Object of the Month.
Fragment of a 14th /15th Century Graveslab
On long-term loan, for security, from Lismore Parish Church
Although this is only a fragment (0.46 x 0.47m) of an Iona School graveslab, carved in local slate, it shows a wide range of features.
The botanical details at the centre (“palmette design”) are actually issuing from a beast’s head (top right) and, below right, there is the hilt of a typical “Viking style” sword. The intact stone (around 1.7m in length) would have had a full length sword, probably complemented by complex botanical scrolls in the middle panel.
There is a “tau-headed” cross at the top left, on a stave that would have stretched to the end of the intact slab. This type of design, with dragon heads forming the arms of the cross, is almost unique within the British Isles, appearing on one other stone on Lismore (set in the floor of Lismore kirk) and one in Ireland. However, it is a common feature in the Eastern Orthodox Church, prompting speculation that the design might have been brought back from the East by a crusader.
It is not known who is celebrated by this graveslab or by any of the other medieval slabs on Lismore. However, the combination of the sword (symbol of power and authority) and the tau-headed stave, may show that the individual was a cleric (possibly even a bishop) from one of the dominant local families (MacDougall, MacDonald or Stewart, before the arrival of the Campbells in mid-15th century).
The stone is on permanent display in the Heritage Centre Museum.
CELM is grateful to the Session of Lismore Parish Church for the privilege of housing such an important object.