Vikings and Celts in Northern Scotland: The Govan Stones

Jan 29, 2014 by

The town of Govan (Baile a’ Ghobhainn in Scots Gaelic), now a part of Glasgow, Scotland, is an ancient city with origins dating back to at least the 5th century AD.   The site of the earliest known Christian church in the area,  Govan also was part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, an early medieval kingdom of the Celtic people called the Britons in the Hen Ogledd, the Brittonic-speaking parts of what is now southern Scotland and northern England.   After the sack of Dumbarton Rock (the chief fortress of the kingdom) by a Viking army from Dublin in 870, Govan rose to prominence as the seat of the warrior chieftains, particularly Constantine, a 7th-century king of Strathclyde who founded a monastery at Govan, where he was buried in 876 AD.   One of the most outstanding legacies of this ancient Celtic kingdom is a collection of 31 early medieval sculptures known as the Govan Stones, one of which will be featured in a new Viking exhibition opening soon at the British Museum.

Tim Clarkson, historian and author of several books about ancient Scotland, including The Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland has noted that


“The thirty-one carved stones at Govan Old Parish Church represent one of the largest collections of early medieval sculpture in Scotland. These remarkable examples of Celtic art were produced between the 9th and 11th centuries AD at a time when Govan was a focus of royal power and religious ritual in the kingdom of Strathclyde. The artwork includes crosses, interlace patterns and figures of humans and animals, while the shapes of the stones themselves range from simple rectangular slabs to the enigmatic hogbacks. Common stylistic features indicate that Govan was the centre of a distinctive local ‘school’ of stonecarving whose craftsmen drew inspiration from Pictland, Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England. The artistic traditions of the Govan School spread outward across Strathclyde and can still be seen today in Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire and other parts of the old kingdom.” source

 

 

The most unusual and rare sculptures found amongst the Govan stones are the five Hogback stones, huge sandstone blocks carved with interlacing Scandinavian patterns and shaped like Viking houses. These stones are found only in areas of northern Britain that were settled by the Vikings:

“My feeling is that this is meant to represent a lord’s hall or a chieftain’s hall. This type of monument, these hogback monuments, you only find them in Britain. You don’t get them in Scandinavia and you don’t get them before the Vikings come here. So somehow the Vikings come here and see they are in this world where people carve stones all the time and they think ‘let’s carve us a suitable stone that resonates with us’.” Stephen Driscoll, Professor of Historical Archaeology at Glasgow University.

The British Museum is opening a major new exhibit called Vikings: Life and Legend, which will include one of the giant Hogback stones from Govan,  the first time a hogback stone from Govan has ever left Scotland.  Read more about the exhibit and the role of this unusual stone in telling the story of Vikings in ancient Scotland in this story from the BBChere at The Scotsman,  and at the British Museum’s site here.

If you travel to Glasgow, you can see the Govan Stones (minus one hogback gravestone) at Old Govan Church.  Admission is free for the public, although you might need to call for an appointment time.   Learn more about the location and amazing history of these early Celtic sculptures by visiting the Govan Stones online site  here.  
Short video on the Govan stones:

Time Team video with loads of info on Govan Stones:

read more

Related Posts

Share This

Celtic–and Viking–Blood Runs in My Veins

Nov 14, 2013 by

Viking Jarl Squad at 2013 Up Helly Aa fest in Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland-(Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images) http://bit.ly/1hJ1CJT

Viking Jarl Squad at 2013 Up Helly Aa fest in Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland-(Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images) http://bit.ly/1hJ1CJT

I like Vikings. They haven’t always placed nice with us Celts, but they have certainly left their mark(and their DNA fingerprints) on Celtic life, history and culture. As many of you know, every Thursday(Thorsday), I try to post something about the Vikings. Why? Because of the connection between Vikings and Celts. Yes, there IS one, and I’ve talked about it many times since I began blogging about the Celtic nations.

1012466_451681118275446_928602936_n

Some confusion remains, however, about the Viking-Celt link, so here are some basic truths as I see them:

1) Vikings had a significant physical, historical, and cultural effect on the Celtic nations, especially in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man(IOM), but to some degree in the other nations as well. Read back through my numerous posts here and on Facebook about this issue or google it, and you’ll get a wealth of info about the many ways our two cultures are linked.

2) The Celts existed BEFORE Viking invasions of the Celtic lands, thus we, as Celts, do NOT originate from the Scandinavian lands–we are of Indo-European origin.

3) As will happen when two cultures come in contact, Viking boy meets Celtic girl(or vice versa), willingly or not sometimes, and BAM! Lars yer uncle and CeltoVike tyke is born! He/she grows up in Scotland, Ireland, IOM or some other Celtic country and passes down that genetic heritage to YOU, beautiful Celtic people.

In modern terms, you MAY have DNA that connects you to both Celtic and Viking ancestors. Many of you have told me of just such DNA evidence in your family trees, which is consistent with what genetic researchers have found. Not everyone has Scandinavian DNA, but many do, including myself–I’m basically 3/4 Celt, 1/4 Viking, to put it in VERY simple terms. Again, read my previous blog or Facebook posts.

Viking Voyages and Territories in the Celtic Realm

Viking Voyages and Territories in the Celtic Realm

This map shows where the Northmen established solid control of certain territories(those areas are in bright green)–in Ireland, particularly around Dublin, in northern Scotland, in Shetland, Orkney and in Celtic France, near Normandy. The entire Isle of Man was ruled by Vikings for several hundred years, before being handed over to Scotland–IOM is too small to see clearly on the map.

The blue lines indicate known Viking voyages and trading routes–you can see that EVERY Celtic country was raided/visited/traded with by Vikings to some degree.

So, in light of the above, and because I am the monarch of this page(what do you mean, nobody told you?! It says it right up there, in the royal edicts) and because VIKINGS ARE AWESOME, I will continue to share my Viking fascination with you, fellow Celts. Even better, you can now impress friends and relatives with your knowledge about the Celtic-Viking connection, a bit of our rich heritage with which relatively few Celts are familiar. In return, they can toast you with a big horn of mead.

read more

May 2, 2013 by

Cigarette Card – The Battle of Largs 1263 Mitchell’s Cigarettes “Scotlands Story” (series of 50 issued in 1929) #10 The Battle of Largs, 1263 ~ King Alexander III and his attempts to drive out the Norwegian King Haakon from the Western Isles. At Largs, the Norwegian ships were damaged by a storm, and their King mortally wounded, so the Scots regained possession of all the islands except Orkney and the Shetlands

read more

Related Posts

Share This

Mar 28, 2013 by

The Galloglaich were fierce mercenaries of Norse Scottish origin, Dion, based in the Hebrides and West Highlands. They were employed by Irish kings and princes to fight heavy English cavalry and they were also in the armies of King Robert Bruce. Their typical garb was a heavy mail hauberk and domed helmet, their arms a massive two handed sword and the formidable sparth axe.

read more

Related Posts

Share This

Mar 28, 2013 by

The Valkyries go weaving/ with drawn swords, Hild and Hjorthrimul,/ Sanngrid and Svipul. Spears will shatter/ shields will splinter, Swords will gnaw/ like wolves through armor. “Darraðarljóð “, a skaldic poem in Old Norse found in c hapter 156 of Njáls Saga. The song consists of 11 stanzas, and within it twelve valkyries weave and choose who is to be slain at the Battle of Clontarf (fought outside Dublin in 1014 CE).

read more

Related Posts

Share This

Mar 28, 2013 by

Small thatched stone structure in Shawbost, Isle of Lewis, that was originally a Norse Mill showing the mill lade structure where water was channeled along to drive the mill Norse Mill, Shawbost, Isle of Lewis by Chris Morrison on Dreamstime

read more

Related Posts

Share This

Mar 20, 2013 by

Members of the Manx Detectorists Society have found fragments of the hilt of a Viking Period display sword. It’s cast in bronze with rich Borre Style decoration (c. AD 850-1000) and silver wire frills. Though settled by the Norsemen from about AD 800 onward, the island has not previously produced very manyany of their swords.

http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/

read more

Related Posts

Share This