Cille Bharra (Kilbar, Barra) (SC 8)

Found in the disused burial ground of Kilbar, at the north end of the island of Barra, this is slab of local dark-grey stone, measuring 1.36m high and 0.36m wide at it's widest point, with a maximum thickness of 80mm. The lower quarter of both sides are uncarved. The cross (broken obliquely near the top) is carved in low relief, with sunken circular armpits and a slightly tapering shaft. The arms are straight, and the cross is filled with a flat, four-strand plaited interlace which becomes irregular at the head. The stone either side of the cross shaft is incised with S-scrolls and a regular square-key pattern. The runic inscription is found on the reverse, and reads from top to bottom on a lightly dressed surface. There are three lines of characters, decreasing in size from right to left, and many of the staves are worn or damaged.


...eftir Þorgerðu Steinar's dóttur es kors sjá reistr

'In memory of Þorgerðr Steinarsdóttir is the cross raised'

The memorial formula varies from the norm, running "After X is this cross raised", with no mention of the commemorator, reminiscent of the earliest Viking Age memorial stones in Scandinavia. All such similar Scandinavian inscriptions date to the 9th century at the latest (most of them using short-twig or transitional Helnæs-Gørlev runes, with just a few in the long-branch fuþark). This would date the inscription to the early 900s, about a generation before the similar Gautr crosses (940-1000) on Man. This is reinforced by the decoration, which appears to be of a style popular around 900, and resembles the Manx style in a somewhat cruder form. In addition, the use of the older spelling is (rather than ir) suggests an earlier rather than a later date. However, the use of a dotted-i rune, e, suggests a date c. 1000. It has been speculated that this is a mistake (that the carver did a premature s-rune, and then lengthened it to make an i) but this is debateable. We know that many Scandinavian rune-stones were painted, and there are cases where it is been shown that corrections and even entire runes were painted rather than carved. It would be easier to believe if the rune-forms were of the Man-Jær type, where e can represent h, but there are no diagnostic b or h runes in this inscription by which to confirm this. Conservatively, as a result of this ambiguity, the most that can be said with any certainty is that the inscription cannot be later than the 12th century.

The stone is very similar to the Manx corpus, (the closest parallel is to Kirk Michael III) as is the use of 'cross' over 'stone' to describe the monument (although the spelling, kurs, differs from the canonical Manx krus), and this further reinforces an earlier, rather than a later date; in general, the Manx corpus predates the Swedish and Norwegian material, being roughly contemporary with the Danish inscriptions. Other similarities include the use of a patronymic, and the fact that the commemorated is female. Based on this, a date in the early tenth century seems most likely.

The stone is currently on display at Queen Street, Edinburgh.

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