On 18th September 1925, when opening a grave in the old churchyard of Mortlach, near Dufftown, Banffshire (O.S. 6 inches, Banffshire, sheet xxv.), the sexton came upon a large flat stone about 6 feet under the surface. It was lying face downwards and pointing to the south-east. Unfortunately, in order to take it out the stone was broken into five pieces, and it a was only after it had been brought to the surface in fragments that the symbols were discovered on the under face. By a lucky chance the carved figures were almost unscathed by the breaking up of the stone, one of the fractures just passing through the scrolled hind feet of the “elephant.” The place where it was found is within some 30 feet of the north-west of the well-known “Battle Stone” of Mortlach.

The upper of the two incised symbols found on the top part of the stone is the familiar “elephant,” wrought with great spirit. The lower symbol is hitherto unrecorded, and I am unable to hazard even a conjecture as to what it may purport represent. The incised sculpturing is beautifully wrought and extremely well preserved. In height the stone measures about 5 feet 3 inches, it is and about 10 inches in greatest thickness. A small fragment, having become detached when it was taken up, was submitted to Professor. AW Gribb, M.A., D.Sc., of the Chair of Geology in Aberdeen University, who reports that the stone is a metamorphic rock, psammitic gneiss or impure quartzite, and is probably an erratic from the Moine area on Speyside.

The church of Mortlach is one of the most ancient Christian sites in the district between the Dee and the Spey. A monastery was planted here by St Moluag of Lismore, whom St Comgall the Great of Bangor, in the Ards of Ulster, dispatched on a mission into Pictland in 562. [1]

It is a beautiful example of the insita sibi species venustatis of an Old Celtic religious site, occupying a lovely position on the west bank of the Dullan. The mediæval parish church stands on a terrace overlooking the haugh by the riverside where the two symbol stones are, and where it is therefore probable that St Moluag’s community was placed. On the opposite side of the river the bank rises steeply and is clothed with fine timber. Though greatly modernised, the church still retains its mediæval proportions, and some beautiful lancet windows of the thirteenth century. Within it are preserved a number of interesting mediæval grave slabs, and good recumbent effigy of a mail-clad knight—said to represent Alexander Leslie of Kininvie, who died about 1549.

The “Battle Stone” has on one side a Celtic cross between two fish-like monsters facing each other on top and a grotesque beast at the base, while on the other side are a bird, a serpent, and an ox’s skull, and a horseman with his hound. On the illustration of the back of this stone in the Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, part iii. p. 156, the bird is not shown. The cross has been carved with a simple scroll ornament. The sculpturing is incised and the technique is not so spirited as on the other stone. The Battle Stone is 5 feet 9 inches in height above ground, and is 7 inches in greatest thickness. At least 2 feet of the pillar are below the surface, being wedged in among stones. The material appears to be similar to that of the other stone.

Round the Battle Stone “St Molloch’s Fair” was formerly held. The church had anciently a Ronnach bell. Near it is the Priest’s Well. [2]


[1] St Moluag’s work in the north-east, see Origins of Christianity in Aberdeenshire, pp. 19-22.

[2] For these and other particulars about the church and churchyard of Mortlach, see A. Jervise, Epitaphs and Inscriptions of the North of Scotland, vol. i. pp. 326-34.