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Arbroath DD11, UK
95 Grant Rd, Arbroath DD11 1JU, UK – 01241 871650
Kirkstyle, St Vigeans DD11 4RB, UK – 01241 433739
Before the Romans, Gaels, Vikings, Normans, or Saxons left their marks on Scotland, the Picts dominated the north. With rare exception, they left behind little historical record, but the archeological record includes a rich collection of artifacts, most notably their highly-illustrative carved stones. Today, the interpretation of the iconography used in these stones remains speculative, although many of the carvings represent obvious subjects: people, animals (real and mythological), tools, and (after the introduction of Christianity) both recognizable Biblical stories and (of course) crosses. Eventually, the Picts would merge with the Gaels, and as a result Pictish carvings would be influenced by the Celtic style of Insular art (e.g., Celtic Knotwork). This is exclusive to (and arguably inseparable from) Christian influenced carvings. While we were in Scotland, we made a point of visiting a number of churches that had original collections of Pictish art, as well as two (excellent) museums: Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum and (by appointment) St Vigeans Sculptured Stones Museum. Between the two, I preferred St. Vigeans, although both offer excellent collections of carved stones that are worth visiting if you are interested in Pictish art. You will want to call ahead to schedule an appointment to see the stones. The museum is not regularly staffed, and will not be open if you show up unannounced. You can also schedule appointments from nearby Arbroath Abbey, although don't rely on being able to gain access on short notice. Despite the inconvenience of needing to schedule your visit, the benefit of this is that you'll likely have the museum to yourself, and the staff member that lets you in will gladly provide additional information on the stones. In our case, the staff member was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, and her passion, knowledge, and insight are part of why we enjoyed St. Vigeans even more than Meigle. In addition to the individual attention and unparalleled collection, the other differentiator of St. Vigeans is the presentation. The stones are nicely mounted a lit, making it easier to appreciate the detail of the stones. The only downside of the venue is that it is small, although with individual access that ought not pose a problem. (As a result, they previously prohibited photography, although they recently changed this policy).