Updated: Jan 10, 2020
In the back of the garden of the Mary Queen of Scots House in Jedburgh, stands an unassuming block of stone. From a distance it doesn’t look significant but for the fact that it is placed in the middle of walkway in a highlighted position. I’m drawn to stones that have been carved or raised by people from centuries and millennia past, so naturally I made a beeline for this stone!
The following comes straight from the information panel created by the Scottish Borders Council:
“Carved almost 1300 years ago, this stone formed the base of a large Christian high cross in the Bongate area of Jedburgh. Long before Jedburgh Abbey was built, Jedburgh was home to an early Christian monastery within the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria known as Gedwearthe. This was a rich establishment allowing its monks to produce elaborately decorated holy books and beautifully carved stones. While nothing of the earlier monastery survives, a collection of their carved stones can still be seen in the visitor centre at Jedburgh Abbey along with this unusual stone.
The Jedburgh Cross Base is unparalleled in Anglo-Saxon carved stones. Its rich decoration of animals entangled in interlaced vines is in the tradition of Christian carving of the 8th and 9th centuries AD. Christian art of this type was designed to tell stories from the Bible to people who were illiterate. The deer-like animals on the stone may have represented Psalm 42: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my should after Thee, O God.”
The cross base would have been topped with a long pillar and cross head similar to those in Jedburgh Abbey. The base and cross were painted in vibrant colours and would have been visible from far away. The cross was probably a preaching cross where monks led open air services for lay visitors who were not allowed into the sacred district of the monastery. When the stone was found in the early 19th century it was a reused as a turnpike on the Edinburgh Road. You can still make out the slots and holes cut into it for this. The stone was placed in the town square by the 1850’s, and eventually the garden of the now demolish Hartrigge House unit the 1960’s when it was finally moved here to the Mary Queen of Scots House.
East Face (Photo 1 above): This is the most severely damaged face but appears to show the slight remains of a backward looking animal set in the branching vine.”
West Face (Photo 2): This face depicts a pair of birds facing each other in the branches of a vine. Below are animals with long necks and straight legs. They are staring at each other and appear to be rearing, their legs intertwined in the vegetation.
North Face (Photo 3): This shows two animals standing neck to neck with their heads pointing away. Their tongues or long tails are running to or from their open mouths. Two birds sit in the branch above their heads.
South Face (Photo 4): On this face there would have been two animals standing back to back with their heads facing backwards. The surviving animal appears to be eating a vine. Their legs are again bound in vegetation."
(One minor note: I think many would take issue with the painted stone theory being presented as fact without any references to evidence for that, but this is a hotly contested issue in general.)
Here’s a link to a short video about the laser scanning done on the stone and the resulting images which help bring some of the hidden figures and beasties to light. https://vimeo.com/10253344
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