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27 December 2018

600-year-old stone carvings discovered at Dunkeld Cathedral

Recent works at Dunkeld cathedral have revealed previously unseen features

Dunkeld Cathedral seen through some trees.

Stone carvings which had lain hidden for centuries have been discovered at Dunkeld Cathedral in Perthshire.

A routine inspection of the site by Historic Environment Scotland’s (HES) Conservation team led to the discovery of at least a dozen unrecorded carved saint-like figures.

The torch-lit discovery within the obscured recesses of the tomb of Bishop Cardeny, which dates from 1420, was followed by a second, more in-depth assessment undertaken using cutting-edge 3D photogrammetric technology. A detailed 3D model was created by obtaining multiple images using cameras and mirrors, enabling a closer look at the carvings which had been previously hidden from direct view.

Bishop Cardeny was the longest serving Bishop of Dunkeld Cathedral. Not unusually, the tomb was created before his death, in this case 17 years before.

The unearthing of these stone carvings has shed new light on the history of the site, revealing that the tomb has at some point been moved and built into the wall from its original free-standing location.

Colin Muir, Stone Conservator at HES who led the discovery, said: “The discovery of these rare, hidden carvings behind the 15th century tomb of Bishop Cardeny is very exciting, and will enrich our understanding of the history of Dunkeld Cathedral and late medieval stone carving.

“This discovery also gives fresh incentive for further research and exploration of the site, as we still don’t know when exactly the tomb was moved, or why. This discovery also hints that there may still be other obscured areas of detail preserved within the walls behind the tomb.

Conservation works to protect the fabric of the tomb are currently being planned, and we hope to undertake further investigation of what may lie behind it. At this stage we don’t know what, if anything, remains - but it will be fascinating to find out.”

Dunkeld Cathedral is one of over 300 Historic Scotland properties across the country managed by HES. The site of the cathedral has long been an important ecclesiastical centre, with relics of St Columba brought to Dunkeld from Iona by King Kenneth McAlpin in 849. The cathedral was developed over a period of around 250 years, which the earliest surviving section – the choir – dating from the late 1200s.

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