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Kilberry Castle, crosses 50m east of, and carved stones 215m north east of

A Scheduled Monument in Kintyre and the Islands, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 55.817 / 55°49'1"N

Longitude: -5.6572 / 5°39'25"W

OS Eastings: 170982

OS Northings: 664247

OS Grid: NR709642

Mapcode National: GBR DFDB.RHJ

Mapcode Global: WH0KD.21DY

Entry Name: Kilberry Castle, crosses 50m E of, and carved stones 215m NE of

Scheduled Date: 15 March 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13279

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Crosses and carved stones: cross (free-standing)

Location: South Knapdale

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument comprises a collection of carved stones (housed and displayed within a specially built shelter), the Kilberry Cross base and a smaller cross. The carved stones are likely to date to the early Christian, medieval and late medieval periods. Most of the carved stones are likely to have originated from a medieval parish church known to have stood nearby. The collection includes early Christian cross-marked stones, fragments of medieval free-standing crosses, several graveslabs (including two full-sized effigies) carved in the late medieval West Highland style dating to the 15th century, and several 17th-century graveslabs. The Kilberry Cross base is situated 180m SW of the shelter, on or close to its original location, and supports a replica cross shaft. The small cross stands adjacent to the cross base; it stands approximately 0.75m high and is 0.3m wide and 0.15m thick.

The area to be scheduled is in two separate parts. The first comprises the collection of carved and sculptured stones within the stone shelter, and the area around the shelter up to but not including the post-and-wire fence enclosure. The second area is circular on plan, measuring 10m in diameter centred on the cross base, to include the cross base, the smaller cross and an area around them as shown in red on the accompanying map. The structure of the modern shelter and the interpretation panels are specifically excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

Most, if not all, of the carved stones within the shelter are highly likely to have originated from the medieval parish church that stood near Kilberry Castle, which was destroyed in the mid 17th century. The survival of three early Christian cross-marked stones suggests that there was also an earlier foundation of either a place of worship or, at the least, a burial ground. The shelter, an open-fronted, stone-built construction, dates from the 1950s and was built specifically for the display and protection of the carved stone collection. Sculpture is displayed on either side of an internal wall. The early Christian sculpture comprises a slab bearing a deeply chip-carved hexafoil cross within a circle and two slabs adorned with relief crosses. These monuments are likely to have been grave markers. The group of medieval and later medieval cross-shafts are also likely to have been created as burial markers.

The group of medieval sculpture includes eight medieval graveslabs, a mixture of complete and fragmentary pieces. Most of these slabs are tapered and bear a form of leaf decoration or plant-scroll. Three of the medieval graveslabs are of particular interest. The first is a tapered slab adorned with a network of intertwined plant-stems that flow out from the tails of two pairs of animals at the top. At the foot of the stone is a comb, an inverted pair of shears, and what appears to be a rectangular casket. The other two are West Highland-style effigies, traditionally attributed to the lona school. These show two, near life-size warrior figures and, although the carved detail is now heavily worn, it is likely that the warriors are clad in quilted armour with long, conical bascinets (open-faced steel helmets) and bear broad swords. One bears an inscription: HIC IACET IO/HA(N)NES M(A)V/RITI(I) ET EIV/S FILIVS ('Here lies John, son of Mauritius, and his son'). A third graveslab depicts a miniature effigy, set within a niche, apparently holding a spear.

The medieval sculpture also includes the fragmentary remains of six crosses, ranging in date from the 14th to 16th centuries. The remains include cross-shafts, cross-heads and cruciform stones. The Kilberry Cross, a cross-shaft and detached cross-head, is the most important of these. The shaft, standing around 1m in height, is heavily decorated. Its western face bears three figures: a mounted warrior on a rearing horse at the foot of the stone; in the centre, a robed and mitred cleric holding an archbishop's staff in one hand, while making the sign of benediction; and part of a second robed figure at the top. On the eastern face, an intricately carved plant-scroll loops around a pair of back-to-back lions. The head of the cross contains a crucifixion scene, with a contorted Christ figure on a cross topped by a fleur-de-Iys and surrounded by plant-scrolls, while a small dragon sits at the foot of the cross. The crucifixion scene resembles those figures on the Taynuilt and Campbell of Lerags Crosses and may tell us something about the spread of ideas and styles in medieval sculpture. Two other cross-shafts bear unusual carvings. One is decorated with an inverted sword, while another has a miniature effigy of a woman kneeling with a rosary, set within a niche.

The base of Kilberry Cross is situated on or close to its original location (associated with the medieval chapel or burial ground), some 180m SW of the shelter. The base supports a replica of the lower section of Kilberry Cross. Carved into the base are a mass clock and a rounded hollow. Adjacent to the base is a small freestanding cross. Although this was only discovered in 1961, it is said to have been erected in situ and now stands reasonably earthfast. This cross is likely to date from some time between the 14th and 16th century, but it appears to have been dressed out of an earlier slab, the front bearing a design of straps and rings not centred on the cross. On the reverse side is a small incised cross with a slanting arm line, each limb with a triangular expanded end, which also appears early in date. As well as informing our understanding of medieval sculpture, both the base of Kilberry Cross and the smaller adjacent cross add to our understanding of the context of the carved stones at Kilberry. They support the presence of a medieval parish church or burial ground, and the smaller cross in particular may contribute to our understanding of the earlier origins of the site.

Although created only a short period of time after the West Highland graveslabs, the 16th- and 17th-century sculpture is of visibly poorer quality in terms of its detail. Comprising seven irregularly-shaped stones, the carvings consist of simpler and repeated geometric forms.

The monument has an inherent potential to inform our understanding of early Christian, medieval, late medieval and post-medieval sculpture, schools of carving, styles of sculptural ornament and carving techniques. Although no longer in situ, the collection can shed light on past funerary and commemorative customs, and on the role stone carvings played in society and within the social hierarchy of the day. Study of the collection can contribute to our understanding of the context and processes in which monumental sculpture was commissioned and manufactured in western Scotland during the medieval period. The remains of Kilberry Cross and the smaller cross situated on or close to the location of the medieval church serve as a reminder of its original location and help to place the collection into its wider context. The smaller cross may contribute towards our understanding of the origins of the site and demonstrates that this site has a considerable time-depth overall.

Contextual characteristics

It is widely thought that the Kilberry collection of sculpture originated from a medieval church dedicated to St Berach, an Irish chronicler who recorded the accession of Macbeth to the Scottish kingship, or to St Berchan, an Irish saint of the 7th century. The church is known to have stood in the general vicinity of the extant Campbell Mausoleum and survived until the Civil War in the mid 17th century, when the Campbells of Kilberry burnt the building to deny it to the Royalist force of Alastair MacColla.

The West Highland artistic tradition was not limited to monumental masonry, but appears to have been used in a wide range of objects, few of which survive. Queen Mary's harp, a clarsach displayed in the Museum of Scotland, is one of the most famous examples. Production of monumental masonry in the tradition appears to have been organised into distinctive schools of carving, found throughout the western Highlands. The first and most highly regarded of these appears to have been Iona, where craftsmen may have been associated with the medieval abbey itself. Although referred to as a 'school', it should not be regarded as an organisation as such, but rather a group of craftsmen working in the same style. The principal schools are identified as Iona, Loch Sween and Loch Awe, but other possibly local traditions also appear throughout the West Highlands. This traditional view of distinct schools of craftsmen has recently come under scrutiny and new research suggests that the phenomenon of West Highland sculpture is more complex than used to be thought. The collection of carved stones at Kilberry can be compared with others across the west of Scotland. It has considerable potential to inform further study into the nature of West Highland sculpture, to enhance our understanding and appreciation of religious art and its production during this period, and of medieval society and politics in general in this area.

West Highland-style effigies provide information about contemporary dress and, particularly, the arms and armour worn by the noble families of the time. Often accurately carved, West Highland effigies depict weapons, chainmail, helms, shields, and even the leather straps and buckles that fastened armour. While some individuals may have been of noble birth, most were probably of the minor landowning class of society, though still relatively wealthy and influential. As befits a society heavily reliant on waterborne transport, warriors are depicted in quilted armour, rather than in the chainmail or plate favoured in the lowlands. Equally, effigies of clerics provide an insight into religious vestments of the period.

The inscribed graveslabs indicate that it was not only the landowning classes that commissioned fine memorials. Craftsmen such as carpenters and blacksmiths are also commemorated, which underlines the high status that could be accorded to skilled artisans.

Associative Characteristics

Kilberry has long-standing associations with the Campbells of Kilberry, who probably built the original tower-house in 1497. The medieval church, dedicated to St Berchan or St Berach, was destroyed by the Campbells ahead of a siege by Alastair MacColla, a Royalist commander during the Civil War of the 1640s. MacColla, influenced by his MacDonald heritage, proved himself an implacable enemy of Clan Campbell and served under the Marquis of Montrose during his Highland campaigns. The Kilberry collection is closely associated with the late Marion Campbell of Kilberry, a celebrated local archaeologist, historian and writer, who moved the stones from the Campbell mausoleum to the castle basement before inviting the then Ministry of Works to take the stones into State Care.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has the potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular, of early Christian, medieval, late medieval and post-medieval sculpture. Specifically, the monument has the capacity to further our understanding of sculptural ornament and techniques, the context in which such carvings were created, their functions, and their role in contemporary religious and funerary practices. The monument has high potential to enhance our understanding of the early and later medieval societies that created them. It also has the potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the origins and development of the Christian church at Kilberry, as well as the wider relationships which this community had with others in NW Scotland. The loss of this monument would significantly impede our ability to understand early Christian, late medieval and post-medieval sculpture and funerary customs in Mid-Argyll.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



The RCAHMS and WoSAS do not record the stone shelter as a monument in its own right. The crosses and carved stones are recorded by RCAHMS as NR76SW 3.


Campbell and Sandeman M and M, 1964, 'Mid Argyll: an archaeological survey', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 95, p.68, No. 440; 78, No. 488.

Ritchie and Harman [J N] G and M, 1996, Argyll and the Western Isles, Exploring Scotland's Heritage series, ed. by Anne Ritchie Edinburgh, p. 105, 106.

RCAHMS, 1992, Argyll: an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 7, Mid Argyll and Cowal: Medieval and Later Monuments, pp. 95-99, no. 1-28. HMSO, Edinburgh.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Kilberry Sculptured Stones
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Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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