Ancient Monuments

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Caiplie, caves, Early Christian and medieval carvings 1140m north east of

A Scheduled Monument in East Neuk and Landward, Fife

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Latitude: 56.2433 / 56°14'35"N

Longitude: -2.6472 / 2°38'50"W

OS Eastings: 359984

OS Northings: 705831

OS Grid: NO599058

Mapcode National: GBR 2X.BR5R

Mapcode Global: WH8TS.9BNN

Entry Name: Caiplie, caves, Early Christian and medieval carvings 1140m NE of

Scheduled Date: 3 March 1999

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM8121

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Crosses and carved stones: sculptured stone (not ascribed to a more specific type); Ecclesiastical:

Location: Kilrenny

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: East Neuk and Landward

Traditional County: Fife


The monument comprises a group of sandstone caves, known as the Caiplie Caves, which contain a number of inscribed crosses of varying size and two Pictish symbols on their walls. The form of caves themselves has also been enhanced by working; as well as general tooling marks, there are occasional niches and small shelves etc, and an arched doorway.

The form of this massive sandstone outcrop is complex with many natural fissures, cracks and gullies. There are three well-defined caves. The largest is the Chapel Cave, approximately 10m deep and 5m high, with a broad entrance some 4m wide. The cave shows many toolmarks on its walls where the chamber has been widened and the walls smoothed. There are numerous incised and pecked crosses on the walls, an enhanced doorway connecting the cave to another chamber and a large rectangular recess cut into a wall near the cave's entrance.

Immediately outside this cave the remains of another cave may be seen, approximately 4m above ground level. This upper chamber was reached by a flight of stone steps carved into the rock, the remains of which are still visible. This chamber reportedly contained a stone 'bed', but any features are now concealed by collapse. Some 6m to the N of the Chapel Cave is the Mortuary Cave, in front of which human burials were discovered in 1841. This cave is some 4m deep with a high narrow entrance.

A Pictish 'arch' symbol has been cut into a ledge at the rear of the cave. A third cave lies a short distance to the E of the Mortuary Cave. This has a low entrance and is a long tunnel shape, extending some 30m into the rock. There is a finely cut swastika carved near the entrance. There is another collapsed cell (sometimes called a grotto) near the mouth of the Mortuary Cave. This contains a carved stone seat.

The Caiplie Caves have been linked with the Early Christian saints of Scotland since Andrew of Wyntoun referred in 1426 to their use by St Adrian (Ethernan), who is also associated with the nearby Isle of May. Some of the many incised and pecked crosses are probably Early Christian in date. Others are likely to be medieval and reflect the importance of the caves as a place of pigrimage and cult site through the centuries.

The area proposed for scheduling comprises the entire sandstone outcrop containing the caves and collapsed cells, and an area in front of the caves (as far as the mean limit of high water at spring tides) within which related material might be expected to survive. It is irregular in shape with maximum dimensions of 55m E-W by 75m N-S, as marked in red on the accompanying map extract.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance because of its potential to contribute to our understanding of the nature of Early Christian activities in eastern Scotland, and because of the quantity and diversity of its Early Christian and Medieval carvings. The caves may be expected to contain material relating to the occupation and function(s) of the site.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NO 50 NE 6.00.


Leitch, R. and Smith, C. (1992-3) 'The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Cave Dwelling in Scotland', Scottish Studies 31, 101-108.

Murray, J. E. L. (1963) 'Rock-cut symbols in Caiplie Caves', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, Vol. 94, 324-5.

Simpson, J. Y. (1867) British Archaic Sculpturings, 173.

Stuart, J. (1867) Sculptures Stones of Scotland v2, Vol. 2, Edinburgh, lxxxix-xc.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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