The Story behind the Stone – the families, estates and stories of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, the Black Isle and beyond

The Pierced Hand at Cullicudden

text: Jim Mackay     photos: Andrew Dowsett

There is a surprising survival at the old kirkyard of Cullicudden – a pre-Reformation gravestone bearing striking symbols of this period of Scotland's religious history.

We have, on much more durable sandstone than usual, the pierced hand of Christ and a chalice. When new gravestone symbology developed post-Reformation (1560), symbols such as the pierced hand and chalice, unmistakably Catholic, seldom survived. The more modern symbols, seen on many stones in Cullicudden and Kirkmichael, such as spade, shovel, deadbell and coffin, also included the hourglass, which can present some similarities to the chalice. Nothing resembles the pierced hand of Christ.

The Cullicudden pierced-hand and chalice. Photo: Andrew Dowsett

In scheduling the old kirkyard at Cullicudden as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (following a Kirkmichael Trust guided tour to bring attention to the marvellous but at-risk stones to be found here), Historic Scotland stated:

The grave-slab bearing the pierced hand of Christ is a particularly rare survival.

Whilst some symbols continued to decorate structures in a few private locations of families who remained Catholic, symbology such as the pierced hand were commonly mutilated in public locations such as kirkyards.

The southern aisle at Cullicudden, the "Isle of Ardullie" as it is described in a solitary church record, is now the only remaining section of the kirk. It bears the date above the doorway of "1609". The pierced hand stone, and the half dozen ornate pre-Reformation crosses, on the site indicate that the kirkyard was in use long before the aisle was added to the kirk.

The Aisle of Ardullie stands to the south of the grassy and ivy-covered mounds of rubble
that are all that remain of the kirk of Cullicudden
Photo: Andrew Dowsett

The presence of initials carved onto the stone, in a similar fashion to those at times brutally carved on the pre-Reformation ornate crosses at Kirkmichael and Cullicudden, indicates the reason for survival: re-use as somebody else's gravestone. In this case, the initials are: "I  C      C  V" and it is reasonable to assume that the "CV" would be the Urquhart spouse, probably Catherine or Christian, of an estate-owner or tacksman in the area. Of the "IC", "I" will most likely represent "John" as is usual on inscriptions of this period, but "C"? Cameron, Cuthbert, Clunes, it is anybody’s guess amongst the options common to the area.

We are lucky to have at Cullicudden such a marvellous heritage survival from long ago.

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