He 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.
The thing stands man-height, is carved of old red sandstone and is said to date to around the tenth 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.
But 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?
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 … just intrigued.
Continue reading at France & Vincent