6.3 Kilmartin Church
Kilmartin Glen is the site of more than 350 ancient monuments. These sites – which include 150 prehistoric monuments – lie within a six-mile radius of Kilmartin village.
Yet this area has also played an important role in Scotland’s early Christian heritage. Just 5 miles south of here at Dunadd, the kings of the Dál Riata had their stronghold. Colmcille is said to have visited the king not long after he had left Derry, perhaps to seek permission to build his monastery in Iona.
The graveyard of Kilmartin Church has a collection of 79 early Christian and medieval carved stones which can be found in the graveyard and a building by the side of the church. Two carved crosses are kept inside the church.
Kilmartin is Gaelic for ‘the church of (St) Martin’. Colmcille’s biographer, Adomnán, records that Colmcille’s monks paid particular devotion to St Martin. The library at Iona probably contained a copy of a 5th century Life of St Martin.
The earliest grave slab here dates from the 13th century but Christians were living and worshipping in this area long before that date.
Stones produced by the same group of sculptors have been found throughout the West Highlands and Argyll. The oldest of these were made on Iona by stonemasons who had come to the monastic settlement from Ireland. But they were not the only group of craftsmen and artists producing these stones. Among others, there was a group of sculptors working at Loch Awe in the late 14th-late 15th centuries, about 5 or 6 miles from here.
The two Kilmartin Crosses are kept in Kilmartin Church. The earlier cross dates from sometime around the 9th-10th century and the other is late medieval.
The grave slabs were laid on the ground and would have been used to mark the burial site of more than one generation of the same family. No names are recorded so it is not known who was buried under these slabs but they were probably from local ruling families.
There are decorative themes and patterns which reoccur on the stones. There are often warrior figures and weapons including long spears and swords. Mythological beasts or hunting animals are also carved into the stones. You can also see Celtic interlace patterns and symbols.
The stones are arranged in chronological order with the earliest on your left as you enter the room. Other collections of grave slabs can be found in Keills and Kilmory Knap, further south from here.
Bòrd na Gàidhlig
Great Glen House
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