THE TOWN OF ST. ANDREWS, FIFE, SCOTLAND AND THE ST. ANDREWS’ SARCOPHAGUS
I have just come back from visiting the lovely town of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland and The St. Andrews’ Sarcophagus. The town is famous for its University and golf courses but it was also once Scotland’s premier Cathedral city where it was the centre for the medieval Catholic Church of Scotland.
Today, The Cathedral is a fascinating ruin where you will find The St. Andrews’ Sarcophagus in The Museum. This is one of the finest pieces of sculpture to survive from early Medieval Europe and a supreme example of Insular art. The Sarcophagus is made in a style of native art by The Celts and The Anglo-Saxons and a combination of Mediterranean art.
In 1833, fragments of The Sarcophagus were found during grave digging. It was concluded that these were probably from a royal burial shrine from the late 700s from perhaps either a King or saintly relics. It was possibly a memorial to Onuist, son of Uurguist who was a powerful Pictish King who died in 761.
The St. Andrews’ Sarcophagus has a deeply symbolic design which gives an insight into the religious beliefs, political aspirations and extensive international contacts of The Pictish Kings. The largest panel is carved in high relief which resembles the early Christian carvings from the Eastern Mediterranean. It depicts human and animal figures with a Pictish King attacking a lion. Much of it is typically Pictish, but the clothes are Byzantine and the knife scabbard is Germanic.
The Sarcophagus probably stood in the church or royal mausoleum and was then buried not long after the initial display. It would have been placed to the left of the alter with the cross facing the worshippers whilst the large figure fighting the lions looked directly at the alter.
POST REFORMATION GRAVE STONES
During the 19th century, more stones were uncovered in The Cathedral including some exceptional examples of the stone carvers art. You can see post reformation grave stones which are one of the finest collections in Scotland. These date back to the 1600’s and record the names of the deceased, their ages and dates of death either in English or Latin.
There are symbolic emblems including carved skeletons and skulls representing Death and decay. Hourglasses showing time passing and crossbows and grave diggers tools as depictions of death.
THE MEDIEVAL STONE MASON TECHNIQUES
The St. Andrews’ Sarcophagus illustrates the techniques that were used by the Stone Masons in Pictish times. It is made from four grooved corner slabs holding the enormous panels in place. The Pictish Masons came from Northumbria (Gaul) and first learnt some of their stone cutting and building skills in the early 8th century. The technique was adapted by The Picts to create their own distinctive form of monument called the corner slab shrine.
Medieval Stone masons were wealthy and respected craftsmen who marked their work with signature symbols so it could be checked and attributed to them. Today, you will find Stone Mason markings on some of the stones in The Museum. There are marking on the underside of a pillar fragment from the 1200’s showing the plan of a wall with a three-lobed attached column. There are also four circles which have been created by using a compass which could be plans for small columns. These are Stone Mason notes from the medieval times where Masons were responsible for the design of buildings. You can also see these markings at Dunfermline Abbey, Torphichen Preceptory and Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.