Wednesday, 16 November 2016
Inveravon church and Pictish stones
Off the busy A95 road along Speyside, a small sign points the way to Inveravon Church and Pictish stones Tucked out of sight well below the present line of the road and above the River Spey itself, the church is in a peaceful spot. The name "Inveravon" (mouth of the Avon) hints at the proximity of the confluence of two of Scotland's best known rivers, the Avon and the Spey. The present church is the latest in a series of buildings on the site, which was closer to the old course of the Spey and so on a more prominent spot. There was possibly a chapel here built by St Drostan in the seventh century, at the height of Pictish power.
The first church proper was built in 1108 and probably incorporated some nearby Pictish stones into its fabric. A new church with a turf roof was built in 1568, which was re-roofed with slate in 1633. In 1806 the present church was built in a simple but elegant style and at least one Pictish stone was discovered.
The interior of the church continues the theme of elegant simplicity with a light and airy atmosphere and remains in use as a place of worship. Early Christian churches were often built on sites of pagan or communal significance and Inveravon seems to have been one of them.
The kirkyard contains grave markers of great age and a mausoleum for the Grants of Ballindalloch, the local lairds but interesting as these are, the greater interest is to be found in the porch of the church. Pictish symbol stones found at the site were placed against the wall of the church but have now been protected in the porch, beautifully lit to show them to their best.
There are four impressive carved stones, numbered according to their sequence of discovery. Inveravon 1 is a slab of blue slate 1.7 metres by 0.9 metres bearing a large but (by Pictish standards) crude carving of an eagle. Above the eagle is a shape interpreted as a mirror case, and below the eagle and now faintly discernable are a mirror and comb - two of the recurring items found on Pictish stones.
Inveravon 3 is, at first glance, the least interesting, but it is just a fragment of the original as the stone was broken to form building material for the church. Carved onto the stone is the head portion of a fantastic beast, again a common Pictish symbol and variously interpreted as a dolphin, an elephant or simply a mythological beast.
Inveravon 4 was discovered buried near the church in 1964 and is heavily weathered. Standing a metre tall and half a metre across, the stone is carved with the same beast motif as Inveravon 3, together with other "standard" Pictish symbols, the crescent and V-Rod.
Perhaps the most impressive of the stones is Inveravon 2 which was unearthed in the 19th century. The carving remains sharp, suggesting it was incorporated into the building of one of the earlier churches. An array of typical symbols can be made out, the triple-disc, mirror and comb, plus the crescent and V-Rod.
It's remarkable that a people who dominated the north and east of Scotland for many centuries left so little which we can interpret with any certainty. For me, the fact that we can't understand what these beautiful and impressive stones mean - or what they signified to the Picts - makes them even more special.
In a previous post I wrote that I hoped to explore more Pictish sites, and this is one of the better ones - if you're travelling along Speyside, a turn off the A95 and into the past is heartily recommended.