In 1841, a fire burned down the medieval church of the Blessed Virgin at Nethergate in Dundee. The fire was very destructive, and much of the original church, founded around 1198, was lost. During excavations for the foundations of a new East church the following year, a collection of intricately carved grave slabs were found and recovered.
Among the stones were several spectacular examples, including the elaborate Ship stone, which bears a floriated cross-head rising from a foliated shaft. At its foot is carved a ship, complete with mast, sails and rigging. Out of the ship rise a four-legged animal, and what appears to be a hand, its fingers raised in the Benediction. From the foliage of the shaft there descends a hand grasping a lobate-pommelled sword. Along the moulded edge of the slab is depicted a short-handled axe.
Another, ‘Ionnes’ Stone’ bears a large escutcheon with the three shields of the arms of the family Hay, along with the inscription in Latin:
“HIC. IACET. IOHANNES. FILIVS. PHILIPPI. CISSORIS.”
(‘Here Lies John, Son of Phillip Taylor’)
Further discoveries included smaller stones with very intricate and elaborate decoration, and several of the stones shared the same emblem. One of the stones bears a pair of woolcomber’s shears, and is carved with an intricate diamond pattern.
The stones are spectacular examples of medieval carving, and parallel well known grave slabs like the Ardrossan sarcophagus, considered to be one of the masterpieces of Scottish medieval carving. The Dundee gravestones offer an opportunity to learn more about life and death in Medieval Dundee. Studies of the stones and their carvings will form a major part of this project, and we will post results of our studies here.
Jervise, A Memorials of Angus and the Mearns 1861 pp29, 30
Stuart, J The Sculpted Stones of Scotland, 1867 (Vol 2) p 69 and plate cxxv
Thomson, J The History of Dundee Dundee , 1847 pp 206-208