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HOG-BACKED MONUMENTS., W.G.Black (Feb., 1895), pp.106-108.

“THE Sculptured Stones in Govan Churchyard are well known to Scottish archaeologists, and are of very great archaeological value. Mr. Romilly Allen recently made a Report on Sculptured Stones North of the Tweed to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, in which he referred in strong terms to what he considered to be the neglect of the preservation of the stones at Govan, of which five are of the hog-backed type. In a letter to me, as Clerk to the Heritors of Govan, he said – “These Monuments constitute the title deeds which prove that a Christian establishment existed at Govan before A.D. 1066, and their number shows how great the sanctity of the place must have been. The group of stones and Celtic ornaments is larger than at any other place, not excepting Meigle or St. Vigeans. Govan must have been looked upon, in early times, with the same degree of reverence by the Celtic population as we feel for Westminster Abbey.” The Heritors having by a voluntary assessment raised about £90 towards furnishing a suitable building, which, however, will require altogether about £300, an appeal was lately made to the antiquarian public for aid in raising the balance. 

We understand that in the forthcoming work on the Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, by Dr. Joseph Anderson and Mr. Romilly Allen, now being printed for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, these remarkable stones will be fully illustrated and described. It may be remembered that in the island of Inchcolm there is one which is locally known as the Danish warrior’s stone. Probably the original idea in the mind of the artist was the reproduction of a reliquary, and this simulated a roof or covering, in plates or otherwise. The fancy of the sculptor, however, sometimes strangely wandered, and one of the Govan monuments has a very marked resemblance to an animal, and indeed, feet are visible, while another vividly suggests an upturned boat. 

In the latter connection it may be useful to refer to a paper on Prehistoric Naval Architecture in the North of Europe, by George H. Boehmer, in the Smithsonian Report, United States National Museum, 1891 (Washington, 1892), where the author, p. 558, deals with Boat-shaped monuments raised by the Northmen, – “the stone ship of the land supplanting the wooden ship of the sea, upon which, according to ancient custom, the dead were cremated, and their ashes, together with their personal property, buried.” The home of such burial places is Sweden, where they represent the early iron age. They occur in Denmark upon Bornholm, and in Jutland. In Germany only two have been discovered. Most of those boat-shaped graves have stem and stern posts simulated by large boulders. The general direction is easterly; the outlines of the boat are presented by rows of stones.  

It is impossible to say whether such outlines were ever indicated in Govan churchyard, because it has been so long in use that every foot of ground has been utilized and no spare ground would be left for such underground boulders; but such hog-backed stones as remain in situ have an easterly direction, and present a suggestive resemblance to some of the boat-shaped monuments figured on plate lxxiii. to Mr. Boehmer’s paper, and in particular to a boat-shaped grave in Courland beneath which sepulchral chambers were found. If the heritors of Govan see their way to authorise the uplifting of the stones bearing Celtic ornaments to see whether they are also carved on the reverse, it would be of great interest did circumstances permit of one of the hog-backed stones being removed temporarily and careful inspection being made of the soil underneath. If the stone crowns an ancient Norseman’s grave, another example will be afforded us of the value of popular tradition which, as we have said, does in the case of the Inchcolm stone definitely ascribe the strange monuments to the Scandinavians. 


P.S. – Mr. Romilly Allen has kindly read the foregoing, and sends me the following note thereon:- “The coped stones seem to me to embody three ideas: (1) the relic shrine made in the shape of a small building with a pointed roof; (2) the beast, which on the Yorkshire examples is obviously a muzzled bear; and (3) the boat in different parts of Great Britain: and at different periods one of these ideas takes precedence of the other two. In one of the Govan stones, for instance, the whole monument becomes a beast; at Abercorn the boat idea seems to be foremost in the mind of the designer; and in some of the later stones of this class the reliquary, architecturally treated with Norman arcades, has quite eclipsed the ideas of the beast and the boat. The hog-backed type of monument is probably of Scandinavian origin, and belongs to the later rather than to the earlier group of pre-Norman stones. The form was, however, adopted by the Celts and Saxons in a few cases, as in Cornwall at Preigle, and at Ramsbury, Wilts.

The subject may be studied further in Mr. Allen’s paper, Early Christian Monuments of Lancashire and Cheshire, in the Transactions of the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. G. N.S., 1894, and his book on the Monumental history of the Early British Church.” 

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