8.5.3 Christianity

The presence of artefacts bearing Christian iconography, or for use in religious practices, help us show how religious belief became central to daily life before the establishment of parish churches and the expectation of regular church attendance.

For instance, a cross-shaped pendant (NMS X.NO 79) from Lauder with dot-and-circle motifs is one of a group of only four crosses of Whitby jet that have been found in Scotland, likely of the 11th or 12th century (Pierce 2013). They are one of the few examples of pendant crosses which have been found in the region (Maldonado 2021, 162). More famous, though just as rare, is a fragment of a gold and garnet pectoral cross (NMS X.1997.529)  from the excavations at Castle Park, Dunbar (Perry 2000, 113–4; Blackwell 2018, 154–55). The exquisite workmanship is comparable to the pectoral cross found at Durham Cathedral in the tomb of St Cuthbert. Based on the design and construction, the cross fragment has been dated to the first half of the 7th century. Because of its elaborate and high-quality nature, it is likely that this cross belonged to a high-ranking individual, perhaps a member of the clergy.

A rounded, cross shaped pendant, which is shiny black/brown with light brown circles and dots decorating it.
Pendant of jet, cross-shaped with six dot-and-circles inscribed on one face from Lauder, Berwickshire, 900–1100 AD © NMS
Fragment of a pectoral cross, made of gold and red garnet
Fragment of a pectoral cross of gold and garnet from Dunbar, East Lothian, 600–650 AD © NMS

Objects used in Christian liturgical ritual are very rare in the region. An iron ecclesiastical hand-bell, often called the Kelso Bell, was found in the vicinity of Hume Church in the 1800s (Smith 1882). It was formed of a plate of iron that had been folded into a rectangular shape with overlapping sides that had been joined together by three flat-headed nails, the bell was then seemingly dipped into molten bronze in order to form the surface coating (Bourke 2020, no 67, 373–74). These hand-bells, broadly dated between 600 and 900, are typical of early medieval Scottish and Irish monasteries, though this is the only certain example from the SESARF region.

A smaller iron bell was found on the Minchmoor Road, near Traquair in Peebleshire (NMS X.KA 26). Like another small quadrangular iron bell found at Dunbar (NMS X.2014.22.1), these were made in a different way than the monastic hand-bells, and may have been animal bells. Both the Minchmoor and Dunbar bells were originally coated with bronze, linking them to the monastic series. The Minchmoor bell was a stray find and may be linked to pastoral activity rather than ecclesiastical, given its proximity to a former cattle droveway. Cattle are depicted wearing bells in early medieval sculpture elsewhere in Scotland, but in both cases the scenes have Christian significance (Maldonado 2021: 173–4).

Image of a sub-rectangular rusted, black and brown iron bell against a grey background. The semi-circular handle across the top is miss-shaped and the corrosion has left an uneven surface across the whole bell.
Iron bell, coated with bronze, found at Minchmoor, near Traquair, Peeblesshire, 650–900 © NMS

The bronze crosier drop/terminal found in the Glebe Field at Aberlady (NMS X.1995.24) is the rare religious item that unequivocally presents a Christian liturgical function. The crosier fragment is believed to date to around the 10th century and has incised decoration on its exterior surface. Most crosiers of this type would have belonged to high-ranking Christian religious officials, such as bishops and abbots, symbolising their role as a good shepherd to their religious flock. It is unclear whether it was already fragmented when it entered the ground.

Small bronze crosier drop, in the shape of a half circle and with an engraved geometric pattern
Cast bronze crosier drop (or terminal), from the Glebe Field, Aberlady (10th century) © NMS

During the excavations at Auldhame two joining decorated glass shards forming the top of a decorated cylindrical inkwell were found (Campbell 2016: 58). Glass inkwells from the Anglo-Saxon period have only been known as an artefact type since the 1990s (Evison 2000, 82) and are rare, with the Auldhame example being the only known example from Scotland. The colouring and composition (soda-lime) of the glass are typical of the mid-Saxon period, meaning the inkwell likely dates to the 8th or 9th century (Campbell 2016, 59). The presence of the inkwell at Auldhame is an incredibly rare find and reminds us of the value given to writing and the copying of manuscripts at monastic sites (Campbell 2016: 59).