We gathered for the first evening of the weekend workshop. On the banks of the River Spey, we were introduced to some of the concepts we would be working with over the weekend before we were led into Inverallan burial ground. It is an interesting place in its own right, with a fair amount of history and home, as we would soon find out, to a voluble, nesting oyster-catcher.
There is no longer a church at the cemetery, although one was recorded on the site as far back as 1230. It is believed to have been dedicated to St Futach, an Irish saint whose name is derived from ‘fiachra’ which means, appropriately enough, ‘raven’ and which can be found in the ancient Irish tales like that of the Children of Lir.
The walls of the lost church were uncovered and destroyed in 1888, when the graveyard was being extended and no trace now remains of them… though there are clues to be discovered that a kirk once stood there and who knows how much further back the site was held in reverence.
An upright stone, known as the Priest’s Stone, bears a simple, incised Roman cross on both its faces. The stone on the Canmore photograph, looks like a gravestone, or even a standing stone, and it would not be the first time we have seen a pagan stone ‘rebranded’ and ‘purified’ for Christian use. There was also an ancient holy well on the site too… and a huge stone basin that was, we are officially told, ‘probably’ a baptismal font.
Is it pure speculation to wonder whether the sanctity of the site might pre-date Christianity? Not entirely… the well, the ‘raven’ and the basin would be enough to raise possible questions, and the presence of a weathered, Pictish symbol stone, found when the walls of the kirk were uncovered, confirms that the site was seen as important.
Pictish symbol stones are generally dated as being carved between the sixth and ninth centuries, with the earlier ones bearing no Cross, while the later ones may be Christianised. The meaning and purpose of the symbols remains a subject of debate, but the worn designs were familiar as we had met them before at a previous workshop in Scotland.
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