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Hidden carvings have been found on the tomb of Bishop Robert Cardeny at Dunkeld Cathedral.

Medieval Stone Carvings on Bishop's Tomb Lie Unseen for 600 Years

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Many amazing discoveries have been made entirely by accident and Scottish experts have just announced one such discovery. During conservation work they have unexpectedly found medieval stone carvings that date from approximately 600 years ago and have been hidden from sight for most of those years.

Conservationists from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) were working on a tomb in the Cathedral of Dunkeld in Perthshire. It was only routine work and the conservationists did not expect to find anything other than dirt and grime. However, to their surprise while cleaning one side of a medieval tomb, they found at least a dozen remarkable sculpted figures that are representations of saints.

Carvings on the front of the tomb have been known for years, but those on the sides were hidden. (© 2008 A Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches)

Carvings on the front of the tomb have been known for years, but those on the sides were hidden. 2008 A Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches )

Historic Dunkeld Cathedral

The carvings were found on a tomb that was constructed in or about the year 1420 and it was the burial place of the Bishop Cardeny of Dunkeld. He administered the Cathedral and its estates and was “made bishop by Pope Benedict VIII in 1399,” according to the News & Star .  He was one of the most senior clerics in Scotland in his time. Originally his burial tomb had been a free-standing tomb but sometime after his death, it was placed against a wall, the carvings were hidden, and this remained the case for almost 600 years.

Dunkeld Cathedral, Dunkeld, Perth and Kinross, Scotland - south porch. (Otter / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dunkeld Cathedral, Dunkeld, Perth and Kinross, Scotland - south porch . (Otter / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Finding Enriches History

Colin Muir,  of (HES), has stated that the find “will enrich our understanding of the history of Dunkeld Cathedral” reports The Independent . The Cathedral was initially founded by St. Columba, as a monastery.  It was expanded by successive kings over a period of 250 years and played a particularly important role in the early centuries of Christianity in Scotland.  The Cathedral held many important religious relics including that of St. Columba and other saints, but the oldest part of it is the ‘choir dating from about 1250’ reports the News & Star . Moreover, the area was also the site of a battle between the Jacobite’s and royalists in the 1690s and bullet holes can still be seen in the walls of the Church.

Sarcophagus-effigy of Alexander Stewart (1343 – 1405), Earl of Buchan, at Dunkeld Cathedral, where he was buried. (Public Domain)

Sarcophagus-effigy of Alexander Stewart (1343 – 1405), Earl of Buchan, at Dunkeld Cathedral, where he was buried. ( Public Domain )

Carvings Brought to Life After Centuries

The stone carvings have been analyzed using the latest 3D photogrammetric technology. Mirrors and cameras were used to recreate the sculpted figures, which are not in the best of condition. Experts have been able to develop a 3D model of the stone carvings and this is allowing researchers to better understand the figures. Now they can see them as they were intended to be seen by visitors to the Cathedral in the fifteenth century. This is helping scholars to study medieval stone carvings and understand their development, especially to see if Scottish craftsmen were influenced by European models or if they developed their own style.

Close up of the front of the tomb of Bishop Cardeny. (© 2008 A Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches)

Close up of the front of the tomb of Bishop Cardeny. (© 2008 A Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches )

More Exploration of the Site is Needed

In the Daily Record Muir is quoted as saying that “this discovery also gives fresh incentive for further research and exploration of the site.” In particular experts will try and understand why the tomb, which is very large, was moved and its stone figures hidden for almost six centuries.  Conservation work is ongoing on the tomb of Bishop Cardeny to preserve its fabric and it is hoped more carvings can be found.

The Nave at Dunkeld Cathedral. (Paul Farmer / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Nave at Dunkeld Cathedral. (Paul Farmer / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

There is some speculation that there are more remains and artwork to be found in the Cathedral that have been concealed in the past.  Some of the most important bishops and lords from medieval Scotland are buried in the Cathedral and their tombs also may have hidden carvings. While there is no guarantee that anything will be found, nevertheless experts from the HSE are eager to continue with their work and hopeful that more discoveries are yet to be made.

The exterior of Dunkeld Cathedral in Dunkeld, Scotland. (Diliff / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The exterior of Dunkeld Cathedral in Dunkeld, Scotland. (Diliff / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Top image: Hidden carvings have been found on the tomb of Bishop Robert Cardeny at Dunkeld Cathedral.                 Source: © 2008 A Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches

By Ed Whelan

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