Dunblane Cathedral, Stirlingshire

Cists: OS Grid Reference – NN 7811 0141

Archaeology & History

Dunblane Cathedral

Although this great and legendary cathedral is today a christian centre, it seems that the site had been deemed as sacred by a much earlier, indigenous culture — though on a scale much more humbling than the grand edifice we see standing here today!  For in the northwest corner of the church grounds in 1928, a small burial cist was located.  Years later, on October 2, 1975, following work here by the North of Scotland Hydro-electric Board to uncover the main supply “in an area adjacent to the north wall of the Lady Chapel,” they found a slab of stone which, when they lifted it up, covered what appeared to be a burial cist.  Messrs Gordon & Gourlay (1976) narrated:

“The stone slab which the workmen had removed proved to be the western section of a larger slab which at some period had been fractured and the eastern section lost.  As the interior of the cist was filled with soil similar to that surrounding it and containing a considerable quantity of dispersed human bone fragments, it was suggested that the eastern section of the covering slab had been lost when the drainage and/or electricity services were being installed.  The upper surface of the slabs western section was c.35cms below ground surface.  The dispersed bones in the cist were at first considered intrusive — possibly from old burials when the public services were installed — and an undisturbed deposition of bones at the base of the cist seemed to confirm this.  However, an examination of the bones by Dr A. Young…and Dr D. Lunt…showed that the deposit contained remains of two adults and one child and that many of the dispersed bones could be matched with those in the undisturbed group.  In fact, the deposition suggested a re-use of the cist.

“The cist measured internally 1.20m by 0.44m by 0.28m.  It lay 8.4m east of the door of the Lady Chapel and 1.44m from the wall of the same.  The cist was constructed from ten irregularly-shaped sandstone slabs, with one fractured slab forming the floor.  On the south side, two smaller slabs had been placed on the inside of the wall to support the covering slab which only just fitted the cist, and to give extra strength to the wall since they overlapped the vertical joins of the three slabs of the south wall.  The north wall slanted to meet the west-end slab 12cm from its edge, giving the cist a coffin-like appearance.  The north wall was still vertical; the narrowing was probably intentional as the covering slab was only 33cm wide at that point and the bones lay apparently undisturbed, parallel to the north and south walls.  It proved impossible to examine the old ground surface because of the public installations, but it did appear that the ground sloped to the west as the cist certainly did.”

Although the remains found here were not dated, it was initially thought that the cist may have been made around the period when the Lady Chapel was erected around 1250 AD.

“However, Mr J. Stevenson of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments pointed out that the dimensions and construction of the cist accord well with cists of known prehistoric dates in the area; the cist (therefore) would seem to be placed early in the sequences of cist development, assuming it to be prehistoric.”


  1. Cockburn, James H., The Celtic Church in Dunblane, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral: Dunblane 1954.
  2. Gordon, Alistair R. & Gourlay, Robert B., “A Cist Burial, Dunblane Cathedral, Perthshire,” in Glasgow Archaeological Society Bulletin, No.2, 1976.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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