 15 543The Venerable Bede recorded in his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, a copy of the letter written in 601AD which Pope Gregory sent to Abbot Mellitus, who was part of the papal mission to Britain. The instructions were clear… not to overthrow but to gently replace the indigenous faith:

“…that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let water be consecrated and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed there. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more freely resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they are used to slaughter many oxen in sacrifice to devils, some solemnity must be given them in exchange for this, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they should build themselves huts of the boughs of trees about those churches which have been turned to that use from being temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer animals to the Devil, but kill cattle and glorify God in their feast, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their abundance; to the end that, whilst some outward gratifications are retained, they may the more easily consent to the inward joys. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to cut off every thing at once from their rude natures…”

scotland trip jan 15 534You just never know what you are going to stumble over if you keep your eyes open… and there was still enough in this quiet church to keep us occupied for a while. We hadn’t even started on the rest of the stones… and the windows were just glorious…

scotland trip jan 15 480

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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31 Responses to Discovering Albion – day 6: Intrigued…in Brechin

  1. noelleg44 says:

    What an awesome cross! And finding it was pure serendipity.


  2. Eliza Waters says:

    What a thrilling discovery that must have been. It was like you were guided there to discover it…gives me chills. 🙂


  3. TamrahJo says:

    What a wonderful post! I too have come across references in serveral places that referred to early missionary expansion for the early church that counseled a gentle approach and blending of the old and the new rather than a strict enforcement of the new and efforts to destroy the old.


  4. …the craftsmanship and sheer artistry of the stained glass creations is awesome:)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Magnificent windows and carved stone.


  6. That is a stain glass reflection in the third pic from end? Cool. The mythical nature, the glass, the stone, it all reminds me of Ireland. No surprise with the cultural, religious, and linguistic links they share (of which I am only just learning).


  7. Éilis Niamh says:

    I think I just have a long way to go, Sue. Passages like the one you’ve quoted here make me so angry. I’m so glad you’re able to look past the presumptive prejudices reflected in opinions such as these and see the beauty and sacredness embodied in the physical places you visit. They sound amazing. 🙂


  8. Pingback: Dear Wen XV | Stuart France

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