Historic Scotland

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History

The Keills Cross 

The Keills Cross dates back to the AD 700s. It’s made of blue slate, and stands about 2m high. Only one face is carved in relief, including: 

  • panels of spiral ornament, animals and key-interlace on the shaft 
  • a robed figure holding a Bible in one hand and raising the other in blessing, with lions on each side – almost certainly Daniel in the lion’s den – on the lower arm of the crosshead 
  • a raised, circular bird’s nest boss with a hollow centre containing three peltae, at the centre of the crosshead 
  • cross arms on either side with more lions 
  • St Michael slaying a dragon on the upper arm 

The cross was likely made by a craftsman from Iona. The central boss is paralleled on the Kildalton Cross on Islay. 

How, when, and why the cross got to Keills is a mystery. It isn’t mentioned in a survey of the site in the 1830s, and excavation of its base where it once stood in the graveyard suggested it was erected relatively recently. 

Other sculpture 

The collection includes fragments of another early Christian cross and four cross-decorated grave slabs from the same period. 

There are also numerous examples of later medieval sculpture, all carved in the distinctive West Highland tradition. Several feature inscriptions. One grave-slab bears a harp and Latin inscriptions, translating as: ‘O’Cuinn had me made’ and ‘Here lies … and Allan his son’. 

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