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Cladh a' Bhile, burial ground and carved stones, 550m south west of Ellary

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Argyll, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 55.92 / 55°55'12"N

Longitude: -5.6291 / 5°37'44"W

OS Eastings: 173340

OS Northings: 675611

OS Grid: NR733756

Mapcode National: GBR DFH2.0D1

Mapcode Global: WH0JT.HGPH

Entry Name: Cladh a' Bhile, burial ground and carved stones, 550m SW of Ellary

Scheduled Date: 13 May 2024

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13783

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Crosses and carved stones: cross-incised stone; Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard

Location: South Knapdale

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Mid Argyll

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument comprises the remains of a burial ground and a collection of carved stones dating to the Early Medieval period. The burial ground is defined by a sub rectangular drystone enclosure within which 29 carved stones dating to the 7th and 8th centuries AD have been recorded. The monument is located within mature woodland at about 30m above sea level.

The burial ground is enclosed within a drystone wall measuring around a maximum of 35m from north northeast to south southwest by around 25m. Two large boulders are set either side of the main entrance on the east. There is a second entrance on the west. The carved stones predominantly comprise cross-marked upright slabs or pillars, most of which are located in the northern and eastern sections of the enclosure.

The scheduled area is rectangular, extending up to but not including the metal fence which surrounds the enclosure. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. A rectangular area measuring 16m from southwest to northeast by 11m northwest to southeast, measured from the western corner of the outer metal fence is specifically excluded to allow for burials and the maintenance of the late 19th century and 20th century memorial stones in this location.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):

a.  The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past as an Early Medieval ecclesiastical site. It adds to our understanding of Early Medieval ecclesiastical foundations and religious practices and the development of early medieval sculpture.

b.   The monument retains structural, architectural, decorative or other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. In particular, there is potential for the preservation of buried features and deposits, including architectural remains of an early church or monastic buildings, further carved stones and burials. The study of the carved stones has the potential to add to our understanding of this site and of Early Medieval ecclesiastical sites within Argyll and elsewhere in Scotland.

c.   The monument is a rare example of an Early Medieval ecclesiastical site with an extensive collection of carved stones. The quality and quantity of the carved stones enhances the rarity of Cladh a' Bhile and indicate it was in use in the 7th and 8th centuries.

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past. It can help us understand changing belief and religious practice and the establishment and development of places of worship in the early Christian period. It has the potential to make a significant contribution to our knowledge of ecclesiastical organisation and structure and the role of the church in early medieval life. Study of the carved stones has the potential to significantly add to our knowledge of Early Medieval art and sculpture.

f.   The monument makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the historic landscape as an Early Medieval ecclesiastical site. It is one part of a small number of Early Medieval ecclesiastical sites in the region. Study of this monument in relationship to the other monuments in the area can enhance our understanding of these sites within the historic landscape and of the spread and establishment of Christianity in western Scotland.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The collection of carved stones date to the 7th and 8th centuries, though the majority are likely to be of 7th century date on the basis of their stylistic details. Some 29 stones are recorded, comprising upright slabs or pillars of local stone. Most of the stones have been set upright within the northern and eastern sections of the burial ground, though they may have been re-erected at some point and it is unclear if they are in their original locations within the enclosure.

The majority of the sculpture is in the form of incised crosses though the hexafoil, or six-petalled marigold, occurs on three of the stones. The incised cross with four pellets or circles is on seven stones and elaborate versions of the cross-of-arcs motif on one. The most complex stone is a pedimented pillar carved on both sides with a hexafoil, cross-of-arcs and faint remains of two spirals on one face, and a cross-of-arcs within an incised circle on the other.

The incised crosses without additional ornament are assumed to be of early date because of their simplicity, while the character of the hexafoil carvings on the pedimented pillar strongly indicates a 7th century date. Comparators include a hexafoil carved on a pillar from Kirkton on Great Cumbrae (Canmore ID 40615) and hexafoils on three monuments associated with the church at Maughold on the Isle of Man. Inscriptions on one of the monuments at Maughold indicates a 7th century date. In addition, at least twelve complete or fragmentary quern stones or small millstones have been recorded within the burial ground, as well as an ingot mould. The quality and quantity of the carved stones are strongly suggestive of an early ecclesiastical site of some importance. They provide physical evidence that this was an early Christian site and have potential to provide information about the spread and establishment of Christianity in Scotland and the development of early ecclesiastical centres and placed of worship.

The stones are enclosed within drystone wall defining a broadly quadrangular area. This may have been rebuilt in the 19th century on earlier footings and re-using the original stone. The large boulders marking the main eastern entrance are potentially characteristic of an Early Medieval ecclesiastical enclosure. Although there are no visible structural remains, any buildings of Early Medieval date are likely to have been built of wood and would not be expected to survive above the ground. There is, therefore, high potential for buried archaeological remains of an early ecclesiastical site to survive within the burial ground, as well as further carved stones. The monument has potential to contribute to our understanding of the origins, nature and duration of use of early Christian ecclesiastical sites as well as burial practices. Any skeletal remains could reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, local demography and possibly occupational activities. There is also potential for the survival of further carved stones within buried deposits. These could help us refine the dating of the site, as well as contribute towards our understanding of early Christian art and sculpture.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

Cladh a' Bhile is an Early Medieval ecclesiastical site. It is of a type for which there are few comparable examples in Scotland; it has a significant concentration of Early Christian carved stones but there is no evidence of a later church building on the site. However, a number of Early Medieval Christian sites have been identified in the region. Kilmory Knap (Canmore ID 39050), around 3km south southwest is a later medieval chapel site which originated as an early Christian religious site, indicated by seven carved stones of Early Medieval date. Incised crosses of similar style to those at Cladh a' Bhile along with Early Medieval occupation debris indicate that St Columba's cave (scheduled monument SM13367, Canmore ID 39012), around 2km northeast of Cladh a' Bhile, may have been used as an early Christian place of worship. More widely, the late 8th or early 9th century cross at Keills (scheduled monument SM90176, Canmore ID 38654) 6km to the northwest and the collection of Early Medieval carved stones at Kilberry (scheduled monument SM13279, Canmore ID 318561) around 11km south southwest, indicate that these were also important Early Medieval Christian sites. Cladh a' Bhile may be contemporary with such monuments and these sites can potentially inform us of early religious activity and interaction between other ecclesiastical sites and centres of power within the wider landscape. There is potential to compare this monument with other ecclesiastical sites known in the vicinity, looking at changes in worship and burial over time. 

The collection of Early Medieval carved stones at Cladh a' Bhile is the second largest in Argyll outside of Iona, increasing its significance. The most highly decorated stone (slab 1) is the most elaborate monument of its period in Scotland and indicates those carving the stone possessed a high degree of skill. This stone bears a hexafoil pattern, which is not commonly found in Argyll. The closest local parallel is a carved stone from Kilberry (scheduled monument SM13279, Canmore ID 318561) around 11km south southwest. More widely, parallels can be drawn with carved stones found on Great Cumbrae (Canmore ID 40615), Ireland and the Isle of Man. The carved stones found at Cladh a' Bhile can be compared to other similar and contemporary examples found in the wider region, across Scotland and more widely. Such comparisons can help identify possible regional artistic styles or themes and assist with relative dating of the monument and the context in which they were discovered.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

As Cladh a' Bhile means 'burial ground of the sacred tree', the name may indicate that the monument was a site of pre-Christian importance. A well has been recorded around 35m southwest of the burial ground and may have been a h

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 39051 (accessed on 01/11/2023).

Fisher, I. (2001) Early Medieval sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands. Edinburgh: RCAHMS.

Gondek, M. M. (2006) Early Historic sculpture and landscape: a case study of Cladh a'Bhile, Ellary, Mid-Argyll. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 136, 237-258.

RCAHMS (1992) Argyll volume 7. Mid Argyll and Cowal. Medieval and later monuments. Edinburgh: RCAHMS.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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