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Old Cathcart’s carved stones: a medieval mystery?


The puzzle of four carved stones in Old Cathcart Parish churchyard remains unsolved but the time is ripe for further investigation, writes Dougie McLellan…


Many people are familiar with the history of the growth of Cathcart from sleepy post-industrial village, home to many mill workers, to the grand Victorian suburb of Glasgow whose expansion was made possible by the Cathcart Circle suburban railway line.

We know less, however, of the medieval origins of the village but the story behind three (of a grouped collection of four) carved stones in the old churchyard may offer some evidence of earlier inhabitants, perhaps from as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries.


Background: the medieval origins of Cathcart


The earliest records of Cathcart date back to the 7th century where there are very early links with St Oswald [1.], It is believed that the earliest Christian church in Cathcard was founded by him around 7th century.

Later we can trace Cathcart as a land mentioned in a grant by Malcolm in 1157, and the church of Cathcart, which was dedicated to St. Oswald, being granted to Paisley Abbey in 1164.

St Oswald’s well was believed to be in the vicinity of the old churchyard, however it was filled in around the 18th century. All that remains is the street that bears its name and gives some clue as to its location, Kirkwell Rd.

So, we know that there has been a church near the site of the old Parish Church since medieval times and that there have since been a number of churches on this site. The first church to be catalogued is a structure built in 1707. This was replaced by another in 1744 and then in 1831 by the structure that remains as a ruin today.

The old graveyard contains many interesting old graves, including the Polmadie Martyrs’ grave from 1685, but there are a group of stones that could be substantially older and may even have links to an ancient order of knights…



Ambiguity surrounding the stones’ age & purpose


The earliest record of these stones is from the notes from John Gilmour (FSA Scot) in an article for the Glasgow Archaeological Society dated 22nd March 1941.

He identifies four stones that appear to be much older than the others in the graveyard. The first pair lie next to each other a little to the south of the old Parish Church tower. Nowadays the stones’ top surfaces sit level with the grass and it was only when the turf level was cut back some years ago that the incised cross on the side of the left stone was temporarily exposed to view.

The illustration below was made to accompany Gilmour’s article and you can see it contains the Chi Rho symbol which was in use in Scotland only in the part of the country which had been under the influence of St. Ninian, roughly the area of Roman occupation.


Illustration of Old Cathcart stone: figure one from John Gilmour article of 1941


Unfortunately, the stones as illustrated above are now almost invisible – as seen in the previous present-day photograph above that – and would need some excavation to determine the detail described in the 1941 document.

The third stone is illustrated further below to accompany Gilmour’s article. He describes this stone in some detail:

“Somewhat nearer to the tower lies the coped stone (In size and form it is very similar to the Templars’ stones at Inchinnan.”



“It is 6’1½ ” long by 1’8″ broad and probably about a foot deep. On one side there is a sword partly withdrawn from the scabbard and the date 1707; on the other side is a spear. On the end is carved a floriated cross, the exposed part of which is much weathered. This, and the form the sword, would indicate a date about the middle of the thirteenth century, well within the period of the existence of the Order of Knights Templars, who were introduced to Scotland in 1153 A.D and suppressed in 1312 A.D. The date 1707 would thus appear to have been added later.”

The stone today lies overgrown and overlooked, but you can still make out the sword and date inscribed on the side.


This is the same stone as illustrated in his 1941 article:


Gilmour also makes reference to a final fourth stone:

“Another stone has only recently been unearthed a companion to the last mentioned. Its size has been 6’1″ by 1’8 ‘2’”. It has been broken in two during the process of excavation. You can see the carved shears and Floriated cross.”

The recent image below is probably the fourth stone described by Gilmour.



Recent interest in the Knights Templar has fuelled suggestions that these were grave stones relating to this religious order, outlawed by the Pope Clement V in 1312. However this raises a number of questions…

Did Templars have land around Cathcart? They were a religious order and would have been aware of the proximity of this site to St Oswald’s Well and of the early Christian presence in the area. So, the presence of the stones may indicate a Templar presence in the area. We know the Knights Templar owned land in Capelrig, now part of Newton Mearns.

The Cathcart family had links to the Crusaders, with the Cathcart Pillar in Paisley Abbey commemorating Sir Alan Cathcart, who died fighting the Moors in Spain. However, it is unlikely these stones are the final resting place of such a rich family.

There remain many questions about these stones…

How old are they, and why does one stone have 1707 inscribed on it? Who could be buried there? Should they be recognised as medieval and protected against further deterioration?


How old are the stones?


Evidence suggests that the size, shape and inscriptions on the stones does perhaps date them to the 12th or 13th century. We also know that many very old grave stones or markers would later be re-used for building purposes. We’d call it upcycling today.

Is it possible that this stone was re-purposed as part of the now ruined 1707 church, perhaps as a marker or lintel at the entrance of the church?

It seems unfortunate that the date inscribed has helped to cast doubt on the earlier providence of the stones. The curved pillar-like quality of two of the stones do resemble pillars. Could they have been used as pillars of a pre-1707 building?

However, we could also look to the kirkyard at Govan Old Parish church for an explanation of this date, where there are parallel examples of medieval stone carvings being reused in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Examples such as the Bogle Stone (pictured below and now displayed inside the former church along with the rest of the Govan Stones) show how prominent families of the local area would carve their own names and dates into the earlier medieval carvings and reuse the stones as grave markers of their own.


Images of 3D digital render of The Bogle Stone in Govan Old church by Romy Galloway
The Bogle Stone – images from 3D model by Romy Galloway


These Govan stones are within the same time period as the Cathcart stone and could help us explain the contrast of the 1707 inscription against the medieval style and weathering of the stone as perhaps another example of this reuse.


Who would be buried here?


The carved symbols do not definitely point to the Knights Templar. During the 12th to 13th Centuries, many soldiers (not only the Knights Templar) would be buried with a single sword or other symbols, so these stones could mark the resting place of a soldier or a knight. But we will likely never know who they were or from where they came.


Should we be doing more to protect these ancient stones?


The recent photographs show that, open to the elements, the stones have continued to weather and deteriorate. They sit unremarkably next to the Old Cathcart Church tower, silent to their history and overlooked by many. Perhaps now is the time to have them recognised and further investigated for their significance and the resonances they have with Cathcart’s very early medieval origins.


By Dougie McLellan, SGHET Board Member, published 14th October 2021


Further reading:

1. Bennett, Paul; St Oswald’s Well Cathcart; 28th December 2016; The Northern Antiquarian. Accessed online 13 October 2021: https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/st-oswalds-well-cathcart/

2. Gilmour, John; NOTES ON SOME OLD GRAVE STONES IN CATHCART CHURCHYARD; Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society (1941), NEW SERIES, Vol. 11 (1947), pp. 31-34 (4 pages); published by: Edinburgh University Press. Accessed online 13 October 2021: https://www.jstor.org/stable/44897721 

3. Driscoll, Stephen T; Beginnings: Early times to 1560, Buildings and Cityscape, Graveyards; The Glasgow Story, from Glasgow School of Art Archives; published online 2004. Accessed online 13 October 2021: https://www.theglasgowstory.com/story/?id=TGSAF04

4. Inchinnan Historical Interest Group (author unknown); The Templar Stones; published online, date unknown. Accessed online 21 October 2021. https://myinchinnan.org.uk/gravestone-map/inchinnan-parish-church-gravestones/templar-stones/

Photo Credits:

Present-day colour photographs – by Dougie McLellan

Illustrations – taken from NOTES ON SOME OLD GRAVE STONES IN CATHCART CHURCHYARD by John Gilmour; Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society (1941); artist unknown.

The Bogle Stone (images of a 3D model) – by Romy Galloway


1 reply added

  1. Iain Fraser October 21, 2021 Reply

    Cathcart is fortunate to have such a really interesting group of stones. Medieval funerary monuments – effigies, coped stones, Calvary cross slabs, etc, are rather neglected in Scotland in comparison to other periods. The Cathcart stones seem mostly to be variants of coped stones – these take a wide variety of forms, sloping sided, tapering or parallel sided in plan, often with a flat top, often with symbols such as a cross, sword or shears, only rarely with an original inscription. They are widespread in England, common in southern Scotland (they constitute about 100 of the 1600 or so medieval monuments listed so far in Scotland) but are rare north of the Mounth, although some appear in the Northern Isles. I agree that one shouldn’t put too much weight on the Templar attribution – old accounts describing medieval stones frequently call them Crusader or Templar stones, and really, there is so much variation in their design that a common identity is improbable. Also, presumably, other people than Templars were dying at this time! Other good collections of coped stones can be seen at Cambuskenneth Abbey and in Dundee Museums. Other variants can also be found at Inchture, Kinfauns, Dunkeld, Gullane, Oldhamstocks, Dornock and Gretna – the last having two parallel grooves along the top, reminiscent of the Cathcart stones. As to the 1707 date, I suspect that the stone has simply been reused for a later burial. Medieval slabs were valuable commodities, just too tempting for later masons. Why quarry a fresh block of stone when you can just reuse an old ready shaped stone? Medieval slabs are found reused as lintels, door steps, hearthstones, stairtreads, etc – and gravestones, just with a new inscription added. All the best to SGHET for raising their profile and looking to secure their future!

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