Some illustrations of early Celtic Christian art

Some illustrations of early Celtic Christian art

By Daniel Wilson

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Issue 20 (1885-1886)

Introduction: The unusual representation of the Christ on the cross, crowned with a royal diadem, which occurs on the beautiful Kilmichael-Glassrie bell shrine in the Society’s collection, led me in a former communication to notice the changes in style and treatment in the representation of the Crucifixion at different periods. To this subject my attention was anew directed during the past summer. A holiday sojourn with old friends at Glenfeochan, in Argyllshire, afforded me repeated opportunities of visiting the ancient cemetery of Kilbride, and making careful drawings of tho fine sculptured cross, already described in a communication to the Society from Mr J. Romilly Alien, C.E.

The Kilbride cross merits special attention in more than one respect; but its most striking feature is the indication that the head of the Christ was originally surmounted by a metal crown, probably of bronze. The elaborate ornamentation both on the back and front of this cross is in the style so characteristic of the memorial slabs of the West Highlands. But the sculptured figure differs essentially from any early example of Celtic art, and this is all the more noticeable from the perpetuation for centuries of a highly characteristic style of sepulchral monument throughout the Western Highlands, little affected by the changing fashions of art beyond their own district. The progressive modifications of mediaeval art are replete with interest to the historical student as indices in many cases, not merely of a change in style, but of important modifications of thought and belief; and they are all the more deserving of study in reference to localities and periods concerning which our information is otherwise scanty. I propose, therefore, in the following remarks to briefly note a few examples that have come under my own notice; and which seem to me to throw some partial light on the conceptions of the early Celtic or Culdee Church, in relation to the artistic representation of the central idea of the Christian faith, and the modifications which resulted from its being brought into closer relations with the medieval Roman Church.

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