Perth and Kinross has produced some exceptional medieval religious artefacts. Some are still displayed in modern churches, such as the extraordinary 15th-century brass candelabrum with an image of the Virgin and Child which hangs in St John’s Kirk, Perth (MPK3498; Hall 2010b). This impressive example of late medieval metalworking is now owned by Perth Museum who have loaned it to the church. Yet other items are still owned by religious institutions. Although it is likely that the most notable medieval artefacts held by the region’s churches have been recorded, it is possible that some less obviously important objects have been overlooked. Further contact with churches about items in their care would be advisable. This is a task of some urgency because of the significant number of planned church closures.
Of course, many religious artefacts are in museums and archives, especially the collections of Perth Museum. Important religious items from the region are also in the care of the National Museums Scotland, which has the seal matrix for Perth’s Dominican friary (accession NM47) and the amber seal of one of the canons at Inchaffray Abbey (accession A.1905.1178). It also has a rare candlestick linked to the church of St Constantine, Kinnoull (accession KJ22). Additionally, the Perth Psalter is in the National Library of Scotland (Caldwell 1982, 84; E55). Some items are also preserved in the British Museum, including the main seal matrix of Inchaffray Abbey (accession 1917.1110.1).
Numerous excavations in the region from the 19th century onwards have revealed objects with likely religious associations. For example, as far back as the 1860s a headless statue of a woman probably ‘of ecclesiastical origin’ was found at the former site of St Catherine’s Chapel in Perth (MPK3406; Bowler and Perry 2004, 24). The recording of many of these early finds was often limited and their fate is frequently unclear. Further research into religious objects described by antiquarians and uncovered by early excavations could be of interest.
More recent excavations have of course provided considerable evidence regarding faith and material culture in Perth and Kinross. Unsurprisingly former ecclesiastical sites have produced a number of items with religious associations, such as the remarkable bronze hanging lamp from Elcho Priory (Reid and Lye 1988). Fragments of stained glass and the ceramic figurine have also been uncovered at Blackfriars in Perth (MPK3517; Bowler et al 1996). However, a number of religious objects have been discovered at more secular sites. This is a reminder of the way in which religion and ritual was integrated into the daily life of many medieval communities. For instance, the Perth High Street excavations produced a pilgrim badge from St Andrews and a scallop shell adapted into a badge which was probably from Compostella. There were also three ampullae, two of which were associated with the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury and one was probably from the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Walsingham. Further finds included a jet cross and bead, perhaps from a rosary, and a seal matrix with symbols thought to represent the vault of Heaven (Hall and Spencer 2012).
Small religious items, such as badges, crucifixes and seal matrixes, can also be recovered by metal-detecting and fieldwalking. Meanwhile, various forms of stonework, including fonts or stoups, have sometimes been reused for other purposes, including as garden ornaments. Because of the extensive destruction of medieval religious items during and after the Reformation, even these poorly provenanced objects are important. At present much of the material evidence of medieval religious activity in Perth and Kinross is scattered across a range of locations and collections, with highly variable degrees of recording and care. A systematic survey of medieval religious items from Perth and Kinross, including photography and photogrammetry where possible, is arguably needed. Such a survey could provide a much more informed starting point for future research and conservation activities.