Govan Stones: Appeal to protect Viking-era monuments

They are a rare collection of Viking-era grave stones that marked the power centre of a medieval kingdom in the heart of what is now industrial Glasgow.

Thursday, 24th January 2019, 4:59 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th January 2019, 5:00 pm
The Govan Sarcophagus - the outstanding piece in the Govan Stones collection. PIC: Contribution.

Now a major appeal has been launched to create a visitor centre fit for the Govan Stones, one of the best collections of medieval sculpture found anywhere in the British Isles.

The Govan monuments offer some of the most powerful surviving evidence of the Kingdom of Strathclyde with some of the stones believed to have marked an elite burial ground for princes, queens and bishops more than 1,000 years ago.

Read More

Read More
In Pictures: 11 ancient items the Vikings left in Scotland

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Three of the Viking-era hogback stones that were placed over graves in the ancient Govan burial ground. PIC: Contributed.

The stones are on display in Govan Old Church after being recovered from a neighbouring graveyard.

The Govan Heritage Trust is now working to preserve the home of the stones and this powerful yet lesser-known story of Scotland’s past.

The trust, which halted the closure and sale of the church building in 2016, has launched an appeal to raise £219,000 to start renovating the Grade-A listed property. Over time, it will be transformed into a major new visitor centre for Glasgow.

An appeal has been launched to turn Old Govan Church - home of the Govan Stones - into a major new visitor attraction for Glasgow. PIC: Creative Commons

Frazer Capie, co-ordinator at the Govan Stones project, said: “The collection is still a bit of a secret but it is actually the third largest collection of early medieval sculpture in the United Kingdom and, when looking just at the 10th Century, it is probably the largest.

“The money we are trying to raise is pivotal to the future of the collection and the future of the church. It opens up the expansion of the site to create the visitor centre that the collection needs.”

Among the collection are five Viking-era hogback stones - huge monuments designed to replicate Viking halls or places of worship which were protectively placed over graves.

The Govan Sarcophagus, considered to be the outstanding piece of the collection, is believed to have been taken from the tomb of Saint Constantine, a Royal martyr.

The first phase of the development will renovate a space in the church which can then be rented out to raise income for the trust.

This will allow it to further enhance how the story of the collection, which is made up of 31 stones in total, can be told to a wider audience.

At present, the trust relies on short-term grants to keep the church open but an award of £566,000 has been made by Historic Environment Scotland, Glasgow City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund to help develop the site given the significance of the collection.

The Govan monuments were created after the spiritual and political centre of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, populated by native Britons, moved to Govan.

This followed the destruction of their former base at Dumbarton, which was raided by Vikings in 870AD

At the time, Partick and Govan were separated by just a shallow stretch of the Clyde.

Evidence of an ancient river crossing, an early medieval ceremonial pathway and an assembly point at nearby Doomster Hill, which has now been demolished, offers further potent traces of the medieval kingdom that developed in the area.

Local Britons eventually learned to live alongside Vikings in Govan with communities likely mixing through marriage and a possible adoption of the Norse artistic style, Mr Capie said.

Stephen T. Driscoll, Professor of Historical Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, described Govan Old as a “remarkable site.”

It was “unique in Scotland for being an ancient royal cult centre” which was a source of both social justice and spiritual renewal, he added.

Professor Driscoll, a trustee of Govan Heritage Trust, said: “The Govan Heritage Trust curates the largest collection of early medieval sculpture not in State care which represents the most tangible evidence for the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

“The remarkable collection of hogbacks derive from a hybrid Norse-British society which emerged in the west of Scotland at the end of the Viking Age.

“Not only is this largest group in Scotland, these are individually these are largest hogbacks anywhere.”

Pat Cassidy, a trustee of Govan Heritage Trust and managing director of Govan Workspace, which will lead the renovation of Old Govan Church, said: “When the closure of the A-listed building and its medieval site was announced, local people reacted with anger, arguing it was yet another slap in the face for a downtrodden community.

“A campaign was launched and business plan developed to rescue the situation.

“Govan Old and its remarkable heritage status was identified as a vehicle to bring social and economic benefits to the area.

“Our plan is to make it a Glasgow cultural attraction, visitor centre and community resource, and to develop income-generating business space to sustain it long-term.”

To donate to the Govan Stones appeal visit