The Govan Stones - History and Facts | History Hit

The Govan Stones

Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Amy Irvine

04 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Alamy

About The Govan Stones

The Govan Stones are early medieval carved stones, displayed at the Govan Old Parish Church in Glasgow.

The history of The Govan Stones

It’s thought that the first church on the Govan Old Parish Church site may have been built around the 5th or 6th century. At the time, a fortress, known as Alt Clut, was the centre of an ancient kingdom of Britons in Dumbarton.

When the Vikings destroyed Dumbarton in 870 AD, the kingdom managed to survive, and the new king moved further up the River Clyde to Govan, which became the new heart of the kingdom, earning the new name of Strathclyde. Govan thus gained great strategic importance and the church became an important ecclesiastical centre for this new kingdom, whose rulers were buried there.

The carvings on the Govan Stones themselves have been dated back to the 9th-11th centuries when the Vikings raided the Clyde region. They are thought to have been created to commemorate the power and wealth of those who ruled the lost Kingdom of Strathclyde.

The 31 carved stone monuments dating from this period each weigh half a ton, and include elaborately carved crosses and cross shafts, and 5 hogback stones. The presence of the hogback stones suggests the area was at least partly settled by Vikings, as these large sandstone blocks were found exclusively in areas of Northern Britain where the Vikings settled and were used to make tombs look like imposing buildings in the Norse style.

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The centrepiece of the collection is the sarcophagus. It was discovered in the graveyard in 1855 and is thought to commemorate St. Constantine, the son of Pictish king Kenneth MacAlpin. It features carvings of warrior figures and hunting scenes. Carved from solid stone, the sarcophagus is the only one of its kind from pre-Norman, northern Britain.

Recognising their significance and to protect them from the elements, the stones were moved from the surrounding graveyard and placed on display within Govan Old Parish Church in 1926. Until that point, they had lain undisturbed for over 1,000 years.

The Govan Stones today

In 2013, the display of the stones was improved, and a year later, the British Museum affirmed the importance of the collection when they took one of the hogback stones to London as part of the exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend. The Govan Stones were voted Scotland’s best ‘hidden gem’ in a nationwide competition held in August 2017, and they have also been described as of international significance.

Getting to The Govan Stones

The Govan Stones are a 5 minute walk from Govan Subway station. Govan Old Parish Church is situated next door to the Pearce Institute on Govan Road, set back down a lane leading to the Govan Old Graveyard.

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