Pictish Christians love pelicans

(ORDO NEWS) — In Scotland, a stone was found on which, fifteen hundred years ago, an unknown Pictish carver depicted animals that were not found in its region and made an Ogham inscription.

Roman historians referred to the Scottish Celts as the Picts, or “painted people” because of their supposed war paint and tattoos (“picti” is Latin for “paint”).

The Picts lived in the north and east of Scotland during late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. And they became famous for successfully resisting the Roman conquest.

Moreover, they themselves often and quite successfully plundered the lands that belonged to the Roman province of Britannia.

It was to protect against their raids that Hadrian’s Wall was erected, and then the Antoninov. As long as there was someone to fight on these walls, the Picts were not particularly dangerous.

But as soon as the legions left Britain, the northern tribes began to ravage the lands as far as Londinium.

Pictish Christians love pelicans 2
The first discovery of a Pictish stone with an ogham inscription in Scotland

The Romans – for obvious reasons – portrayed the Picts as barbaric, backward and extremely cruel. But archaeological finds suggest that only a small part of their society went on raids to the south.

The rest lived quite peacefully, mainly due to subsistence farming: they grew grain and grazed domestic animals.

In an old cemetery near the village of Doune in Perth, Central Scotland, archaeologists and volunteers found a split cross-shaped slab on which images of animals and inscriptions made using the early medieval alphabet are carved. Preliminary dating – 500-700 years of our era, the Dark Ages of Britain.

After the withdrawal of the Roman Empire from the British Isles in the 5th century AD, Pictish society grew to form a permanent but unstable monarchy seeking to defend its territorial boundaries.

The first missionaries from Ireland converted many of the Pictish kings to Christianity in the middle of the sixth century AD, a century before the English kings had adopted Christianity.

At the Battle of Dun Nechtnsmere in 685, the Picts utterly defeated the Angles (the king of Northumbria, along with almost his entire army, remained on the battlefield), ousted the tribes of the Britons and Angles from Scotland and created a mini-empire that lasted until about 900 – that is, until the arrival of the Vikings.

The county of Perth, in which the slab was found, is a kind of buffer zone between the Picts and first the Romans, and then the Britons.

Carved stones from early medieval Scotland are quite common, but they are all much simpler both in form and in what is carved on them: usually these are abstract designs.

The peculiarity of the fresh find is that the slab originally had the shape of a cross (it was found in a split form) with rounded tops, quite recognizable animal figures and an inscription written in the medieval alphabet called ogham were carved on it. Ogham is the script of the ancient Celts.

Pictish Christians love pelicans 3
Ogham alphabet

Philologists believe that it originated as a synthesis of Latin and German Futhark. Some researchers suggest that ogham was not just an alphabet (recording of a language), but also the language itself – sacred, related to ritual activities.

About 400 monuments with Ogham inscriptions have survived to this day, mainly in Ireland. The Doune find is the first of its kind in Scotland.

The cruciform plate was originally unequal – 119 centimeters high and 82 centimeters wide. Immediately after the find, archaeologists suggested that it was just a tombstone in front of them. But so far we do not yet have an example of a tombstone on which an inscription in ogham would be carved.

Therefore, a hypothesis arose that this plate is evidence of a mixture of newly acquired Christian traditions and ancient Celtic customs. The heads of pelicans are carved on the stone.

And Christian Western theologians considered these birds to be a symbol of the Last Supper and the Eucharist: there is a legend according to which the pelican tears out its flesh in order to feed the chicks.

However, there are still disputes about the type of birds. Some archaeologists believe that this is a flamingo, and then the story becomes much more interesting: the question arises where the Picts got acquainted with the fauna so atypical for Scotland.


Contact us: [email protected]

Our Standards, Terms of Use: Standard Terms And Conditions.