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Bunessan’s Mariota Stone returns home

1 May 2012

An ancient carved grave stone is to return to Kilvickeon Parish Church in the Ross of Mull after Historic Scotland conserved it to repair and replace broken sections.

Known as the Mariota Stone due to the inscription, the intricately carved grave marker suffered cracks in 2008. Historic Scotland Field Officer Sheila Clark reported the damage, and when a section of the stone was taken she and colleagues from Heritage Management and Conservation teams stepped in to arrange the repair of the stone.

After being taken to Historic Scotland’s conservation workshop in Edinburgh the stone will be back at Tigh na Rois, the Ross of Mull Historical Centre (ROMHC), in time for a celebration to mark Scotland’s Festival of Museum on May 18 and 19th.

It will remain on display at the Historical Centre for a few weeks before being moved to a new purpose-built protective shelter funded by Historic Scotland and the ROMHC.

The Mariota Stone is the oldest of a number of impressive table tombs and headstones in the churchyard. It got its name from the inscription which reads: ‘Here lies Mariota, daughter of…’. No other information is legible.

The stone is protected as a scheduled monument because of its national importance and is around 500 years old.

Dr John Raven, of the Heritage Management West team, arranged the necessary consents to remove the stone, said:

“The scheduled monument that the stone is part of includes the remains of a medieval parish church and the surrounding graveyard. The graveyard probably overlies an earlier church building and contains a number of post-reformation gravestones and one late medieval West Highland grave-slab.

“The Mariota stone dates to around 1500-1560 AD. It was beautifully carved with parallel plant-scrolls, topped with animals and a memorial panel with the name of the person it was intended to commemorate inscribed within it.

“The grave-slab is a particularly fine example of the school of West Highland Late Medieval Sculpture. This group of sculpture provides an evocative and visual picture of life, faith and belief in the medieval Highlands and Islands. Examples with names written upon them are relatively uncommon.

“Late Medieval West Highland Sculpture remains deeply important for many communities who see these as a directly link to their ancestors and testament to their artistic and cultural capabilities. This importance is also borne out by the public outcry at the damage of the stone and theft of the central panel. This case also highlights the vulnerability of historic churches, graveyards and sculpture throughout the area and the need for increased care.

“The interest and commitment shown by the local community and the ROMHC in this case has been inspiring and the resulting project has been a product of a solid partnership between different parts of HS and the ROHMC. I hope this cooperative energy will be successful in seeing the nearby chapel consolidated and encouraging better care for Argyll’s medieval churchyards.”

Stephen Gordon, Head of Applied Conservation, carried out the repairs. He said:

“The stone is carved from west highland slate. It was in poor condition with considerable fracturing consistent with being compressed under a heavy load. Before the stone could be uplifted by the conservation team a significant portion of the carved ornament had been lost or stolen.

“The stone was brought to the Applied Conservation studios in Edinburgh where the numerous fragments could be examined, recorded and cleaned. The work then involved many further hours of reassembling the fragmented sections to reconstruct the stone using a combination of acrylic based mortars and adhesives.

“We were lucky to have good archive material illustrating the missing section and a decision was made to remodel the carved detail in a synthetic epoxy based composite material.

“This repair was designed and attached to the stone in order that if the missing fragment is ever recovered it can be replaced. Whilst the stone is now conserved and relatively stable its vulnerability to exposure to the Scottish climate means that the new shelter will afford it good protection for the future.”

The weekend of celebrations linked with Scotland’s Festival of Museums will include a talk by distinguished artist Stephen Raw, whose exhibition inspired by Kilvickeon toured the country several years ago, a visit to the ruined church and burial ground and an exhibition of work by children who explored the nunnery in Iona – a building linked in time and architecture to Kilvickeon.

The events include:

Friday May 18 – 10.30am Talk by Stephen Raw on the Art of Remembering
12 – 4pm Displays, archives and tea and coffee available at the Historical Centre
1.45pm – Visit to the churchyard at Kilvickeon wit Sue Reed and Anita Tunstall. Meet at Historical Centre Gate.

Saturday May 19 – 10am – 4pm Displays, archives and tea and coffee available at the Historical Centre. These include a display about the Mull Brownies project with Historic Scotland, in which they learned about the Nunnery.
7.30pm - Ceilidh in Tigh na Rois, with the Ross of Mull Poets.

For more information about events please contact ROMHS on 01681 700659.

Notes for editors
  • The new protective shelter for the Mariota Stone will cost £1300 with HS covering 75 per cent of the cost and ROMHC paying the remainder.

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

  • The Year of Creative Scotland began on January 1, 2012 and will spotlight and celebrate Scotland’s cultural and creative strengths on a world stage. Through a dynamic and exciting year-long programme of activity celebrating our world-class events, festivals, culture and heritage, the year puts Scotland’s culture and creativity in the international spotlight with a focus on cultural tourism and developing the events industry and creative sector in Scotland. More information about the programme can be found at:

  • The Year of Creative Scotland is a Scottish Government initiative led in partnership by EventScotland, VisitScotland, Creative Scotland and VOCAL. More information and resources to help businesses engage with Year of Creative Scotland are available at

                                                              Year of Creative Scotland 2012

For further information

Lesley Brown
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8603 or 07920 768 096