Aberlemno Pictish Stones

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Aberlemno is a tiny settlement of a few houses, church and village hall on the B9134 between Forfar and Brechin. Most people take the faster A90 and miss the small church and superbly carved Pictish Stones.

On a ridge of land between the South Esk and Lunan valleys it could have acted as a territorial boundary, with the stones acting as markers. Visit during the summer months as all the stones are protected by wooden boxes between October and April.

The ROADSIDE STONES are on the south side of the road through the village. There is plenty of parking by the village hall. The oldest of the stones, Aberlemno 1, is the furthest. This was originally found in the field behind and re-erected here. Dating from the 6/7thC and is an unshaped stone with incised Pictish symbol. At the top is a serpent with a Z-rod below cutting through a double disc. At the base is a mirror and comb. On the back are traces of cup marks suggesting it has been reused. The Middle stone is unshapen and may have traces of carving. The jury is out on whether this is an unfinished symbol stone. The most southerly stone, Aberlemno 3, nearest the car park is a cross slab stone with a high relief Celtic cross on the front. In the corners of the cross are raised bosses. On either side of the shaft are angels holding a book. On either side of the base are two animals attacking each other. On the reverse is a beautiful crescent with interlacing and a V-rod through it. Below is a double disc with Z-rod. Below is a hunting scene with four mounted men, three stags and three dogs. At the base is a depiction of Daniel in the lion’s den.

Perhaps the best and most exciting is the cross slab outside the church, often described as the ‘BATTLE STONE’, Aberlemno 2. (Park in the church car park to the south of the church.) This dated from the 8thC and has been carefully shaped. Ignore the hole at the top of the slab which was carved later. On the front is a cross standing out in high relief, standing 4” above the background. This has circles with interlacing on the shaft and centre of the cross, The side arms and head have geometric patterns. On either side of the shaft are entwined beasts. The bottom two on the right hand side could represent sea horses.

The reverse is thought to commemorate the Battle of Nechtansmere (possibly fought to be near Dunnichen 10km South of here) fought in 685 AD. Around 650, Northumbrian Angles had spread northward into Pictland. One had married a Pictish princess and fathered a future king. For thirty years the Angles had held the southern part of Pictland until they were defeated in a decisive battle of Nechtansmere.

The battle scene was carved many years after the event, but folk memory would still have been strong. The long-haired Picts are clearly victorious over the helmeted Northumbrians (Angles).

At the top is a notched rectangle with a Z-rod symbol and a triple disc. Below are three battle scenes. At the top is a Pictish warrior with his sword raised and chasing a weaponless Anglian horseman. Below, a group of three Pictish warriors on foot with swords, shields and spears, confront an Anglian horseman armed with a spear. This may show how the Picts actually fought in battle. The front rank wielded sword and shield, covered by the second rank with their spears lowered to protect the swordsmen and ward off mounted warriors. Behind that the third rank of the Pictish battle line would stand in reserve. Below are mounted Pictish and Anglian horsemen fighting. The Anglian horseman on the right has drawn back his horse’s head to steady him and is about to throw his spear. The Pictish warrior has his shield raised to ward off the blow, and is preparing to hurl his own spear. On the right is a dead Anglian warrior with a raven pecking at this body.

It is also worth visiting the CHURCH which is unlocked. It is thought there has been a church here since the 7thC. The first written records of a church date from 1242. The present church underwent a major rebuild in 1722 and is a typical post reformation style church. Entry is through a small porch on the north wall. Stairs lead to the wooden gallery built round three sides of the church. This was built in 1856 when the bell cot was added.

Inside it is a T plan with a large pulpit on the south wall with a separate reading desk in front of it. Next to the pulpit is a 12/13thC stone font with carved arches on the bowl and a rope decoration round the base. Simple bench seats are painted a shade of deep pink. On the north wall is the Mitchell memorial dedicated to three generations of Mitchells who were rectors between 1715-1841.

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