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Experts still debate the exact form and purpose of this object in St Andrews Cathedral. Dating from the 700s to the early 800s, the panel is made up of six sandstone pieces that slot together. Many believe that it is the main panel of a Pictish sarcophagus (stone coffin) or shrine. Others think it may have come from a series of screens.

Despite its Pictish origins, the object doesn’t include any of the typical symbols found on other Pictish monuments. But it does feature other decorative styles often found in Pictish sculpture, like hunting, fictional animals and biblical scenes. One figure, shown much bigger than the others, is thought to be David with the lion. The carvings are very fine for the period.

The first pieces of the panel were found in 1833 while a grave was being dug. More bits were found over the years and the various pieces were brought together in 1922. It’s thought that most (if not all) of the pieces were found in the burial ground between St Rule’s Tower and the Cathedral.

St Andrews Cathedral

St Rule’s Church was likely built around 1130, as the first place of worship in Scotland for the newly arrived Augustinian canons. This Continental reformed order supplanted the existing clergy.

The 33m tall St Rule’s Tower may have been a beacon for pilgrims heading for the shrine of St Andrew.

Scotland’s greatest cathedral

The cathedral was begun in 1160–2 by Bishop Arnold. Work continued over the next 150 years, but was stalled by a storm in 1272, which blew down the west front, and by the first War of Independence against England.

When the cathedral was finally dedicated in 1318 – in the presence of Robert the Bruce, by then king – it was by far the largest church in Scotland. So it was fitting that St Rule’s became the headquarters of the Scottish Church.

The cathedral church is now ruined, but large areas survive.

Its superb remains include the:

  • east gable of the presbytery, which housed the relics of St Andrew
  • south wall of the nave
  • majestic west front

The cloister retains its ruined chapter house and the restored stone-vaulted undercrofts that now house the cathedral museum. On display are fascinating artefacts from the early medieval era to post-Reformation times.

The Pends Gate (the main entrance into the cathedral precinct) and much of the precinct wall survive. Beyond the wall, on a ledge above the sea, are the foundations of the church of St Mary on the Rock (St Mary Kirkheugh). This was probably built to house the successors of the Culdee foundation, displaced from the cathedral site by the Augustinians.

The cathedral and the Protestant Reformation

In 1559, John Knox preached a fiery sermon in St Andrews parish church, and the cathedral was ‘cleansed’ as a result. In 1561, it was abandoned and replaced by the parish church as the chief place of worship. St Rule’s was then left to fall into ruins.

Find out more about St Andrews Cathedral

Details

Date Made
8th century
Dimensions
h 650mm (h 2' 1 9/16")
Property Information
St Andrews Cathedral
Object Number
SAC543a
Access Status
Display

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