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Kilmartin Churchyard, crosses, tombstones, & Neil Campbell Tomb

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Argyll, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 56.1329 / 56°7'58"N

Longitude: -5.4862 / 5°29'10"W

OS Eastings: 183463

OS Northings: 698830

OS Grid: NR834988

Mapcode National: GBR DDTH.ZSK

Mapcode Global: WH0HX.P3QR

Entry Name: Kilmartin Churchyard, crosses, tombstones, & Neil Campbell Tomb

Scheduled Date: 10 September 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13316

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Kilmartin

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Mid Argyll

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument is a churchyard containing a collection of carved stones dating from the early Christian period (from the 9th century AD or possibly earlier) through to the early modern period. The churchyard is sub-rectangular in shape, measuring around 68m N-S by 50m E-W. Stones from the early Christian, medieval, post-Reformation and later period are distributed throughout the churchyard. In addition, stones have been gathered together into collections in three locations on site. The first collection is housed within the church and comprises three stones recovered from, or the immediate vicinity of, the graveyard: an early medieval cross; a fragment of a small cross with the figure of the crucified Christ of 14th- to 15th-century date; and fragments of a larger cross possibly dating to the 16th century. Two other collections of stones have been housed within later enclosures situated in the graveyard. The largest group comprises 23 stones housed in the converted 17th-century Neil Campbell burial aisle, now called the 'lapidarium'. The burial enclosure of the Malcolm family of Poltalloch (commonly known as the 'Poltalloch enclosure') houses a further group of seven burial monuments, including a pair of medieval effigies, medieval grave slabs and two post-Reformation monuments. The churchyard is situated on a spur on the E side of the Kilmartin Valley overlooking the glen. The monument was originally scheduled in 1998, but the area was not sufficient to protect all of the archaeological remains: the present amendment rectifies this.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan. It includes the remains described above and an area around them in which evidence relating to their construction and use is expected to survive, as marked in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the upstanding church building (which is in use) and all its fixtures, fittings and contents, with the exception of the three carved stones described above. It also specifically excludes: all burial lairs where rights of burial still exist; the upper 300mm of all surfaced or graveled modern paths; the above-ground elements of the wall enclosing the burial ground; all burial monuments of 20th-century or later date; the above-ground elements of the timber walkway to the N of the 'Poltalloch enclosure'; and the glass roof-plates of the lapidarium.

National Importance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument survives in a good condition. The carved stones and the associated buried deposits demonstrate an impressive chronological development and offer high research potential.

Kilmartin has a long history as an important ecclesiastical centre. The present church dates to 1834-5 and its immediate predecessor was a modest structure of 1798. The earliest documented church building dates to 1601 and the earliest documentary evidence for a church comprises a reference to a vicar's name in 1304.. It is highly likely that these were the successors to previous ecclesiastical buildings and the presence of the early Christian carved stones suggests that the site was a focus of religious activity possibly from as early as the 9th century, or even earlier. The carved stones and funerary monuments also demonstrate that the churchyard has remained in use over more than a millennium, until the 20th century. There is, therefore, high potential for the survival of important buried archaeological remains spanning a considerable period of time. It is probable that foundations or features relating to an earlier church (or churches) survive beneath, or close to, the site of the existing church. Burials in the churchyard and beneath the present buildings have the potential to inform our understanding of funerary practices over this extended period, which saw major devotional changes. The skeletal remains can also reveal evidence for changes in health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps the types of activities people undertook during life.

The collection of carved stones at Kilmartin is one of the largest in the West Highlands, with at least 113 recorded stones. The carved stones also have the potential to contribute greatly towards our understanding of West Highland sculpture and religious art, and the character of funerary monuments in general. The largest group of carvings displayed at Kilmartin are graveslabs dating to the 15th and 16th centuries. They consist largely of long tapered slabs of local stone and display a number of motifs typical of West Highland sculpture, such as effigies of both warriors and ecclesiastics, combinations of intricate scrollwork and interlace, and detailed swords with edges and borders defined by dogtooth or nail head patterns, as well as roll mouldings. Of particular interest is the larger cross situated in the church which shows the Crucified Saviour on one side and Christ in Majesty on the other. Although the figure of Christ is not unusual in medieval sculpture, this example is extremely unusual in that it is executed in the West Highland tradition.

The monument has an inherent potential to inform our understanding of past funerary and commemorative customs, and of the role stone carvings played in society, as well as early Christian, medieval and post-Reformation sculpture, schools of carving, styles of sculptural ornament and carving techniques.

Contextual characteristics

Kilmartin churchyard is situated in an elevated position, at the head of and overlooking Kilmartin Glen, which has one of the densest concentrations of prehistoric funerary and ritual monuments in Scotland, including burial cairns, standing stones and rock art. It is likely that the early church builders deliberately selected this location for its views across such a significant area.

The rich collection of medieval carved stones at Kilmartin can be compared not only with others across the west of Scotland, such as those at Iona Abbey and nunnery, Oronsay Priory and Kilmodan churchyard, but their style of execution can also be seen in objects such as the Guthrie bell shrine and the Queen Mary harp. As such, the stones have the potential to inform us about the spread of ideas and traditions across different materials and crafts, as well as across geographical areas.

Associative characteristics

Kilmartin Church and churchyard have a significant place in the local community as the burial site of some of its best known characters and families, including the Campbells and the Malcolms. The former manse, built in 1789, stands immediately to the NW and is now the Kilmartin House Museum. The ancestors of many local people and families lie in the churchyard, and the present church is a significant landmark in the village and glen.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

This monument is of national importance as an ecclesiastical site containing one of the finest surviving collections of early Christian, medieval, post-Reformation and later funerary sculpture in Scotland. This monument is particularly important because of its longevity of use over more than a millennium, demonstrating a continuum of Christian worship and funerary and memorial practises through centuries devotional change and developments in memorial and symbolism. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our ability to understand the origin and development of Christian sites, the changing nature of memorial and burial ritual and practise, and developments in sculptural funerary traditions in Argyll and across Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monuments as NR89NW 8. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR reference is 4116.

The carved stones in the 17th-century burial aisle and the 'Poltalloch enclosure' are in the care of the Scottish Ministers.


Allen, J R (1881b) 'Notice of sculptured stones at Kilbride, Kilmartin, and Dunblane', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 15, 258-60.

Fisher, I (2001) Early Medieval sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands, RCAHMS/SocAntScot Monograph series 1, 149. Edinburgh.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Kilmartin Crosses
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Kilmartin Sculptured Stones
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Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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