The Cursing Stone
A stone discovered by chance in a graveyard on the Isle of Canna in the Inner Hebrides is Scotland’s first known example of a bullaun “cursing stone”, researchers and archaeologists have revealed.
The cursing stone dates from approximately 800 AD. Interestingly, these cursing stones are sometimes linked with the earlier forms of Christian crosses. The cursing stone itself was found by a National trust for Scotland farm manager Geraldine MacKinnon. Cursing stones were used by Christian pilgrims more than a thousand years ago to bring harm to their enemies.
The inscriptions on the stone include an engraving of the early Christian cross. It is also approximately 25cm in diameter. After measuring the diameter of the stone, BBC reported that it “was later found to fit exactly into a large rectangular stone with a worn hole which was located at the base of the Canna cross.”
This finding proves to be a remarkable one as it provides new information pertaining to older religious practice in old Scotland. Furthermore, it sheds light on the fact that there is still plenty to learn in this field. Apart from that, it is amazing to note that the cursing stones which were recently found are commonly discovered in Ireland. However, this is the first of its kind to be discovered in Scotland. During the earlier stages of Christianity, Canna had been a part of a monastery in Iona.
Geraldine says “It would be extremely interesting to find out what the exact purpose of the cursing stone is. Discoveries such as this one help people like us understand the origin of our ancestors and why religion is being practised the way it is practised today. Ancient history, mysteries and legends never fail to fascinate me. There’s just so much to learn from the people of the past, it’s practically invigorating.”
Katherine Forsyth, an expert in the history and culture of early Celtic-speaking peoples, based at the University of Glasgow, described it as an “amazing find”.
“Stones like this are found in Ireland, where they are known as ‘cursing stones’, but this is the first to be discovered in Scotland,” she said.
“They date from the early Christian period but have continued to be used by pilgrims up to modern times.
“Traditionally, the pilgrim would recite a prayer while turning the stone clockwise, wearing a depression or hole in the stone underneath.”
Dr Forsyth said bowl-shaped lower stones had been found elsewhere in Scotland, including on Canna, but this was the first discovery of a top stone.
She added: “This exciting find provides important new insight into religious art and practice in early Scotland and demonstrates just how much there is still to be discovered out there.”
In the early-Christian period, Canna belonged to the monastery on Iona.
The island was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981 by Gaelic scholar John Lorne Campbell.